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So Long Google And Thanks For All The Fish
travelin cat

 12:04 am on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Two months ago I sold my main business. It was a website that depended 100% on free Google traffic. We had owned the site since 1995 and after I visited a conference and found out what Google wanted to see to rank well, it started making money in 2001.

Over the years we tried everything we could to generate additional traffic outside of the organic traffic from Google. In our sector the ROI was just not there and we were literally throwing money away. So we just sat and happily watched the money come in. And boy did it come in. Google LOVED us.

We knew that the income was essentially a gift and tried hard to not ramp up our monthly spending, but these things happen. You always seem to want more as you make more without thinking of what would happen if the money stopped coming in. That's just human nature.

So we kept chugging along and bought our dream home in the Wine Country. Our bills increased as we advanced our lifestyle and things were groovy. Yet I always felt strange about our income stream. I always felt as if I was not in control. Of course I was not in control, Google was and I allowed it.

I allowed the free income to continue. Who wouldn't? Google had us by the you-know-whats and I allowed it. But I had many sleepless nights fretting about our rankings, and I began to check our keywords way too often, almost to the point of an obsession. It was affecting my mental and physical health but I really had no other choice but to try and find other sources of income while maintaining the money-maker site.

So 2010 was our best year to date. We had incredible rankings for top keywords as we had for many years, but for some reason, we were exceptionally successful that year. We had not become totally complacent, we had developed other websites, but none of them made close to the money we were making.

Then came Panda. The time I had feared for over 10 years had finally arrived and Google no longer loved us, they liked us, but the heavy petting of the past was over between us. Our income dived by 45% which was tough to swallow. My wife and I talked it over and we decided to sell the business/website. We were fortunate enough to find the perfect buyer and we were free of our Google lust shortly thereafter.

Now I can sit back and read the reports of Google being evil and Panda being some sort of horrible conflagration beset upon the unknowing public and shake my head.

Panda should be a lesson for EVERYBODY that depends on traffic from search engines. If you depend upon free traffic, you should know that it WILL go away at some time. It may take 10 years, it may take a month or a minute, but it will go away, at least a portion of it will and there is nothing you can do about it. Sure you can try whatever remedy you read about here and other places, and they may work, but you are still getting free traffic that can go away at any time. Do you really think that 10 years from now you will still be getting free traffic?

I watch people complaining that they have families to feed and a mortgage to pay so how could this happen to me? Well, ya know what? You have nobody to blame but yourself. It was FREE money and it ended. You allowed it to begin and to end just as I did.

I apologize if this seems harsh, but sometimes a smack in the face is more helpful then a sympathetic pat on the back.

Our next business will not depend on any search engines to be successful. It'll be our hard work that either makes or breaks the business, not some damn algorithm. So goodbye Google and like Douglas Adams, said - So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish, or in this case, money.



 6:41 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Free money? Do you have any idea how much I invested in my web sites. I looked at it as an ROI model. I did the best I could for Google's visitors to get the information they wanted in the most intuitive, informative manor. This was not free money. It was hard invested time and capital.

travelin cat

 6:49 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Wow. Not sure where to even begin with your last post. But I will try.

Here's the thing though, does Google have the legal right to restrict the portal to maintain profit?

Yes it does. It is their business. They do not have to answer to you or anyone else that is not a shareholder.

Our very websites are the tree that now grows money for Google, who makes more than all other sites without content of their own. Somewhere along the line something has gone horribly wrong.

What has gone horribly wrong is people depending on Google for their income when Google is not their parents or their bank.

To fix the wrong regulation needs to be implemented, maintaining a portal to the internet isn't proprietary,

It is in fact proprietary. It is Googles property. People use it to find websites and website owners use it to gain traffic.

I'd like to see being the default search engine as a privilege

What? When did Google become the default search engine of the internet? It may be the most used, but who is granting them that title?

and things like Panda should not be possible without independent review and/or risking that license.

Who will be doing this review? You? Me? The Government? It's their business. They can do as they will. If Panda fails, perhaps so will Google, but you can't regulate them.

The internet is FREE, not a cash cow for Google to milk.

I can't even think of a decent retort to that without becoming insulting.


