Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Google Panda Guide: Part 5 - The AdSense Dilemma

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Hey AdSense publisher, are you really ready for Google Panda? Almost four months have gone since Panda, the new quality content filter from Google that has hit the web making thousands of web sites close business in the name of giving greater space to real quality content. Not to web sites that have been built and maintained exclusively for the purpose of making money through ads.

Photo credit: Vlue - iStockphoto

It's time for me to provide some advice and recommendations, especially to those, who are afraid of being hit by the Panda algorithm, but are not yet quite sure of what is best to do.

As a matter of fact, if you are small independent publisher, living off advertising revenues, the solution may be in many situations one that, yes, it may eventually get you out of Panda, but it will surely also kill your possibility of economic survival in the short term.

This is why, I have to admit, the solution may not be as easy as most SEO "gurus" would like to suggest.

For many this is a live or die choice, and therefore not one where one can simply choose on the basis of what Google would seem to prefer or what a SEO expert may say.

Here one needs to choose by looking at the bottom line and at the options available to survive. This is what it comes down to and these here below are my considerations about it.

The Status Quo


The Panda is still out there, computing, indexing and recalculating what it will deem to be appropriate, high quality content from the thin, low value, spammy, made-for-ads content that it has been designed for.

The Panda algorithm does not operate in real-time automatic, but it is manually run on a periodical basis.

From the data and analysis gathered during these first 3.5 months from its February 24th debut, it seems that the objectives Panda had been designed to reach, have only partially been achieved. Outside of Google own reports, I have not been able to run into any article documenting a sharp improvement in the quality for Google search results.

The three key negative factors that do not bode well with Panda official objective of improving Google search results, are these:

1) This new algorithm affects web sites integrally, and not just those pages on those sites that may have triggered a Panda-related variable,

2) There appears to be quite some notable "collateral damage". That is, Google has demoted the visibility of a lot of sites which are not in reality "thin" content sites, nor sites providing little or no value to the reader.

3) Panda has a lot of difficulty, compared to the Google that existed before it, in being effectively able to recognize original content from a scraped copy published on an automated blog site.

And while a new English-version of the Panda is likely coming shortly, though nobody knows exactly when and which "improvements" it will bring, the non-English speaking Internet is fearfully awaiting the arrival of the "international" Panda version sometime in the near future.

Is Google Doing Good?


As I have clearly expressed in Part 2 of this multi-part Panda Guide, I ultimately support the publicly stated Google goal: improve search results, get rid of low-quality "thin" sites that produce nothing but noise. Give visibility to quality content, in-depth research, reports and articles.

I truly think that the Google ecosystem itself needs to clean itself up and to focus on its true ultimate objective: inform and help readers make sense of the topic they are interested in.

So, if I was to give generic advice to anyone already hit or yet to be hit by the Panda, I would still recite the simple anecdotes and straight simple recommendations that Lyrical Question - a unique poster inside the Google Webmaster Central forum threads - gave to angry webmaster penalized by Panda.

"Now - about building your site for your consumer and ranking well.

Why do you think algorithms happen? Or are created?

Because SEO people learned what moved sites to the top - things that really had nothing to do with the QUALITY of the site.

Things like... Oh say ---- Link exchanges... Or like Spun Blog posts... Or random comments on blogs that were spam...

etc. etc. ad infinitum.


The whole CONCEPT of being at the top of the line in Google is that your site is valuable - is relevant to the search and is worthy of being there. Otherwise - in all honestly - Casinos and Porno, mesothelioma, JC Penny and Amazon would rank in the top ten thousand spots regardless of the input search request - because they paid for FORCED cheating.

Now - Google will continuously change its parameters. To continuously stop cheaters or blackhat SEO practices.

Which means... one of two things....

a) You can spend all your time and your money racking your brain to figure out the steps to beat the algorithm every time it changes...


b) You can build your site to entice your visitors to remain, stay and enjoy your site once they land there.

If you choose b), you will ALWAYS come out ahead."

Source: Google Webmaster Central Forum

On the other hand I also do think that Google has provided a very large disservice to many of its long-time partners and long-time supporters by playing sudden and very deep game-breaking changes in its usual super-secret fashion.

Though it may not be in its DNA and business philosophy, I think it is quite evident that if Google wants to retain its already dubious crown of being "not evil" it should have considered a bit more carefully how to release this new algorithm and how to tame somehow the highly predictable back whip.

