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Google Updates and SERP Changes - December 2010

 5:35 am on Dec 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

< continued from [webmasterworld.com...] >

I know tedsters has stressed this but what we see ourselves in the SERPS doesn't always help. We are getting pummeled by traffic on one keyword that is relevant. I can't find it and neither can any friends buts it's converting at a great rate. When I perform that search i get no results. Oh the games....

I'd say 20% is a close number compared to two weeks ago. Google traffic is off 35% over these days last year. Yet business is strong, and the bounce rate is low.

The shopping SERPS are impacting more this year because exact matches are turned down. Theres s bunch of products that we were 1-3 on last year where we are gone and so is everyone else, replaced by unrelated stuff...think:

Product whiplash from Appalachian co

Man falls from tree in appalachians suffering whiplash
Walking the Appalachian trail
Blah bla x 7

The exact match of the product name yields no results in holiday search 2011.

I was laughing tonight when I saw a site on amazon that sells helmets also is selling tools. They rank near the top on many items in google. They have no ratings and appear to just dump feeds. #1 in google, ahead of the manufacturer and a world renowned climbers site. That's the lunacy in all this, amazon isn't an authority on rock climbing helmets, crucial memory, or even sweat socks sold by 3rd parties.

This is as bad as the earlier wiki is 1st which was adjusted out. An unknown third party selling on amazon using content that's identical on 5k websites prior...doesn't make amazon the expert.

Im betting a lot of lost traffic went to amazon. They were up 25% yesterday, a lot of us were down 25%. Thanks google im sure amazon needed that boost.

[edited by: tedster at 6:51 pm (utc) on Dec 1, 2010]



 2:50 pm on Dec 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

This is very interesting that old abandoned sites are ranking high, yet current branded sites are dropping.
It all goes against what Google claims about these "quality" updates. Google SERPS may now be faster, but faster at finding junk is useless. I still hear a furball coming up - ack, ack, ack....estimated ETA is Dec 26th.


 3:44 pm on Dec 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

I don't think they had any way of knowing how bad things would go this year. P&G hires more testers when they roll out a hair gel then google did with all the changes this year. I'll stick by what I said, if they'd hired a few of us a lot of these issues would have been caught. Nobody cares more about the quality of their results than us.

This is getting away from the spam team fast.


 4:25 pm on Dec 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

Us old timer's who can't keep up will be doomed, unless we hire them

hehe, yeah, good point. I have been trying to adapt. For instance most of the websites i've done are for BM businesses. They have almost all been worked on sporadically on low budgets, few hundred here, few hundred there etc., sometimes months apart.
As ad revenue and traffic becomes less reliable i've been asking all my customers for a steady few hours a month rather than small jobs a few times a year. So far half have agreed, and now i won't take on new clients except on a guaranteed at least 3 hours a month basis.
I know thats small time to most of you real pros, but it ads up fast and its a reliable alternative when you can't count on ad revenue anymore. (i know, i know, never should have built business model based on SE traffic)

To add to this bag of mixed nuts, Google is flagging hacked sites and it is a hot topic. Funny though, because if theres nothing above the fold, the surfer wont have to worry, they have a 90% chance of clicking something Google.


 4:41 pm on Dec 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'll stick by what I said, if they'd hired a few of us a lot of these issues would have been caught. Nobody cares more about the quality of their results than us.

That's funny....

Because we webmasters would give such great unbiased opinions of the SERPS just as long as our sites where in the top 10 right ;)


 4:52 pm on Dec 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

@mrguy - and Google ISN'T biased?


 5:36 pm on Dec 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

@mrguy - and Google ISN'T biased?

At least they're biased against all sites equally.

As I posted on another thread, it looks a lot like the Trust ceiling has been removed. Tedster replied that its hard to balance Trust against realtime search.

Making this explicit, UltraFresh cannot have gained Trust yet. OTOH, UberTrust is never Fresh. Hence buzzed spam is ranking high, while Amazon and Wiki are harder to budge than ever.

I imagine if Jackson died today, alot of untrusted blogs would be returned within minutes. Compare and contrast with 18 months ago, where nothing showed for an unacceptably long time.

Fortunately for us, we're big enough to enjoy the artificial Brand boost. I imagine its an uncomfortable time for people who thought they were among the movers and shakers in their niche, when the Big G thinks of them as simply niche. The people who thought of themselves as the little guy, in a constant pitched battle for attention, I imagine they are far less perturbed by the current state of affairs.

On the plus side, I'm reasonably confident that Google will eventually find a way to marry UltraFresh with vanilla Trust. And I stongly suspect that the road to that end is paved with [user-intent Vs Site-profile] traffic shaping, with accompanying zombie traffic, spikey bounce rates and shifting referral patterns.


