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!

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31 Responses to “Google’s Recent Algorithm Change: Game Changer for Niche Sites?”

  1. hi eric,

    nice post about the new google algorithm.
    I have some German Niche Sites and I am looking forward for the new algorithm coming to Germany, because I think I have googe and unique content.

    Hopefully I can clim up the google ladder…
    Matthias recently posted… Bauchrednern lernen mit Sascha Grammel

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Matthias. It’s definitely possible that your site will rise as others fall! If you have a good quality site, there’s a good chance it’ll happen. :)

    [Reply]

  2. This is very true. I don’t have successful niche sites. But one thing is sure. When tons of content farm will lose rank someone has to gain. Obviously some niche sites will gain position, if they have some authority. I have some points.
    1) These content sites are filling the Google space for almost all the topics. If they are genuine too. Google want other website to get some opportunity.
    2) What if they change full algorithm? Full massive impact?
    3) They just did 12% keywords change too know impact on Google business? How will it effect Google future business?
    4) I guess good niche site with lot of information. Wiht vidoes, pics, genuine content is the future.
    You forgot to mention, Amazon, ehow,yahoo answers is big winner after this update. They are ranking much higher.
    I guess we need to be serious about this Internet business.

    In future, Google will slap many adsense account searching based on number of sites, types of links coming from etc.

    We need to be secure from every side. Number of main blogs and support blog and types of revenue network etc.
    Rahul recently posted… Febuary Earning Report

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Good points/questions, Rahul. I do have a couple that I can give my view on:

    2) I don’t think they will ever do a FULL change of the algorithm. They always tweak it, and usually they’re minor tweaks. This one (affecting 12% of searches) was one of the larger ones.

    3) I honestly don’t think the change will have a large impact on Google’s business. If it’s helping people find higher quality search results, then hypothetically, it could make more people want to use Google as their search engine, but I don’t see it having a noticeable effect on their business.

    4) Good content is definitely the future. I was surprised to see eHow actually benefiting from the change, as they are very similar to other content farms that were hurt.

    Great points!

    [Reply]

  3. One thing that I see is that you tend to focus on Google, as if Google SERPs are the Source of All Traffic.

    Granted, I’m new at the IM game, but I’ve become quite impatient with the time it takes to build a site’s rankings to the point where you’re seeing significant traffic. I’ve turned to CPC – specifically, Adwords and Facebook.

    That said, you don’t have to spend money to get traffic outside of Google. Social bookmarking and link exchanges are two very effective tactics for driving traffic. If you’re publicizing a blog, linkbaiting and guest posting are two of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal, as well.

    As marketers, we do our best to diversify what we rely on for income – it is wise to extend this to our traffic sources as well, or we risk exposing ourselves to potentially losing all of our traffic when The Big G decides to change how it does things.

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Great comment, Lyndsy. Google certainly is not the only source of traffic. I know on a couple of my niche sites that are “sandboxed,” I still receive decent traffic from Bing and Yahoo.

    PPC is a great source of traffic as well, but I prefer to use it only for sites where I think the conversion rate to making a sale is high enough to justify the PPC cost.

    Social bookmarking is definitely another great way to get traffic, especially if your content tends to be “viral.”

    Diversification is huge. That can’t be overstated. :)

    [Reply]

  4. One other thing I’d like to comment on is that 12% of keywords is not the same thing as 12% of searches.

    There are a large number of searches every day for “facebook” every day on Google – and not a whole lot for “get an 800 number for my business”

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Good point – and I believe the change affected 12% of searches, not 12% of keywords.

    [Reply]

  5. I think you’re completely right in saying that bigger, authority type sites are the way forward and content is very much going to be a key factor. That said I will not be stopping my use of sites like Ezinearticles, Hubpages and Squidoo for backlink generation.

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    I’m with you, Steven – I will still be using those sites for my backlinking too. It’ll just be interesting to see if those backlinks become weaker over time.

    [Reply]

  6. Nice article, Eric.

    I just started my backlinking strategy on my first niche site so I’m not sure how much it will be affected. I will be monitoring over the month of March and see if ranking will increase.
    Learn With Tim recently posted… Backlinking Strategy

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Tim! Hopefully your sites do well in March. :)

    [Reply]

  7. Hey Eric,

    Thanks for the mention. I still think smaller niche sites can work, but I think the key is to just make sure what little content they have is high quality.

    Even my example niche sites I show off in my course were unaffected and as you know some of them are 5 to 15 page sites.
    Chris Guthrie recently posted… How I Deal With Google Ranking Changes

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for stopping by to comment, Chris. I’m really glad to hear that your 5-15 page sites were unaffected. It’s definitely good to know that some of the thinner sites still have some viability, if the content quality is high enough.

