3 Reasons Why Google Panda Updates Torched So Many Websites In 2011 – And How To Strike Back

3 Reasons Why Google Panda Updates Torched So Many Websites In 2011 – And How To Strike Back

Posted by on Dec 10, 2011 in SEO

3 Reasons Why Google Panda Updates Torched So Many Websites In 2011 – And How To Strike Back

It is human nature to believe that current trends, especially favorable ones that help us, will continue forever.

John Mauldin, from his book Endgame.

The above quote from the book Endgame is written in the context of the recent global financial crisis where one of the fundamental root causes of the crisis was the belief that real estate prices will increase forever.

housing price crash of 2008

Sure, it sounds stupid when you read that right now but when you’re “in the game” and you’re benefiting from such rising prices (by trading stocks, capitalising from increases in real estate, etc.), your smart, logical mind loses the battle with the emotional, hedonistic mind which just wants to enjoy the bliss and doesn’t want to be interrupted by negative thoughts about the future.

As I was looking at many sites affected by Google Panda algorithms in 2011, this same quote came to my mind. And not surprisingly – the graph of affected sites looks very similar to the stock market crash graph…

Google Panda algorithm traffic drop

Here’s why so many websites were reduced to ashes:

Reason #1: Believing that the current trend will continue forever.

Some types of websites were working for a while and while it’s NOW very obvious that these websites are REALLY NOT that good, webmasters (we) actually believed that this was going to work forever.

We did not want to hear our logical mind telling us that it’s not good enough to work for the next 10 years. As long as it works today (“I can see my earnings, so it works! I have proof!”) – it will work all the time.

Reason #2: Energy conservation (survival instinct)

One part of human nature, or actually the nature of all living beings, is the survival instinct – and by that I am referring to survival by energy conservation.

All animals instinctively conserve energy their whole life.

energy conservation in animals

They move only when they have to …  when they have to eat, find food, find a mate, go to the bathroom 😉 and teach their cubs how to hunt. Young animals also play a lot but that´s also a natural instinct that helps them develop hunting skills.

A biologist would add a few more details but I think you get the point.

If animals are not hungry, in danger, are hunting, or mating, they DON’T MOVE. They don’t do anything – they just “are”. They stand and breathe, they lie down and simply breathe or they sleep.

We have the same system in place. Our natural tendency is to conserve energy.

Some like to call this lazyness but in fact it’s just mother nature looking for the MINIMUM investment of energy in order to get the MOST OUTPUT.

The “most output” of course differs for every individual. For some it’s just having enough food (of any kind) so as not to be hungry and to sit on a sofa and switch TV channels.

For someone else the most output is striving to provide for their kids without having to ask for help from a spouse.

Whatever the case, subconsciously we are programmed to use as little energy as possible in order to get what we want.

This subconscious programming has caused webmasters (us) to build websites that required minimum invested energy to get the most benefit.

Of course, that approach was successful – but only in the short term. In fact, we can always find shortcuts to get the best result with the least amount of effort.

Except that this approach works only until Google changes the algorithm. Then you’re back to square one.

Problem #3 – Google Panda algorithm doesn’t give us immediate feedback

drive adjust

If I am learning to drive a car, then I get immediate feedback on anything I do. If I turn the steering wheel slightly too much to the left, the car goes IMMEDIATELY to the left.

This causes me to CORRECT immediately and adjust. This type of immediate feedback helps me learn very fast and I learn to drive the car correctly and safely.

In tennis, your goal is to hit a certain target and with every shot you make, you can see where the ball lands and you can make adjustments – longer, shorter, more to the left, more to the right.

You get immediate feedback and you can adjust quickly and learn how to hit the ball the right way quite fast.

With Google Panda periodic updates, you DO NOT get immediate feedback about what you’re doing wrong!

One day things are working well, the next day you wake up in Google Hell.

google hell

So what happened this year to thousands of webmasters (and what will continue to happen) is the deadly combination of:

  • human nature – believing that when things go well they will go well forever;
  • survival instinct – our tendency to expend the least amount of work needed to be put into a website that makes money
  • Google Panda algorithm not giving immediate feedback when you do something wrong – but being applied suddenly without any warning

The end result?

Tons of poor websites that were doing fine until (insert a Panda date here) – and stopped getting much Google traffic after that date.

How To Become Panda Proof

Is there a way to avoid this massacre again? Here’s what you should do:

Panda punch t-shirt

1. Get yourself a Panda punch t-shirt and wear it often. It will keep reminding you of what you’re up against.

If you “fall asleep” and don’t do the following 3 steps, Panda will slap you again.

