Google’s Recent Algorithm Change: Game Changer for Niche Sites?
You’ve no doubt heard by now about Google’s recent algorithm change that has been responsible for a significant drop in traffic/rankings for some of the largest article/content collection sites on the internet. I can’t say I’m shocked. While there are a lot of well-written articles out there deserving high rankings within Google, there is also a lot of garbage – duplicate, scraped content, poorly spun content, etc.
What’s the true impact of this change? How is it affecting us right now, and how will it affect us going forward, especially with niche sites? Let’s try to figure it out…
The Initial Impact
According to Google, the recent algorithm change noticeably impacts 12% of all searches, so this change is perhaps one of the largest that Google has ever done. Here’s the gist of it, straight from the horse’s mouth:
“Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”
The Biggest Losers
The immediate impact seems to be with “content farms,” i.e. the article-directory websites that contain massive amounts of articles. This article is a must read if you want to see some serious data from this change. Based on what that article reports, the biggest losers seem to be sites like Hubpages, eZine Articles, Buzzle, Associated Content, among several others.
As a frequent writer of InfoBarrel, I can also say that the change has affected them as well. From the looks of it, Google didn’t necessarily single out the entire domain to “slap,” but it appears that way given how some sites have seen a massive drop in rankings and traffic. With that said, some people have lost a large % of views since the change, while others haven’t seen much of a difference. I don’t think my traffic has dropped too much, but there did seem to be a slight decrease.
The Biggest Winners
According to the article cited above, the top 3 winners were YouTube, eBay, and Facebook. Coincidence that the Google-owned YouTube was the biggest winner? Maybe. I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, so I won’t bother trying to think too much into it.
What About Our Backlinks?
Many of us use sites like eZine Article, Hubpages, etc. strictly for backlinking purposes, and we couldn’t really care less about the backlink articles’ search engine ranking. We know there’s a good chance that these articles have dropped in ranking, but what we don’t know yet is if their strength, for backlink purposes, has changed at all. I haven’t been able to find much information on this yet.
Initial Niche Site Impact
Pat Flynn recently wrote about how this change impacted his niche sites – it actually improved them! It’s not really random luck or coincidence. He always focuses on building high quality niche sites, the type that Google’s change wouldn’t be targeting. Remember, if they’re pushing down many sites, it means that others have to be moved up in ranking.
Chris Guthrie, who also owns a number of niche websites, wrote about the change. It sounds like his sites weren’t affected negatively either. Here’s a great quote from his blog post:
“…of course you should be afraid of what Google may change because you can literally have an income stream cut off overnight. This is precisely why when I build websites I set out with the goal to create a website that is better than the #1 ranking website for my target keyword. This includes creating better content than the #1 site and getting more links from equal or greater sources than the #1 website.”
It’s pretty hard for me to assess how this has impacted my niche sites. As I’ve mentioned a few times, several of my niche sites were already in the “sandbox.” A couple of them actually came out of the sandbox a day before Google’s big algorithm change, and I noticed they were back on page 1 of Google. After the change, they fell back down in the rankings, several pages deep.
One thing to note is that this change hasn’t yet been rolled out to all countries, so the total impact probably hasn’t been experienced yet. Also, Google is always tweaking its ranking algorithm, so based on feedback and data they receive from this massive change, they will very likely continue to modify the algorithm to make sure that it affects the sites that they intend to affect.
Say Goodbye to Thin Niche Sites?
Unfortunately, I think the days of being able to throw up a quick 5-10 page niche site that targets a long-tail keyword are quickly coming to an end. Ironically though, Google was targeting sites with tons of content.
When it comes to building niche sites, we focus so much on backlinking, that content quality often becomes an afterthought. It’s not to say that you’re plagiarizing content or otherwise duplicating content, but you’re probably writing content that isn’t unique in terms of overall content (i.e. you’re writing about something that’s been written about many times, in many places). On some level, I think we’re all guilty of this. I don’t even think it’s a bad thing. If you’re writing about hair loss products and your site helps answer someone’s question when they do a Google search for hair loss products, I think you’ve added value.
Thin niche sites are probably still viable today provided you have original content and adequate backlinking, but I don’t think building these sites is a sustainable, long-term strategy if you want to rank within the first 10 search results for a given keyword. Competition will always play a role in this of course, so it’s not to say that a 1 page site won’t rank highly if there is no competition for a given long-tail keyword.
Will Social Media Become More Important?
Quality is more important now that it has ever been, and will continue to grow in importance. The tricky thing is, I’m not sure how Google’s algorithm will ever truly be able to distinguish good quality from great quality, at least, without manual intervention. It wouldn’t surprise me if social media becomes more important. Google’s algorithm can easily see things like content originality and keyword density, but it’s hard for it to determine whether content is interesting or helpful.
The only way I can think of for Google to be able to determine how humans perceive a given piece of content, is through social media. Retweets, Stumbles, Facebook shares and “likes,” etc. I know all of these links are “no-follow,” but I’m not sure that matters. Maybe even links from YouTube will become more relevant – after all, YouTube was the biggest winner in the algorithm change, so the algorithm obviously sees YouTube as a very high-quality source of content. Maybe the algorithm will eventually give more “quality points” to sites that embed YouTube videos, if it isn’t already.
I think the days of getting your site to rank highly with backlinks from sites like eZine Articles are slowly coming to an end. Page Rank be damned. The problem is, social media influence can easily be manipulated like anything else. It’s not difficult to get a large amount of illegitimate tweets or Facebook “likes,” and I’m sure Google realizes that.
Here’s My Plan
I really hate changing my goals, especially after making a big deal out of them. As you know, my original plan with Amazon niche sites was to spend this year building over 20 sites that would eventually earn me over $20,000/year. I don’t think it makes long-term sense to build lots of little Amazon niche niche anymore. I think Google is becoming wise to these types of thin review sites, and even if they do contain original content and potentially help people find products that they’re looking for.
Authority-type niche sites that target more competitive (and higher traffic) keywords are the future of making money online when it comes to building your own websites. These are a LOT more work, of course, but there is a lot more potential. The biggest problem that I foresee is becoming bored of it before I finish a site completely. That’s one of the reasons I originally liked building thinner niche sites – it allowed me to work with various topics and niches, and not spend too much time on any one topic.
It’s not to say that micro-niche sites will be obsolete – again, if the keyword doesn’t have a lot of competition, I still think you’re going to rank highly. The only thing is, you can’t really anticipate how competition and traffic will change over time, and if you don’t have strong site on top of that, you might find yourself buried in the rankings at some point in the future (for a low-traffic keyword, “buried” in the rankings might mean being at the top of page 2).
I don’t think I’ll ignore micro-niche sites completely. They’re probably still worth building, with an understanding that they shouldn’t be relied upon for long-term passive income potential.
What Do You Think?
As always, I’m interested in your thoughts, so please leave them in the comments!