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:
- Google Penguin Update Recovery Tips and Advice from Search Engine Land
- Google Launches “Penguin Update” Targeting Webspam In Search Results from Search Engine Land
- Another Step to Reward High-Quality Sites from the Official Google Webmaster Blog – If you want to read about how many people seem to be “unfairly” affected by this update, definitely read through some of the comments on this article.
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 Media.net, 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!