Google’s Recent Disaster & My Plans for the Future

Being able to make adjustments quickly and pivot when necessary is important for any business, but I think it’s especially important for internet marketers.  On April 24th, Google launched “Penguin“, an algorithm update that targeted “spammy” and “over-optimized” websites.

The initial update was rather shocking to many internet marketers, as most saw their sites disappear from the top search results on Google.  As usual, people cried out about the “end of SEO“, feeling the pain of their lost income sources.

There were some interesting implications to this update in particular, which I’ll explain below.

The Initial Shock

I knew something was up when my traffic across most of my sites seems down significantly mid-day on April 24th, and my reading over at the Warrior Forum confirmed it.  This update was a little bit different, however, and seemed to have many unintended effects. Here are some examples of what people found soon after Penguin was rolled out:

  • An essentially blank website was ranking at the top of page 1 on Google for the super-competitive search phrase “make money online“.
  • A search for “Viagra” did not return Viagra’s official site anywhere on the 1st page…and oddly enough, one of the 1st page search results was a .edu site (Northern Kentucky University), obviously having nothing to do with Viagra.
  • Lots of spammy looking websites occupying the top spots on Google for other competitive phrases (which seems to be the complete opposite of what Google intended).
  • Well-aged authority sites losing their rankings for the first time (the types of sites that were never really affected by previous Panda updates)

As I read through all of these observations (warning: reading the Warrior Forum can easily waste hours of your time), I knew that all of this had to be an overreaction.  There’s no way Google would allow these changes to remain in this form, and it would most likely be at least a few days before Google made some tweaks and the dust settled.  That’s why I waited a few days to write this post.

Who Seems to Be Affected?

Nothing is absolutely certain right now, but these appear to be the types of sites that were hit hardest:

  • Exact match keyword domains – It appears Google has reduced the positive impact that having an exact match keyword domain has on your site’s rankings.
  • Sites with spammy backlink profiles – If you have a lot of backlinks that appear spammy (e.g. links are found within a poorly spun article that has no relevancy to your links) or come from private blog networks that Google has identified (such as BMR, which was shut down), there’s a good chance your site was affected.

Unfortunately, many sites that appear to have nothing wrong with them were also hit hard, so there’s nothing really solid to conclude here.

Say “Hello” to Negative SEO

It used to be that if you built “bad” backlinks, Google simply gave them little or no weight, and thus they did not help your rankings at all. Apparently, negative SEO has arrived – in other words, there are backlinks you can build that not only don’t help your site, but they hurt your rankings and potentially outweigh the good links.

Here’s a video from SEOmoz that explains it well:

Other Resources for Learning More About Google’s Penguin Update

Because I’m not an SEO guru, it’s not worth me going into the nitty gritty of this algorithm update, when so many others have written great articles about it.  Here’s a few I recommend reading:

Has the Dust Settled?

I’m not sure, because I’m still noticing some things that don’t seem quite right. Take my blog for example (My 4-Hour Workweek):  I’ve never manually built links to this site, aside from leaving comments on other people’s websites.  This blog is a perfect example of how a site can obtain links naturally, as I have been linked to over a thousand times, both on my main page and to various individual posts. SEO really can’t get any more natural than this.  Also, my blog is a PR3 site as of right now.

Because of my site’s name and relevancy to The 4-Hour Workweek (the book), I had been ranking on page 1 for the search term “4 hour workweek” for a long time (well over a year), getting as high as #3 or #4 (I can’t quite remember).  I never really monitor this blog’s ranking, because search engine traffic isn’t as important to me.

With over 4,000 e-mail subscribers, 1,000 RSS subscribers, and being linked to in various places, I don’t rely on search engine traffic too much (in fact, search engine traffic only makes up 33% of my overall traffic).  As of right now, my blog is ranking on page 13 for the search term “4 hour workweek”, and I can assure you I’ve probably lost rankings for many other phrases I once ranked highly for.

This makes absolutely no sense to me – Of every website I own, I’m most proud of this blog.  My content is 100% original and written by me, it attracts “real” backlinks, and I’ve been around for over 2 years now (a long time in “internet years”).  While PR3 is nothing amazing, it’s still a sign that I’m even trusted by Google’s own quality measures.