The negative collateral damage is now double:

a) Google is less and less seen as a potential friendly ally, fair player and honest constructive partner to work with by a fast growing number of web publishers. Being publishers they also have great visibility and influence over their own audiences and can, in my opinion, affect Google dominant position if they decided to. (I and others also do admire and respect the ultimate goal Google states to have in doing this, but I can't be supportive of the means and the communication strategy with which this is achieved.)

b) Google search results have NOT dramatically improved across the board, as the Panda algorithm has shown to have still some significant limitations and bugs. In the meanwhile Bing is increasingly serving higher-quality and scraper-free search results for many keyphrases, and people are clearly noticing and telling their friends. Please note that Bing, is leveraging heavily its Facebook partnership and its access to Facebook data and preferences.

c) Google is not doing good (financially). Whether this is just coincidental or not, I leave it to you to judge, but the Google financial trendline seems to show also that something is not right in the way Google is doing its business. I am not competent enough to judge whether there is indeed a correlation between the decreasing Google search quality and the increased discontent among many of its publishing "partners", and the negative financial outlook Google appears to be in.

Chart source: Money Central

Who Should Be in Charge of Deciding and Selecting What Information Really Counts?


What I think it is important, is to question what you see and not to take Google's decisions as God's verb. Google can make mistakes. Just like Microsoft, Facebook and others did and do.

The issue is in fact not so much, whether they will admit, correct or fix their problems, but how much you still want to depend in the future, on Google secrecy and full control over which information and sources can and will be seen by those searching for information.

Increasingly, and this should be well understood, Google and similar private and profit-driven search engines, determine a very important part in determining what information we see and how easy we can find it. And in my opinion, when this affects hundreds of millions of people, and their ability to cope with daily emergencies and needs cannot be treated anymore as a standard business, especially when the company providing this business does have large vested interests in a conflicting business industry: online advertising.

Should really be Google, with its increasing power, become the final informational judge on what is relevant, important and what is not?

I have voiced some of the concerns and issues that surround this topic and I do think that Panda is providing a fantastic opportunity for many to better evaluate how they want the future of the web to be.

Duration: 14:10
My interview with Howard Rheingold on how content curation is going to shape the future of the Internet.


Specific Advice for AdSense Publishers


1) Beware of Gurus' Advice

The first key point to make is that, as far as I can tell, there are really no documented recoveries from Panda. In this light I would make some initial recommendations:

a) Guru's Advice Beware
All advice you receive from experts, gurus and researchers who do not have a Panda-hit site for now it is just speculation. Yes, there are many valid ideas and analyses out there, but if we want to be 100% honest we have to say that, for now, we have yet no proofs for any recommendation being made.

b) Guru's Advice Beware 2
Same applies to those same gurus and experts who while having a pandalized site have not partially or fully recovered from Panda in a documented way. I am one of them. Don't trust my advice then, unless MasterNewMedia too recovers fully from Panda.

c) Ask for the Data
In all cases, listen and pay attention to those who are willing to share tangible data, numbers and stats. Not to those who give you theories, guidelines and suggestions which may be interpreted in a hundred different ways. No data, no party.

d) Long Recovery Time
Put it in your estimate. Things may change in the future, but for now, recovery from a Panda penalization is a long term process. So, take it into account when you are planning how to prevent or recover from Google Panda.

e) This Is Just The Beginning
Google and other search engines have always been stating that they will keep making changes and improvements to their algorithms, and it is therefore likely that Panda is not by any means the last time that Google or its competitors will suddenly change the way they rank search results. This is why working to fix this may only be a temporary solution.

2) The Key Thing Panda Is After: Your Ads

Having more ad content than real content in the area of the screen above the fold at 1024x768.

This is what Google calls "compliance" of content to advertising ratios. And that is likely, on the key crucial elements you need to deal with to prevent a Panda penalization or to recover from it.

Here is the detail:

"While not directly tied to search quality, the correspondence one affiliate marketer had with the AdWords quality team was revealing. Among other tidbits, the Google team wrote these instructions for judging the "compliance" of content to advertising ratios:

The site must have user value other than providing ads. For example, Google provides web search, news sites provide regularly updated original content, and other services. To check that your website complies with our arbitrage policy:

1. Open the site in a new browser.

2. Expand the browser to a minimum of a 1024 x 768 pixel display.

3. Make sure you have minimal browser menus and your font is set to medium or normal.

4. Scroll to the very top of the page, as evaluation is based on what appears above the fold.

5. The site is considered compliant if the area of ads is less than or equal to the area of content.

"Please use the instructions above to evaluate your entire website and, if necessary, bring it into compliance with our arbitrage policy. If you're not in compliance, you may receive a low landing page quality score, which can negatively affect your Quality Scores, cost-per-clicks, and ad positions."

