The Panda in the room

Sad Panda

We at Review Centre pride ourselves on giving a voice to consumers – a voice that consumers may not have otherwise. We provide a forum for people to leave reviews of products and services, be they good, or bad. We don’t incentivise reviews, we don’t pay for reviews. People write reviews on our website because they want to. We often get told by consumers what a great service we provide, and how we’ve helped people to narrowly avert a major purchasing crisis because of our reviews.

BUT, at the end of the day, we’re a business. Running a website that regularly receives over 4 million visits a month isn’t trivial, nor cheap. We need to monetise our content to pay the wages of the staff that help to maintain this service. People visit our website, more often than not from search engines (most likely Google), and some of those people will click on adverts on our site. That’s how we manage to maintain Review Centre.

On Monday of this week, the ongoing upkeep of Review Centre suddenly became a lot more difficult. Google rolled out a major algorithmic shift (nicknamed the Panda Update), that was apparently an attempt to remove low quality websites from its search index. It affected Review Centre, and has resulted in a significant drop to our Google traffic. We weren’t the only ones – apparently several other high profile consumer review sites have been effected – Ciao, Qype, Dooyoo, and Reevoo.

We knew that today was coming. Panda was released in the US in late February. We saw our US traffic drop, and we knew it was only a matter of weeks until it reached the UK. It’s too early to say precisely what kind of a drop we’ve seen in the UK, but it is likely to be on a par with what we’ve seen in the US. We’ve been frantically trying to work out what’s been going on ever since, and have already taken actions that fit with the advice given by Matt Cutts, and filed for reinclusion. We hope that somewhere within the raft of changes we’ve made, we’ve done something to appease Google. As we learn more about Panda, we will continue to make more changes

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to move us in the right direction.

Like any enterprise level website, we have problems – I’ll hold our hands up to that. Fixing something over here breaks something over there. There have been occasions where a change has gone live that has had unintentional ramifications elsewhere, but as soon as we’ve spotted the issue we’ve always corrected it.

We’ve stayed on the right side of Google’s guidelines, while at the same time we’ve witnessed so many others show a blatant disregard for them – and continue to perform well. That’s a huge frustration for ourselves, and the reason why views such as this continue to perpetuate. It’s also ironic that although Google have deemed our content not fit for their organic SERPs, they’re still happy to publish our review content within their own vertical search products.

We will continue to work hard to fix this. But for now, those of you wondering why you can’t find us in Google know why.

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24 Responses to The Panda in the room

  1. Hope things improve. I was surprised to see review sites on the list of those hurt by this. Google has said that reinclusion requests no longer work for algorithmic penalties so don’t pin all your hopes on that.

  2. Iain Calvert says:

    Jonny I think you have hit the nail on the head with the fact that they still publish your review ratings in search products & PPC adverts. Which several sites I’ve worked with use.

    Hope it works out.

  3. Jonny says:

    Thanks Patrick. I guess we weren’t surprised as we’d seen the effects of the US-rollout, so we had a bit of lead time to try and get our head round things. Good point on the reconsideration request

  4. Tim Aldiss says:

    Hey Google… the clue is in the name!

  5. Peter Young says:

    Echo Patricks sentiments on seeing review sites caught up in the Panda update particularly given Matts push on unique content etc

    Hope things improve in the near future.

  6. Lee Colbran says:

    I saw RC had been hit in the early postings that followed the update. There is a huge injustice with Google happy to use your data to IMPROVE its own experience to users but then preventing your valued review information to be read by others. Google does get things wrong, this is one such occasion.

  7. Jonny says:

    Cheers Pete – much appreciated. Will be sure to let you know if / when things do improve

  8. Jonny says:

    Thanks Lee – let’s hope so

  9. Tom Smith says:

    The most annoying thing about reputable review sites getting hit by Panda, is the fact that exact match domains like ’42ld450tvreview.co.uk’ with terrible content written by some affiliate are still ranking well.

    Really hope things improve.

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  13. Carl Uminski says:

    Jonny, great honest article as expected from a business and person like you. The most significant point I see here is that Google is really happy to use your data to significantly enhance their own experience which, from a competition point of view is outrageous and actually, pretty rude! Google are Google, they do their thing and we all (excuse the pun) dance around it. As a result of this I think we’ll be able to spot the next generation SEO folk who work out what the ideal page is, what the ideal content is and how we all operate in the next era. In the mean time just hope that Bing spends some more marketing budget and gains (used lightly) traction ;-) . Keep your posts alive and update your findings for the community sir – all valid! I remember when Yahoo! acquired Kelkoo and Kelkoo ‘disappeared’ from the Google index for 24 hrs…

  14. Dave says:

    I feel your pain. I also run a review site – much smaller than yours, but still a viable business – we’ve suffered badly not just at roll out but with a second dip in traffic this week. We work incredibly hard on our site, but in many cases we’re now being outranked by sites that are clearly scraped spam.

    Google wants a slice of the UGC/review pie for itself – their own Places pages are starting to dominate our sector (using scraped content it should be noted!). I suspect this – along with +1 – is part of the strategy to make an inroad into social networking (“we have your interests, let’s share them with your friends” – “oh, we know who your friends are – why not tell them what you’re doing and share other content with them”).

    We’ll be doing everything we can to fight to get our site ranking again; we we wish you luck too.

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  17. Luke Ashworth says:

    Just like to second the comments regards Google using your data to enhance their CTR’s within Adwords (thereby driving more revenue to Google) at the same time as pushing you down the SERPS. I’d in fact argue that if your contact is good enough to go within the Adwords system that there’s a strong argument not to push you lower down, but in fact *even higher*!

    I knew the guys that started RC and they were always nothing but ethical in their approach – unlike some of the rest of us at the time!

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  19. Ike Horal says:

    There is a significant panic around online businesses and SEO professionals relating to Google Panda revise. However I’m sure that Google update only “cleansed” results from Spam and web directories and autoblogs. White hat SEO and top quality content is not affected at all, I think it is simply the contrary and great news for everyone who practise white hat web optimization.

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  21. Darla says:

    I am one among those who have suffering in the hands of Panda. Though a small website, I saw a sudden dip in the traffic and these stats keep changing in an abnormal fashion. On the other hand, as you rightly stated, sites which duplicated content are doing better than mine. One thing I read was that Panda was considering RSS feeds as duplicate content and this is affecting few sites. What is your opinion on this?

  22. Jade says:

    Oh my gosh. This Panda Update seems awful! This might be just another one of the many ways Google has been strong arming smaller web companies. They do not dare to this to big companies. So unjust. I hope all is well now!

  23. Anne says:

    The more I learn about Panda, I’m happy that I’m being coached by SEO masters who have not only survived but doing quite well through the whole year. I’m sorry to hear through the other posts about how the Panda-in-the-room punished legitimate content-rich sites as yours while others that aren’t have been bypassed. I guess we need to keep believing that Google has the right mission in mind to help searches end up with the appropriate results. Good luck in finding the corrections you need.

  24. John says:

    Google is so weird sometimes. It sucks that we depend on the traffic so much and in a blink of an eye the switch can be flipped off. I guess that is the flaw of our business model.

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