Again, this isn’t something I’m stressing over, and it’s not going to impact my income at all, but it’s a sign that Google’s Penguin update may still have some unintended effects in play.

Impact on Other Bloggers

Here are some examples of how this Google update impacted a few other bloggers who I follow and enjoy:

Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income:

Spencer Haws from Niche Pursuits:

“Overall, I have definitely seen some movement down with the rankings of some of my sites.  Not all of my sites, but definitely a significant movement with some of them.  At this point its still too early to tell with some of my larger sites how the actual traffic to my sites will be effected.  My analytics appear to be pretty consistent with the number of visitors to my larger sites over the past few days.  So, I may need some more time to assess the full effect.”

Justin and Joe from AdSense Flippers:

The Impact on My Niche Sites

I’m still recovering from the last blow that Google dealt me, so this update really didn’t hurt me from an emotional standpoint.  A far as rankings though, the overall effect was negative. Oddly enough, my newer, thinner micro-niche sites weren’t affected too much.  My older niche sites, ones with more content and backlinks were hit harder.

Again, this is pretty counter-intuitive….I would expect thinner sites that have essentially only been backlinked with Unique Article Wizard to be hurt, but they weren’t.  Unfortunately, these sites aren’t earning me much money – as I mentioned in my article about, I haven’t been able to put ads on most of my niche sites yet, and they obviously no longer earn from AdSense.

The sites hit hardest were some of my original niche sites, including some Clickbank sites that used to bring me a bit of income each month, as well as my Amazon niche sites.  Also, I have one site that I have been consistently earning $35/month from a private advertiser on, that I won’t be able to bill this month (the site is nowhere to be found on Google and doesn’t receive any traffic now).

Theory on Why My Older Sites Were Hurt

My older sites were built – for lack of a better explanation – before I knew what I was doing. Although most of my recent backlinks have been built “properly” (good mix of anchor text, links built slowly, etc.), I had a lot of older links that maybe weren’t as good.  I’ve tried many different backlinking packages on Fiverr, and I’m sure some of these are viewed as negative backlinks by Google.

I may do a case study soon to try and “resurrect” these sites, but first I have to decide whether it’s worth putting more time into these older sites, or if my time is better spent working on new sites or current sites that are ranking fine.

Are Micro Niche Sites Dead?

This is the question that people seem to ask after every time Google makes an update like this.  And the answer remains the same: no.   That doesn’t mean your approach shouldn’t change, however.

The biggest tool you have in building a successful niche site is keyword research.  If you can successfully find a low competition keyword that has high enough traffic, you can build a profitable niche site.  Unfortunately, I think exact match keyword domains have lost some of their ranking power, which means you may need to put in more work with content creation and backlink building.

If micro niche sites now require more work to be profitable, you may have to think twice about whether it’s something you want to spend time on, or if perhaps your time is better spent working on a larger, authority-style website.

My Plan Going Forward

I’ll be honest when I say that I’m somewhat lost right now, after being hit again and again in a short period of time (losing AdSense, losing site rankings, etc.).  If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile though, you know that I’m optimistic and that I will continue to work hard through any type of adversity.

Over the past week, and going forward, I have been spending and plan to spend 80-90% of my time on one authority site that I started building several months ago.  I think there’s a lot of interesting things I can do with the site, and I’m excited about the things I’ve done lately (such as finally completing the eBook that I plan to use in building my e-mail list).

Here are some of the topics I plan to write about on the blog in the upcoming weeks and months:

  • Building and optimizing an e-mail list for an authority site (including experiments with paid traffic)
  • Content strategy, and how I’m easily finding people to write posts for free
  • An SEO strategy that works for authority sites (and no, I haven’t quite figured this out yet!)

As for my niche sites, I’m going to continue testing out (and writing about) different AdSense alternatives, to see if I can make the most of the traffic that I still receive on many of my micro niche sites that were previously 100% monetized through Google AdSense.

I’d Like to Hear from You

How have your sites been doing ever since Penguin was rolled out by Google?  What do you think of my plan, and what’s your plan now?  Please share them in the comments!

As usual, if you enjoyed this post, I’d greatly appreciate a share on Facebook or retweet on Twitter! Thanks! :)

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31 Responses to “Google’s Recent Disaster & My Plans for the Future”

  1. My site dropped to 170.. even though it’s only a month old and haven’t done any linkbuilding what so ever.

    A lot of my other sites have dropped but starting to climb again now and curious to see what happens. I’m just trying to put out new content so at least its unique and good.

