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

 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....



 1:35 am on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Lesson learned! I've learned this lesson myself, the hard way :(

Google is "Free" traffic.

Any and all search engine traffic should be looked at as a bonus to your other marketing efforts.

If you’re making millions a year from “free” search engine traffic, just keep in mind, it could end without warning.

Always remember…it's just a bonus and concentrate on other ways of marketing.

I love free search engine traffic. It's really profitable. But the rules can change anytime and cause lots of stress when they do. Google Stress is the worst.

Old fashion direct-response type marketing is stable and reliable, “if you're good at it”, and have the money to pay for it. (postcards, mailings, fliers, ppc, copywriting, affiliate programs, etc.)

Undead Hunter

 2:14 am on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Yes, I also see all the longest tail keywords which apparently made up 65%-70% of my traffic and revenue gone now, too. For how long, who knows? The lesson here is to diversify, obviously, and am doing so now.

Maybe some of it will come back. Maybe not. I plan to put more stock in social network traffic and return blog traffic, building a bigger repeat audience vs. depending on SERP traffic. As long as you have enough to live on, you still have a chance to make it work.


 2:22 am on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Sorry to here that wingslevel

I know it's hard on the guys / gals who your giving pink slips to but it must be hard for you as well , sometimes you have to be quite brutal to survive.

I hope it turns round for you I suspect your doing it early enough to still be able to survive and prosper long term

Best of Luck


 7:31 am on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

It can be fixed. To be honest this started happening over a year ago, I would say 18 months. Long tail phrases for us started not to rank, so we started deep linking.

The internet does not stay still and more competition comes along. If you do free serps you have to keep up with what is happening in google and adapt.

I would take a look at your internal linking first and then start buying links to your most important product pages to start clawing your way back.

Good luck but this will make you stronger. I also think you have nothing to lose by flouting google's policy on "buying links" because witout links you will be handing out more redundancies.


 10:02 am on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Same here Bub, but my revenues are down around 95%. I've laid off several freelance writers. You have to be philosophical about it. If you get a free ride for several years you can't complain when you fall out.

Having said that, however, it does get my goat to see some of the crap that is now ranking. It seems like a few hard-nut SEOs have worked out how to play the new algo/s like a fiddle:-(


 1:53 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

How many of your over 200,000 subpages are in Google's Supplemental index? Do a "site:" command at Google.com - the results may surprise you.

[edited by: tedster at 2:04 pm (utc) on Mar. 14, 2007]


 2:16 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Hi wingslevel

Unfortunately the number of sad days is showing exponential growth these days and the Google implosion continues. I hope things recover soon for both you sand me.

Personally, I think that it is about time that people stopped referring to the notion of 'free' traffic from Google given the countless hours of valuable time that people spend trying to comprehend something that at present defies comprehension. So for those of you enjoying free traffic, how much did 'free' actually cost you? How about we all charge Google for 'our' time in trying to comply with 'their' rules?

Rant over.


 2:17 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

site:enter-your-site-here.com -www

Just in-case you (or someone reading this) is not sure, enter the text above into the google search box.

p.s. I meant "free" in term of money paid to google for search engine rankings. You pay them "no" money. You do put in long hard hours building your site.

[edited by: Phil_S at 2:20 pm (utc) on Mar. 14, 2007]


 2:21 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

others are absolutely on the money, google's traffic is just that, free and extra to everything else.

my site has lost traffic and rebounded many times over. Each time I dig deep, educate myself and revamp at least one major page design component.

we were 90% dropped in supplemental hell in mid-06, we are still 100% dropped from image search (used to get 50% traffic from that alone), but still even after these dips, revenues are either steady or always climbing.

You have to keep reinventing yourself. Plus, I also use earnings at the lowest figure over the past 12 months when I want to do any improvements to the site or justify any improvement to my life.


 2:35 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Sorry to hear that,wingslevel. We're probably packing up altogether. We were zapped in Florida and it's been slowly downhill ever since, until now we are on page 7, so might as well not be there at all. I don't pretend to understand where to start putting things right and looking at a lot of the threads on here, it seems I'm not alone. We are a very small company and can't afford a load of expensive SEO that peobably won't work. We've done the Adwords thing and that's overpriced cr@p. Clicks are horribly expensive in our industry. I've heard all the blah-blah-blah about don't rely on free serps, but the way I look at it, I didn't ask Google to dominate the poxy internet. There used to be 8-10 good search engines when we started, all pretty equal in size, so if you slipped up on one, you were still OK. Now it's just Google, Google, bloody Google, even Yahoo doesn't produce hits any more and MSN is a joke. I'm sick to death of trying to pander to the Google whims, so I think I'd better find something else to do. Hope things look up for you, wingslevel


 2:41 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

You might have a respectable and legitimate site, but you surely aren't the only one. Competitors don't sleep and maybe some other respectable and legitimate site owner gets some traffix now.

