Panda Pushback Links


I wanted to jump on the Panda bandwagon and share a number of thoughts and observations I have/had on the update.  I’ve talked to lots of people and watched what happened to a number of sites and came away feeling this was another link update.  (Big shock there eh?)   Let me break it down:


1.  I raised an eyebrow after reading Google’s latest panda post, not because of the content (which was pretty yada-yada) but because of the comments.  Normally people do a lot of kissy-kissy at the end of those posts but not this time, take a look:


• This article is unmitigated prevarication”

• I believe I’m stupider having read this than when I started”

• You sirs, to me, are no better anymore than Microsoft.

Ouch.  Definitely no brown nosing going on there :(


2.  I didn’t find anything new or overly helpful in the latest Google post dropped to be informative and helpful.  I’ve read variations of these points this past winter, then again a week before the post was made and several times before that.    As I read through the laundry list of helpful tips, one point stood out for me, (highlighted):


In case you don’t feel like clicking the image it says:


Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?





Now that’s a new one, or new to me I should say. I’ve never seen an official statement from Google about excessive ads and I spent a good deal of time searching to prove myself wrong. After reading and thinking about it, I started applying the single point of “excessive ads” to other points listed and found I could tie the ads issue to almost everything they said. Take a look:


Google: Would you trust the information presented in this article?

Debra: Would you trust the information presented in this article if it was filled with an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?


Google: Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?

Debra: Does the site have duplicate, overlapping or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations and an excessive amount of ads?


Google: Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?

Debra: Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis or is it just filled with an excessive amount of ads?


Google: Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?

Debra: Are the articles short, unsubstantial or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics and filled with an excessive amount of ads?


Interesting pattern.  But don’t misunderstand me here, I don’t think this is about ads or the amount of content on the page or the idea Google has figured out a way to rate “quality”.   I think what we’re seeing with Panda is about the affect excessive “crap content” (such as an abundance of ad and little else) has on a web page in terms of making that page an attraction point.  Crappy content doesn’t attract editorial linking and without good links, your pages go Panda.


Yep, I think this is a link tweak.  Again.  Google loves links too much not to have them factor in an update, they hint about the need for links in the tips above.   Let’s play the “what Google really means” game again:


Google: Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?

Debra: Does the page/site have authority links pointing to it?


Google: Would you trust the information presented in this article?

Debra: Would you link to this article?  Would you vouch for it by linking to it?


If you answered yes to either question, chances are you didn’t lose anything in the Panda update. But if you answered no, a lack of good links to content filled pages is probably the reason.  Take a look at this Panda thread and skim the posts; note the sites complaining and the reasons the Google reps and the senior forum folks respond with.  Click through to the “victim” sites and get a load of  what some people try to pass off as content.  One guy swears up and down he and the wife do all the writing and don’t host excessive ads.   A  glance at the site shows every internal page hosting Adsense and affiliate links, there’s little (if any) original content to be seen.  Add to it I couldn’t find a single inbound link to one of their internal pages and  BAM!   More Panda poop.


3.  Google’s been adamant the update was done algorithmically,  I’m hard pressed to believe a manual slap was implemented given the large number of pages missing or pushed to near oblivion.    Reps dropped hints about an upcoming link change and frankly, it makes sense given the amount of emphasis Google places on links.


Another thing to support my theory this was another link tweak:  everyone I’ve talked to admits losing interior pages that didn’t have inbound links from “good” pages.  They were linked to via natural navigation but did not have outside links pointing in.   Remember… links pass link popularity based on the amount of authority/trust/PageRank/age  the host page has.  If your internal linking structure is weak and your only link juice is homegrown, chances are the link popularity passed was not enough to save it from Panda.


4.  I also think Jim has something here when he mentions the possibly of ‘pogo-sticking” being incorporated as well.  Google is filled to the rim with Caffeine brim making it easier now to add click through/bounce rates data to the algo.  More data is more data to use in determining if the search public likes what they see.  Plus one anyone?


5.  As for the other conspiracy theories like lack of tweets, toolbar usage and Agent Ranking… I don’t think they’re heavy hitters when it comes to defining factors.  I’m sure there’s a lot of small points factored in but overall?  They’re probably very supporting cast players.  To me, links are center stage with everything else a contributing factor.  But then I’m always a little biased when it comes to links.



