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Google Panda Update: Could Inaccurate Google Data Be Costing Sites Traffic?

Panda victim blames Google Analytics glitch

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Google Panda Update: Could Inaccurate Google Data Be Costing Sites Traffic?
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Late last week, it was discovered that Google had rolled out another version of the Panda update earlier in the week. Industry voices have dubbed the update “2.5″. Google dubbed it “one of the roughly 500 changes we make to our ranking algorithms each year.”

Did you notice a drop or increase in traffic in the past week or so? Let us know.

SearchMetrics put out lists of the top winners and losers from the update. Some sites were surprising, some weren’t. Interestingly enough, eHow and EzineArticles, which were previously “pandalized” were not on the loser list this time. EzineArticles would not offer comment, and eHow (Demand Media) told us that they’ve been pleased with the results of a massive content clean-up initiative they’ve implemented this year.

Another previous victim, HubPages, was even able to make the winners list this time around. Some of the more surprising “losers” were press release distribution services Business Wire (which actually just patented its SEO strategy) and PR Newswire, and tech blog TheNextWeb. There have been some questions raised over the accuracy of the SearchMetrics data, however.

“I’m glad to say we had a good summer as far as traffic is concerned,” Rod Nicolson, VP User Experience Design & Workflow for PR Newswire tells us. “We’ll continue to monitor closely, but so far we’re not seeing any unusual changes to our traffic due to Panda 2.5.”

TheNextWeb Editor in Chief Zee Kane tells us, “We haven’t noticed any effect right now but we’re still digging in. Will hopefully know more over the course of the next week.”

We’ve reached out to SearchMetrics for comment, but are still awaiting a response. We’ll update when we receive one.

Update: Here’s what SearchMetrics tells us about its data:

We monitor a selected and representative set of keywords for Google (in several countries) once a week and analyze the search results pages for these keywords. One of the main indices we calculate from this is the Organic Search Engine Visibility. This is a culmination of figures collated from search volume (ie how often people are searching for a keyword or phrase) and how often and on which position (ie what position on a Google results page) a domain/web site appears. Add them all up (plus some more math applied) and you get the performance index – an estimate for how visible a site is on Google in a specific country.

The basis for our analysis is a local keyword set for every country we analyze. Our values are local, that’s why we can give you an overview over the SEO and SEM visibility per country. The keyword sets are representative and varied between some hundred thousand and 10 million. The keyword sets are extended every month with new keywords added and irrelevant / outdated keywords deleted.

While we track millions of keywords, we obviously don’t track every single keyword that is searched. We can be viewed as providing a very good indication of underlying trends. However, results can be off when, for example, a web site has only a very small visibility and is ranking for a small number of keywords or a higher percentage of the keywords a domain is ranking for is not included in our keyword set.

Please note: Visibility is not the same as traffic. Further, sites that are listed among a ‘losers’ list may still generate traffic from other sources and can still potentially continue to prosper. Our data can only be used as a trend for search engine visibility on Google. But Google isn’t the only traffic source websites can have. So, if a site experiences a reduction in Google visibility, it may still continue to generate good traffic to and continue to prosper. Other sources of traffic include real ‘type-in’ traffic (when visitors type in a URL); social media traffic (ie from Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other); and affiliate traffic etc.

DaniWeb, which has been an ongoing sub-plot of the Panda storyline throughout the year, due to its victimization and full recovery, was hit again by the most recent update. In fact, Dani Horowitz, who runs the IT discussion community, is the one that tipped us that this was even going on.

Horowitz and her team have of course been doing some investigating themselves, and documenting this a bit in a Google support forum. In it, she writes:

So, everyone, thanks to DaniWeb’s handy dandy systems administrator, we have come to a conclusion. Our ‘time on site’ statistic decreased by 75% at 1 pm on August 11th, and has been holding steady at the reduced number, as a result of Google Analytics rolling out their new session management feature.

There have been MANY reports across the web of the bounce rate and time on site being inaccurate every since August 11th, especially when multiple 301 redirects are involved (which we use heavily).

As a result, we have been hit by Panda. Or so I gather.