 6:52 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

If it's not a damn algorithm threatening your business it's any myriad changes, take your pick. Start with the changing face of the Internet where blogs ruled for a time. That's passed. Social Networking sites arose allowing self-expression in closed systems, some of them withered (MySpace). Now people are connecting with each other over Facebook and to an unknown extent on Twitter.

The current disruption is the change from the computer to the hand-held mobile devices, which itself is still in transition. Some sites that rely on at-home/at-work visitors are losing traffic and the acquisition rate of new visitors is declining, particularly if their sites break on mobile devices.

HTML5 is not only changing the face of how the web is accessed but changing what the web is, what a site is or is not.

All of these changes are destructive but they are also opportunities. Is Panda an opportunity? Yes, no doubt for those that are pushed up. And like all other changes, it's a nudge or kick in the pants for someone else.

Back in April 2006 I posted this:

Every decade seems to have it's opportunities. But I do get the feeling that we are in the beginning of something that's bigger... and is going to morph into something bigger than the internet.

Internet on the Go
Mobile phone and PDA internet connectivity may create a side industry that can grow the local search area. That in itself will spur development of mobile friendly websites. Or perhaps a new specification for mobile that can convert a feed into a mobile-friendly website will develop...

...All of this is evolution and morphing and the only limit to that is imagination.

The above was written a year before the iPhone smartphone was introduced, just prior to the transition we are currently in began.

The OP is moving on. That's transition. Nothing stays the same, everything is fluid.

[edited by: martinibuster at 7:07 pm (utc) on Oct 21, 2011]

travelin cat

 6:52 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Whatson, you are missing my point. It is not the time and/or money you put in to creating your site. It is the free traffic that converts into money that I am talking about. It can and will go away some day.


 7:10 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Sgt_Kickaxe wrote:
The internet is FREE, not a cash cow for Google to milk.

Why should Google be denied this privilege, but not you?


[edited by: rlange at 7:24 pm (utc) on Oct 21, 2011]


 7:12 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Very good post travelin cat. My main site came online in 96 and really started doing well in 2001 enough to move to a great place on the California coast. lots of ups and downs along the way that I lost my business partner (my wife - divorce). I just got hit really hard on the 13th of this month but have many customers that still come directly to my site. i sure do need to make some changes but think I'll be ok. There are so many black hat competitors trying to take me down right now it make me sick.


 7:12 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Wow indeed..!
Those who steal others content ( maybe yours or mine ) deserve no sympathy..

The rest of my earlier post in this thread #:4377426 was premonitory..

This was not free money. It was hard invested time and capital.

and other people's content !


 7:23 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

One word comes to my mind travelin cat "stickyness".

Google organic traffic is fun but one needs to be loved by their visitors - not just Google.

travelin cat

 7:32 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Very true Edge. But not all businesses have repeat visitors or loyal customers.


 7:33 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

The internet is FREE, not a cash cow for Google to milk.

Well the internet (system of interconnected networks) is free, and so is the WWW (system of hypertext invented by Tim Berners-Lee and given away for free).

However, any site operating ON the internet is belongs to whoever owns that website. Google is one website, google.com, and their schtick is organising the web. You have another website and your schtick is writing for adsense or sales or whatever.

You are free to organise your website any way you like, and so is Google. You are free to link to Google or not link to them, and they are free to link to you or not link to you.

Demanding that they should be forced to link to you and supply you with traffic for free while you operate your own site to make a living, is nuts.

I suspect the problem is that deep in your mind you believe that Google IS the internet. It's not. You can use the web without using Google - just type in website addresses directly into your browser, and bookmark the sites you like, and rely on word of mouth (and advertising of site names) to get your traffic, like they did in the olden days.

Incidentally, before G came along, Yahoo used to CHARGE websites to be included in their directory!

People keep saying over and over and over not to rely just on Google, and it's going over people's heads because they are thinking that they can't operate without the internet and that Google is the net. It's not, and once the penny drops you will suddenly see many many creative ways to get traffic without needing G (and strangely when that happens, G suddenly gives you plenty of love!)


 7:41 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Incidentally, before G came along, Yahoo used to CHARGE websites to be included in their directory!