 7:01 pm on Dec 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

Site A

- basically everything Google preaches to do

YoY traffic decrease of 45% from Google

Site B

- basically everything Google preaches NOT to do

YoY Google traffic increase of 1700%

There ya go folks, that about sums it all up.

Not to say there's not a problem here, and I don't know your niche or vertical or whatever - that could make a difference - but couldn't this be more a matter of scale and competition than anything else?

I mean, wouldn't a site with as many pages as A, a site which presumably ranks for proportionately more keywords, have no place to go but down as the Internet explodes with competition? So its performance relative to other sites might remain strong, even if it's no longer a railroad baron, so to speak. While site B has nowhere to go but up - for what it's worth!

It's kind of like a guy saying "50% of my mansion got destroyed in the storm, while my outhouse stayed completely intact. That storm really had it out for my mansion!" And his still being able to actually live in the mansion, but never the outhouse?

And I'm not meaning that you're not looking at the bright side or whatever. Just that things are trending this way. As time progresses, it seems Google's functioning LESS on trust & authority and MORE on the performance of individual queries, and this reflects a worldwide move from one economic system - bricks & mortar, based on trust, because you can hardly track anything and have limited data - to a new one - digital, based on performance, because you can track a lot with more data than can be managed. As navigation tools such as search engines are better able to use that data, site authority becomes, I wouldn't say less important, but - well, maybe relativistic. Relative to the query and user.


 7:32 pm on Dec 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

Also, I find it fascinating that a webmaster's / publisher's view of what constitutes a website is NOT the user's view. I can't count the times I've seen comments on pages (many of them mine) published on third party sites that say "This is an awesome website!" referring not to the website itself but to the page. Their focus, and Google's, is on the performance of the page, and the only people who seem to care about the website itself as a cohesive entity are those who own it, run it, publish on it, or are in some business related to websites.


 5:15 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

Google SERPs show us several ways in which they do care about the entire website - one of the obvious ones is using breadcrumbs in the SERP to display the site's hierarchy, even when they need to generate those breadcrumbs at Google because they're not on the page.

Then there are the recent changes that display four results from the same site on some queries, at least. And even beyond those examples, Matt Cutts has mentioned once or twice in past years that Google was increasing the influence of some site-wide factors for ranking.


 5:43 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

@tedster - I do see "sitelinks" for many of my site queries. I also see my site listed up to 4 times on the same page and each has a plus (+) sign to show even more results. While this is really nice, and should result in increased traffic and sales, it is not. Do people think our site is spamming the results and avoiding us?

I've been looking at a lot of numbers lately and so far I can't pin down Google as the culprit for our low sales and apparent zombie traffic.
I am starting to think that this year people are so incredibly occupied with loitering on Facebook that they are just not doing much else on the web. If next week is still slow, we're in serious trouble.


 6:47 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

Site plummeted again today - it came back to normal position this time last week and now it's right down again, no doubt to stay that way for the boxing day / new year sales rush.

I deliberately haven't changed a single page on the site for the whole of December and still it bounces up and down like a yo-yo.


 8:08 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

@steerpikegg it's not just you, our site has done the very same thing and we havent changed anything, last week... bonkers with sales and traffic. yesterday and today way down.


 8:15 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

well, I seriously believe in this traffic shaping theory, and that Google is normalizing traffic across similar profile websites. My own stats confirm that. It appears Google will send you this much traffic only which Google believes u deserve?

But , how to fight it back? How to make Google believe I DESERVE more and more?


 8:39 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

How to make Google believe I DESERVE more and more?

Sign up for adwords, create a campaign and get started.

IMHO - there is no more free ride from Google organic unless you are a non-profit. If Google determines you run your website for profit, it wants a cut of that pie. Adsense or Adwords, take your pick.


 8:48 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm beginning to suspect that this isn't due to Google at all, rather, everyone who used to surf & buy stuff on the web is now stuck lurking their old boyfriends/ girlfriends and ex husbands/wives on FACEBOOK! Even though I personally do not care for Facebook, I do have a business page there and do wind up spending more time on that site than I care to admit.

It all makes sense, our rankings haven't changed that much but traffic is GONE! Our former visitors are now all facebook zombies & Zynga junkies!


 8:50 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

I disagree, based on a lot of experience and data. Neither Adwords nor Adsense will change the way that Google ranks your site organically.

When a site stays on the yo-yo or its traffic tops out, that's often because Google's back-end statistics can't quite figure out where the site fits into the various taxonomies. I'd first take a hard look at the information architecture. Also, after a keyword study, do a gap analysis on the site's content.


 9:25 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

I disagree, based on a lot of experience and data. Neither Adwords nor Adsense will change the way that Google ranks your site organically.