Source: Search Engine Watch

3) The Dilemma for AdSense Publishers

If you are a web publisher who has over than 50% of your revenues coming from AdSense ads, what is best for you to do?

I don't think there is one solution that fits all. It depends mostly on your ability to move rapidly out of depending on Google traffic, revenues and ads, and on to direct customer relationships for your key revenue channels.

If you are totally or largely dependent on Google traffic and revenues, you may be better off to redirect immediately some of your resources to new fronts, and especially onto direct customer acquisitions and in developing services and products that you can sell directly.

Killing your ads altogether from their best performing positions may entail such heavy revenue loss that only those web publishers who already have some tangible alternative revenue channels could consider doing this without killing their short-term sustainability.

Instead, if you are not largely dependent on Google, than you may attempt to implement fully the radical changes that would be required to prevent a Panda hit or to facilitate a recovery.

In synthesis, I see three possible roads:

1) Eliminate the number of ads in the above-the-fold part of your web site pages.

Pros: It is likely that Panda may value this quite a bit. This is good for Google and it is good for the readers as well. It will pay over time.

Cons: Your revenues will fall dramatically. It kills your existing revenue now, in exchange for a not-so-sure reward somewhere ahead.

2) Leave ads as they are and invest heavily on alternative revenue channels.

Pros: Your revenues will not fall further than they have. If these are direct new channels, with true customers and not with other intermediaries, being them ad agencies, ad networks, or others, then this is, in my opinion, the best investment you can make.

Cons: You may never recover your search rankings and traffic from Google. Ditto for your AdSense revenues.

3) Reduce ads presence, especially above the fold, without giving up altogether.
This can be achieved by reducing both the pixel footprint of your AdSense ads and banners on top of your pages as well as by utilizing less intrusive / interruptive ad positions in favor of side-by-side and less prominent ones.

The typical and most effective solution here is to use an ad layout that integrates the ads side by side with the content without interrupting it. Here is how Chris Pirillo of Lockergnome solved it.

Pros: Your revenues will fall still, but not so drastically. The change may be sufficient to earn a possible recovery, as a low content-to-ads ratio in the top area of your web site pages it is increasingly perceived as being an indicator of a low-quality, non-trusted site.

Cons: You may be giving up an important slice of revenue, but you have no certainty of recovery nor of the amount of time that this will take. It could be months.

Final Recommendations

In the end, the key strategic message I can pass on to all, large and small independent web publishers is this one: move gradually away from the traditional advertising model, if that is the at the center of your revenue-making strategy.

That will save your ass more than anything else in the future.

  • Start now placing your eggs in new and different baskets, than the traditional banner advertising and AdSense ones.
  • Invest now in building a growing following of passionate fans in your area of interest.
  • Restrict your scope, do not wander across too many topics and do provide a higher than average content service to your readers.
  • Stop relying on advertising, cheap affiliate banners and on AdSense. As soon as you can reduce their presence, visibility and importance inside your revenue portfolio, do so.
  • Wait for the release of the next Panda iteration and then look at what analysts and researchers will see as relevant and new from the previous ones. Adjust for it.

These are, above all, the best recommendations I can make to anyone who is making a living by publishing on the web and has been hit or is afraid of being hit by the dreaded Google Panda algorithm.

N.B.: This may be the last part of this Guide. The next one will be published only if and when MasterNewMedia will have recovered from Google Panda, to share with you all the new information that I may have discovered at that point.

Good luck.


Here, the previous parts of this Guide, if you have missed them:


Originally written by for MasterNewMedia and first published on June, 17th 2011 as "The Google Panda Guide: Part 5 - The AdSense Dilemma".

Photo credits:
The Status Quo - Eric Isselée
Is Google Doing Good? - Clipart
Who Should Be in Charge of Deciding and Selecting What Information Really Counts? - Michael Brown
Specific Advice for AdSense Publishers - Nyul

Robin Good -
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posted by Robin Good on Friday, June 17 2011, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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