From where I sit, you can write the most spectacular content and upload it to your site but at the end of the day, if you don’t promote it, no one will see it. And if no one sees it, no one will:


  • click it (bounce-back/click through data)
  • bookmark it (links)
  • tweet it (links, signals)
  • feature it in the media (links, signals)
  • blog about it (links, signals)
  • add it to credible sources like Wikipedia  (clicks/exposure)


So yeah, this Panda update is about the role good content plays in your search results but it’s more about the links it takes to make that content sing. My old tagline sorta sums it all up IMO:


it’s not linking, it’s marketing”.



There’s a lot of opinions out there, add mine to the mix.  Here’s a  list of Panda posts by some very smart people:


Everett Sizemore:


SEODojo Radio Podcast:

SEO Gadget:



Mark Nunny/Wordtracker:

Kristi Hines/SEW:

Nichola Stott/State of Search:

Wired Interview with Googlers Cutts and Singhal:


Rob Young/SE Journal:

Terry Van Horne:



  1. says

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  2. says

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  3. Nicole Pereira says

    Thanks for some more info on this. I’m not an expert in this area whatsoever so I’m being tossed opinion like facts left and right. None of this guidance seems to show any backing as to how they arrived at their conclusion. You , of course, take the extra steps to help someone like me filter through the BS and get some more insight on what the heck is going on!

  4. Pablo says

    It seems to me that the Panda update is just a Google clean-up and reinforcement of basic fundamental SEO. For a long time, we’ve known that the best way to optimize a website is to make sure to have good site structure, good unique content and authority links pointing back.

    Granted, I think if you have those solid fundamentals on your website, you shouldn’t have been affected much by the update and if you have been, I’d like to hear more about it.

    We’ve known for some time now, before the update how social media would play a much larger role in seo and the algo. Trust factors seem to be as important as ever, although I think for a long time Goog has used signals to consider trust to a website (links) and now for ecomm (since the new york times update) we’ve heard of customer reviews possibly playing a role (power reviews platform in the engine).

  5. Arnie Kuenn says

    Hi Debra,
    Just found this post on Sphinn. I don’t get out and comment as much as I used to, but thought I would say hello and let you know I (of course) agree that 1) Panda and 2) Google are still very focused on links. Yes you have to have good content like Anon was describing that he does, but somewhere along the line you need the credibility that quality links bring with it.

    The type of links that helped sites rank over the years have changed, but one constant is that really good, editorially given links will always be highly valued by Goog.

    Side note: Glad to see you listed a post by VMer – Kristi Hines. And Jim Boykin has put out some really good info on Panda.


  6. Debra says

    It sounds like you’re doing everything right to me Anon so no surprises your site wasn’t touched. :) And I believe you, no need to show me anything. I believe everyone who says they did this and that, that’s not the issue now is it? It’s that Google doesn’t believe. My opinion is worthless in the scheme of things.

    I think on-page optimization has always been important, it’s what drives editorial linking, clicks, time on page calculations, return visits etc. All the pages/sites I’ve seen affected had a couple points of commonality, the biggest would be no inbound links to the page and/or poor/no links to the domain. Not sure why people disagree it’s a links thing, the “bad” pages would never have been found and analyzed if it wasn’t for links! Something had to trigger the algo when it went from link to link, given the weight link popularity plays in the overall computation of rank, it just makes sense to me this was link based. Are links the only contributing factor? Nope, we know that based on all the gibberish being dropped on Google’s blog. There’s definitely more involved but overall? The big nut was links.

  7. Anon says

    Debra, I must say that I’m amazed by what the Panda update has done for/to some sites and the opinions from well-known SEO bloggers (such as yourself) that followed. I picked up so many good ideas from you over the months, so consider this to be a Socrates style debate:

    When I think of my own site I must think about what Panda has done FOR it, instead of against it. But why does my site contradict all the opinions of what Panda was said to be about?