Now, this is not confirmed, but could a Google Analytics change, and inaccurate data on Google’s part be responsible for sites losing over half of their traffic? If so, that’s not cool.

Google, who famously won’t reveal its secret recipe for search rankings or even list each of the factors without revealing the weight of each, has been historically vague about its use of Google Analytics metrics in search. Michael Gray recently wrote a post suggesting that you can almost guarantee that Google is using your Analytics data, but he mentions how Google always manages to sidestep questions about its use (or non-use) of data for bounce rate, exit rate, time on site, etc.

Another interesting side-story to the Panda saga is that Google-owned sites have done well (according to the Searchmetrics data). The timing of the most recent Panda update, which Searchmetrics counts YouTube and Android.com as major winners for, is interesting given recent Senate discussions about Google favoring its own content in search results. A Google spokesperson gave us the following statement on the matter:

“Our intent is to rank web search results in order to deliver the most relevant answers to users. Each change we make goes through a process of rigorous scientific testing, and if we don’t believe that a change will help users, we won’t launch the change. In particular, last week’s Panda change was a result of bringing more data into our algorithms.”

The Panda update has appeared to favor video content throughout its various iterations (and not just YouTube). I can tell you that video has some major SEO benefits regardless of Panda, and that it is also great for increasing time on site. If a user is watching a video on your page, they’re on the page for the duration of the video or at least until they lose interest (so use good video content).

Even Demand Media told us after they announced the eHow clean-up, that it wouldn’t much affect its YouTube strategy.

Update: Dani Horowitz tells us that DaniWeb has already recovered. More here.

Do you think Google is improving its search results with the Panda update? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Google Panda Update: Could Inaccurate Google Data Be Costing Sites Traffic?
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  • http://www.modeltrainhobbyist.com Lionel Bachmann @ Model Trains

    I think that if Google is using their analytics data in their recipe for rankings, the least they could do is make sure the data is accurate. I’ve never agreed with the definition of bounce rate being that the visitor doesn’t click to another page. If they enter a page that has an article with information they need, they will read the information and leave, without clicking to another page. You shouldn’t get penalized for giving the visitor what they want.

    • Linda Roth

      I have about 40,000 pages on a site that used to be heavily trafficked until the Panda update of April 11, 2011. This site has been on-line since 1999. It has been an uphill struggle since April 11, then I was hit hard again on September 28. I am going to remove Google Analytics from the site to see what happens. It cannot get any worse than it is right now, and it just might improve. I’m tired of pandering to Google.

      • Johana

        i have the same problem in my site i think in the first time that google penalize my web site.
        i will test removing google annalytics from my web site.

  • http://www.hub-uk.com David Jenkins

    I think if any spokesperson from Google says one more time that Panda is “one of the roughly 500 changes we make to our ranking algorithms each year” I will scream. It is so obviously not like the other changes they make in a year.

    The Google spokesperson says “Each change we make goes through a process of rigorous scientific testing, and if we don’t believe that a change will help users, we won’t launch the change. “ I think that is just bullshit. Five times they have launched Panda. If NASA tried to launch a rocket five times would people class it as having been through “scientific testing”.

    And if Google believed that Panda helped users why do they have to continually update it?

    Perhaps Google should look at the way its representatives phrase what they say. They are all starting to sound like politicians . . . but then again they are starting to get acquainted with the ways of senators!

  • http://www.voicepowerstudios.com Sandra McKnight

    Our ad words campaign suddenly went down and there have been significantly less clicks in the last week. Whether this is due to the Google algorithm, I don’t know.

  • Ron

    We are losing traffic on our websites and even alexa ranking is all time low too.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    How can you ignore all of Google’s blatant, concise, clear denials of using Google Analytics data in its search ranking algorithms and say they have been historically vague?

    You have completely destroyed your journalistic credibility on this point.

  • http://morganservice.net Don Morgan

    I lost about 30% for two days and then it rebounded to normal.
    Mobile Home Repair

  • Chris

    Our rankings haven’t changed much in the past few months. But last month, after we moved our site to a dedicated server (around Panda 2.5 time) traffic plummeted 90% in Google Analytics. We’d very much like to know how to fix this.