Not quite ..Yahoo used to charge you to be considered for entry into their directory..and if they didn't let you in..they kept your money anyway ..that was the deal ..
I smiled earlier when someone mentioned in another thread ..how they would "put you in on the phone their customer service was so good" ..but only if you had your credit card out ..around $200.00 I seem to remember..and if their reviewers didn't like your site ..they kept your money..:)


 8:01 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

AlyssaS wrote:
I suspect the problem is that deep in your mind you believe that Google IS the internet.

To be fair, he seems to understand the separation intellectually. His argument seems to be that since Google has such a large share of the search market, they should be held legally responsible for the financial well-being of any business in their index.


travelin cat

 8:20 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

they should be held legally responsible for the financial well-being of any business in their index

How would that be done?

Should a fast food chain be responsible for obesity?

Should a car manufacturer be responsible for drunk drivers?

Where would this end?

People need to take responsibility for their actions.


 8:28 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Yahoo used to CHARGE websites to be included in their directory!

Actually, they still do...
charge to consider your site: $299...


 8:35 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

And I am not at all convinced on how the idea of regulation is supposed to work -

- we're kind of in an extreme anti-regulation period in history, in case you haven't noticed (at least in the US)

- which regulatory agency is supposed to regulate Google anyway, since the issue is international

- Logistically speaking, how are you going to do it? Require users to not use Google so much? Ban the use of "google" as a verb? Not allow them to change their default search engines back to Google, even when they're initially set somewhere else?

- How are you going to create competitors worthy of the name, if Yahoo and Microsoft (with all its money and smart engineers) can't figure out how to do it? Gonna give a search engine bailout?

Nope, I just can't see it.


 8:37 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

The culture of "free" on the internet has been dying for years, Google was it's last large flag bearer (you could argue facebook too). That era is over!

You need to build a brand and find SUSTAINABLE advertising solutions. (Adwords is not sustainable! it relies on your competition to be more naive than you or have a worse business model than you)

My suggestion? Find smaller websites close to your niche and try to get exclusive deals for ad dollars. I own a gaming website that only needs $250/month to break even and draws in 10-20k uniques at 85% new traffic monthly. Yet a site like that is hard to get advertisers on because the volume is "low" (it's bigger than some cities with newspapers...)

Try social advertising like Twitter and Facebook ads, at least there is less comepetition there.

Try remarketing ads (search and site).


 8:39 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

isnt this what the EU is discussing at the moment? the idea of regulation... to check that google isn't messing unfairly with the SERPs


 10:10 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

I've been fortunate enough to build strong businesses and user bases for a few different sites/businesses. If google were to go 100% adwords tomorrow, I would be okay. Surely, I would lose some revenue, but I would be okay.

The most natural response to google's changed strategy to highlight adwords, and depreciate organic results is to seek other avenues that don't involve google. As I look around, I see lots of small and medium businesses responding similarly, by focusing on building their own traffic, and turning to alternatives like Facebook. They are building known destinations rather than searchable destinations.

Clearly google is much more commercial now.

I spoke with an adwords engineer just the other day. I mentioned how organic results are mostly below the fold now, and his response was that I should look at the sponsored results because they are so much better now.

I persisted by asking him what he though about small and medium businesses who depend on organic results. Many are losing their businesses. His response was kind of amazing. It was as if he had not even considered that aspect, saying, "Well, yea, you might be right about that".

I think there is a cultural shift at google, but there is also a cultural shift going on in response. I'm not sure if it will bode well for google long term, but time answers all questions.


 10:26 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

Keep this in mind, fresh minds are going online every day and seeing the opportunities and making millions, try to stay positive and think about how you can change and adapt. Google is a shrinking part of the online world and if they continue to mess with their product there will be no need for regulation, the users will sort them out.


 10:38 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

This thread has a lot of missed points.

Basic business sense: the environment is always changing, so always have multiple options and multiple backup plans. I knew this, but for me it wasn't always possible because I could barely afford to buy and host domains. While I always had multiple income streams, I found organic free traffic was the only kind I could hope for. And that meant a huge percent of my visitors coming from Google. I have no shame about that. Short of robbing a bank, there was nothing else I could have done.

Then my sites started making money, and I thought, "I'll buy some text links!" People had been doing that forever, before Google even existed. Just as I was starting to do this, bam - paid text links were bad, and Google might dump me for them.

