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Our First Layoffs in 8 Years - google referrals are down 50-70%
wingslevel




msg:3281126
 11:45 pm on Mar 13, 2007 (gmt 0)

We have laid off three full time employees - our shipping department has been closing early - we have put 2 new server purchases on hold (oh, and i told the wife to keep driving that old car for another year)

We have been at this since 1998 and have ecomm sites with over 200,000 products - no affiliate, adsense, reciprocals, purchased links, local issues or black hat. We have 1,000's of natural inbound links. Repeat customers represent over 50% of our sales. 6 pageviews per visit (not bad for ecomm). We were never touched by any of the major updates (ie Florida etc.).

We have been absolutely bludgeoned in the last couple of months - google organic referrals are down 50-70% (depending on which hour you check). Most all of our losses have come from our long tail keywords.

Obviously this isn't just an everflux spike or a silly mistake some young engineer made. It's clear that google actually thinks that they have improved the index. With this in mind, I have started issuing the pink slips.

A sad day for me....

 

netmeg




msg:3282800
 3:13 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

My top two ecommerce clients send out upwards of 100k mailings (catalogs, postcards, flyers and/or newsletters) per month. That still accounts for the bulk of their sales - in fact, the advertising effectiveness reports that I prepare for them show us that catalog sales are growing as much or more as the online business for their particular niches.

If the search engine traffic went away tomorrow (and for one client it did, for about 3 months in 2006), it would definitely put a hurt on them, but we'd all survive. And we're exploring alternative areas to get into as well (expanding direct mail even more, email, other forms of advertising and PR).

It doesn't signify to acknowledge Google's inordinate share of the search traffic - you can't control that. What needs to be acknowledged, like it or not, is that if your business can't survive without Google traffic, if you can't react quickly to cover from the loss of that income, then your business is at an extremely great risk of not surviving at all. And at that point, it's time to look at your business model and see it for what it is.

That's not blame, it's reality.

Phil_S




msg:3282840
 3:45 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Most of the big players in my industry use a lot of old fashion direct-response marketing.

It takes a little time to learn, test and tweak, but if you learn it, you'll be better off. If you get good at it, no one can take that away your knowledge (not even Google) and you can build predictable income, maybe even become a high paid marketing consultant to local business in your area.

I know from experience, we do better with "mail" self-mailers then e-mails. It cost more, but if we send out 1000 mailers, we get better response then 1000 emails. Email newsletters do work, but not as well, for us anyway.

We took a big hit from Google and are still in a mess; almost all our pages are supplemental. I've been stressed out like you would not believe. Used to own all my inventory, we were way in the black and went to way in the red. Heart palputations, night sweets, sleepless nights, gotta love it!

We pop out of the supplemental index here and there and do well when we do. But not right now.

Internet marketing is also a defensive type of marketing too, all your competitors are there, and tons of them, more everyday.

Thanks.

[edited by: Phil_S at 4:05 pm (utc) on Mar. 15, 2007]

netmeg




msg:3282848
 3:52 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

I forgot to add another important point - for all the time and money that my clients have me spend on developing their search engine presences, they've got at least two people or more working full time on the other marketing avenues. Obviously not everyone can do that - but if you take it down proportionally - figure on spending X amount of time on your online presence, but don't forget to allot Y amount of time to coming up with other ways to market (including online resources, but not necessarily search engines) you have a better chance of weathering the ups and downs of Google.

dataguy




msg:3282868
 4:06 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Those who are blaming the OP saying he should have planned for this eventuality - you sound ignorant.
He shouldn't have hired those people?
He shouldn't have leased space or equipment?

The alternative is to not take those orders, you know that right? It takes inventory, people and systems to fill orders.
He's laying off people, that's his contigency plan.

Very well said, arubin.

I'm in much the same position as the OP. It's fine to try to build a business that can change directions overnight when you are the only employee, but try to build a larger business and things are not as simple. My guess is that the "hackneyed little chant about blaming oneself for an over-reliance upon organic search engine traffic" is made almost completely by those who go by the title of "webmaster" and owners of one-man operations.

There are websites that can not exist without a full staff of employees, and can not afford employees without organic (& non-penalized) search engine rankings. Would the Internet be a better place if these websites did not exist?

6 months ago Google imposed some sort of penalty on one of my 2 main sites. After depleting my savings to continue paying my employees for 5 months waiting for Google to finally figure out they had made a mistake, we bit the bullet and let our employees go, all except for me and my wife, and my system administrator.