    Quality will be the focus so that’s what we should be aiming for.
    Ralph | Niche Websites recently posted… Sneaky Rich Snippets Plugin to Boost CRT and Sales


    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Ralph. I agree, quality content is extremely important, but perhaps even more important with “Penguin” is the quality of your backlinks.


  2. I have 2 niche sites which bring me a total of $40/month are facing drop of ranking. The good side is they still in the page 1. :) I am looking forward to create 2 new niche site to see what kind of backlink strategy work.
    Yeok Heng recently posted… My Make Extra Money Online Goal


    Eric G. Reply:

    Good to hear they are still on page 1 – that’s not bad at all. :) It’s going to take some time and experimentation to see how to best build backlinks now.

    My guess is that the basic backlinking principles will remain true – build natural backlinks, and don’t spam the internet with them.


  3. Hey Eric, I’m glad you’re considering the authority site route. I’ve had major success in the past 6 or so months by simply releasing an ebook with my brand new authority site.

    Best of all, my site relies ZERO on google because I do absolutely no link building so I’m never affected by these updates.

    I’ve only found your blog a couple days ago, but I really like it because of your authenticity. Keep your head up man! I would strongly suggest trying to build an authority site and see what you come up with. Best of luck to you.
    Sean King recently posted… 35,440 Facebook Fans in 3 Months?!


    Eric G. Reply:

    Hey Sean, that’s awesome. Must be nice not to rely on Google at all. :)

    Building an authority site is my plan right now – I have a site that’s fully built, and actually just released an eBook yesterday. It’ll be a free giveaway to attract readers to my e-mail list. I haven’t decided yet how I will monetize the e-mail list, but either way, it’s a step in the right direction.

    Thanks for the comment!


  4. Eric,

    This is a great overview of everything “Penguin” related. Thanks for taking the time to write it up for us.

    I had a similar experience as you in which my older sites lost their rankings while my newer sites remained relatively untouched. The only thing I can think of that would cause this is the “freshness” factor of the content. Google may be pushing hard for consistently updated content.

    I don’t believe niche sites are dead, however. We need to adjust and take the next month or so to tailor our site creation and backlinking strategies so they jive with the new algo. It looks like we’re going to need to pump those sites with a lot more content going forward.

    I guess time will tell.
    Vin – Rank For Profit recently posted… Niche Site Keyword Criteria in 2012


    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Vin. You may be right in that Google is favoring “fresh” content. I did read some stories right after the algorithm change about “garbage” websites that haven’t been updated in years, showing up in the top search results for various keywords. It’s definitely a mystery right now.

    I don’t think niche sites will ever die – for any given long tail keyword with low competition, there will usually be space for a new site in the rankings. It really is just a matter of probably adding more content and making sure your backlinks are considered “high quality” by Google (which is probably the most difficult piece of this change right now).


  5. My sites were hit pretty bad and I’ve started work on an authority type site.

    I will wait and see what happens to my existing sites but my main focus is on the new site and getting it traffic from other sources apart from Google search.

    I think the advice of adding high quality content will make things ok is a bit of a misnomer. I think there is more to this update than meets the eye and its not about Google helping out quality sites by de-ranking SEO’d sites.
    Joe recently posted… Starting From Scratch


    Eric G. Reply:

    I agree, Joe – High quality content isn’t the magic gateway to ranking highly in Google. You could have the most amazing content in the world, but there’s a good chance no one will ever see it without at least some SEO effort on your part.

    Going forward, I think we need to be a bit more careful about our backlinking and other SEO tasks, to make sure everything is done “by the book” (unfortunately, there’s no real “book” to follow).


  6. Eric, I’m trying to diversify my income stream a little bit. I finally have my own product – got AzonTheme PLR right and gonna sell it myself.

    All my new niche sites got hit, but some sites went even stronger after Penguin. In May, I just focus on adding new FRESH content and grow them as Authority Sites.

    Authority Sites are well to go. One of my Adsense sites made $100 last mo. Why can’t I grow it as $1K a mo?