  • http://www.topweddingquestions.com Wedding Queen

    What about sites not using Google analytics? I winder what would happen to Panda-ized sites if they suddenly ceased using Google analytics

    • GiveSuccess

      I took my google analytics code out and saw an increase of about 5-10% on 3 sites about a month ago. I put it back last Sunday and am watching if it drops again to b4 levels.
      I had a site for sale on flippa when the traffic got cut in half so I lost $ bc site sold for cheap! :(

  • http://emilperformance.com John Phoenix

    I wonder if when will google panda update?

  • Hugo

    Our traffic sky rocketed within the past week or so. Also, we noticed on some keywords that we ranked 12 + for several years on the SERPS, however now we are ranking within the top 6 in the SERPS for those exact keywords.

    Whatever tweak they did, it’s helped us tremendously. Also, our site has a domain-age of 10+ years, therefore I don’t think the tweak they did was favorable to newer sites etc.

    Regards,

    Hugo

    • http://www.PlacesToEatOkay.com Steven

      Domain age plays a factor, but not so much when Google considers the content as the main player and things like domain age, or page age, to be more like bonus points. So in case of a tie between two pages for relevancy, Google then looks to the other signals to influence where it thinks the pages should rank.

  • Jill

    One of our sites went from showing 1st place on Google’s results for our main keyword to being absolutely nowhere in the SERPs!!!
    I’m not sure if I’ve been pandalized because the site dropped off around the 23rd September but you can imagine the schock of going from top result with great targeted traffic to being nowhere!!!
    It could have been because our hosting priver’s servers were up and down constantly for about 10 days until i moved the site to another server. Does anyone have any idea what could have happened? I’m absolutely clueless and desperate!
    Thanks,

  • http://www.macgames.info Patricia

    I think panda is great, now you just have to spend 1000$ in link farms like sponsored reviews to eliminate your competition ( that’s what happened to me, now i’m out of the game )

    Negative seo companies are going to popup like crazy! Thank you google for making the internet a nasty place.

  • http://www.badgermedia.com Bob Lawrence

    We have a woodworking site that had a traffic drop of about 60% after Panda 2.5

    The site is essentially like an about.com guide site. Points out free wood plans around the web. Original content, but linking to others in every post. Might be considered a reblogger, but each post is unique. Can’t say that we didn’t expect this at a certain point.

  • Its a Miracle

    You can recover from panda, Daniweb just did again. I’m sure she worked hard these 4-5 days to change her 300,000 pages and on Google indexed them she was algorithmically released.

  • http://www.seifertlabradors.com Tricia

    Not 1 website inquiry in almost 2 weeks…we even had a Yahoo “not indexed” pop up. Researching the “not indexed” issue we are not finding much about how to fix the problem…suggestions? Please leave them on our website’s contact webpage. Thanks!

  • http://www.inthepinkconsultants.co.uk John Gilbert

    We have gone from most of our pages in the first 5 search pages to obscurity with no traffic at all. Come on Bing, you could fill the gap here if you could only get your BingBot sorted out. If you try to play it straight with Google then you just get creamed. I don’t know about the rest of you but I don’t want to play anymore. I no longer use Google and I’ve recomended that my customers change to Bing.

  • Chris

    Yes, I noticed a substantial decrease in sales in the last 2 weeks of September. In fact, it’s just now starting to crawl back up.

    I have no idea if this is connected to the Panda thing or not though. I’m not loving sounding like a total non-geek, but that’s pretty much the case.

  • http://www.easy-immune-health.com Kerri Knox, RN

    I got SLAMMED with the first US Panda release and went from 10,000 visitors a day to about 2000 visitors a day despite having ROCKIN original content and something like 8 to 10 minutes time on site average per visitor. I worked for WEEKS trying to do everything I knew how to in order to ‘fix’ my site with a resulting continuing, inexorable slide in traffic.

    This Panda update maybe corrected some of their earlier problems as I saw a small but significant INCREASE in traffic. I hope it stays that way.