It's been an excruciating experience, not for lack of profit but because we have considered it our mission to provide for our employees reasonable safe work environment where they would be free from worry so that they could do what they do best. We keep telling ourselves that this is the ride that we signed up for when we decided to run our own business years ago, and it certainly has been a wild ride, but saying this over and over again does little to aid in our grief.

We did have a contingency plan, and if by keeping the websites operational means the plan is successful, then we have succeeded. But, as the OP stated, it is a sad day. I can't help but think that in some small way, the Internet is not as good of a place today as it was 6 month ago.

Is this Google's fault? I don't know. It sure seems like it.

Jane_Doe




msg:3282896
 4:30 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

My guess is that the "hackneyed little chant about blaming oneself for an over-reliance upon organic search engine traffic" is made almost completely by those who go by the title of "webmaster" and owners of one-man operations.

Web income from free search engine traffic is pretty variable and subject to change at the whim of an algo change. It probably is best suited to those who do not have fixed expenses, like full time employees, dependent on highly variable income.

nonni




msg:3282897
 4:31 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Making money off the internet is like farming. The SERPS are about as predictable as the weather. Hackers, spammers, and cheats are like insect and weed pests. Interneters sell their produce (ads) for wholesale prices, and they pay for their costs (salaries, server space, etc) at higher retail prices.

SullySEO




msg:3282904
 4:41 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Wingslevel: Most all of our losses have come from our long tail keywords.

Possibly related: Phrase Based Indexing [webmasterworld.com...]

trinorthlighting




msg:3282944
 5:23 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Sorry to hear your business fell off. Do you have items posted on froogle/google base? Its free and brings us a ton of traffic everyday.

Reno




msg:3282992
 6:05 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

The word "free" has been misused in this thread as far as I'm concerned, and the notion that we need to be grateful for the "free" traffic that Google may have sent our way is especially misleading.

The fact is, Google would not exist if it were not for all the free content that millions of siteowners and webmasters provided to them. They exist because of us, and we benefit from their existence. It is supposed to be a symbiotic relationship -- each doing better through a connection to the other.

So I hope we can drop this nonsense about how lucky we have been to have gotten the crumbs from Google's table. As this thread poignantly points out, they've seriously hurt others by refusing to offer any feedback whatsoever as to what a siteowner can do to make things right when the algo finds them in violation of some rule that the siteowner never knew existed in the first place.

For a company that at one time prided itself on "do no evil", the consequences of their behavior has been, in some cases, extraordinarily harmful. And what really makes it a true tragedy -- people laid off, lives ruined -- is that it was all avoidable.

Anyone reading this message board over the last year has seen that a large group of us have been calling for a "fair warning" when a significant penalty is to be imposed. That was/is not asking too much, and yet, for the millionaires and billionaires at Google, a fair warning is apparently just too hard. Allowing a process whereby a small e-commerce owner can make things right is just too much trouble. No time for that -- the real money is with the cyber-giants.

Tell it to the families who can't make their mortgages.

Yeah, at one time Google may have had good intentions, but we all know where that road leads.

Fair warning and a way to make things right -- that is all we are asking. No one is asking Google to "fix" our websites; no one is asking for a guaranteed ranking; no one is asking for anything except for the consideration of what a severe penalty can do to an established online business.

People's lives are in the balance -- if that matters anymore.

...............................................................

trinorthlighting




msg:3283006
 6:16 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Thats not true Reno, we have built over 50 small business websites for customers who average over $1mil in annual sales each.

Whos fault is it when a site gets penalized? Whos fault is it when a competitor builds a better site? Whos fault is it when people are not educated enough to build solid sites? Whos fault is it in not properly marketing? Whos fault is it if your pricing is higher than your competition? Ultimately its the owners.

BTW, 70% of brick and mortar "small businesses" fail in the first three years. Do you really think its not the same way on the internet?

It takes a lot of time, effort and money to build a site and it takes excellent customer service for people to come back.

netmeg




msg:3283032
 6:36 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Thats not true Reno, we have built over 50 small business websites for customers who average over $1mil in annual sales each.

And we've got several hundred under our belt, over the past ten years.

Moreover, what about the people who necessarily would have to fall in rankings in order for someone else to climb or re-attain his position? What about their mortgages? They're not ALL spammers and MFAs either.

There are only ten spots on the first page of any given search result (for the default setup) and billions of pages fighting over them. These are not good odds.

arubicus




msg:3283081
 7:26 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

"Moreover, what about the people who necessarily would have to fall in rankings in order for someone else to climb or re-attain his position? What about their mortgages? They're not ALL spammers and MFAs either."

