Beaten Down by Google’s Recent Algorithm Change?

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?

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20 Responses to “Beaten Down by Google’s Recent Algorithm Change?”

  1. Hi Eric,
    I’ve been subscribed to your site for some time, but this is my first time commenting. One of my sites was also severely effected by the most recent Panda update ( Pretty much dropped off the map for a lot of the keywords I was ranking really well for.

    So I made a lot of adjustments. Sped up the site with amazon cloudfront+w3 total cache. Got rid of a sidebar affiliate link as well as hosting and theme affiliate links in the footer. And I cut out about a third of the affiliate links that were in articles. I cleaned up all broken links and got rid of many outbound links that were unnecessary. I got one new backlink, which was from a guest post I did on a PR6 site that is in the same niche (

    A few days ago my site came back and it’s now ranking better than it ever has. I don’t know for sure if this is because of my changes or a rumored tweak to the panda algorithm.

    I will say this, though, a big topic on google webmaster forums right now is affiliate links and advertising. A lot of people seem to think that if you are a small time niche site trying to make money from search traffic then you are going to need to pay for that traffic from adwords or really conceal your ads/affiliate links. There is no way to know if this is the official line from Google, but anecdotal evidence suggests it is the case. This is too bad because I think there are a lot of people that use affiliate links and advertising in good faith, while still providing a good user experience. The problem is there are a ton of sites that are made for ads and that’s it. Google rightfully wants to prevent those sites from ranking high, but they are also taking a number of good sites with them as collateral damage.

    The worst part about Panda, imo, is that it is really a blunt instrument. It collects “bad signals” from a website (broken links, too slow, affiliate links etc.) and once the site crosses a certain threshold, it is punished. You could have just a handful of offending pages on your site, but it won’t just be those pages that lose ranking – the WHOLE site loses ranking.

    Anyways man, I empathize. Hopefully it will get better for you. You could just be caught in one of the temporary tweaks. Or you might need to cut back on the affiliate links or add some more informational content. Worth experimenting a bit. Good luck!!


    Eric G. Reply:

    Hi Phil – Thanks for the detailed comment, and for finally deciding to comment!

    Your story about the site you were able to fix up and move back up in the rankings has definitely inspired me to do the same for one of my main niche sites that was hit the hardest. It certainly seems worth effort.

    It seems like there’s a threshold for what Google considers to be “too many affiliate links” although I’m sure it’s not clearly defined anywhere. I think you’re spot on in deciding to cut back on the # of affiliate links used.

    Anyway, once I get a chance to make some tweaks, I will definitely report on the results! Thanks again for the insight!


  2. why don’t you consider you think this as normal algorithm changes. My websites got 35k visitors on aug, 12 k on sep and now again 30k. SO, it means websites can jump up and down. Also many my niche sites is not afffected.


    Eric G. Reply:

    That’s true, Rahul, this could definitely be just part of normal algorithm changes. The only reason I think this was a “major” change is because my site, over a year old, ranked between #1-4 on page 1 of Google for several months. It was well past the point of the “Google dance” that many new sites experience.

    Also, there have been several discussions popping up online, leading me to believe that this was a major change many others experienced too. Here is one of the threads I have followed on Warrior Forum:

    As a side note, that forum annoys the hell out of me. For every useful post, there are 10 that are either asking ridiculous questions, making ridiculous assertions, or trying to sell you something.


  3. Dude.

    Suck! My site “” got penalized at the very end of September. Google dropped it like it’s hot, and I went from spending a SOLID month in the #2 spot (with no bouncing at all, just solid 2nd place) to out of the top 100.

    I am working with a dude to help clean it up and get it going again, but it’s no fun. I think the reason for my drop was also affiliate links. Too many of them, and nearly all of them were DO FOLLOW.


    I’ll let you know how the clean up process goes, but I’d be interested to see how yours goes as well. (I was using the easy azon plug in, and had the “do follow” version).
    Sean recently posted… I’m having a moment of silence


    Eric G. Reply:

    Sorry to hear that, Sean! Sounds like your problem is similar to mine. It seems like affiliate links are causing some of the problems, but it’s always going to be tough to know for sure.

    I’ll definitely write an update post once I see some progress to let everyone know what worked (or what didn’t work). I’d be curious to hear how yours goes too.


