Panda 3.5 And 3.6: Dealing With The Parked Domain Bug

Google rolled out the Panda 3.5 update on April 19 and the 3.6 update on April 27. These were regular data refreshes that didn’t cause a significant shakeup in the SERPs. However, a bit of chaos did occur in the webmaster community when a data error caused some sites to be devalued after being mistaken as parked domains.

What’s It For

Google quietly rolled out Panda 3.5 and 3.6 which were regular updates that had minimal impact on rankings. Version 3.5 did appear to address the parked domain bug where several websites had massive losses in organic referrals because the search engine mistakenly tagged them as parked domains or additional sites hosted on your account that don’t provide quality content to visitors. All in all, the two Panda updates were aimed at returning high-quality sites to Google users.

What Were Its Effects

There wasn’t a big splash on rankings when the Panda 3.5 and 3.6 updates rolled out. However, the parked domain bug led to outcries in the webmaster community especially from operators whose websites were mistakenly tagged as placeholder sites. Initially, people thought that it was the over-optimization penalty that Google announced.

Matt Cutts, head of the company’s webspam team, was quick to clarify that the search engine’s classifier for identifying parked domains read from empty files. This led to it misguidedly categorizing some sites as parked when they weren’t.

What It Means for You

To clarify, parked domains are registered domain names that don’t have additional services like an email or a website. Some webmasters reserve these names ahead of time for future use or for protection against cybersquatting, where people register these sites to profit off of other trademarks. The practice involves taking advantage of users’ misspellings, typographical errors, or other variations of a brand.

These are the primary ways people misuse parked domains:

  • Easy Ad Revenue – Some abuse domain parking as an effortless way of gaining revenue from online advertising. What happens is the domain name will direct visitors to a page that’s full of ads and links, which change dynamically according to a user’s interests and browsing behavior. The profit is calculated by how many people clicked on the links and the number of actual sales happened on the promoter’s websites.
    In the pay-per-click or PPC advertising model, a brand pays publishers such as search engines or site operators when potential customers click on the link found on their blogs or websites. It’s a way to measure the cost effectiveness and profitability of digital marketing. Advertisers bid on key phrases or search terms on Google and Bing ads, also known as bid-based PPC, while content-producing domains typically charge advertisers with a fixed price or flat-rate PPC instead of the bidding system.
  • Placeholder Sites – Others register domains to act as placeholders for a website that’s currently in operation. It can be used for the purpose of redirecting visitors from one site to another or by assigning it as an alias of the primary domain. Techniques involved in this practice are URL redirection or domain cloaking.
    A significant problem that this method poses is that it may appear to users as if the site operator is manipulating or deceiving them since they initially clicked on a URL expecting to land on a relevant page only to find themselves in a different one altogether. Worse, they’re bombarded with clickbait ads that provide no value whatsoever to them and their query.
  • Expired Domains – On the other hand, some shady site operators anticipate the expiration date of existing domains in the hopes of getting most of its inbound links also known as drop-catching. These websites continue to attract a substantial number of visitors even after being in the domain drop lists, so it makes a lot of sense that people would scramble to be the first to claim it for themselves.
    There are differing opinions on whether having a parked domain is not beneficial for your primary website’s SEO. Some believe that it will have an adverse effect especially when your other domains are just cloning the content of your first site.

A possible result is that Google may devalue your website from SERPs because the duplicate content doesn’t provide any additional value to users. Another outcome could be the dilution of the link popularity of each of your pages where the content’s link juice is divided into multiple pages. For sites with this problem, it’s best to do 301 redirects for the subdomains.

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