    • http://113tidbits.com tonyknuckles @ 113tidbits

      Really stinks to be constantly at the great “G”‘s whims of fancy.

  • http://awomanswishlist.com/ Melinda Beaty

    I have noticed a significant drop in traffic. I have spent the last two days trying to figure out what is wrong with my site. There are some things that need improvement but nothing of significance that would cost my site such a reduction in traffic!

  • http://icreateofx.com/ Phillip

    I have to say this is the most bizarre thing I have come accross for a while. If I infer the DaniWeb story correctly, Panda 2.5 is actually a tweak in Google Analytics and not (assuming analytics is not part of search optimization as Google says) anything to do with search and search traffic! So in theory, if someone uses another analytics program thenthey will not notice the impact of 2.5? And if that is the case, is this not a good reason NOT to use Google Analytics? Are we (webmasters) not giving Google too much power by using Analytics which data they use to penalise us? Say if bounce rate is higher than your competitor in, then using your own data Google will rank (algorithmycally) your results lower than your competitor’s. If they never had this data in the first place, then you would rank normally.
    Bizzare indeed!

    • Its a Miracle

      Other sites that came back on July were hit too. Shows that they were actually manually exempt but that code must have been left this Panda. In other words, they would have never escaped Panda on their own.

  • Uncle Bhjmc

    Ah hell, here we go again…

    Hi there, the man here.

    Guys, you should know better. Nothing is free. Been saying this since before Christ to my large following on BHW. Google is not your friend. Google is a psychotic b. and needs to be treated as such. It is well known they use your site analytics against you. You guys keep tripping on the same rock. Listen for once. Cancel your G+ account! Don’t login! Don’t use anything Google man! Get noscript, adblock and block G. analytics. Game G. or die. See you around…

    Love,

    Uncle Bhjmc

  • http://www.skillfool.com robert

    on sept 16th my search impressions which had been steadily rising for the previous four months dropped 90%!

    i;ve been going nuts looking for a solution.

  • http://how-to-internet-marketing-articles-vi.blogspot.com/ Ramiro Rodriguez

    Hi Chris!

    How you be? As usual your news article is in-depth and well written.

    Thanks for the update. One of my blogs is down to about 40 visits a day when a month or so ago I was averaging about 400-500 visits a day. Before that I was getting close to 1,000 hits a day. I keep going up and down :-(

    I’m just waiting to see what happens next!

  • http://www.bytelaunch.com Mike

    Slightly off topic, but related to Google’s great strides to “deliver the most relevant answers to users” …

    I find it interesting that they refuse to incorporate Facebook into their ever-growing social media integration. I get that Facebook is Google’s competitor and it’s just a matter of business, but if Google is really trying to deliver the BEST results, wouldn’t it make sense to acknowledge this social network giant? Just a thought I suppose.

  • http://www.eBizROI.com/ Rick Noel

    I suspect that Google+ is influencing results. Ultimately, as Google market share shifts to Yahoo!/Bing (4% for US in last 12 months according to recent report by Hitwise), you can bet that Google is focused on relevancy and user experience.

  • http://annonces-de-maroc.com/ Johana

    hi,
    do you know other free site like google annalitics ?

  • http://113tidbits.com tonyknuckles @ 113tidbits

    I get the feeling that another pre-Black Friday “change” will rear its ugly head too.

    Stay tuned..

  • http://www.CaptainCyberzone.com CaptainCyberzone

    I’ve seen my traffic drop by 1/3 (one third). What this article is telling me is to now re-edit and lightly sprinkle all the keywords throughout my content … (stupid me I was just trying to present accurate content).
    Thanks for the tip but I think that you Google guys better re-think what change you made … you’re now losing money from my site.

  • http://www.kidsinthewater.com steve campanelli

    I have noticed a drop in traffic to my site over the last couple of weeks
    i don’t know if it is due to googles panda update or if it is because my product is seasonal and gets less demand during the fall and winter months.I wish their was a way i could tell.

  • http://www.4rx-pharmacy.com My1Rx

    Panda pandemic!

