Google Panda: How Our Managed Partners Fought Back 5

Google’s Panda update has been a hot topic since the end of February 2011. Some sites were even put on the endangered species list. And affiliate sites, were unfortunately more susceptible to the effects of Panda, causing some to lose anywhere from 20 to 95 percent of their organic traffic from Google in a single month.

So how are we doing now, just over a year on?

The Panda updates were designed to return more relevant results in the organic rankings of Google. This meant that sites Google perceives as high quality climb in the rankings, and those sites that are perceived as low quality decline. In the case of our affiliates, the Panda updates resulted in our partners thinking about the value they provide in addition to the Expedia Affiliate Network inventory. The sites that had quality original content, that added value, fared much better than those that didn’t. Over the last year, we’ve seen our affiliates work incredibly hard to add additional value in order to recover from a Panda penalty or to avoid it all together.

If you noticed your site dropped in the organic rankings and never recovered, it’s not always clear whether it’s a result of Panda or another kind of penalty. It’s worth checking if your traffic drop coincided with one of the Panda rollouts:

Check your analytics and investigate which pages and keywords were most affected. Also, if you haven’t done it already, read the Google Guidelines to make sure your site isn’t involved in any practices that may result in a penalty that isn’t Panda related.

Panda’s Criteria for Website Rankings and How to Respond to its Impact

Many affiliate sites are run by small teams that don’t necessarily have the bandwidth to constantly create fresh, quality content. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts here. If you’ve experienced a sudden drop in traffic, you will need to take action.

It’s important not to take a one-size-fits-all approach. However, after analyzing many affiliate sites, there are a number of consistencies, along with a few pitfalls to avoid.

1. Reduce Duplicate Content

Avoid taking content directly from other sites as it will add little value to the user experience. If you source content, you must rewrite, edit and provide your own take on it when possible.

2. Thin Content

A thin affiliate is a negative term given to

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affiliate sites that don’t produce what Google considers to be valuable online content. The Google Quality Guidelines Handbook, used by Google to manually review sites, is very explicit in what it considers to be a thin affiliate. Read through these guidelines and review how your site fares. Any content considered thin should be rewritten so that it focuses on adding value to the user.

3. High Bounce Rates & Number of Page Views

When users visit a site and consistently return back to return to the search results, that is an indicator to Google

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that the site isn’t relevant to the search query. It is important to build pages that engage and compel the user to complete an action. Check your analytics to see which pages have the highest bounce rate and work on making them more effective.

4. Number of Times the Site Has Been Blocked by Users

If your site appears in the Google search listings and a significant amount of users select the option to block it, this could have a negative impact on the rankings. On the other hand, if users show an interest on your site by bookmarking it (or hitting the +1 button), this is a clear signal to Google that your site is useful and engaging. Again, review how your site is doing and make sure that you address the content on any pages with high bounce rates.

5. Amount of Ad Space

Sites with a high ratio of ads to content have a greater chance of being impacted. Keep them under the fold and to a minimum.

6. Use of Templates

You can no longer launch a template site and expect to see positive results unless you offer additional value. You will need to regularly add fresh content that is tailored to your target audience.


While Panda has been a whirlwind of destruction for some, it also offers a huge opportunity for sites with a clearly designed value proposition and a purpose to excel. As an affiliate, we strongly recommend taking advantage of this opportunity.


Written by Jeff Slipko, SEO Strategy Manager, Expedia Affiliate Network

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About Lara Irwin

Lara is Senior Marketing Manager for EMEA at Expedia EAN. She comes from a tech B2B background, having spent over 10 years at some of the biggest blue chip companies and some smaller incredibly innovative players. Lara made her move to travel in 2011 and is now responsible for supporting the EMEA sales team and EAN's managed partnerships.

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5 thoughts on “Google Panda: How Our Managed Partners Fought Back

  • Kausik Dutta

    How did you find your affiliates sites affected as all of them having same hotel data? Isn’t it counted as duplicate content? I’m preparing a site with V3 so asking this as this could be vital fatal at later stage.

    • Martin Macdonald

      Hi Kausik,

      Since the MayDay update in 2010, duplicate content has been one of the main targets for Google to clean up their result sets.

      This change was reinforced by the various Panda updates over the last year – and has served to significantly strengthen sites with rich, compelling, unique content.

      As per the post on the Expedia Affiliate blog, the first piece of advice given on avoiding Panda related problems is: “If you source content, you must rewrite, edit and provide your own take on it when possible”.

      The site will of course work completely OK for end users, but the search engines are unlikely to send much traffic unless there is unique content on the pages.

      We recommend using only the data that you need, and creating unique text for the properties you focus on promoting.

      Best regards

    • Martin Macdonald

      Hi MJ,

      indeed, most sites do use CSS templates these days – however the templates in question are the ‘Chameleon’ ones, supplied as part of the white label travel site product through merchandising central.

      Best regards