SEO

How to Identify a Panda in 4 Easy Steps

It’s been well over a year since Google’s infamous Panda update first hit the web, so Panda blog posts are old news, right? Wrong.

Posts on Google’s Panda are still as relevant as ever. Why is that exactly?

Turns out, Panda keeps coming back to bite us! Those who’ve been struggling with Panda and trying to beat the beast for over a year are aware of every Panda data refresh.

But what about if you weren’t hit by Panda back in 2011 but you just launched a new website? You need to be just as aware of what Panda’s up to. The reason is because Panda’s on a cycle. It looks a little something like this.

Google Panda Comic

Artistic credit to the incredible Guy Edwards.

If you plan to have a website (specifically, one that benefits from getting traffic from Google) in the foreseeable future, you need to be aware of Panda. If it does decide to maul you while your back is turned, you need to be able to quickly identify the signs (aside from the pain and the blood). Here’s how you can determine if your site’s been hit by Panda in 4 easy steps.

Your Google Traffic Looks Like It Fell Off A Cliff

Take a look at the Google Analytics profile for your site and see if you have a significant (you’ll be able to see “significant”) drop in traffic from Google on or immediately after the following dates.

  • Feb 23, 2011
  • Apr 11, 2011
  • May 09, 2011
  • Jun 21, 2011
  • Jun 23, 2011
  • Aug 12, 2011
  • Sep 28, 2011
  • Oct 05, 2011
  • Nov 18, 2011
  • Jan 18, 2012
  • Feb 27, 2012
  • Mar 23, 2012
  • Apr 19, 2012
  • Apr 27, 2012
  • Jun 08, 2012
  • Jun 25, 2012
  • Jul 24, 2012
  • Aug 19, 2012

(FYI, SEOMoz has a great post on Google’s algrorithm changes, including detailing info on Panda updates)

To find this, find you site’s profile in Google Analytics. Then go to Traffic Sources > Search > Organic. Then, click the blue link to “source” and then click on “google” in the list of traffic sources. Now you’re looking at organic traffic from Google only over your chosen date range (I’d recommend looking at the last 3 months, then the last 6 months, just to be sure).

If you see something like below, you can start to worry, but don’t jump to any conclusions yet.

There’s a Substantial Drop in Traffic for Core Keywords

If your site’s been up for a while and you’ve been monitoring it, you probably know what your top performing keywords. If you don’t, that’s okay. We can find them.

While still in Traffic Sources > Search > Organic, switch to “keyword” (you were in “source”). Select a date range from 6 months to as far back as a year. Take a look at the keywords that drive significant traffic to your site that are non-branded (they don’t mention the name of your site/brand) and take note of them.

Then, if you look at these keywords for a few weeks after a Panda update and compare to a few weeks prior and you see a massive drop in traffic, you probably have a serious issue.

In Google Analytics, use the sidebar to navigate to Traffic Sources > Search > Organic. Go to the date range box and use your suspected Panda date as the start date and then set the end date four weeks out. Then hit “Compare to past”. See how your main traffic drivers performed. If you see a lot of red, you can continue to worry.

Indexation Status is Okay

If you have a noticeable decline in both overall Google traffic and traffic for your core keywords, you’ll want to make sure that you’re indeed dealing with Panda. There’s a variety of things that can get your website penalized or completely removed from the index that aren’t related to Panda. The first thing to do is to make sure your site is still indexed by Google.

Go to Google.com and search for site:yoursite.com. Are you getting results? That means you’re still indexed. Panda doesn’t result in removal from the index, just a decrease in your SERP placement. If you see something like this, it’s not a de-indexation issue. Move on to the next step.

It Isn’t Penguin

Penguin is Panda’s younger sibling. It rolled out this year and penalized sites that used “unnatural linking practices”, causing Google to view them as web spam. A dead give away for sites that Google considers web spam is when they don’t get returned as the first result for searches on the domain name.

To make sure Penguin isn’t the cause of your issue, go to Google.com and search for “mysite.com” (don’t use the site: operator). If your site comes up first, you haven’t been Penguined. It should look something like this.

Have You Been Hit By Panda?

If all four of the checks above came back “true”, there’s an excellent chance you’ve been hit by Panda. From here, you’ll want to read up on how to deal with it (luckily, there are tons of great posts on it) and take action, talk to your in-house or agency SEO, or talk to us (we’re always happy to help!).


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Mike Arnesen

Mike Arnesen - SEO Team Manager

Mike, who leads the SwellPath SEO service, is a self-confessed SEO addict and uber-geek. He is also a board member at SEMpdx. Mike's fascination for search experience optimization, structured data and semantic markup, and web technology knows no bounds. Beyond geeking out with the SEO team, Mike is also a prolific blogger, speaker (MozCon, SemTechBiz, SEMpdx, SMX, State of Search Conference, etc.), and company culture advocate. When not in the office, Mike is spending time with his wife, playing outdoors, or keeping up with inbound marketing news via mobile; most of the time, it's all three simultaneously.

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22 Responses to “How to Identify a Panda in 4 Easy Steps”

  1. Paul

    “To make sure Penguin isn’t the cause of your issue, go to Google.com and search for “mysite.com” (don’t use the site: operator). If your site comes up first, you haven’t been Penguined. It should look something like this.”

    This does not show whether a site is in a penguin penalty.. i know of numerous sites in penguin that still come first for their domain.

    Reply
    • Mike Arnesen

      Dr. Matt Peters of SEOmoz was able to find a pretty darn close correlation between sites getting flagged as webspam by Google/penalized by Penguin and subsequently not being returned for searches on their domain names. You can download his presentation deck here if you’re curious about learning more. http://www.seomoz.org/mozcon-live/agenda

      Reply
  2. Giulia

    You know if there Is a tool that allows to check if a site I do link building on has been penalized by Panda/Penguin? Please note that I have not access to Analytics or WBT and Majestic SEO for example still gives me good Trust Citation Flow and Flow. Thank you!

    Reply

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