As you may have noticed, Google pushed through a major algorithm update very early morning on October 14th. The past few “Panda” updates didn’t seem to affect me much, but this one definitely took a toll on the rankings and traffic of several of my niche sites. I just wanted to write a post here about my observations and other bits of information I’ve been reading the past couple of days.
If this affected you too, keep reading, and please share your thoughts in the comments.
An Example of One of My Sites
Here’s a prime example with one of my best Amazon niche sites – traffic screenshot below:
This site was ranking between #1-4 on the first page of Google for past few months (as you can see, right before the traffic dropped, it was ranking #1). Now, the site is ranked #5….on page 3 of Google. Obviously, I’m not going to get much traffic here. The traffic I have received over the past couple of days has been from some longer tail keywords on Google, and also some from Yahoo and Bing.
Here are some characteristics of this site:
- Over 25 pages of 100% unique content
- Diverse backlink profile – I have built these links slowly using the strategy tracked by my Ultimate Backlink Tracker. I didn’t do any kind of automated backlink “blasts” of any sort
- Site is monetized with Amazon and AdSense (no spammy Clickbank products or anything else)
- Technology niche
- User experience appears to be decent based on these stats:
- Bounce rate: 51.58%
- 2.01 average time on site
It’s hard for me to pinpoint why a site like this might take a hit, but here are a couple of theories, specific to this site:
- Overuse of Amazon affiliate links – In each 300-400 word article, I probably link 5 or 6 times to Amazon products.
- Each article reviews products and utilizes affiliate links – there are no informational articles without affiliate links
Oddly enough, my sites that were hit were my older niche sites. My newer ones that have less content and fewer backlinks were generally not affected.
Why You (or I) Shouldn’t Worry
If you read some of the bigger internet marketing forums (I’ve been reading Warrior Forum a lot over the past couple of days), you’ll notice that a lot of people, as they usually do, have taken a “the sky is falling” approach to this Google algorithm change. People make crazy assumptions and predictions, and there’s a general lack of patience and rational thinking. People scream “THIS IS THE END OF SEO” when in reality, that’s impossible.
Here’s all you need to know: Google has made significant changes in the past and will continue to make them in the future. They make hundreds of algorithm changes each year. You may experience drops in rankings, but if you continue to write good (and unique) content, and build backlinks the right way (and this is where people have the most trouble), you’ll continue to succeed.
The worst thing you can do is spend your time worrying about all of this, when you could be using that time to improve your current sites and build new sites. It’s easy to be discouraged or feel defeated by updates like these. If you fall into that trap, you will fail. The only way to not fail is to put your head down and continue doing what you’re doing (unless you’re doing spammy/wrong stuff that Google is always going to hate).
Why We Maybe Should Start Worrying…
I know, I just said not to worry, and I still stand by that. However, there are some changes Google may be making that could make it difficult for niche site creators to overcome.
One of those changes is giving extra influence to big brands. One thing I’ve noticed in the past couple of days is that pages within Amazon, You Tube, Wikipedia, and other “big brand” sites have taken over the top spots for various keywords. While those sites have always been among the top search results, they may continue to grow in strength.
It makes sense too. If you’re searching for reviews on a piece of exercise equipment, you’re more likely to find unbiased reviews on Amazon compared to any other sites in the search results. Not to mention, you’ll probably also be right at the page where you can buy the equipment for one of the best prices online. It’ll be difficult for your niche site to overcome that for sites that focus on consumer products.
The other thing that presents a problem for the average niche site, is the perception (I’m not sure if this is a reality yet) that social media influences or will influence search engine results. While you can tweet your content, “like it”, and +1 it with ease, it’ll be difficult to simulate the amount of social interaction and sharing that an authority site receives naturally.
Looking to the Future…
So where does this leave us? In short, we’re left with the same old SEO advice that we’ve been hearing forever: More content. Better quality content. Natural-looking backlinks. On-page optimization. All of this will always be true.
Some people worry that Google+ will play an important role in search engine rankings, but I don’t believe that’ll happen, at least, not given the current landscape of social media. The only reason Google+ has grown massively in such a short period of time is because everyone (and their mothers of course) has a Google account, and it’s ridiculously easy to have an active Google+ account from there.
The problem is, I don’t think people are using Google+ the same way they use Facebook or Twitter, which to me means that Google+ shares cannot be a reliable ranking factor. This could obviously change, but I don’t see it happening in the near future.
The big losers in all of these changes are going to be the “middle of the road” niche sites that target medium to high competition keywords. Going forward, I think the micro-niche site model is still viable because these sites tend to target lower traffic, lower competition keywords. Without competition, I think these type of sites will always continue to fly under the radar of Google’s algorithm changes. The problem of course is that these sites have very limited income potential, so you will therefore need to create more of them.
Likewise, the authority site model is still viable as well, but with considerably more risk. Why more risk? Look at it this way: If a micro niche site fails, you don’t lose much time or money. With an authority site, you have a lot more invested. This is a classic risk/reward scenario of course, but with Google’s spontaneous, seemingly random changes, you could be making $x,xxx per month from an authority site one day, and with a single algorithm update, that income can vanish overnight. Read some recent threads on the Warrior Forum – this has happened to a lot of people.
Finally, we all need to just calm down and let the dust settle. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and proclaim that the SEO world as we know it is over, but I don’t think that’s the right approach. Step back, and continue working hard at your sites. Keep doing the right things, and you will be rewarded. This has always been the case.
What do you think about the recent algorithm changes? How have they affected you?