When Panda is Not Quite Sure

Barry Schwartz spotted a discussion on Google Webmaster Help forums revealing a letter sent to a webmaster when Panda wasn’t quite sure if it should hit or not. The case gives valuable insight into a borderline case past which we may be stretching our luck.

Google’s warning message:

“We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Specifically, we detected low-quality pages on your site which do not provide substantially unique content or added value.”

Matt Cutts later confirms that this was not a Panda-specific message (they don’t send those out) and John Mueller clarifies that this templated message was sent out after a manual review (potentially triggered by Google’s algorithm):

” In this particular case, it was automatically sent at some point after an initial manual review (Matt talks a bit about the differences at When are penalties lifted? ). There are some messages that are more automated (eg outdated CMS version alerts, malware, etc), and others that need more manual input, so it’s not really possible to generalize based on this individual message. It’s great seeing more feedback flowing to webmasters, and I’m also happy to see that these messages can help to guide the discussions on the forums.” on Google+

So what’s the big deal?

The message itself is not so remarkable, but the case itself. Our team investigated the case and found that the webmaster didn’t quite fit in the thin and useless automated content category, though some elements may have hinted at that:

  • Boilerplate content ratio
  • Templated data structure
  • Numeric changes in the same content pattern
  • Prominent ads

Is it justified?

In this case, however, we believe there is nothing webmaster should have done and Google should have been smarter about the type of content they were analysing.

If we examine three of the affected pages we will see that it’s all about the video walkthroughs. People want to find it, watch the video and go try the solution in the game. No reading needed.

What did Google want?

What Google wants this webmaster to have is elements like:

  • Unique description for each video
  • User generated content
  • Ratings
  • Microdata
  • Reviews
  • Social engagement

Is it fair?

We ask the question, why? Is it not good enough what he has on the site? In fact all videos seem to be coming from his channel and the URL is visible in the video description.

What did we learn?

This represents a case where Google wasn’t really sure what to do and it sent the webmaster an email prior to hitting. One lesson the owner of the site got is to monitor your messages from Google. Webmaster Tools are there for a good reason.


Dan Petrovic, the managing director of DEJAN, is Australia’s best-known name in the field of search engine optimisation. Dan is a web author, innovator and a highly regarded search industry event speaker.

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