  • http://www.guzmansgreenhouse.com Paul

    Actually it has stayed the same. Do you think someday in the future an ex-google employee will give us more information regarding their “secret recipe for search rankings”?

    Paul

  • http://www.homeless-persons.org brian

    lately google searches wont bring up the usefull information it used to and only brings up what algorythums it favours via self dictatorship. also I did a search test on homeless-persons.org using the word homeless, it never appears but source code shows it is far more relevant and proper engine friendly compared to the sites that did come up. I think we need a new competitor, moreso I think google is gearing to have user pay submit site

  • http://www.gogi.in Gogi Rana

    Thanks Chris,

    I think the best bet would be to not make any changes on the site especially when you see a drop in traffic. Wait and watch if the traffic increases (or wait for the next panda update).

    As for Google I think whenever they come out with an update they revert back to old data (few months old). So that the new algo gets to re-calculates. And that’s what may cause a sudden drop in traffic. It would be wiser not to change anything and wait for another month or two and see if there is any improvement.

    Any take on this?

  • http://www.mybabygiftbasketsandmore.com Joyce

    I do not think they have perfected anything. In my webmaster tools, I have pages with 404′s that have never been on my website. I leave them alone, do not redirect and they disappear after awhile. As far as the Panda update, I have not seen an increase or decrease.

  • http://bestzombiecostume.com Graeme Pearce

    My new site that was growing rapidly up until 30 Sept. went to zero traffic the next day. I was on page 1 of google for almost every one of my keywords, over 20 keywords. Now I can’t find the site on the first 5 pages. The sites that have moved to page one don’t seem to fit any of the SEO rules. So what is going on?

  • http://geoland.org Giorgos Kontopoulos

    Analytics is not needed in order for google to have clicks and bounce rate information. Just check the html source on google.com search results

    You will find following html code for each result’s link


    the call to rwt will probably report to a google central database the search phrase, url clicked, position it was found in (2 in this example), and all other information that google considers important in order to rank websites

    if the same user comes back to google they can report a bounce rate …

    if they used google analytics it would not be fair because not all sites are using them for statistics and they would only have incomplete records

  • http://facebook.games Yvonne Reid

    this is a nightmare…my games are soo slow..takes minutes to load…keep getting a message evry time I try to recieve gifts “security warning” do you want the webpage content that was securely delivered..box yes and no and when I click into yes..it just rolls…had the tech guy down and all of the PC is running fine..exept for games on facebook..I keep losing connection and jumping about…it is soooo frustrating..I have paid this guy ..and he is a professional..can you explain why this is happening..it is totally destrying my gaming….Yvonne Reid

  • http://www,run-it-direct.co.uk Dave

    We knew this was going to happen before the posts started flooding in on Webmaster World. We see the SAME pattern each time Google does a major update :-

    (posted September 15th)
    “Is there anything from Google on this one? 100% sure there has been a major update. Why is it the same pattern always happens? ie, massive traffic spike followed by lots of foreign traffic (India in particular)? SERP’s always look normal mind as do traffic levels in GA. Does anyone else get this? Fingers crossed it recovers again like it has done everytime thus far. These updates must cost the economy a fair bit if others get what we do everytime…………”

    On September 29th we had not one sale or enquiry. We had great sales & stability throughout the summer holidays, were the people who “twaek” at Google also away?!

  • http://www.mcipk.com Naeem Sajid

    Agreed, www.mcipk.blogspot.com

  • http://www.macgames.info Patricia

    Yes analytics is used in the rankings,

    another factor is the presence of your links in gmail accounts ( they have a robot that scans the links present in gmail accounts and IF people click on them ) so if you send news letter, you might want to send more to gmail people ;)

  • http://www.fornettielettrici.it Carl

    I’m getting sick of Google algorithm. Results are still full of “only of marketing” websites.

  • http://www.bargainsonthepoint.com Barbara Vidal

    My website is new but I was receiving steady traffic. Last week I noticed my site’s traffic dropped almost to nothing. Thankfully, it’s picking back up.

