SERPS More Volatile this Week than Last; Google Still Tweaking Panda

Last week we published a first look at Google’s Farmer/Panda update to see what effect it had on content farms. In Conductor Searchlight, our SEO platform, we analyzed more than 2,000 top ranking keywords for content farmer ehow and found an increase in volatility after the algorithm change, with 36% of keywords showing rank movement.

Conductor Searchlight:


We analyzed the same keyword set this week and found volatility had actually increased to 43%:

Amazingly we are actually approaching the point where half of all keywords are shifting position from one week to the next.  We’ll keep an eye on this trend going forward.

Previous Recovery Wiped Out
When we dig deeper into the rank movement, we see the unexpected recovery the group experienced last week was wiped out with a 2 rank drop this week.   Comparing the last three weeks of yo-yoing in the ranks to the weeks of zero movement from Feb. 6 to Feb. 13 makes us wonder if the newfound volatility might be the new norm for right now.

Many More Keywords Dropped by 3+ Positions Than Previous Weeks
Looking at the percentage of keywords moving 3 positions or more, we found that 15% of keywords, the largest percentage week over week by far, dropped by at least 3 positions:

“More keywords are moving, more are moving by 3 positions or more, but the huge jumps we saw in the previous weeks are leveling off.”

More Keywords Moving but by Smaller Distances
Interestingly, when looking more closely at the subset of keywords with movements of 3 positions or more, although overall more keywords are moving, the distance they are moving seems to be settling over time.  This week the average drop was 18 positions compared to 46 the week prior, while the average increase returned to pre-Panda levels at just under 4.  Put another way—more keywords are moving, more are moving by 3 positions or more, but the huge position jumps we saw in previous weeks appear to be leveling off.


The most recent SERP data offers strong support for the conclusion that Google is continuing to tweak the algorithm, whether they like to admit it or not.  The partial recovery that we uncovered last week seems to have been all but wiped out now, and the week-over-week volatility has actually increased by non-trivial amounts.

The advice we published in last week’s post still stands—we’ve included it below for your reference.

Also, a commenter on the last post summed up well how SEOs who have been impacted by Panda should think about their pages and content going forward:

It seems that those frustrated by SERP drops should really look at the pages and content and be honest with themselves about whether the content is truly relevant vs. what has replaced them in position.

  • Don’t Panic: If your site has been affected by the change, remember SEO is a long term endeavor.  Make sure you understand what is really happening on your site before you start making any major changes.  Technology will help you determine if there is an issue with one or two keywords versus a site wide issue, and PPC can be used as a short term gap filler as you evaluate the extent of the impact.
  • Break Out the Good Old Fashioned Elbow Grease: Low tech tools should be paired with high tech tools to gain a full picture of what is occurring on your site.  Spend some time with your web browser and do a relevancy audit to determine if there is a common theme for the keywords/pages that have dropped in rank (as described above in the ehow thin content example).  Once you have that figured out, you can move forward on a plan to fill in content holes as needed and start the move back up the rankings.
  • Plan for the Future: If history is any indicator, this algorithm change will not be the last one to hit the search engines.  No SEO likes getting surprise calls from the boss asking why online sales are down; an SEO platform will alert you when rank drops occur giving you the visibility you need to determine when the landscape has changed.  And, the trend with many of the last major algorithm changes has been to place an increased value on quality content (see Mayday change) so if you are not already devoting time and energy to enhancing your site content you probably should be.

Let us know how Panda has or has not affected your site in the comments.

-Nathan Safran
Senior Research Analyst

6 Responses to SERPS More Volatile this Week than Last; Google Still Tweaking Panda

  1. Great data but surprising since things seemed to have settled down from my view. Maybe I need to look closer.

  2. Avatar Adrian says:

    Great study, I think the panda update will continue to run until they get it right. It was nice of Google to even inform us they were changing the algorithm instead of just doing it which would confuse people. Excellent work Nathan.

  3. Yep, it’s hard to plan for the future when things like this are happening, but that’s shouldn’t allow us to slow down or postpone anything that we’re currently doing. As has been seen over and over again throughout the years – provide top-quality content to your visitors and things will turn out fine.

    Once all this you’ve explained begins to settle down, then you can go back and tweak yur keywords. That will be much easier than sitting around waiting!

    Great blog post with some really good info – thanks!

  4. Well, I am a bit late in reaching this useful resource about the latest Google algorithm! But it is never late, I guess, the moment we realize the things, is the moment we get on the track.

    Nathan, I am thankful to you for providing us with this useful information. I was wondering if you can email me, and answer my few questions regarding my website. It’s a kinda appointment, I am requesting.

    Thanks and Cheers! 😉

  5. Great information. Thank you!

    It’s tough for me to tell exactly what’s going on since the blogs I am referencing are new, but my experiences seem to correlate with your data.

    Initially, after the Panda update started, the new blogs jumped in SERP. Then, a few weeks in, everything tanked. Panda update or new site issue? Not 100% sure. Now, some keywords I’ve optimized for will see some activity for a couple of days, then the activity disappears, then it comes back again.

    I had an article that I wrote on HubPages that was getting 300 – 600 unique organic Google searches a day for about a month. Starting at the end of February through the end of March (2011). Then, I watched the article slip from the bottom page of page #1 on Google to page #2, #3, #4, and then off the cliff.

    Yesterday, traffic to the page picked up considerably and I found it was back to the bottom of page #2. This morning, it was at the top of page #3.

    It’s definitely hard to dial things in right now, but posts with information and input like this definitely help. Thank you again!