    – The internal linkbuilding is mediocre at best (I’m working on it) so how can it be about links?
    – The # of external links pointing to the site is low at best (just started linkbuilding) so how can it be about links?
    – I’ve been on Twitter and Facebook a long time, but no blog post gets more than 2-5 re-tweets/likes in total
    – Typical link bait posts get 5 links from other websites at best

    Looking at why it can’t be about links for my site specifically I can only draw two conclusions: the update isn’t about links (but that’s an assumption since I base it on the achievements of only 1 site and not a statistically relevant dataset) OR… my competition “sucks” more than I do hahaha.

    Yet still, my website traffic has almost tripled during the last 3 months. Some potential reasons why, the only reasons why it could happen in my opinion:

    – I produce content consistently: 2 blog posts a week, EVERY week, without exception
    – No blog post is shorter than 1,000 words, hell, most of them are 1,200-2,400 words
    – The on-page optimization is hardcore (any more “tricks” and it’s hyperoptimizing)
    – I have zero ads on my website and it’s a WordPress blog
    – All the content I produce contains in-depth advice and is unique

    I personally think on-page optimization has become more important than ever because of/after Panda + if it is about links, then it should be incredibly comforting for everyone to know that SEO isn’t a long, hard struggle… but a matter of match and exceed. The more your competition sucks, the easier it is haha!

    Debra if you want I can show you some numbers to back up what I’m saying. Just send me an email.

  8. aaron wall says

    “I think…the fact people search in large quantities for them by name, help. He doesn’t. ”

    I do think that search patterns are a big part of the algorithmic brand puzzle. Google engineers have even stated they use query chains to influence the search results…that was what drove the Vince update a couple years back.

  9. Debra says

    I’m going to respond to both of your comments here. Let me break down what you said and share my thoughts.

    You wrote: Aaron Wall wrote a very good post about this topic at SEOBook

    I love Aaron to death, I’m the link building Moderator on his forum and have other ties to him so when I say Aaron can be a little over the top with his Google rants, I say so respectfully. I agree with him most of the time but I disagree on this issue of brands being given preference in the search results. He and I have debated this point in the past, I think their back link graphs, aged domains and the fact people search in large quantities for them by name, help. He doesn’t. (shrug) If the search results suddenly showed “ type sites in the top ten results, I’ bet people would bitch and loudly. Multiple opinions is a good thing but I don’t hold Aaron to be the end-all authority on Google’s intentions.

    I don’t know why Eric Schmidt says what he does but I also know taking statements out of context and using them in a discussion can help sway anyone’s argument. If Mr. Schmidt was talking about search results then I’d agree but I’m betting he wasn’t.

    As for taking away anyone’s freedom of choice, no one makes you click on a search return or use a specific engine, but again, I’m betting people looking for vacuum cleaners and seeing Amazon first are happy with that since Amazon has a terrific reputation online and off.

    You said: Are we looking at the same sites?

    I think so, I clicked the link you provided and noted ALL of the sites listed in your post, not just those two. So others may be clued in, here are the sites you listed in rows 1 and 2 as being spanked by Panda:

    he types of sites most affected by Google Farmer Update are:

    Article directories including Wisegeek, EzineArticles, Hubpages, Squidoo, articlesbase, CBS’s Bnet findarticles, etc.
    Competitors to Google Shopping such as TheFind, ShopWiki, BizRate, Buzzillions,, Kaboodle, DigitalTrends, TestFreaks, GaltTech.

    Sites like eZinearticle and the other article directories listed are exactly what Panda was targeting and rightly so. But a couple on the second line made me go “hmmm” so I pulled one I’d not heard of and clicked into a random interior page. The site is ad/Adsense heavy but seems to also have a balance of content, has good internal navigation but no inbound links. Maybe something else might be in play, or maybe they just got swept up in the moment, hard to tell by looking at one page.

    Like I said, there’s lots of theories but from what I can, including the sites you showcased? The primary factor for most of them seems to be link related.


  10. Gail Gardner says

    Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said, “Brands are the solution, not the problem,” Mr. Schmidt said. “Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.”

    How does that statement mesh with your statement that “I don’t think brands are given preference”? To me that is a clear indication that their intention IS to favor brands and each update and what they’ve done in AdWords all indicate that is their agenda.