  • http://www.apnacareers.com sowjanya

    Does GOOGLE Panda removes adsense from copied content sites

  • http://MyNYCBirthday.com NYC Birthday

    I think this all goes back to the basic problem with Google – if you are an outsider, you are always guessing what is going on or finding out about a change leading to a problem after the fact. I think this will get worse as time goes on, because as Google spreads, changes like this that have severe business and site traffic impact will continue to be more and more problematic.

  • DonBo

    My traffic which had been growing dropped by about 50% at tbat time. Very frustrating!

  • Alan

    We have lost traffic on our websites as well. We strive to present the best content and adhere to Goggle’s guidelines, yet due to inaccurate Google data they are apparently giving the #1 position in the organic SERP’s to many manufacturer’s websites, many of them with no content other than a flash intro with no text or any high quality to speak of.

    That is in direct contadiction to what Google states in their webmaster guidelines: “Quality content, quality content, …” I am curious, which ranking signal in their algorithm considers a flash object high quality content?

    Not only is this negatively affecting those of us who strive to present the best content, but I would think it would take a huge bite out of Google’s bottom line in that advetisers would stop spending millions of dollars on advertising simply because Google is handing them the top spots in the organic results. I can imagine corporate big wigs saying to each other during a meeting, “Hey, why should we continue to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on Google advertising, when our IT dept. is telling us that Google is handing us the number 1 spot in the organic search results.

    I know Google can’t be perfect, but I think they need to drill down their ranking signals so they actually help present high quality content to users, and not the other way around.

    • http://www.LAokay.com Steven G

      The problem is certain signals can push a page with poor content to the top over a page with better content. So even a well written page can rank lower simply because another page has more link popularity, is updating the page more frequently, and is getting more traffic to the page. It’s only going to get worse when Google actually starts using Google +1 votes as a ranking signal. Already there are several businesses leveraging Facebook likes for the public to get special offers or content that you couldn’t get without liking them on Facebook.

  • http://www.businessandsoftwarestrategyforglobalisation.com/ Mae Loraine Jacobs 

    Perhaps it’s time for websites to put more dynamism or diversity into their website’s content: videos, articles, podcasts, to name a few. That would hopefully give websites a better chance of surviving any Google update, at the same time make sites, at the very least, more interesting.

  • David lynch

    Yes l most certainly have lost traffic and to boot lost all my page rankings. They were modest at PR2 and 1 but still l lost them.I know l have not done link building for 6 to 7 weeks because of money but l do know l have done a lot of on page SEO. So believe me backlinks are everything to getting PR.

    Regards
    DL

  • Ginger Rushing

    One of my sites was at #3 organically for the last year for several of my most important keyword phrases, after the update, it went to page 2. First page is now filled with u-tube videos from a competitor. Those videos are just a cascade of photos, no text and no audio except for background music. Also on page 1 ahead of me were sites that I have never seen before in my field, with poor content, What gives? Is this more relevant than my entire e-commerce site that has been up for 3 years and has always performed well. Yes, my traffic and sales were definitely off. All this B-S is not helping the consumer or the web site operators who have been adhereing to the google rules. Sure hope they figure this out.

  • http://www.peppermaster.com/ Tina

    Interestingly, my hits seem not to have been affected so much as my geographical location of traffic.

    Whereas 90% of my hits prior to the update were US-based, now they are 60% Canadian, which is fine, because Canadians buy more than Americans from my site. What ticks me off though is the loss of US eyeballs.

    What is up with that?

    Is Google targeting their logorithms so that American eyeballs get the traffic EVEN if a Canadian site is more relevant to the search?

    As an even more annoying problem with the logorithm, I am the only certified fair trade supplier of fresh chilli peppers in the world, YET where I was the only listing on the first three pages until the change, I now don’t even show up until 7th on the list and have been BEATEN out by a DESIGN company… HOW the hell is THAT relevant?

    I’m sort of curious too… If that geographic element is in play how do I get in front of my target market if we’re not in the same geographic area?

    Thanks for asking. Now back to figuring out how to get back on the top of my own market. Grrr.