    [Reply]

  8. It’s definitely going to be interesting to see how everything pans out once all is said and done. I don’t think niche sites are done – just super thin ones. I have multiple sites that are only 10-20 pages and they’ve been shooting up through the rankings, but all my posts tend to be long, completely original, and I’m a freelance writing so they’re high quality content. Sites that go this route I think will probably be just fine – but the super thin rehashed stuff might be in trouble.
    Master Dayton recently posted… How Are You Going to Bust Through- A Freelance Writing Rant

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    It sounds like the 10-20 page ones will be fine, especially because you have a lot of in-depth, high quality content. I don’t think you have anything to worry about. :)

    [Reply]

  9. This will def. eliminate a large portion of the internet market novices out there! if it takes a lot longer now to see results than before, those beginners will not see enough drive to continue, which will heavily weed those players out of the game. I used to be one of them, and man oh man, will I tell you I took the high root and did everything slowly and surely, and was positively benefited by the new algorithms.

    Just my 2 cents…

    Cheers!
    Shakd recently posted… Article Marketing – Part I Back linking Strategy

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    I agree, Shakd. If you’re dedicated to high quality, you’re in a good position, as Google continues to weed out the thousands and thousands of low quality pages and sites. Keep it up!

    [Reply]

  10. Actually, I think smaller Amazon sites could still work provided you handle them carefully. This was quite a sophisticated algo change aimed at the “above the fold” stuff.

    If you are clean above the fold you tend to be OK, if not, you drop. My sites are Amazon sites, and the smallest is 10 pages, and all held steady and one had traffic rise.
    teatree recently posted… Observations on the responses to the “Farmer Update”

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Good point, teatree. I never really thought about considering just the “above the fold” content.

    In terms of length, I think we should all be aiming for 10 pages at a minimum (with some exceptions).

    Thanks for the comment!

    [Reply]

  11. I’m curious how these changes will effect all the social bookmarking sites out there and in turn our sites.

    Will posting a link to a service like OnlyWire that in turn post that link to multiple social sites end up hurting the site were it originated.

    Or if having thousands of backlinks will even matter any more.
    John McRae recently posted… What Is SocialMonkee-A Review

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    I know, John, I’m wondering the same thing. Social bookmarking has become such a large part of the backlinking process, but it’s hard to figure out if the value of social bookmarks has gotten better or worse.

    [Reply]

  12. I’ve heard that many autoblogs went down after the algorithm changes. I don’t think Google was targeting websites like eZine, but actually autoblogs. Even i was thinking of building one for testing purposes, but now that i’ve seen people getting deindexed… it would just be a waste of time.
    Good change anyway, this should raise the quality of the content google provides.
    Maria Pavel recently posted… Certified Nursing Assistant Practice Test

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Autoblogs are definitely lower quality, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that Google would want to take them down. In addition though, it does seem like Google was targeting “content farms” like eZine, because many of the articles don’t add “real” value to the internet, as most people create articles there for backlink purposes. It’s strange though, because eZine is one of the few places where spun content (and duplicate content) doesn’t fly, as they have a pretty long acceptance process for new articles.

    [Reply]

    Maria Pavel Reply:

    Well, then maybe eZine is just an innocent victim in google’s attempt to weed other “content farms”
    Either way, i doubt google’s wrong, they must have a good reason for what they did.
    Maria Pavel recently posted… Certified Nursing Assistant Practice Test

    [Reply]

  13. There is no subsitute for good content.

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Agreed!

    [Reply]

  14. Some of my hubpages took a knock – but on closer examination they were the hubpages that had not been backlinked.

    I think the days of simply writing on a web 2.0 site and hoping the strength of the domain will help you rank are gone. You have to backlink the hub or infobarrel or whatever. Of course if you have to do that, you may as well be making your own sites and backlinking those…
    Rose recently posted… Algo changes plus hubpages changes

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Totally agree, Rose. It’s going to be harder work now, but those who are willing to put in the extra time will be rewarded.

    [Reply]

  15. The changes also touched some of my websites, but i try to look at every change as being a good change, even if right at that moment it’s difficult to comprehend why exactly.
    Google might have favored some with the changes, but that just means we need to switch our focus and continue doing what we did till now, make money.
    Amit recently posted… How and Where to Find Forklift Operator Jobs

    [Reply]

  16. I think the second to last part of your article about building more of an authority site for your specific niche is a great point. If you can continue to build authority in your niche Google is going to be pushing most of your content higher into the rankings and will help you more in the long run. Even after the updates though I still see 4-5 page niche sites at the top of the rankings because they do not have a lot of competition. So if you build a niche site where there is little competition you can still get away with a smaller amount of content as long as its good content.
    Dan recently posted… Search Engine Optimization Software

    [Reply]

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