    Regarding to Backlinking, it’s very hard to tell what to do next. I gonna use UAW to link to 2nd tier Web 2.0 and see how it would go.

    Those well on-page SEO content got more traffic these days.. That is way to go for now.
    Kent @ Earn Extra Income Online recently posted… Meeting Adam 23 year old affiliate making $7,500 a month online


    Eric G. Reply:

    Good to hear you’re diversifying a bit, Kent. I’d be curious to see how the sales are with the AzonTheme. I know Chris did well with it over the past 1+ years.

    Authority sites are definitely the way to go, even if they are higher risk. By higher risk, I mean that you will put a lot more time and effort into them, and there’s no guarantee it’ll pay off. The potential is much greater though, compared to small niche sites, and I think in the long run, authority sites will be the only truly “sustainable” sites.


  7. Hi Eric,

    Thanks for laying it all out for us to read. I can feel the frustration and confusion in your words…as it’s exactly what I am feeling.

    Spent all weekend on the forums trying to get a grip as to what’s going on and where to go from here??

    Been at this for just over a year and was quite proud that I was able to get my Adsense earnings to $1200 a month (2 sites) only to have it wiped away in February when ALN and BMR got wiped out.

    Learned a valuable lesson…don’t build all your links in one spot and diversify anchor text and got right back at it.

    But if someone would have told me a year ago that a penguin was going to knock the wind right out of me……so your post came at the perfect time for me.

    I’ve kept it in perspective though and realize how fortunate I am compared to so many others.

    Look forward to hearing about your future projects Eric.

    Jerry recently posted… Increase Energy Levels


  8. Hey Eric,

    My site rankings have been jumping all over the place lately! My biggest authority site’s homepage went from ~11 to 50+ for a while and now it’s back to #19 today. Amazon earnings on this one didn’t get affected because my home page doesn’t make any money, it’s all the inner pages.

    Another authority site of mine with PR3 and over 600 backlinks has been knocked out of the rankings. This site’s secondary keyword used to rank #1 and the primary keyword was hovering at #10. Now in it’s place on the first page (for the secondary keyword) is a related blog post from this site. I used Blog Blue Print and Build My Rank exclusively for backlinking on this site, however I built less than 100 backlinks with these services because it was so tedius. The other 500 backlinks came naturally. I’m hoping this site jumps back in a couple of weeks. This was my most consistent earner! Its interesting to note that the search results display completely different websites than before in the top 10 for this keyword.

    I have one more site that I built using the teachings from Niche Video Tycoon that also jumped around a bit but have settled to rank at the bottom of the 1st and top of the 2nd page of Google now. I have built no backlinks to this one but this is my best Adsense earner until I finish creating the video course built specifically for this site. I do plan to build backlinks eventually but this one seems to be doing fine without any right now.

    So I’m completly confused at how to proceed with SEO and backlinking right now. Hopefully things will shake out soon!
    Harlan Yee recently posted… Stormtrooper Shuffle – LMFAO Star Wars Parody (Party Rock Anthem)


    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Harlan, and for sharing how your sites were affected. I never used BMR, but on my older sites, I did a fair amount of backlinking with Blog Blueprint (which I stopped awhile ago). I haven’t heard anyone specifically call out Blog Blueprint, but I suspect those links aren’t viewed very favorably. I had almost forgotten about it, but now that you mentioned it, I think it may be the reason my older sites took such a big hit.

    I guess it’s good news for UAW, because all of my UAW-backlinked sites seem to be okay. It makes sense too, because UAW isn’t a private blog network, so it’s probably harder for Google to really identify and trace.

    Over the next month or more, we’re probably going to need to experiment with different backlink strategies to see what works, but my guess is that going “back to the basics” and manually building good quality links is probably the best course of action right now.


  9. I’ve been reading your blog for over a year. The key to sustainable income is diversification, so you got to hang in there man! Also, I’ve learned to never trust google.
    Surviving Economic Collapse recently posted… The Prosperity Triangle


    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment! I agree, diversification is key. And while I don’t necessarily distrust Google, I’m learning it’s not good to fully rely on them. :)


  10. Personally, I could be REALLY pissed about this latest update, as I have a pretty damn big network of like 250 + niche sites. The thing is, for some reason I don’t care too much, as luckily I just started a new business in Feb that’s based on offline, and doesn’t rely on the big mother Fn G at all (although I do provide services that relate to Google).

