Maybe The Reduction In Web Traffic Isn’t Your Fault After All

You know, many of us have been griping over the last six weeks about the Google algorithm changes that ended up killing our traffic. Some folks, like our buddy Carl have brought up what Google said the algorithm changes were based on and how they were trying to eliminate bad linking, bad SEO and the like. Some people even speculated that it had to do with bad grammar, something I totally disputed and shot out of the water here.

by Jonathan Assink via Flickr

People have kind of lost their minds. Goodness, I think I lost my mind for a short period there, and obviously I’ve talked about it more than I care to even think. But now I think there’s a new way of talking about this thing, and though I’m not totally sure I agree with everything that I’m going to mention in this post, I do think there’s something to some of it if we look at things with a more critical eye.

For me, this all started by reading a post by a guy named James Hussey, who writes a blog called The Average Genius. He wrote a post titled Why Google Penguin Mauled My Sites and What To DO About It, which I found fascinating and commented on. He wrote back and expressed his opinion on what I said, then he said this: “So stay tuned. The conversation gets really, really interesting.”

That looked good and intriguing, and it then lead to this post which is titled Does Google Really Reward Quality, Original Content? An Interview With AsktheBuilder Tim Carter. This is a seminal post, great post, and one to really make you think. It includes an audio file with a guy named Tim Carter, who has a website called Ask The Builder, which of course you saw above. I’m going to give you some highlights of the audio file, but I think you should both read the post and listen to the file, which is about an hour long, for more detail.

In essence, Tim was the perfect Google guy. He started his site before Google came around, and he’s made tons of money online. When Google came around he added Adsense and made a lot of money off that as well. He’s not a guy who ever got into any of the SEO stuff that many other people did, including me to a certain extent. He was held up as the poster boy for how to do things right by Google. They wrote reports using him as an example. They invited him to seminars to talk about his success in working with them. He even went to Congress on their behalf once, talking about how things worked with him and the fairness of it all.

What happened to the poster boy? Panda and Penguin went through and he lost 70% of his traffic. Bad linking? Nope. Bad content? Nope. Pretty much overnight his website, which means his business, took a major hit. Well now, how does one reconcile that based on what Matt Cutts and company said the update was there to do? How do you crush your poster boy, who never did any of the stuff you said you were going after, in such a convincing fashion?

Now, I had to think about this for a bit, and I want to address a couple of points before I go forward. I wrote a post on April 30th wondering where my web traffic went. I indicated that this blog lost traffic and my business blog lost traffic as well. I mentioned that my finance blog stayed the same and that my SEO blog went up barely.

Well, those aren’t the total truths. Yes, this blog’s traffic suffered, and my business blog’s traffic suffered, which also took down my main business website. But within a couple of weeks traffic on my finance blog started jumping, and my SEO blog traffic almost doubled. My local blog stayed the same, and I hadn’t mentioned that one before.

Here’s the thing. I do the same thing on all the blogs. I do my internal linking, I link to the words that seem to make sense to link to, and I do it on all the blogs. I also link to external sources and, when appropriate, use keywords. Yet out of 4 blogs only 2 suffered; what’s that about?

My theory was actually addressed by Tim in the interview. I thought that there was some kind of adjustment against older websites. Indeed, my business blog has been around since 2002, but then again this blog started in 2007, my SEO website didn’t come around until 2007, and my finance site in 2008. This was and still in my top ranking site, but my business site was actually doing really well at one point. I had talked about my medical billing site, which has only been around since 2009, and traffic there jumped as well; my Adsense money on that site has started to increase since the updates went through.

So, was it age? That’s what I thought, which Tim touched upon, but obviously it doesn’t work across the board. But Tim also touched upon something else, that being that Google has made some changes that aren’t necessarily algorithm changes, yet after the algorithm changes helps to enhance what they’d done.

One, they added the G+, which in their way makes websites where your friends, or at least people you know, that have G+’d something takes higher priority than other links used to. Two, they’ve gone out of their way to make local companies and websites come up more than websites that aren’t from the area for many things.

Tim found that many topics he used to be number one for on Google were gone, and often he wasn’t found on the first 5 to 10 pages of a Google search. He also found that some pages that were suddenly ranking higher than him were actually using his content in some fashion; wasn’t that supposed to be something Google was protecting us all from, that someone would rank higher for content we produced first?