I feel sorry for you, but there is only one #1 in the serps, who can tell whom it belongs to?


 3:25 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

One thing you guys have to remember it that Google is a business, and as such is here to make money, and providing a free service to us all, they don't make any money until they sell the SE traffic statistics to large companies interested in each piece of targeted traffic:

For examples, GNC could be interested in knowing what kind of vitamins or other related products people are searching for, and G will offer them such data that they gather while people actually searched and found our sites.

Now, if you have implemented Google analytics in your site, think how much is Google actually gathering from your site to be offered to gorilla competitors in the future.

And, if your are using the "one year free" payment system that Google now offers, not only they know what surfers search for on their search engine, but also know what people actually buy after they search, and how much they pay. So if you are a software company using Google analytics, and Google payment system, all that data in nicely packed and sold to the best bidder like IBM, or MSFT, or ORCL or who knows whoever has large pockets.

Our sites are now going up and down for the reasons mentioned above, and because they have to make money through Adwords, their only real revenue channel, so if you have an excellent site, with excellent products, have been online for more than five years, you probably have a deeper pocket than the newer sites, so Google is now saying "please share your revenue with us, we need to keep our investors happy."

"It's nothing personal, it is business. You don't like my business, you don' like my services, you live in a free country, go to the store in front of the street."


 3:39 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

i agree - kind of ironic isn't it - when google started, serps were so relevant because content was king - that allowed many small sites to rank well - look at commercial serps now - amazon, shopzilla, shopping, etc. - by supplementally listing smaller sites' long tail pages the big boys dominate the serps

from david to goliath


 6:42 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

The internet does not stay still and more competition comes along.

Yes..and your toughest competitors are the Search Engines themselves and their own revenue initiatives..!

The engines know that they are leaving $$Billions$$ of dollars on the table through the organic listings...great revenue ops for them...

natural number

 7:24 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

have you tried running any auctions on those big auction sites?
never under-estimate the worlds largest market place. sure its not google money, the margins aren't as great, but its still money.


 7:34 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)


I really feel for your predicament. I also understand the reason google has for updating its algos.....however, I do think Google could handle massive drops in established websites' traffic in a much more responsible fashion.

If they opened up communications a bit more or if they had some sort of arbritrations forum (where you could pay for your site review) this would really help.

E.g in my business after 7 years trying to diversify we still get 85% of our business from google. Planning my staffing levels, office lease requirements and even personal finances if a very tricky thing to do when you have the "Sword of Damocles" over your head.

With the here today gone tomorrow nature of the serps if things were more stable I could plan better, serve customers better and improve my website further. IMHO by constantly changing algos and affecting the traffic of long established websites, without a suitable forum for rectifying things, google is inadvertently contributing to the reduction of website/e-commerce standards.


PS - i don't wish to critise google too heavily here. I do think on the whole they do a great job and have effectively paid my mortgage for the last 8 years. And I really do see that occasionally they have to break eggs in order to make omelettes but some sort of appeals system would really help the e-commerce business owner.

PPS - Wingslevel, I wish you the best of luck.


 7:45 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Any "business" who's financial existence depends on an internet search engine has to expect that they could cease operations at any moment.


 8:01 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Has anybody that has been hit tried to contact google via the webmaster console?


 8:12 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

Any "business" who's financial existence depends on an internet search engine has to expect that they could cease operations at any moment.

And that's the problem. To expect to cease operations means to not invest adequetely in your site/admin/warehouse/staff/premises and thereby reduce the quality of what you do. This can't be good for e-commerce.


 8:21 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

The thing is (and this is not meant in any way to be a criticism of the OP) your business model MUST be able to sustain itself outside of search engine traffic to be viable in the long term. If you're just in it for what you can grab while the SERPS are good, and you know going in that it could change at any point, that's one thing. But if you want to build something that's going to last, you have to take a good long look at what you're doing, ask yourself what would you do tomorrow if Google, MSN and/or Yahoo tossed you completely out of their indices, and develop plans for that contingency. It may mean altering your marketing, it may mean adjusting your line of products or services, and it may mean making some staffing or even lifestyle changes. But if, after review, you figure you can't in any way survive without Google traffic - then you have a pretty big problem.


 8:33 pm on Mar 14, 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.

I run an e-com company and over the years I have dealt with CEOs and e-commerce VPs of many top 500 internet retailers. Excluding a company which owns TV channels, none could survive the loss of over 50% of their organic traffic without having to lay people off. And all would be quite unhappy about such an occurence.

