Has your website traffic dipped and you are confused why? Has the number of leads you used to get via your website dried up? Unless you have missed it, Google made some major changes to their algorithms. Google makes changes all the time, but the latest version to an algorthim called Panda, combined with a new algorithm added called Penguin, has had a major impact on many SMB &SME websites and blogs. No it’s not just me imaging things. Even properties that had survived earlier changes have seemingly been hit. Sure many big brands have nothing to worry about, but there are lots that have not escaped. You can also guarantee it’s a major story when it gets out of the niche SEO press an into something like the Wall Street Journal.
Now before you get the pitchforks and gather the village, how can you be sure it’s really Google’s fault? So glad you asked. I hope you took me up on the earlier advice to track data on your site, because now I am going to show you how you can tell it’s a Google change for sure. I will be using data from a friends site where he has okayed me to share the data. To protect the innocent, I have blurred identifying information, but if you are hit by algorithm changes you will see something similar.
So onto the analytics. If you are like small sites who rely a lot on Google traffic, the one way to confirm this is go into the “All traffic” report, and then you will want to check the box for Google, and then click “Plot Rows”. When down it should look like something below. (Click to enlarge).
As you can see, whatever happens at Google has a major impact on his site. Every small change from Google has an impact on his overall traffic. To see exactly where it’s impacted, you can then apply a comparison from a before changes to after in Google Analytics. The final major algorithm changed happened April 24th, so you should compare 7 days to the most recent 7 days. Make sure you compare the same days of the week.
You can then look at the content and the keyword report and you will see quickly where the issues are. In our sample site, for example, there was one keyword that drove lots of traffic from Google. It has nearly be vaporized. Of course, this is a little hard to tell, as now with keyword “not provided” kind of obscures some conclusions. Nonetheless, if you focus on the source of Google and the comparison of dates and you see large negative drops, you can assume it is because of Google.
So what are some of the reasons for this drop? We all say we are honest and follow white-hat tips, but do we really? Do we always write for humans? Do we never consider SEO when creating content? Let’s look at some of the tips from Google Quality Guidelines. Are you sure you don’t break or stretch some of them?
1. Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
2. Don’t use cloaking or sneaky redirects.
3. Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords.
4. Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
5. Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.
If you are like most and you feel you already follow the guidelines. What can you do? I want to be as honest as possible. No one knows. Anyone who tells you they have a solution is guessing at best. Google is not sharing any tips beyond telling you to following their quality guidelines, because they do not want SEO’s to game the system. Does that mean all hope is lost? No. Lots of the advice is solid advice, but we should have been doing it before. Now it’s just gotten a bit more urgency. In the case of expediency, to address these issue, it’s best to be able to identify what has hit your site and focus on that first. Keep in mind, while there are not many solid solutions the facts are these: We know that the Panda algorithm targets low quality content (i.e. Thin content, duplicate content, etc.) We know that Penguin targets web spam with a focus on keyword stuffing, anchor test and inbound links. Beyond that there is no detailed solution or fix.
I did not want you to read all of this without some advice, so below is what I have gathered personally, based on my own experience, what I have tested and seen. Once again, I, like everyone else has no real idea, but these tips are are solid no matter what algorithm changes are:
1-Revisit old content and make sure it’s truly of quality. In my own view, there also seems to be a death of evergreen content (i.e. content which never goes bad- such as how to tie your show). You might want to consider removing the date info in your CMS or revisit the topic with updates.
2 – Make sure you name your image files right, have clean alt tags and anchor text. Avoid keyword stuffing or long titles.
3- Fix your back-link profile. Maybe you are getting links from bad neighborhoods, from unrelated websites or the anchor text (the text used in the link) is too similar across many sites. You can use MajesticSEO (paid), SEOMOZ (paid) or Blekko (if you lack the funds). Identify which sites Google finds bad and remove your links from them. You will be able to identify them by the fact they themselves have been hit. (i.e it looks like lots of small directories have been hit)
4- If you are a blog, it seems there has been a death of evergreen content (i.e. content which never goes bad- such as how to tie your show). You might want to consider removing the date info in your CMS or revisit the topic with updates.
5- Fix your speed issues.
6- Write amazing quality content and if you are not able to, just have a great service or experience for your customer, so people will be encouraged to share positive links to you on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
7- Repeat previous steps, because this is a never-ending battle.
In the end, most of us chase after Google because a majority of searcher’s use Google. As this is case we have to follow their rules to play their game. At the same time you have to ask are they really to blame for the loss of traffic? Not really. I know it’s hard to accept, but it really is a wake up call to diversify. If your most significant traffic was Google discovery, then this was never a sustainable model. If you look at the big brands or even small connected brands, algorithm changes will/do not affect them. You need to consider (as much work as it is) PPC campaigns, creating videos, email marketing, social media, print advertising, focus on Bing and other search engines. The simplest and best advice is just to make the best content you can and forget about Google and it’s algorithms.
What advice do you have? What have you learnt? What are your coping strategies?
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