If you know what this is
you’ll understand the metaphor
of why it’s here now

In essence, the “reality” we were given doesn’t seem to real anymore. What some of us were doing for SEO is just fine; it has nothing to do with how we linked, or broken links, or good or bad content. It has to do with supporting some things Google’s been working on in the background. One last thing Tim mentions in the interview is how suddenly more large companies, those that are actually paying Google, are ranking higher than those of us providing pretty good content. I can’t prove this one, as I tested some search terms and didn’t see that.

Anyway, Tim is irked to say the least, and he’s got some other conspiracy theories he talks about. He’s also getting ready to go postal in his own way, as he’s going on a big congressional campaign to get an investigation going into Google. Seems he’s not alone, as James also advocates this on his blog post. Not that there isn’t already someone in Congress that wants to look into this but these guys are serious.

What’s my stand on all of this?

One, I stick by my premise in another post that some companies like Google are getting too big for our own good.

Two, I think there was a different goal in mind that penalizing people for “bad SEO”, which is actually the type of SEO Google themselves told us to do years ago. I believe this as much as I believe Pacquaio beat Bradley Saturday night. By the way, in case you were wondering about the image above, that’s people playing Dodgeball, which I relate to this because I think Google dodged the truth.

Three, I think losing your mind and deciding to write to Congress is a major waste of time for the majority of us. Then again, if I’d lost as much money as Tim I might have a different mindset on this one.

Four, I still think you should read James’ post and listen to the interview he did with Tim because it will get you thinking and maybe you’ll come up with something else.

And five, I think this is proof that we all just need to continue doing what we were doing, especially in producing the best content we can, because in the long run we’re going to still attract traffic and visitors, whether it comes from Google, Bing, Yahoo, or our own efforts in driving traffic to our sites, and it’s imminently more important to spend time producing that worrying about the why’s and how’s of it all.

And there’s always The Duck. 😉

34 thoughts on “Maybe The Reduction In Web Traffic Isn’t Your Fault After All”

  1. I also took a traffic hit on my blog, but it’s slowly building back up. The thing I disagree with is that it sounds like google penalized certain topics that were getting a lot of SEO attention rather than just the bad SEO practices themselves. To me that seems to be too much like curating content. The algorithm shouldn’t make the topic or subject of a blog a part of the calculation at all. Otherwise it seems too much like Google censoring certain topics.

    1. Yeah, I don’t think they went after certain topics either Richard; that seems to be, well, petty in the long run. But I also don’t believe what they said about links, especially with what I’ve seen on my own blogs and of course the guy I helped highlight.

  2. Thanks for mentioning me, Mitch. My personal opinion is that problem is much deeper and the main reason is that most of us are very much technologically behind latest algorithms. Fortunately there were many official statements recently, but unfortunately in those statements 99.9% of blogger picked the wrong sentences. In few official announcement, Google is talking about pagination, relevance, website speed, IPs, local results, ads, etc. All those terms were by the way and probably in the last paragraph and as I mentioned previously, now there are many other CMS that offer same benefits as WordPress which reduce saturation in top 10 from blogs. And lets face the reality, how many bloggers are diversifying link building? Most are just commenting and sharing on social bookmaking websites. How many blogs are using “newsletter” content” lock? How many blogs are looking like “Christmas tree”, how many blogs are hosted on shared hosting on bad network?

    1. But Carl, you’re ignoring a couple of things. One, the guy that I talked about did none of that stuff, including linking. Two, my own examples are internal linking almost all the time, no external links, no paid links, no trading links. If what Google said is true, then anything I’ve done shouldn’t affect me negatively at all.

      1. Link building is the evergreen of SEO. Algorithm part related to link popularity and link quality is about 50% of the total.
        Well, the best way to find out is to check your statistic and see for what keywords you have dropped, check the competitors and you will find what they are doing, you just have few minor mistakes, top nav, many error in HTML and CSS, hosted on shared hosting. Top navigation is important, there is one old forgotten rule, called “power of first link”, as you don’t have one the article that appear first and the first link within is count for important(thanks for that, today my website is the first link).
        One of the major parts which I mentioned in previous comment is that Google currently tolerate very much official sources – for example if you review WordPress plugin, most likely you will not be in top 10.

      2. Still Carl, if Google’s last change was to penalize sites that were linking badly and Tim didn’t link at all, and I mainly link internally, then what? That’s all I’m saying; nothing else really matters if those things aren’t taking place and yet people still got hit.

      3. Sorry, I have to add one more comment it seems that at the end of May there have been another 39 updates of algorithms.