    I now think, after seeing the recent seeming “attitude” that Google is showing towards people doing SEO, that you’d have to completely nuts to rely on search engine rankings for any decent amount of your income, especially if you’re doing this full time as I am, it’s my main source of income.

    So if you have been solely SEO and search traffic reliant up until now, this update might just be the slap in the face that’s needed to wake you up from the dream that G cares about you, and is fair and just, and isn’t going to destroy your rankings over night.

    Get out now, build a business that you control!!
    Nick Earl recently posted… What We Can Offer Your Business


    Eric G. Reply:

    Great comment, Nick, thanks. It’s unfortunate that search engine traffic is becoming less and less reliable, but you’re right, it’s important that we don’t rely on it completely.

    Although I am obviously still going to try to get that traffic, I’m focusing more on building a list with my authority site, and even testing out different PPC campaigns to see if I can find a cost effective way to jump-start my list building.

    Building a list is probably the #1 thing we should all be doing with the free traffic we’re getting(for sites where it makes sense to have a list), because you’ll theoretically have “visitors for life” even if you stop ranking in Google.


  11. Hey Eric!
    This is one giant article full of good info so thank you for sharing!!

    Google and I are not the best of friends since they are so harsh! I had a wallpaper website where I was finally starting to make some good money and bam they decide that one of the pictures was not innocent enough and of course I went downhill from there on. This ‘Penguin’ issue I’m just going to say arg.

    I have taken a lot of time on my new sites and as long as I keep writing quality products, I’m hoping Google and I could be long lasting good friends. =)

    Take care and keep sharing!
    Amy recently posted… The Guide to Losing Weight When Older


    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment Amy! Sorry to hear that you were hit too – it’s very unfortunately, but you’ll get through it.

    This isn’t the first Google change, and it certainly won’t be the last. There will always be a way to overcome it – it’s just a matter of staying diligent with your efforts and not giving up.:)


  12. Thanks for laying it all out for us to read.
    I can feel the frustration and confusion in your words. Thanks for this golden advice!
    jim recently posted… Bargain News


    Eric G. Reply:

    Glad you enjoyed it – thanks for the comment Jim!


  13. I hope the effects wont be disastrous. I have 5 sites which gives me profit just enough to keep them up
    rena recently posted… Kitchen island tables


  14. Great article Eric!
    I’m curious to see the long term effects of this new update. It sounds like Google has a few bugs to work out with this, but it seems that it still boils down to quality content with properly placed keywords and quality links. The good sites have nothing to fear!
    Josh Rankin recently posted… SEO (Search Engine Optimization) 101


  15. Many of my keywords suddenly drop from page 1 and 2 to nowhere in Google. I am trying to remove all paid links and links from bad authority.


  16. I do agree that google is not friendly at all times. It sometimes lead to disasters. In times like this, you should know how to handle and pivot somethings to overcome such problem.


  17. I despised google for this. Thabnks for sharing your tthougs on this matter
    Austin recently posted… Mother of the bride dress plus size


  18. A few of my sites where affected. As I have been growing I have been fine tuning my process of website building and backlinking. My newer approaches have held up but the old approaches have lost a bit of ranking. What I have noticed is that the websites that had over 60% of just a few money keywords in my anchor text where hit hardest. But the impact wasn’t too bad.


  19. Eric, part of me wants to tell Google just to “piss off!” but I know they’re still the 8000 pound gorilla (though I hope Bing is ready to pounce—why aren’t they doing media blitzes, I will never know)…

    However, it is clear to me that Google really screwed the pooch on this one. My advice is to build bigger sites, with original content, and diversity of posts, keyword phrases (KWP), and backlinks. Linking out to authority sites also shows Google that you’re a “good guy” so I’d do that, too.
    Bill Davis recently posted… WP Twin Is An Indispensable WordPress Tool


  20. My income dropped by 90%. I’ve finally started to build an email list, but obviously I should have done this before I lost most of my traffic. Live and learn. Anyway, I’m not only dismayed at the amount of collateral damage people with good sites have experienced (self included), I’m pretty disgusted with the lousy search results.
    Deane Alban recently posted… Surprising Findings About Alcohol and Memory Loss


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