Ted, if there was a half-sarcasm emoticon, I would have put it in place. The point was not that you will do any better in organic ranking by choosing to spend on adwords... It was that it's the best choice for making sure a site conducting commerce, lands near the top.

I value my time at $85/hour. Which is best, spending 20 hours a month chasing SERPs for a top 3, or spending $1700 on adwords and guarantee a measurable result?

As far as adsense, chances are pretty good your gonna stumble across adsense in all of the top 5 results for non-commercial queries.



 10:10 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

@mhansen, I'm happy to hear that was at least half-sarcasm. I agree that tweaking and tweaking trying to beat the algo is a futile effort. But there are many forms of market engagement that directly improve your traffic and bottom line. And then, almost automatically, the rankings start to reflect the fact that the marketplace likes you.

Just this week, there was a second blast of confirmation from Google that the rankings do reflect social media activity.


 10:18 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

adsense cant hold a candle to organic results. The amount of money you spend on adsense you can create a nice solid campaign to generate natural backlinks. I hear all the time that people think it is too hard to rank in google because their industry is so competitive. If you have a solid website with solid content, it is not that difficult to rank for secondary search terms and "long tail searches" which usually outperform the general 1-3 word searches because they are more specific.

Adsense works for some people but most people do not click on the ads in the google listing so either way you are missing out.

It is still possible to rank in google and get great traffic, I am doing it right now in multiple industries. Everyone likes to throw in the towel when google rolls out an update and their site gets hit. If your website lost all/most of its traffic from 1 google update that should tell you something about your site.

Adsense can be a great supplement for natural SERP's, but to give up on organic traffic is foolish. It is frustrating, but if it wasnt then any person new to SEO would be able to easily rank for competitive terms.

I am about to take on a new client who actually found me on these forums and he sounds a lot like a lot of the people on here complaining. One look at his site and its so obvious to me why his site was hit but most people can not see it because they have tunnel vision or simply do not want to take the time and effort to do something about it. SEO is a waiting game a lot of the time, but sometimes you need to take measures into your own hands and take control of your business instead of letting google control it.


 10:23 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

@tedster - affecting rankings or overall traffic? Our rankings seem fine, it just seems like there is nobody out there. I hope facebook is a passing fad, but I fear it will soon be absorbed by Google and become and entirely new & chaotic search engine unto itself. Me feels entropy is on the rise.


 11:16 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

adsense cant hold a candle to organic results

I disagree, but this is not the topic for that.

I am an organic SEO guy like the next and will never give up on organic traffic, but the truth is.. Its a lot harder to position a page in front of organic search traffic with any kind of measurable ROI?

- Today, you may get 1000 visitors and they are buyers.
- Tomorrow, you still get 1000 visitors, but they are from Sweden.
- The next day, 1000 visitors again but they want information, not buying today.

Rinse and repeat... it may be day 8-10 before the buyers come back again.


 11:37 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

I usually don't run Adwords, but am this month. When I have to speak to a customer about something, I'll ask how he/she found my site. Generally the customer just says he was searching. Nothing more specific than that. Where I've been able to get more specifics I've had them describe an Adwords ad, although they didn't know it was an ad.

So, maybe spending money on AW is the way to go. Problem is, I'd have to raise my prices to cover the costs.

If Google is now spreading the traffic around to what it regards as similar sites, then Google must not think very highly of my site compared to what it did in the past.


 11:48 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

@tedster - do you think we should start a new topic on Google's new admission that they are now using Facebook "likes" and Twitter "re-tweets" as the new link rank factor? I almost fell out of my chair when I read Matt Cutts article. I'd be interest to see what others think about the merits or pitfalls of this "social networking metric" approach.

(note: sorry I edited out the age related demographic rant that tedster may be referring to below. cheers)

[edited by: backdraft7 at 12:43 am (utc) on Dec 23, 2010]


 11:57 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

One comment about Adwords I forgot to make.

From what I'm seeing, the results for Adwords are getting screwed up as well. I'm seeing ads that are irrelevant to my search.

An example is a phrase for an item I sell. The phrase is the brand name and the word "laser". The brand name is known within my niche, and is fairly unusual. The widget is related to the military and law enforcement.

When I do a search for "Unusual Brand Name Lasers", I get results for dermatologists and laser skin care clinics. I can't believe these clinics are bidding solely on the word "laser". I have to think that whatever disease the organic results have is contagious.


 11:59 pm on Dec 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

You're right - this is not really a topic for the discussion in this thread. However, before we move on, let me note that Twitter demographics have always skewed a good bit older than you thought.

Also note that Jakob Nielsen recently released a study [useit.com] that shows college students are not very receptive to marketing via social media. They use search to interact with companies.