Promise yourself now, that if you get Panda slapped again, you’ll wear the Panda Killing t-shirt for the whole week without changing it.

And yes, you´ll have to sleep in it too.

2. Be aware of your mind’s tendency to be overly optimistic. If things are going well, that doesn’t mean that they will go on forever.

It just means that at this point in time, Google’s current algorithm ranks your website well. That’s all.

3. Be aware of your natural instinct that always wants to conserve energy.

The survival instinct is crucial for animals (except pets 😉 ) which are in a constant battle of survival – the food is scarce and they may be hunted down and eaten.

The same survival instinct was crucial for humans 50,000 years ago in the African savannas when food was scarce. (It still is for most African people.)

bushmen hunting

Now food is not scarce and we are in no danger of dying from hunger (at least us lucky ones in the western world).

Therefore the survival instinct doesn’t apply to you any more – so ignore it.

Yes, you don’t want to become a workaholic – there’s always a balance you need to find – but there’s also no real danger of dying because of loss of energy.

4. Be aware that Google’s Panda algorithm does not give you immediate feedback if you do something wrong.

Instead of waiting to be Google slapped again before making improvements on your site, know that it is possible that your website is not really the best it can be.

Action Steps

If you’re really aware of the above factors, a simple question lingers in your mind:

Is this website good enough to pass Google Panda’s scrutiny and succeed in the long term?

By good enough I mean the quality of content, quality of design and if the site is easy to navigate and is user friendly.

But worrying every day if your site is good enough won’t get you anywhere. You’ll just be tweaking small details all the time instead of taking on bigger projects that really make a difference in the long term.

Critically assessing your site in comparison to the top dogs in your niche every 6 months is a much better plan.

That’s when you should ask yourself these questions:

Did I do the best I could?

Is this the maximum potential of my capability?

Is this something that I can show to the experts in my field and be proud of?

With this kind of thinking awareness you’ll shift from the subconscious drive to work with shortcuts and from the blind belief that everything will be good forever – to creating something that will be successful in the long term.

The best way to assess your website is not on your own though.

You’re too much in love with your site. You treat your site the same way as a grandmother treats her granddaughter – too lenient!

Instead, do it with a group of people to whom you promise a free drink for every mistake, error or poor thing they find on your website.

Friends assessing a website

The more poor stuff (poorly written content, poorly presented content, confusing navigation, confusing pages, confusing tools, …) they find, the more drinks you owe them.

If you catch them being nice when evaluating your site, they owe you a drink.

Schedule these meetings every 6 months and you’ll never hear from Panda again.

Summary

It is actually very likely that now that you’ve finished reading this blog post you’ll actually agree and see that all this makes sense, but in the long term, your mind’s tendency to be overly optimistic and your survival instinct that always looks for shortcuts will eventually take over again.

Open your calendar now and mark two dates in 2012 where you’ll critically assess your site with a group of friends (who promise not to be nice).

Do it now.

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    20 Comments

  1. Tomaz, you are a friend, right? 😉 How about you critically assess my site? I promise you won’t have to be nice :-p

    [Reply]

    Tomaz Reply:

    No problem, I think I’ve done it a few times with your site. But if you’re ready to step it up, just email me. 😉

    [Reply]

    Jo Reply:

    @Tomaz, Will do! It will probably be after the holidays though, because I have both a copywriter and a German translator working on my content. I’ll give you an update on my earnings then as well 😉 Thanks Tomaz!

    [Reply]

  2. An excellent article Tomaz! I agree, we are too close to our own work to know if it’s really our best. Can you believe I’ve audited some pages 3 or 4 times in the past couple of weeks? And each time I thought it was top notch when I was done…nope! Definitely pays not to get complacent in the first place.

    [Reply]

    Tomaz Reply:

    Yeah, I know what you mean, Susan. Thinking long term and imagining that you want to compete with top 5 sites in your niche does change the approach though.

    [Reply]

  3. Thank you for this valuable information, as always it is much appreciated. Now I am going to spruce up the site and add more value to my content.

    [Reply]

  4. Interesting take on the Panda problem – I’ve read many articles on it before, but yours is unique. I never thought about Reasons 1 & 2 before, but it totally makes sense. Nothing ever stays the same and being complacent will kick your butt down the road.

    I like your idea about having a friend criticize your site. It’s cheaper than having an SBI evaluation done! Have you or anyone you know gotten an SBI evaluation? Was it worth the money? It’s something like $250, right?

