Thursday, April 14, 2011

Google's Panda update reduces traffic but raises its quality?

I've noticed this week that our daily visits to have dropped by around 12%, which reverses the longer-term trend of growth. I've looked through Google Analytics to see why this could be and the only referrer of traffic that has had much change is search and in particular, Google.

It would appear that we've been affected by Google's roll out of its Panda Update in the UK this week, which has hit many content based websites and in particular, those that publish articles and information on technology related subjects. This update comes not long after it was revealed how Google's results were easily being spammed by sites such as JCPenney, with the perception that this was lowering its overall quality and variety. Google says that the update was designed to hit content farms the most, however it is also affecting legitimate websites. You can see the impact of this update quite vividly in this article.

Looking closer at the stats is interesting, however. The screenshot below is from Google Analytics and compares Sunday to Thursday this week with the same period last week. Note that Google's update was rolled out on April 11, which is when the gap starts to appear.

This suggests that visits from search are down by almost 21% on the previous week; quite a drop. However it also looks as though the traffic that is being directed from search has improved in quality. The number of pages viewed per visit has increased by 5% and the visitors referred by search are on the site for 12 seconds longer. Tellingly, the bounce rate, which measures the number of people who leave the site after viewing only one page is down.

So how is this affecting revenue from search? If we look at the ecommerce value of these search referrals, we've generated more revenue from fewer referrals. Revenue is up 22%, conversion up 25% and the value per visit from search is up over 50%.

Therefore it would appear that despite taking a hit from Google's update, it seems to have achieved what it intended: to help people find better search results. Our traffic, despite being lower, is bringing in more quality visits who are more likely to buy. It's still early days since Panda was launched and only time will tell if this trend will continue.