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Google Panda 3.3: Why Your Rankings Dropped and How to Recover

Published by | 7 Comments

Google Panda 3.3 rolled out between February 18, 2012 and February 27, 2012, and the SEO world, along with millions of website owners, small business owners and webmasters have been scrambling to figure out the answers to these two questions:

  • Why did my site lose rankings?
  • What do I need to do to recover?

Now that the dust has settled, we have some answers as to what happened with your rankings, as well as how to recover.

What happened:

Your site was hit by Panda 3.3, the latest iteration of Google’s Panda algorithm. Panda 3.3 was rolled out between 2/18 and 2/27.

Who was affected by Panda 3.3?

  • Larger sites that had long held rankings in their niche for years
  • Strong authority sites with active or historic link building

What is Panda 3.3?

Panda 3.3 is the latest iteration of Google’s Panda algorithm. It specifically targeted unnatural link profiles. It’s not a ranking penalty; rather it’s a loss of rankings due to decreased value of the inbound links pointing to your site. The inbound links were devalued due to a change in the way Google assesses inbound links. Here’s Google’s statement on what changed:

Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.”

Here’s the link:

Additionally, Panda 3.3:

  • Placed more emphasis on social media, and inbound links from social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
  • Placed more emphasis on onsite content matching up with the source page content of the link
  • Placed more emphasis on the content on source page in order to determine relevance of the outbound link

Why your site was hit:

Google looks for patterns that can be programmatically identified and enforced. You were hit because your site fit that pattern; your site wasn’t hand selected or “penalized.” Too many of your inbound links had “exact match” anchor text, meaning that the anchor text of the links was exactly the keywords you were trying to rank for. SEOs and link builders have historically built lots of exact-match anchor text links because exact-match anchor text has always carried a heavy weight in the ranking algorithm. Now, after Panda 3.3, that weight has been significantly reduced. As such, the value of these links was reduced.

Additionally, Google appears to have implemented a threshold for “too many” exact match anchor text links. When Google deems there to be too many exact-match anchor texts for a particular keyword, it will significantly reduce the value of all of those links. This is worrisome because it opens up the doors to “Negative SEO” or attack-tactics. It’s now presumably possible to “tank” your competitors by building links to their websites with over-optimized exact match anchor text. I hope Google will realize this and try to prevent it from happening, because as of right now, it appears to be possible. If Google doesn’t correct this, I expect to see mercenary “Negative SEO” companies start to sprout up and offer services of tanking competitors out of the rankings.

Here are two things to specifically look for when reviewing your inbound link profile:

1) Your link profile might not have enough brand-name anchors. Anchor text that is your brand name or variations of it are one signal to Google of a natural link profile.

2) Another element of a natural-looking link profile is what’s called “junk” anchor text, LSI anchor text, and naked URLs. These are anchors that say “click here”, “here”, “Website”, “”, “”, etc. LSI anchor text are related terms to your target keywords. Google looks for these anchors in backlink profiles as a signal of a natural link profile since most folks link to other sites that way.

What you need to do to recover from Panda 3.3:

  • To recover from Panda 3.3, you need a link building campaign that includes anchor text with lots of variation, including lots of brand-name anchors, LSIs, junk anchors, and naked URL anchors. You need to continue this until the scales are “tipped back” in your favor and the ratios of exact-match anchors are brought down. When the ratios drop below the threshold (whatever that threshold may be), you will regain some of the value of your links.
  • You need to revisit the textual content on your website and ensure that it uses your keywords for which you’d like to rank well, in addition to variations of those keywords.
  • Make the following changes to your link building campaign to counter and adapt to this algorithm change:
    • Vastly increase the amount and variation of anchor text that you use to build inbound links to your site, and increase the usage of brand name anchors, naked URL anchors, junk anchors and LSI anchors.
    • Add in a social component so that your site will receive inbound links from social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Delicious, and more.

Have I permanently lost all value from the links that were built before Panda 3.3 hit?

Probably not. Once the scales are tipped back in your favor with a strategic link building campaign that consists of plenty of the anchor types I outlined above, the value from your previously-built links should be restored.

How long will it take?

If the scales were only slightly tipped, it could take as few as 2-3 weeks. I would expect it to take 2-4 months on average, with extreme cases requiring 6-8 months of link building work.

I hope this guide helps you conquer and reverse the hit from Google Panda 3.3! Was your site hit by Panda? Let us know in the comments!

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Jayson DeMers

Jayson DeMers is the Founder & CEO of AudienceBloom. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.

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  1. avatar


    Ugh man my site tanked today. Was in top 3 spots for about4-5 keywords for over a year. I am ranking about 15-16 for them now. It is actually a page ranking not the main domain and it seems only this page has been spanked. I have done lots of link building over the years. I guess the main thing is i prob have to many exact anchor text links. Over the last month I was actually spreading this out as well. I have decent social links to the page. about 400 FB likes 20 gogle + and some tweets. Man i gotta get this page back up fast! Any other tips are greatly appreciatd.

    • avatar


      Yeah, you probably have too many exact match anchor links. You need to dilute your overall link profile with some new links that include brand terms, LSIs and naked URLs. If you have access or control over the inbound links to your site, see if you can get them removed. That’ll definitely help!

      Let me know if you need help with link building and I’ll get you taken care of.

  2. avatar

    Jeff Meier

    Very good information…I have seen some changes, and I thought I was being penalized and now I realize it just effects from the latest panda..
    I will get to work on the fix.. but what is a good way to add Social Media links??

  3. avatar



    Nice article … interested in knowing what tools or how you find out relevant Ngrams/LSI for your KW’s?
    Google must be basing this on user searches so is there anyway/tool we can use to find them?

    • avatar


      Hey Darren,

      I use Google’s Keyword Tool. There are a few other methods that work well though, too. You can perform a search in Google and then scroll to the bottom of the search results and find “related searches,” which are LSI terms.

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