Viva SEO!


 2:02 am on Dec 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

I have tried every kind of marketing there is, from display media, newspapers, CPM ads, CPC ads, adwords you name it and nothing converts like organic traffic from the search engines. My bounce rate from google traffic is a mere 6.5% and all other sources have a 35%+ bounce rate. You are much more likely to buy something if you're looking for it rather than if you click on an ad to something you just saw, you may have just been curious about.

If I know I want to buy a bike, I will search for a bike to buy, find the right website with the right price and place my order. My intention was to buy so I am going to convert. If I see an ad for a bike that catches my attention I may click on it out of curiosity, but it will be a very hard sell for me to convert as a customer since I was not looking to buy. A lot of the times you end up buying too many window shoppers and not enough customers. It is all about finding the people who have intent on purchasing the bike rather than targeting people who like bikes.


 2:13 am on Dec 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

You just described why some of us think Google does "traffic shaping". In this case, if a site is great for bicycle information but the query indicates buying intention, then they don't want to send much "information intention" traffic. So the importance of very clear signals becomes a big deal.

That said, as they "work on" fine tuning this approach, it seems like various other areas that worked well get broken. If I'm right, then I don't know whether to praise Google for the continued courage to innovate or curse them for breaking things.


 4:10 pm on Dec 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

It all makes sense, our rankings haven't changed that much but traffic is GONE!

I've noticed the same somewhat but it is confusing, many rankings are down, some are still close to where they were, I didn't they were down enough to have the impact it has. Could be a combined effect, Facebook + more ads above results, google suggest, instant, place reviews, left nav, and local search especially where number one is now often number 7 way below the fold.

From 2004 to 2006 traffic climbed steadily , peaked and remained steady through 2006 - 2009 with minor fluctuations. 2010 mid jan to early feb decline began, steady staircase down each month lost 100 uniques a day to current levels equal to 2004. This month AS is also the very lowest earings since 2004. So apparently I gamed google for years successfully for tens of thousands of dollars. All of a sudden its like oooooppss ! His site sucks, BOOM ! No fluctuations, just slow bleed every month less than the last all year. How can there be no fluctuations ? Tweaked this, tweaked that, deleted this added that, I have never seen so much change have so little impact. The odds are astronomical that a robot programmed to respond to the stimuli of new, altered or unique content would not fluctuate in its opinion of my site.

I don't think their search was that bad. I went from thousands of uniques a day for years to a few hundred and its been like that for months now. I believe in the facebook factor and the other distractions but there still seems to be something way off at google.
I just can't believe that all that traffic from Google was just because I manipulated them for that long.

I just hope Tedster is right, that they are tryng to make it better and some things just get broke in the meantime.


 4:38 pm on Dec 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

@walrus - we're see EXACTLY what you're seeing. We never intentionally "gamed" the system...just read too many SEO articles warning against it and I was hand slapped several years ago for accidental content duplication...files just got outta hand. On the bright side, I'm doing a full re-evaluation and last night found HUNDREDS of improperly coded "long description" tags from a friend who was working on my site this summer. I'm also employing a more compact, user friendly version of my sales copy. Sometimes these changes improve overall site quality and helps weed all the non-hackers (who do not pack the gear to serve in my beloved corp - gunny). ;^D


 5:56 pm on Dec 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

Google SERPs show us several ways in which they do care about the entire website

I'm not thinking that the unit of "website" is unimportant when it comes to rankings - just that it's increasingly not that simple and there's no reason for Google to think of a website as the bounded unit for each and every query. Doesn't Google now emphasize neighborhoods (networks or groups of pages not necessarily bound by a single domain) rather than websites? Not just for backlinks, but for relevance and such?

Sometimes - in fact, often - a website also defines a neighborhood. But not always, and I'll bet anything that whether or not it does all comes down to the query.


 7:03 pm on Dec 23, 2010 (gmt 0)

IMHO, it would be unfair and unwise to group websites as a neighborhood. This would be an open invitation for squatters (scrapers) who want to borrow some of your content to be included your niche neighborhood. We already experience that. I love competition, but when a scraper or aggregator comes along, grabs up some of our content and optimizes an MFA site in my neighborhood, that brings property values down to slum level. Just because someone is stealing content an slaps a site up in our niche, doesn't make them relevant. I still believe branding & trust should be primary ranking factors . Branding takes a monetary commitment on the part of the business owner & trust takes time to earn. I seems to me that everything else can be "gamed".

If they want to do a neighborhood thing, create a virtual, visual "main street" and sell or rent the "real estate" as if it's a brick & mortar. That's where this is probably headed anyway, and in some ways already is (Adwords).

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