    I shall have my friend look at my site and buy her lunch once I get my site ready for 2012, and I’ll let you know how it goes. You probably get too many requests as it is, and maybe having the opinion of a “regular” internet user instead of people like us who are professionals might be a better option instead.

    [Reply]

    Tomaz Reply:

    Hi Amy,

    I haven’t tried any SBI coaching or site evaluation. Your best choice is to attend an SBI conference, meet tons of cool people and during breaks bother them to evaluate your site for a drink. 😉

    [Reply]

    Amy Reply:

    @Tomaz, Well, there’s an SBI conference in my area – San Francisco – this coming September, so I’ll get to do precisely that! 🙂

    [Reply]

  5. Hi Tomaz,

    Gosh… wish I had signed up for SBI under you 6 months ago. My site is very much in its infancy stage, I try to put the ‘blinders on” and focus on building content…a painstaking process…only 26 pages so far!
    Just wanted to tell you that you are an inspiration to me on this lonely journey. Think I will start a ‘Tomaz fund’ and save my pennies to hire you in the new year…keep an eye out for me and keep up the awesome blogs and posts.

    Your newest fan!

    katrina

    [Reply]

    Tomaz Reply:

    Thanks, Katrina! I am always open to answering some questions here and there – and usually that’s enough to point you in the right direction.

    With SBI Action Guide and tons of helpful people in the forums you can find the right approach…

    [Reply]

  6. Thank you for this valuable post. My site was chugging along fine until Panda 2.5.2. I am now working on the audit. I look at pages that I had written when I first started and cringe.

    I especially like the comment about whether or not you would be comfortable showing your site to an expert in the field. No way would I show those earlier pages off!

    I have neglected my homepage since it is not my most highly trafficked page – and now that I know why, I am in the process of overhauling it.

    I appreciate your sharing this valuable advice.

    Best,
    Jennifer

    [Reply]

  7. I so often talk with people about what the brain does when they are under stress. It had never occurred to me that of course we evolved to conserve energy! That is why we sleep when it is dark (we should!) and also why we dream.

    Thank you, Tomaz – great article.

    Elly

    [Reply]

  8. As always, Tomaz, great food for thought…and for action!

    [Reply]

  9. Have you tried any A/B split testing when redesigning your sites, in addition to asking friend’s opinions, Tomaz? If so could you explain what you’ve tried?

    [Reply]

  10. A really helpful article, Tomaz. Thanks! 🙂

    For me, though, Panda is just one small part of the problem. Although my site’s traffic was hit – especially in the October Panda – and I need to audit my site and reconsider its “voice” etc, I will also have to give a lot of thought as to how I want to monetize my site from now on.

    My AdSense income has fallen by about one-fifth – a much higher decrease than my traffic. And, I feel that the affiliate programs I use on my site are now being used – probably better – by tons of other sites. Also, I do wonder if it’s worth the effort needed to create affiliate sales when the commission (for travel sites at least) is not always that interesting.

    On top of that, much of my traffic now seems to come from image searches. Whilst all traffic is welcome, I feel that visitors searching for images are not really going to buy anything.

    So, as well as doing a site audit and improving content – especially old content – I definitely need to give a lot of thought to how I’m going to monetize my site. As far as my site is concerned, I feel that contextual ads, affiliate programs, and the odd e-book sale may be a thing of the past, and I need to get extremely inventive about how I can, financially, make the most of my traffic.

    (Sorry to ramble on so!)

    [Reply]

  11. Just to correct something I said in my above post …

    My AdSense income is about one-fifth of what it was and not, as I said above – “it’s fallen by about one-fifth”.

    [Reply]

  12. Hi Tomaz,

    Excellent article! I haven’t been to your site in a while and I just logged into my Google Reader to actually use it and I came across your post. Yes, I had subscribed to your blog and will continue to do so. 🙂

    For some reason, my SBI site was not affected at all with the Panda updates. However, I was hit in a different way. I was affected by the Amazon tax law and Amazon suspended my affiliate account as a result. I ended up selling my site to another SBIer in the UK who was able to just plug in his affiliate links and then start making good money from day 1. I have now moved away, at least temporarily, from building websites and I’ve started a consultancy offering SEO services to local businesses.

    Thanks and happy new year!

    [Reply]

    Tomaz Reply:

    Hey Nisheth,

    Happy New Year to you too and good luck with your new business!

    [Reply]

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