Google Panda 3.4 – What Changed from Panda 3.3 and How to Fix Your Rankings
Google’s definitely on the warpath lately. On February 18th, Google launched Panda 3.3, which was a direct attack against unnatural link building tactics. Now, before the dust had settled, on March 23rd Google launched Panda 3.4, as evidenced (conveniently) by this official tweet:
Panda refresh rolling out now. Only ~1.6% of queries noticeably affected. Background on Panda: http://t.co/Z7dDS6qc— Google (@google) March 23, 2012
So, we’re left with a lot of questions:
- What did Google Panda 3.4 change?
- I was hit by Panda 3.4; How can I recover?
- Why is Google being such a b#%&@ lately?
What did Google Panda 3.4 Change?
Obviously, it’s only been a few days since Google Panda 3.4 was released, so the fallout is still manifesting as Google’s data centers refresh. I’ve done a lot of scoping around, trying to get opinions from other folks about what exactly changed in Panda 3.4, but thus far it doesn’t look like anyone is really willing to venture a guess as to what happened. So these observations are based solely on my interpretation of the ranking changes I’ve seen across the hundred or so websites on which I have ranking and analytics data. Google Panda 3.4 appears to be a revision and update to the changes made in Google Panda 3.3, which shows continued aggression by Google against unnatural link building.
As I stated in my previous post about Google Panda 3.3, here are the specific unnatural link building signals that Google is looking for and devaluing with the most recent revisions of Panda, including 3.4:
- Too many exact-match anchor text links. As webmasters (or SEOs), we want the most bang for our buck. This often results in us obsessing over getting links using the exact anchor text of the keyword we want to rank well for. This used to work really well, but Panda 3.3 and 3.4 have changed that. Previous to Panda 3.3, it was ideal to aim for around 40% exact-match anchor text links (as a percentage of your overall inbound link profile), but now the ideal figure is probably closer to 5-10%.
- Not enough junk anchors, LSI anchors, brand anchors, and naked URL anchors. I touched on this point in my previous post, but I wanted to expand on what each of these terms means, since they are so essential now.
- Junk anchor text, also known as “universal anchor text” is anchor text that’s not keyword-rich, and could be used for any website, or any niche. Common examples of junk anchor text includes “click here”, “visit this website”, “learn more”, etc. It’s important to use junk anchor text because it looks natural to Google, since most normal folks use that kind of language when they link to another website.
- LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) anchors are comprised of keywords related to, synonymous with, or similar to your target keyword. For instance, if your target keyword is “dog training,” then some LSI anchors would include “training for dogs,” “training for your dog”, “how to train your dog”, “teaching your dog to do tricks”, etc. A great way to find LSI anchors for your particular keyword is to use Google’s free keyword tool. These are important to use because it’s unnatural for many people from many websites to just happen to link to your website with the same anchor text. It’s much more likely (and, therefore, natural) to link using a wide variety of anchor text. The only exception to this is with brand anchors and naked URLs.
- Brand anchors are comprised of keywords that include your brand or company name. For example, if your company name is “Jayson’s Dog Training”, then examples of brand anchors would include “Jayson’s Dog Training,” “Jaysons dog training,” “Jason’s Dog Training,” “Dog training tips at Jayson’s Dog Training”, “Learn to train your dog at Jayson’s Dog Training,” etc. Brand anchors are commonly used to link to company homepages, so it makes more sense for them to link to your homepage rather than internal pages. However, variety is necessary (and natural), so I recommend ensuring that a few brand anchors point to your internal pages as well.
- Naked URLs are anchors that are comprised of variations of your website’s URL. For example, for AudienceBloom.com, here are some naked URL anchors: “audiencebloom.com”, “http://www.audiencebloom.com”, “www.audiencebloom.com”, “http://audiencebloom.com”. Naked URLs can also link to internal pages of a site, in addition to the website homepage.
- Not enough social signals. Clearly, Google is on a mission to strip webmasters and SEOs of their power when it comes to manipulating Google’s search engine rankings. Before Panda 3.3, the easiest way to do this was to build lots of inbound links with anchor text including your target keyword. After Panda 3.3 and 3.4, link building still provides the vast majority of the power we wield, but it has been significantly weakened. Google knows that, in order to strip webmasters and SEOs of their power in ranking manipulation, it needs to stop relying on inbound links and start relying more on other signals which are harder to control and game. So far, it looks like Google is turning to social signals as a potential escape from inbound links.Social signals include bookmarks from sites like Delicious and Stumbleupon, votes from social news sites like Digg and Reddit, and votes from social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Google knows that when a particular URL or website is being tweeted a lot, or shared on Facebook or Google+, it’s likely to be popular. Google wants to display popular sites at the top of its search results, so it uses these social signals in its algorithm to help determine ranking placement.After Panda 3.3 and 3.4, it’s more important than ever to have lots of inbound social signals. The best way to get inbound social signals is to do the following:
- Create a Facebook page, Twitter account, and Google+ page
- Make sure your website visitors can connect with you on these channels by including “Connect” links on your website
- Publish rich, quality onsite content and broadcast your newly-published content via these channels.
I was hit by Panda 3.4; How can I recover?
If you or your client(s) were hit by Panda 3.3 or 3.4 and need to recover, you need to do one or both of the following.
- Remove any inbound links you built which have exact-match anchor links, or change the anchor text to a junk anchor, brand anchor, LSI anchor, or naked URL. This is often not possible, in which case you need to do option 2:
- Dilute your existing inbound link profile with a new link building campaign that focuses on building new links with junk anchors, brand anchors, LSI anchors, and naked URLs.
Why is Google being such a b#%&@ lately?
Google is a business, and the purpose of a business is to make money. By making these changes, Google is stripping SEOs and webmasters of their ability to manipulate search engine rankings and get their websites (or their clients’ websites) ranked on the first page of Google’s search results. As a result, Google is increasing the demand for their pay-per-click traffic auction, Adwords. Webmasters that previously held high rankings for competitive keywords lost tons of website traffic and sales after Panda 3.3 and Panda 3.4. So, what was their best alternative? Google Adwords.
Not only has Google created more demand for its Adwords product, but in doing so it has created more competition for every keyword auction within Adwords, driving up the price of keyword bids and raking in the money. As unfortunate as it is, it’s a good strategy by Google and it’ll definitely increase Google’s profits.
I hope you found this post helpful. If you’ve been hit by Panda 3.3 or Panda 3.4, don’t hesitate to reach out. We offer link building packages that are designed to help you recover from a Panda 3.3 or Panda 3.4 penalty.
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