    This is a major problem for small businesses and if consumers are wise they will realize it will take away their freedom of choice. I for one will not let Big Brother G decide what I know about – but then I know how to find other alternatives and save my favorite sites offline so I can get to them again when I can’t find them in search any more.

    Aaron Wall wrote a very good post about this topic at SEOBook. I lay out my concerns in my comment in that Google Branding post. This is an extremely important subject that needs much higher awareness in the general public.

  11. Gail Gardner says

    Are we looking at the same sites? I use TheFind and ShopWiki any time I want to research something to buy online or off because they let me find the small stores and not just the big brands. Could you elaborate please, especially on your trust issue point?

  12. Debra says

    Thanks for the comment Miguel. Looks like this is my day to be a contrarian :)

    I don’t think brands are given preference, I believe brands benefit from aged domains, a huge link graph which can absorb and sustain algo fluxuations and specific search queries. People search for brands by name, I think that point is huge and getting bigger. Factor in they’re tying in social media signals and mentions and brands just win out by brute force. Huzzah!

    I don’t know about the anchor text thing, that’s a toughie because most of the time, when people come to me thinking they were slapped because of aggressive anchor text it was becuz they were aggressive with their anchors. But! This like almost everything link popularity related, it’s not so much about the link/anchor phrase itself as it is about where those people chose to put them. Most people drop large lots of anchor text links on networks or on paid link pages… that’s where the trouble starts. If an anchor text link is dropped on a page buried 20x deep within a site, it’s of little consequence. But drop on a network of blogs? Big difference.

    OK WHEW!!! Here’s something I agree with :) You wrote:

    If you have strong enough brand signals then that can be enough to overcome many penalties as we’ve seen time and time again

    I do think brands sustain algo sweeps and wrist slaps because of what I wrote earlier and I have very mixed feelings about sites like JCP and Overstock. I get why they rank but I don’t understand why their “bad” pages are allowed to remain in the index. If the engines gave them all a 90 day time out? Would fix that problem quick.

  13. Debra says

    Gail – looks like we’re going to disagree with each all the way around. I took a look at the sites listed on your blog post, they’re exactly the type of light content, poor internal linking examples I was talking about. This isn’t an Adsense issue, it’s a trust issue.

  14. Miguel says

    Thanks for the comprehensive post. I tend to agree with your ideas that Panda has a heavy tie in to linking. Linking to internal pages, or deep linking, has been an important factor amongst seasoned SEOs for a long time now. But a point that I feel was left out and that is probably THE most important factor here (IMHO) is the anchor text saturation factor. I’ve seen and confirmed with many that over the past year sites with over optimized anchor text, and little deep linking, have been losing ground. Would you agree on the over optimization of anchor text theory?

    Another thing at play here is that Google has been shoving brands into the top of search results for well over a year now, on many fronts and through many devices! The domain stacking for branded queries began almost a year ago, remember. So if you are a site that depends on branded rankings, that is ranking for other brands terms, then you are screwed. This mainly affects affiliates though and Google things little of affiliates unless you’re generating $$ for them. But by weeding out content heavy sites I feel that brands are positioned once again to take advantage. If you have strong enough brand signals then that can be enough to overcome many penalties as we’ve seen time and time again (JCP was spamming for years and Google knew about it, Overstock is back ranking like CRAZY already and still with spammy paid links).


  15. Gail Gardner says

    I’m going to have to agree with Everett here (although obviously serps are ALWAYS about links too). Have you considered this? Google Farmer Panda Update hits Google COMPETITORs.

    Many of those sites are not what I would call content farms nor do they cover their pages up with AdSense. And speaking of AdSense – Google CREATED MFA (made for AdSense) and Parked Domain sites because they would not exist if it weren’t for their allowing ads to be displayed on them.

    Until Google gets rid of their official Google AdSense for Domains program (easy to find if you Google it) and starts penalizing MFA sites, why would anyone take their claim to be “improving search” seriously?

    There is a MUCH bigger issue looming on the horizon. Just wait until they start using Chrome block data as a reason to drop sites. I can already hear them saying “it is what our users want!”.

    Just as Akismet’s use of Crowdsourcing is effectively silencing the best and brightest blog commentators (but many STILL haven’t figured that out yet), that block data is the perfect excuse to “clean up the Internet cesspool” as Google is so found of claiming as their goal. My post about Crowdsourcing failures explains both.