        Again this isn’t a penalty, just ranking fluctuation. Going back to my previous comment, most websites are far behind latest technologies in SEO and web development. Algorithms are very complicated and there are more than a 100 small pieces of puzzle that matters. And a question for you, can you definite what quality content is? Don’t forget there is a competition and this competition doesn’t sleep, you are right about that “it isn’t webmasters fault”, but sometimes competitors are doing something better. To blame Google is like to blame football referee.

      4. I don’t see it the same way Carl. This last big update, not counting the one at the end of May, took out lots of folks that shouldn’t have been touched. A referee only hurts one team or the other. We’re probably not going to see eye to eye on this one, but I definitely blame Google, and they don’t care.

  3. Great, great post Mitch. I do believe that Google has gotten too big. They are no longer the Google we once knew. I don’t know if you’ve read that post from the ex Google employee who talked about how Google changed when they started going after Facebook but I believe it.

    Second, I agree it’s a waste of time for the average person to go after them. What this should teach us all is to diversify and learn to not be so dependent on Google — myself included.

    There is business beyond traffic, and those who take the time to find it will be rewarded long-term.

    1. Thanks Lisa, and I did read that post. And the post leading up to the one we both read was good in that the guy said he wasn’t going to depend on Google traffic, and that’s kind of my ideal as well. Of course, I’m still the worst marketer in the world so Google traffic or not I’m not getting the job done. lol

  4. This is really bad because I lost clients because they blamed my team for the reduction of their web traffic and PageRank but they just won’t listen that it’s not our fault.

    1. Paul, it does take some investigation, then it just takes deciding what’s the most important thing. I love traffic, but I like returning visitors better.

    2. Your right Mitch! I agree on you. I love your comment Paul Anderson! because it happened to me. Keep up the good works as nothing in this world are permanent. I lost a client too at a rate of $12/hour but a week after, I found a new client at a rate of $45/hour. Amazing isn’t it. God the Father said I already gave you my precious and only begotten son Jesus Christ, Can I not give everything you ask?

      1. Rick, I’m not sure how to answer the last bit but for the other part, yes, relying only on Google and its traffic isn’t going to get most of us anywhere. I’m glad things worked out better for you.

  5. A few years back my site took a battering when traffic from Google vanished, this was before Panda and Penguin came along, and it took me 4 months of slogging away to get that traffic back, doing stuff which Google recommended. Now my site has taken another battering, biggest battering I have ever seen with a drop in traffic of 70% because Google have changed their minds and the stuff which they recommended is not okay anymore. Am I annoyed, hell yeah but it has had one positive and that is it made me see sense and I am no longer going to pander to Google. I will continue to build my site in the way I have been doing for the last year and enjoy the increase in traffic I am getting from other search engines as users start to turn their backs on Google, and my stats show evidence of this. If one day Google decide to send me more traffic then great but I am not going to break my back trying to please them only for them to change the rules in another year, life’s too short to do that and then continually wonder when you are going to get hit again.

    1. Great stuff Andy, and it’s definitely the way to go about attacking the problem. If all of us can generate traffic a different way, especially with all the social media resources we have, then that’s a better way to go, and we lose our dependency on Google and the like, a dependency that many of us probably never even thought about until our traffic started taking hits.

  6. Yeah Google may be too big but the real question is are they TOO big to fail?

    Remember AOL? It seems like if google doesn’t watch it they are trying to do the same. People will leave.

    1. FJ, I don’t think any internet company is too big to fail, because there will always be someone else already set to bypass them & take their place. But AOL is a good example of what could happen to Google if they keep messing with the masses.

  7. I took a traffic hit too Mitch. My URL dates back to 2003 but I didn’t purchase it until 2009. My Alexa ranking continues to go up after it had been below 50,000 and I’m not doing anything different.

    I might SEO a few posts but for the most part my posts is just quality content. I can’t believe that I would be penalized in these areas when I haven’t been doing anything wrong.

    Poor Tim, man he’s got to be ticked. I’m surprised that if he was Google’s poster boy and they even had him speaking at conferences that they wouldn’t give him a good explanation for what happened to his site. That’s just not right.

    I do agree and think that Google is getting too big for their britches. Once again, the little guy does everything right and still gets beat up. And they wonder why people get so discouraged.

    Thanks for bringing this to light Mitch and I will be reading his post and listening to that audio.


    1. No problem Adrienne, and glad to help bring this issue to your attention. The best most of us can do is keep putting out what we put out, make it the best possible, and see where we go with it all. And hopefully if we’re making money we’ll still be able to make money based on our own recruiting efforts than anything else.

  8. It must be Google’s fault, the penguin update may have caused very unusual changes in page rank results. I don’t think if this could be the right way.