  4. Great post, Eric, as always. One of my main sites got hit in the recent update. It’s an authority site with 150+ custom articles written by me. Most articles are 700+ words and really good. The site lost about 40% of it’s traffic. I’m digging into things and trying to re-evaluate my overall strategy. This experience is a setback but also a lesson. I was getting a bit wrapped up in that one site and need to remember to:
    1. Take money off the table while I can
    2. Diversify, diversify, diversify
    3. Funnel online earnings into dividend paying stocks (true passive income)
    4. Keep my head up and stay the course

    I’m most frustrated by this update because the site in question truly helps others. I try to really limit ads and affiliate links. It’s all about the user. I feel frustrated because less people will benefit from the content. That said, I could be back on top in Google’s next update.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I do online marketing for a living and nobody (including myself) is immune from temporary setbacks.
    PPC Ian recently posted… Exclusive Ryan Eagle Interview


    Eric G. Reply:

    As always, I appreciate the comment Ian. It’s downright disappointing to see authority sites like that get hit in such a negative way. You have to believe that Google will continue making some tweaks to fix the rankings of these sites that deserve to rank highly.

    Good lessons that you’ve pointed out. I’ll add a #5:

    5. Be ready for anything and discouraged by nothing.

    The worst thing that can happen to any of us is that we get frustrated and give up. It’s important that we stay positive and try to adjust and adapt as circumstances change.

    The most important word you used was this: temporary. This setback is sure to be temporary, to the extent that you (or I) keep working hard and play by Google’s rules (which unfortunately are very unclear right now).


  5. i can empathize with the community. of all my 20 or so niche sites, only 2 were affected. ironically as someone pointed out, these are two of the oldest and largest. go figure. one dropped 55% and the other 65%. both sites had visitors in the thousands per day as these are not micro, rather macro niche sites which are border line authority if not one. very strange google behavior, another reason why i constantly preach not letting go of that lucrative full time job. working for the man has gotten such a bad rap from lifestyle bloggers selling the dream. truth is, very few live the dream of making bank while working 4 hours a week. for most, i still recommend diversifying income streams between a successful career/profession and various side gigs (more passive than active preferably)


    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Sunil. That’s great to hear that only 2 of your sites were affected, but of course disappointing and baffling that they were 2 of the oldest and largest.

    Hopefully this will all sort itself out and the sites that deserve to be on top will remain on (or return to the) top.

    And yes, it’s times like these that make me somewhat happy to still have a normal “day job.” At the very least, I still have one thing I can count on day in and day out.

    But yes, diversification is huge, regardless of what you’re doing. I hope to continue to add sources of income to my “portfolio.”


  6. Google is always annoying.
    I added my sites to Bing and Yahoo the other day and my traffic doubled. (not a lot of traffic but %)

    Just have to keep pushing it I guess..
    Ralph recently posted… How to use LinkedIn Features


    Eric G. Reply:

    Yep, you got it – just keep at it!


  7. Eric, I’ve been reading a great deal in the last few days and your is the first balanced and informed view I’ve found.

    I manage a site which I think is classified as an authority site in a specialist business field. I’ve used SEO to get it up and running and began – following the herd I have to admit – by trying to generate revenue from adsense and affiliate links. I failed miserably and instead focused only on quality content and list building. The site is not driven by ad revenue it is driven by a passion for the subject matter.

    So how did the Panda update effect my site? In a word, devastating. Traffic down 60-75%. How did it effect me? Not a jot. Why? Because I have loyal readers who don’t always visit via google. I have visitors who visit via page 3 and 4 of google because they’re seeking quality and relevant content and I have advertisers that care less about CPC and care more about who they are associated with.
    Pete recently posted… Adapting IT policy to respond to the consumerization of IT


    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Pete. Great example of how we’ve become too reliant on search engines, and how you can still be successful without them.


  8. I believe lots of niches and website will lose a lot of ground in the following years, the big guys are becoming more and more successful and people got used with them. A lot of people are using wikipedia for example as the only source of information online, the subject or niche doesn’t matter. I think blogs for example will still be around, but informational websites and content farms will soon die as people become more and more depended to the big brands.

    Its like walmart compared with a small little local store…
    Cristian Balau recently posted… Keyword Research Tools.


    Eric G. Reply:

    I see what you’re saying, and this is definitely a fear of mine too. Fortunately, there will be certain niches and sub-niches that the big brands can’t or won’t be able to touch. That’s doesn’t leave us with a ton of opportunity though.


  9. I went to a recent Meetup the other day which was about SEO and they were suggesting to look for smaller niches to avoid the heavy guns in the business…

    What is your take on that?
    Ralph recently posted… How to use LinkedIn Features


    Eric G. Reply:

    I wholeheartedly agree with that – as I wrote in this post, I think the micro-niche sites are still a viable model because of the fact that they avoid the heavy guns, and target low competition, low traffic keywords.


  10. Basically we need a lot of backlinks.Most people are good at building backlinks but when someone asks if all these backlinks count, we can’t give a correct answer.


  11. With constantly changing innovations and ideas about google panda. Maintaining a good level of quality content to realize to google that there are still creating quality content.


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