True. Competition is competition. If someone gains popularity and creates more value then a shifting to bring them up higher in the results while dropping others just happens.

But, from what I gather though it wasn't just a 1 keyword 1 page thing such as a competitor gaining on the value ground. More like the site as a whole lost "value" across the site Google's eye to drop them from even the long tail searches. For a long term established site that is white hat...well something is fishy. Either the value of the site decreased that much overnight, they were overvalued to begin with, they have been doing something wrong only now to get devalued (penalty), algo tweaks, algo problems, or a multitude of competitors increased their value.(x amount of keywords * average positions lost would give you a feel about how many compeditors out valued the site - which I don't think is what happened.) Take your pick.

All of these factors are a part of the risk of such traffic. Virtually all has some aspect that is in your control. Figuring out the cause and reason may be difficult. It is what you are doing with your site in any given moment that the algo determines the value of such a site. If you got a penalty, you did something wrong and must fix it, wait for it to clear, and/or beg for forgiveness. If you allow your value to degrade your rankings may follow. If the algo is tweaked your perceived value must match what the algo is looking for. If a competitor is catching up or over takes you...COMPETE! Learn from them and do what you do better...etc.

As others have stated...learn to find ways to reduce such risks before those risks present themselves.

dataguy




msg:3283105
 7:54 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

True. Competition is competition. If someone gains popularity and creates more value then a shifting to bring them up higher in the results while dropping others just happens.

In all these complaints over the past few months I don't think I've seen anyone referring to losing position due to competition. My site certainly hasn't been pushed down by competition and I think most people complaining would welcome losing their position to a competitor as long as they had a mark to shoot for, which would put them on top. Instead, we are often pushed down hundreds of positions by sites which we certainly would not want to emulate.

Making money off the internet is like farming. The SERPS are about as predictable as the weather. Hackers, spammers, and cheats are like insect and weed pests. Interneters sell their produce (ads) for wholesale prices, and they pay for their costs (salaries, server space, etc) at higher retail prices.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania so this analogy isn't lost on me. Problem is that in the U.S. there are far fewer farms today than there used to be, and none of the farms are gone due to weather, insects or weeds.

Martin40




msg:3283113
 7:59 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Netmeg and PhilS are right, in a sense, but aren't they also saying that thanks to Google ecommerce is dead?

[edited by: Martin40 at 8:35 pm (utc) on Mar. 15, 2007]

arubicus




msg:3283119
 8:11 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

In all these complaints over the past few months I don't think I've seen anyone referring to losing position due to competition. My site certainly hasn't been pushed down by competition and I think most people complaining would welcome losing their position to a competitor as long as they had a mark to shoot for, which would put them on top. Instead, we are often pushed down hundreds of positions by sites which we certainly would not want to emulate.

Precisely. Personally I would rather loose position to a competitor that is creating and increasing value. Don't mind really as it helps motivate creativity towards progress and additional value. As I have stated:

But, from what I gather though it wasn't just a 1 keyword 1 page thing such as a competitor gaining on the value ground. More like the site as a whole lost "value" across the site Google's eye to drop them from even the long tail searches. For a long term established site that is white hat...well something is fishy.

Fishy as in something may just be screwed up in the algo that could cause such a drop not for this one site but for the many now reporting such activities. The 950 penalty comes to mind as an example. Hard to believe looking through 950 other sites that they instantly created more value than some of the sites I have seen drop to the end of the results. I just have a hard time believing this is a competition thing. Nor do I believe that these sites suffering were overvalued, or these sited degraded in their value. It is either a penalty (the sites were ok at one time but certain factors and now not ok with google) or a complete algo screw up. My opinion of course.

Martin40




msg:3283142
 8:45 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Making money off the internet is like farming. The SERPS are about as predictable as the weather.

Before June 2006 it wasn't like that. Good content sites with enough inbound links would rank.

The fact is, Google would not exist if it were not for all the free content that millions of siteowners and webmasters provided to them. They exist because of us, and we benefit from their existence. It is supposed to be a symbiotic relationship -- each doing better through a connection to the other.

Amen.

[edited by: Martin40 at 8:50 pm (utc) on Mar. 15, 2007]

ken_b




msg:3283143
 8:45 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

We have been absolutely bludgeoned in the last couple of months -

Maybe I missed it, but other than laying workers off, what have you done in an effort to deal with this?

europeforvisitors




msg:3283167
 9:17 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Before June 2006 it wasn't like that. Good content sites with enough inbound links would rank.