  9. Mitch, I have a blessing in disguise because I hardly had traffic at the time of the change so I am actually seeing an increase now.

    1. Good for you Michael. Course, you still want to be weary when you actually are getting lots of traffic and suddenly Google snatches it away from you. lol

  10. Google seems to be doing their best to shoot themselves in the foot. You can only poke the hornet’s nest for so long before they start getting agitated.

    What they’re doing now is waking people up to the fact that they aren’t the only game in town. Of course this doesn’t hurt Google in the short run, but it could in the long run.

    AOL was mentioned in one of the comments. There was a time when they were top dog and if someone was to tell you the service would be pretty much irrelevant today you would have thought they were crazy.

    Of course there is Yahoo. Google was a minor, quirky alternative to Yahoo for so long. Yahoo didn’t take them seriously, I guess because we know what happened there.

    In the publishing world, I remember back in the late 90’s the QuarkXpress layout program had pretty much trounced rival program Pagemaker and had become the de facto standard. Quark threw their weight around for a few too many years since there wasn’t a viable alternative, until Adobe came out with InDesign and provided a viable alternative.

    The SEO game isn’t in nearly the same shape. There are many viable alternatives, and if they make the right moves, along with people getting fed up with Google, we could see a new king in 4 or 5 years.

    Personally, I never see much change with these Google updates. My traffic drops just fine without Google’s help 😛

    1. Well John, your problem is that you have to write something. lol But you’re correct on everything else, these companies seem to get big, get stupid, and start to fail. I’ve already found my first choice for a regular search engine, but what’s funny about it is that if it can’t find it then it gives you the choice to look at either Google Bing or Yahoo. That’s strange, but at least they’re trying to get you what you’re looking for first.

  11. I’ve never spught to make money from the web, my sites are run for a hobby and to promote certain non commercial ideas. From this perspective however I have formed the conclusion that Google have a very strange idea of what constitutes “quality content.”

    I have noticed more and more since the first implementation of Penguin that search terms resulting in a visit to my pages have little or nothing to do with anything on the page.

    One factor that seems very important to Google is the popularity of a site. Traffic to a site however can easily be manipulated (and all Google’s efforts to eliminate comment spam only seem to have resulted in more comment spam) and so junk pages can be made to outrank good or original pages.

    An idea that Google and other Search Engine Operators have to rid themselves of is that computers are somehow intelligent enough to distinguish between what is writing and what is just typing. How they do that I don’t know, by factoring in how long the average visitor stays on the page compared to the length of the page maybe although I can see obvious flaws in that.

    1. I’m with you Ian. The idea of quality is a strange one, especially in the search engines minds. Of course, in many people’s minds everything they put out is quality, and I wouldn’t agree with that one either, but who says that my interpretation of what quality is should be the standard either?

      Overall, I don’t think they did anything in determining quality. If they had, they wouldn’t have hit Tim’s site so hard. That’s why I think it’s something else; what that something else is has yet to be determined with any satisfaction.

  12. I have been reading thru all blogs regarding penguin update. My conclusion is I hate penguin. Frankly speaking the search result is of lower quality than what it used to be. I just hope that the user will vote down google and switch to another search engine, since they are not providing good content.

    1. KK, I’ve been wondering about the quality of search myself. I’m pretty good and lately it seems like I’m always having to readjust my terms to find what I want.

  13. A very objective article to which I feel agitated. We cannot blame on Google all the time about what it has done to our websites. Nothing else but Google is responsible for all the traffic that comes to us and we should feel more respect for that. Imagine no Google and no traffic!

    1. Not quite Martin. We had traffic before Google, and we’ll have traffic after Google. What we didn’t have was a search engine company manipulating things that affected us like Google does. No one else ever dared to do that because we had other viable options, and that’s why I think some of us need to find other options for normal search, as I have, because when the dollars start evaporating a little bit they’ll stop and life will be more predictable again.

  14. Mitch,

    I have seen an improvement in traffic with most sites I had targeted for particular countries. However, the only site I hadn’t set a geographical location for now ranks poorly for the same keywords that used to get me on page 1!

    For me, its true setting geographical locations has improved my traffic tremendously after the update. I hope the next wave will not be a counteract 🙂

    1. Hi Dennis, and welcome. I think that’s where Google is heading, at least for smaller businesses that don’t advertise with them. I’m under no illusions that if someone is looking for a 56″ flat screen HDTV in 3D that Best Buy won’t show up first but for most everyone else local will start taking prevalence, which isn’t necessarily a good thing for business owners.

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