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July 6, 2011
How to Avoid the Wrath of Google
TalentZoo readers may or may not be familiar with some major updates that Google has made over the past few months, dubbed “Panda.” The changes have wreaked havoc with some websites’ Google traffic.
I’ve had the opportunity to analyze a number of sites that have been seeing fewer visitors from Google since the Panda update, and I thought I’d share some of my findings so that you can avoid having your site “Pandalized.”

Content That Can’t Be Reached Without Registering
Some sites that have been hit by Google’s Panda update had much of their real content available only after a user registration. The “free” information that was available was often just a small bit of the content that Google had actually indexed. If you wanted to read the whole article, you had to register. Google allows sites to have them index an entire article that’s behind a registration wall through their "First Click Free" program, but they stipulate that anyone who comes from a Google search to your site must see the entire piece of content, even when not registered.
Why This Might Incur Google’s Wrath: Google has generously provided a way to enable all of your content to be indexed, even if it normally requires registration. If you circumvent their rules, i.e., the First Click Free rule, then don’t be surprised if your site gets dinged in the rankings. They’re not keen on sending their users to pages that have just a short summary of info, as it’s most likely not the best answer to the user’s search query.  

Made-For-Ads Sites
Have you ever clicked to a site from Google that seemed to meet your search query, but then you can never quite find what it was you were looking for? I call these “merry-go-round sites” and I believe that many of them have been Pandalized. The sites have plenty of ads and/or affiliate links that may or may not lead to other sites that could provide what you were originally looking for. All-in-all, a very poor user experience.

Why This Might Incur Google’s Wrath: Believe it or not, Google doesn’t want their users to have to come back to Google once they’ve clicked through to a site from their search results. When a searcher does come back, it usually means they didn’t find what they were seeking on the site in question. Merry-go-round sites are going to frustrate most users and land them straight back at Google to click other sites in the search results page. Google doesn’t want their users to be frustrated, as it means they’re not doing their job correctly. So if they find major abandonment on your site from Google visitors, you may very well incur their wrath.
Frustrating Content Aggregator Sites
Another big area of sites that were Pandalized were those that aggregate information from other sites all in one place, such as comparison sites or deal sites. There’s nothing inherently wrong with those sites as long as the information and resulting links are up-to-date and useful. However, many that I looked at had inaccurate information. For instance, one niche comparison site I looked at showed me a particular store as having the cheapest version of a certain product, but when I clicked the link to learn more about the product at that store, it didn’t take me to the correct page. Often it would just take me to the home page or a page selling a different product. In addition, I saw some coupon sites that featured lots of expired coupon deals (some for many years) also get hit by the Panda update.

Why This Might Incur Google’s Wrath: Like the made-for-ads sites, these aggregator sites were frustrating Google’s users by not providing them with what they were originally seeking. How frustrating is it to think you’ve found a coupon code for a product you’re planning to buy, only to find that it’s been expired since 2010? It makes sense that Google would want to replace those types of pages in their results with pages that are accurate and more up-to-date.

Should You Be Worried?
As long as the pages Google has indexed of your site are truly answering the search query of Google’s users, then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. If you have some pages that do and some that don’t, it’s probably a good idea to remove or change the ineffective pages, as they could be bringing down your entire site’s rankings.  

If you have a site that didn’t get Pandalized but that may be doing some of the things above, you are lucky enough to be able to fix them before you are hit. Google has been rolling out the Panda update in stages, and there are still many more to come. If you start to make your pages more useful now, you may be able to get away scot-free.
If your site has already been negatively affected by Google’s Panda Update, I’m sorry to say that you shouldn’t expect any sort of quick relief—even if you fix everything. So far, there haven’t been any reports of complete Panda recovery, although many sites have seen their Google traffic improve slightly when they fix things. This is why it’s critical to make sure your non-Pandalized site is in perfect order before the next round of updates.

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As an SEO Consultant, Jill Whalen has been providing her no-nonsense, practical SEO advice since 1995. If you learned from this article be sure to sign up for Jill's popular High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter to keep up with the latest information in the ever-changing world of SEO. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen, "Like" her at Facebook, and "Circle" her on Google+.

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