They still can and do.

The fact is, Google would not exist if it were not for all the free content that millions of siteowners and webmasters provided to them. They exist because of us, and we benefit from their existence.

Millions of site owners and Webmasters continue to benefit from Google's existence. The beneficiaries' names and rankings may change, but there will always be 10 listings in the top 10 positions.

As for the idea that rankings shouldn't change without warning (something that was discussed earlier in this thread), that might make sense if Google were a directory, but what we're talking about here is an algorithm-based system where fluctations or evolutionary changes in rankings are inevitable. I'm no search engineer, but I don't see how it would be practical for Google to notify every business in the top 10 for every conceivable keyphrase that its rankings might change if factor A gets a boost, factor B becomes less important, or a new filter is deployed.

Reno




msg:3283206
 10:09 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

... but I don't see how it would be practical for Google to notify every business in the top 10 for every conceivable keyphrase that its rankings might change

Just to be clear, no one is talking about "fluctuations" -- I used the words "significant penalty" and "severe penalty", which as wingslevel found out, may result in the devastation of the business he and his wife worked hard to establish.

Regarding notification, this has been discussed in other threads at other times, but I'll summarize my own thoughts on the matter:

-- Google is not being asked to send out any email, rather, when a "severe penalty" is imminent, a flag goes up for the siteowner in Google's webmaster tools control panel;

-- Next to the flag is a short indication why they are on the verge of a hard hit. It could be as simple as:

"Go to: Webmaster Guidelines > Quality guidelines - specific guidelines > Don't load pages with irrelevant words."

That is information already published on their own website, so they are not divulging any algo secrets -- all they are doing is pointing to a problem that the siteowner needs to immediately address. If the siteowner does not do that in a reasonable amount of time, then they have ignored the "fair warning" at their own peril.

And to avoid the black hat SEO doing this over and over, Google could limit this to no more than 2 warnings per domain per year.

I've said it before and I repeat it here -- this sort of policy would take the wind out of almost all the complaints that are registered against Google, AND, it makes for a healthier ecommerce environment, which is nothing but a good thing.

.......................................

Martin40




msg:3283208
 10:15 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Millions of site owners and Webmasters continue to benefit from Google's existence. The beneficiaries' names and rankings may change, but there will always be 10 listings in the top 10 positions.

Europe, I respect your opinion, but you don't seem to take into account the quality aspect. This is not a game of musical chairs in which only THE BEST are allowed to put their butt to rest, because the best are ranked at 800. I can only speak for my own search category, but there the Google SERPs are worse than in any other search engine.

As other posters have already noted, it's not like we're outranked by good sites. I already gave you some anecdotal evidence by sticky, but now a page with a Russian title (Cyrillic script) is ranking at #6 with just some images, no written content.

europeforvisitors




msg:3283211
 10:23 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Europe, I respect your opinion, but you don't seem to take into account the quality aspect. This is not a game of musical chairs in which only THE BEST are allowed to put their butt to rest, because the best are ranked at 800. I can only speak for my own search category, but there the Google SERPs are worse than in any other search engine.

Quality is in the eye of the beholder, but quality isn't the point of your statement that Webmasters are letting Google profit from their content, the relationship is symbiotic, etc. (FWIW, I find that--on the whole--Google's SERPs are far better than other search engines in the categories that I use, but that isn't the point of this discussion, either.)

IMHO, the bottom line is that search-engine rankings are unpredictable, and nobody has a lock on #1, #5, #10, or #20. Change happens: Sometimes it's good for you, and sometimes it isn't. (I can vouch for that myself--I lost 70-90% of my Google over a two-month period in 2005. If it's any consolation, I recovered, and maybe the OP will, too.)

Martin40




msg:3283229
 10:43 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Quality is in the eye of the beholder

Very very true. But as soon as search engines start indexing pages in the wrong script, then I'd say the beholder should notice a problem. And neither should internal pages with just one line of content rank top10 on generic key-phrases. This is what I mean by quality.

I think you're over-simplifying this. When your fine travel site dropped out in 2005, you knew it would rebound, because that's how it was then.
But now it's different. If you see your homepage at #800 tomorrow, then
you have no reason to believe the situation will improve.

but quality isn't the point of your statement that Webmasters are letting Google profit from their content, the relationship is symbiotic, etc.

