How To Get Out of Panda Jail

// // June 29th 2011 // SEO

Did Google put you in Panda Jail?

Panda behind bars

Image credit: Alex Pilchin

Many of the hundreds of Panda blog posts contain theories and advice on how to get out of Panda Jail. I'm going to review some of the more popular recommendations to show you why they're both completely right but absolutely pointless at the same time.

Noindex Low Quality Content

Remove the cancerous content and you'll escape from Panda Jail, right? Heck, even Google suggests you noindex duplicate and thin content pages.

The process is pretty straight forward. Look for the offending content using certain metrics. Isolate and noindex the pages on your site which have a high bounce rate, a high exit rate (careful with that one) or haven't received any search traffic over a long period of time.

This isn't a bad thing to do, but it won't get you out of Panda Jail.

Instead: Grade your content corpus like your high school English teacher would.

Lower Your Bounce Rate

One of the more popular theories is that it's all about bounce rate or pogosticking. In essence, reducing your bounce rate is a signal of user satisfaction. Sounds good right? But it's really easy to artificially reduce bounce rate through some clever user interaction design.

In addition, bounce rate is often not a signal of user satisfaction. The bounce rate for a Q&A site is going to be very different from an eCommerce site. Do you believe that Google measures all sites using the same benchmark? Not a chance.

The goal isn't to lower your bounce rate but is to increase user satisfaction. I can easily see a situation where user satisfaction would go up, but so would bounce rate.

Instead: Make sure your pages match query intent with relevance and value.

Lower Your Ad to Text Ratio

I'm sure many of you have fired up the Google Browser Size Tool and applied it against your website. The idea is that Panda is tripped if there is more advertising then content on pages. Google seems to understand what is content and what is advertising or chrome (e.g. - navigation and masthead).

It should be a red flag if the ads on a page actually make it difficult to read the content. But focusing on the actual percentage and trying to figure out when you cross some magical algorithmic line will be a waste of time.

Instead: Make sure your site passes some basic usability and readability tests.

Fix Your Link Profile

Do you have a lot of links from low quality sites or sites in Panda Jail? Some believe that an over abundance of links from these sites could put you in Panda Jail by association. It's more likely that those links simply got neutralized and don't pass as much trust and authority as they used to.

Trying to shape your anchor text or removing yourself from bad neighborhoods won't do you much good. Mind you, make sure you're not in a ring of porn sites but overall this isn't why you're in Panda Jail. In fact, where you link out to is far more important.

Instead: Grow your links organically by building your reputation and expertise.

How To Get Out of Panda Jail

Too many people are putting the horse before the cart and focusing on the tree and not the forest.

Birch tree trucks in forest

Image credit: Tom Stanley Janca

I love numbers and metrics but getting out of Panda Jail is not about optimizing for each specific metric. The lock on Panda Jail isn't picked though a combination of simple numbers.

Instead, it's about changing those numbers by understanding query intent and matching it with relevance and value. It's about evaluating your site for usability and readability. It's about delivering quality content which should not be confused with keyword matched content or a lot of content.

Getting out of Panda Jail requires you to understand mental models, information architecture, user experience, interaction design and conversion rate optimization.

The numbers will change, but they'll change for the right reasons. And that just might get you paroled from Panda Jail.

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Comments About How To Get Out of Panda Jail

// 6 comments so far.

  1. 011100110110010 // July 01st 2011

    “Instead, it’s about changing those numbers by understanding query intent and matching it with relevance and value. It’s about evaluating your site for usability and readability. It’s about delivering quality content which should not be confused with keyword matched content or a lot of content.”

    That should be read by everyone in the SEO industry. It’s a very exciting time at the moment with alot of newer metrics being discussed!

  2. Lee // July 07th 2011

    Good post. Perhaps some examples would have been useful.

  3. AJ Kohn // July 07th 2011

    It’s funny Lee but I was thinking the same thing as I was finishing up the post. It’s long on theory (a bit preachy) and short on concrete examples.

    I’ll follow-up with some examples in another post soon.

  4. Marco Berrocal // February 14th 2012

    I have always believed that online, everything we read, is all about the content, the quality of it. Example, this article. It explains things to people, it’s helpful, it has some nice writing to it.

    We go online, we read. We read information, tips, tutorials, how-to’s, anything.

    If we stay and read something for quite some time, it’s a good sign.

  5. CPA // April 02nd 2012

    In summary: “Quality Relevant Content” is King (as always) :-)

  6. Lightonseo // December 15th 2012

    Almost of clients don’t want to accept the necessity of “providing a better user experience”. That’s the biggest problem with all Google updates (not only Panda) and in the search engine optimization industry in general.

    Matching query intent with relevance and value also means big investments on “quality content”. Verry few compagnies are ready to support these costs. Finaly, it’s quiet strange to see how, those who really need to increase the value offered to users are the ones that refuse to invest in content and usability.

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