  16. Todd says

    Hah, if only I had come up with that myself. I assure you the intentions were strictly honorable :). Thanks for your input – always enjoy another perspective.

  17. Debra says

    You’re welcome Everett!

    Based on the many many sites we’ve de-constructed and watch, it’s come down to a link thing for me, I can’t explain it algorithmically any other way. Now like I said, I do tend to always see things through link colored glasses and I am a hard-headed German but after a lot of work and analysis, I just. can’t. explain it any other way. Pages pass link popularity not comments, or reviews – pages. Just because a page sits on CNN doesn’t give it an automatic algo pass, it has to earn weight like anything else. You may have a broad and robust link profile but unless those pages are weighted, they’ll pass min link juice.

    Regarding “crappy” sites coming back for search terms… if those terms are unusual “long tail” (hate that term) terms then I can also make a case for search frequency being a factor. If there’s a page answering the search query, it’s going to come up especially if there aren’t that many pages out there optimized for the term.

    (shrug) Who knows :) You can show me 40 results to support your argument and I’ll show you 40 to support mine. At the end of the day everyone benefits by seeing multiple opinions and can draw their own conclusions. Thanks for dropping the comment :)

  18. says

    Hello Debra,

    (Donna you rock for helping with the formatting!)

    You make some great points here about excessive ads. They have a negative effect on so many things, from bouncerate to bookmarking to social media sharing and more… I do agree that you can add that statement to all the other statements and they make sense in that way.

    Also, thanks for sharing the link to my post! Next time I’ll be more concise, and it has largely been a flop so far. It happens.

    But I will have to respectfully and humbly disagree that this is a link thing. Many of the sites I’m dealing with that were hit by Panda have extremely robust link profiles, including deep links from CNN, ABC, NBC, TIME, The New York Times, Washington Post, .edu and .gov sites and links from the leading sites in the industry. That’s because they have an awesome PR team and some great links builders. These aren’t crappy blog comment links or paid links, but high quality links that have been consistently built over time.

    Meanwhile I see sites with far fewer links, including some with ONLY crappy paid links or hardly any links at all, ranking just fine after Panda. I don’t see the correlation.

    The one correlation that I HAVE seen, again and again, is that user-generated content (in the form of reviews and comments in these cases) is the only thing that seems to get pre-panda rankings back on a keyword-by-keyword basis. But even then it’s only temporary.

    Thanks for a great post. I’m going back to that Google blog post to read all of the comments. I could use a good laugh today!


  19. Debra says

    Thanks Todd. I’m pretty sure Adam or John could have answered this question in their sleep but then if you asked them you’d miss your opp to drop a link eh? ;)

    Your pages probably did pop because “crap was being cleared”, that kinda makes sense even if the client’s domain is weak. The closer internal pages are to the home/category pages, the more juice flows and the better chance pages have for sticking in the serps especially if your internal pages lack outside links. Engines bring back what they can find based on what’s being requested so if the terms were unique enough and the pages have been indexed, they’ll get pulled. This is why is really important to have a strong internal linking structure, don’t leave pages out there dangling.

  20. says

    Well, if your Google/Debra points were an HTML list, then you could just do a style for the LI elements to add a padding-bottom: 10px; or something like that. But they aren’t. So, if you just want to be able to add extra BR tags without having WordPress strip them out (which I hate too), then install this plugin: . Then you can use the [br] shortcode to insert extra line breaks.

  21. Todd says

    Hi Debra,

    Enjoyed the post thanks for sharing – especially your ads tie in.

    I tend to agree with your analysis on the importance of links after the Panda update, but I would like to throw you an interesting scenario.

    This page: which is on a site I lightly work on was ranking ok for a few phrases related to “english laurel”. After Panda however, the page started ranking for a variety of longtail phrases, as well as earning much higher rankings for head terms such as “english laurel(s)”.

    I’m curious as to how you might diagnose this change – is it likely it’s just a result of crap being cleared out from other sites? It seems odd as the page has little to no external links and the domain is generally weak. Curious to hear your thoughts on how a scenario similar to this plays into your Panda/link thinking.

    Thanks again for another great post!

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