That was someone else's reaction to the notion of webmasters having to feel blessed by free traffic from Uncle Google.
In fact, Google seems a bit wasteful with it's support from webmasters.
What I see is that 80 year olds that have never Internetted perceive Google as the single-minded power hungry search engine, because that's what they read in the newspapers. It's not us webmasters that are involved in a power struggle with the traditional media, but the kicker is that the Men at the Plex are unaware of such phenomena.

[edited by: Martin40 at 10:56 pm (utc) on Mar. 15, 2007]

BillyS




msg:3283253
 11:23 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

If your operating business model included free traffic and it suddenly dries up, that's the harsh reality of your particular business model.

Remember, Google is also a participant in this game too. We're all in this together. If Google has poor results folks will switch away.

Keniki




msg:3283255
 11:27 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

I think google have followed not led for the first time. I think they have followed yahoo and msn in giving weight to directory structure and keyword nearest root in folders. This can be emphasised in seeing ODP completely disappear and Shopping sites serve every page at root without folders.

Also I think we have an assumption in serps that forms=content.

[edited by: Keniki at 11:32 pm (utc) on Mar. 15, 2007]

kidder




msg:3283259
 11:34 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Clearly a lot of people are unhappy - Is anyone prepared to argue the case for some type of regualtion of web search?

Keniki




msg:3283267
 11:48 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

No websearch should be up to the search engines but I do think web advertising needs to come under an indepedent body. We all can visually see the skew black hat seo has on web search, but on cost per click we can't. If the same skew on SERP results is seen on advertising you can bet only a fraction of your clicks are generating geniune traffic. And who is regulating, no-one. I think if search engines allow there results to become so easily distorted there pay per click must be off the scale. And whats there incentive to solve the problem....... None, the more clickfraud the more money they make.

sailorjwd




msg:3283270
 11:53 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

Who is coming up now on those long tail searches?

What different characteristics does their content have compared to yours.

I'm curious because my site lives off of the long tail search.

As i've mentioned, in my case Wiki type sites are climbing to the top in many long tails. Also seems harder to compete with top dog sites like microsoft.

Keniki




msg:3283277
 12:03 am on Mar 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

I am seeing no long tail above. Lotts of scraped content and yahoo advertising doing well on short urls.

Whitey




msg:3283288
 12:26 am on Mar 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

Netmeg - Strange as it may sound this could be the start of a new day and a better, more sustainable business for you.

Cash sales and immediate cash profit from SERP's is one thing, but it's better to leverage in a good business based on sustainable elements.

Those who are depending on Google are placing "trust" in a system that owes them no favors and can change it's mind as and when it wants. There are no protective contracts to preserve your business relationship. Google is not a sound business partner - it is fickle and schizophrenic . At least with a Bank you know where you stand. The contract is solid and their interest is secured into your asset.

Better to turn your focus to compelling components of you business model that your customers will come back to again and again.

Relying on content is just part of the overall business offering. Work on the retention and servicing those clients better.

Netmeg - What % of your business can be called "secure" and sustainable? Work on this. The rest was a temporary [ albeit hard earned ] gift.

nonni




msg:3283301
 12:40 am on Mar 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

>> Clearly a lot of people are unhappy - Is anyone prepared to argue the case for some type of regualtion of web search?

Nope. I remember when search was done at Netscape or Yahoo. Somebody told somebody who told me about Google. I switched, because I thought it was better than the alternatives. So did lots of other people. Competition is good.

What I would like to see regulated is the ridiculous way that the patent offices hand out monopolies to corporations that have large legal staffs and budgets to lay claim to obvious ideas. Then those companies can bludgeon other companies in the courts and prevent them from competing.

Most of the so called 'unique ideas' are really just obvious adaptations of existing methods to a new type of problem. Latent Semantic Indexing? Phrase Indexing? Those concepts have been talked about in academic circles for a long time, and the fact that they are now being applied to web search is not the result of a real break through or innovation. It is the predictable extension of existing methods to a new domain.

Honest companies would just apply the methods and keep it a business secret - given the mathematical complexity, no one really understand exactly what is going on anyway ... the algos are incredibly sensitive to small changes, and it is more about managing the evolution of the algorithm than about some secret method contained in the algorithm. But that won't stop the large and powerful from bullying the little guy who might do a better job. That is what should be regulated. Otherwise, how Google and MSN and Yahoo rank their results is their own business.

Keniki




msg:3283308
 12:47 am on Mar 16, 2007 (gmt 0)

Have small companies been caught up in something bigger than we minnions understand (like corrupt search results) yes.

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