Wingslevel - Mind PMing your URL?


 8:39 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

... I really do see that occasionally they have to break eggs in order to make omelettes but some sort of appeals system would really help the e-commerce business owner.

What exactly would you appeal? The fact that your ranking has changed, and you're now on page 7?

An appeal system for penalties is one thing (and Google does have a mechanism in place for reinclusion requests by owners of penalized sites). Rankings are a different matter: If you've slipped to page 7 because Google has tweaked its algorithm--i.e., changed its ranking priorities--it's hard to see what an appeal mechanism could accomplish.


 9:55 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

"What exactly would you appeal? The fact that your ranking has changed, and you're now on page 7?"

For a long established white hat site with a drop to page 7 such an appeal (or review) may bring to light some unforeseen issues in the algo to the engineers. Yes they need not give a response or any help at all but if there IS a problem, or commonalities between sites who may have suffered a similar problem, it may help them diagnose and remedy the problem. A paid review can help offset costs for reviews with possible responses.


 10:22 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

What exactly would you appeal? The fact that your ranking has changed, and you're now on page 7?

pretty much, yes. If i was ranking at #1 and now I'm at #4 that's fine I could probably deal with that. Simply reevaluate what I'm doing and change organically. To go from #1 to page 7 not only seems crazy from a ranking point of view (i.e how can a legit page that did rank so well instantly be disregarded) but it would also be very damaging to most businesses.

In this eventuality some form of communication with google would be very useful, perhaps vital.


 10:24 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

wingslevel did you say all you pages are supplemental?

You said you have "over 200,000 products".

How many pages do you have?

Are all product pages supplemental and the home page dropped in ranking to page 7?

[edited by: Phil_S at 10:37 pm (utc) on Mar. 14, 2007]


 10:30 pm on Mar 14, 2007 (gmt 0)

"To go from #1 to page 7 not only seems crazy from a ranking point of view (i.e how can a legit page that did rank so well instantly be disregarded) but it would also be very damaging to most businesses."

I wouldn't be concerned about a single page either but a site as a whole to get knocked out. That would be more of a review situation.


 12:03 am on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

This whole thread just highlights the problem that stems from Googles share of the search market. While 1 company has such a strong hold on search and while people continue to use search as the primary tool on the web then this problem will remain. As a business owner you need to be aware of this weakness in your business model and consider ways to negate the impact of a drop in organic traffic until the balance of search power shifts.


 1:36 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

The lesson to be learnt here is two-fold:

a) Don't put all your eggs in one basket. My site currently has very high rankings, but I want to kick off an effective PPC campaign soon. Not only will it make more money for me, but it will help diversify the business.

b) Don't try and spam Google. 200,000 products is not natural. 200,000 pretty much means that you are just copying the supplier descriptions (ie duplicate content).

I too have about 60,000 unique products, all downloaded from wholesalers. However, I robots.txt these out, as they are mostly dupe content that if indexed, would not provide a searcher much benefit.

However, I also have about 200 of my own, unique products that only I sell. These take time to photograph, videotape, write descriptions and present to the user so they actually want to buy the product.

I also supplement my content with blog and vlog posts and company wiki entries.


 2:42 pm on Mar 15, 2007 (gmt 0)

This hackneyed little chant about blaming oneself for an over-reliance upon organic search engine traffic really wears thin. At least acknowledge that Google is a de facto monopoly. The alternatives suck to such a degree, and capture such a small fraction of overall search volume, that for all practical purposes they don't exist.

If you plan to survive without Google traffic, at least acknowledge what that scenario truly looks like. It means attempting to live on whatever small crumbs manage to fall your way, without the web as a means of getting customers. You could, of course, pay into Google's black hand the extortions it determines at its capricious whims in service of its rapacious greed - having now completely rigged what began as a true open auction environment.

Let's not kid ourselves. Relying upon dead treeware ads, postcard snailmailings, "opt-in" (tee hee, that's a larf) spam broadcasts and that huge product-blog following which exists in your fantasies alone, means you're going to go back to being a brick-and-mortar enterprise, albeit one that happens to have an available server-based catalog and ordering interface.

The real tragedy will come when Netizens search for a unique product, at a great price, offered by small specialty retailers, and the only serps delivered will be whichever huge multinational entities can drive a dumptruck full of cash to Google's door.

Google figured out how to monetize the web - and how. Don't hold your breath for it to voluntarily self-impose ethical limitations on its avarice, a la Craig Newmark. Just wait til that bad quarterly earnings report comes along, as it always inevitably does, and revenue takes a little nosedive. Wait til the stock price takes a precipitous dip and shareholders scream for Goog to desperately produce more earnings per share.


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