As far as I can tell to this day, the only choice I had to avoid dependency on Google was to go ahead and buy text links. But I couldn't afford to buy enough to be sure they'd replace the traffic lost if Google penalized or banned me. So Google was still my best bet.

My sites are modest. My income from them is nowhere near a living wage (I also work full time). I'm saving the money I earn from them on the assumption that someday Google will cut my traffic, and I'll need to buy some marketing. I'm not ready to buy marketing now because I haven't got a clue how to make it work for me and I still can't spend enough to try 12 different marketing techniques in the hopes that surely at least some of them will work. But I'm saving up for that day. And in the meantime, I try to cultivate dedicated visitors to the sites and create something they will recommend on FB and so on - which they do, and some months I get more traffic from social media than Google.

You can call that Google dependence, but it's just realism. Unless you can afford to market a site, you're stuck relying on organic traffic, and that means mostly Google. But if you realize that's the situation and do what little is in your power to do about it, well, that's the best you can do.

For now, I keep playing nice and following Google's rules. But I don't spend much time analyzing keywords and trying to figure out what more I can do to please them. I just keep trying to please visitors, and that's as independent as I can be from Google right now.


 11:20 pm on Oct 21, 2011 (gmt 0)

travelin cat - very good post, thank you for sharing!


 12:16 am on Oct 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

The problem with this thread is I can't get that dang song out of my head.

So long, so long, so long, so long. and thanks for all the fish!


 12:32 am on Oct 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

Kind of get your point but at the same time, I think your being too black and white. Build a business that doesnt DEPEND on google, but dont forget it alltogether.


 12:48 am on Oct 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

Very good insights about the whole situation. Really, nothing is free in this life. I agree on diversifying, but that doesn't always mean more income, or stable income, surprise several ways get you penalized. Let's not forget the truth, G makes great efforts to make life dependable of their services, and if you are not dependant, your business might be, directly or indirectly -> the users!.

I might be too hard on myself but I try to keep my expenses and economy like there is no Adsense or anything like it. If not, suddenly we all make the same mistake and begin spending more money instead of saving it or reinvesting it.

On the other hand, with much respect: many many sites punished with Panda were in fact lazy websites, a lot of my competitors and scrappers of my biggest website were hit hard. But WAIT!, yes I know there are MANY great hard working webmasters HERE that were hit despite they do a great job and always showed a great etic profile of work (G, that's unfair), and yes, I'm familiarized with their nicknames.

There are too many websites nowadays, and Adsense it so blame when they allowed and encouraged many of them to get in the game. OK, they wanted to fix this but with no human effort, just designing a new algo... lazy G, that's why your own departments clash.


 12:54 am on Oct 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

A very well-written tale travelin cat. Thank you for sharing.

The Panda update has not affected my main site in ANY way whatsoever - it's still on page 3 for the money keywords .. where it's been since 2008. It makes more money than it was making in 2008, despite the recession and the decline of the carte blanche expense account.

I look at this as a great thing and - since Panda - as a missed opportunity.

On the one hand, Google doesn't love the site. On the other hand, Google doesn't hate the site. We seem to have a kind of trust - with Google waiting for me to make a significant change in order to deserve a little more love.

One thing Panda has taught me is that to make more, I need to diversify. So instead of a single site with some Google love, I'm going to open four more - using established keyword domains. Sacrificing my previously monogamous relationship with Google is a risk, but not as big a risk as sitting back and doing nothing.

Panda has been invaluable as a cure for complacency. Anyone who now places all their site eggs in the same basket is asking for trouble.

Much as we all like to curse and criticise Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin sure know how to keep us all on our toes.


 12:54 am on Oct 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

Why not?


 1:07 am on Oct 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

All areas of technology move very fast, and if you are not in a position to reinvent the way you market or run your business, and your product, there comes a time to hand things over to "fresh eyes" , a new team, or get out.

There will always be opportunities. The problem is being able to see them and act on them especially after 10 or so years of success. Or indeed, is it sufficiently rewarding.

@ travelin cat .... 100% agree , " thanks for all the fish "


 2:13 am on Oct 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

There is an irony in all this. The people losing out on organic traffic are the ones Google loved. Not love, but past tense. However, Google became what they are because of the websites they provided in search. Since a lot of people are now talking about Panalized and massive organic traffic loss, guess what? In other words because people are slowly but surely not able to find sites that were once a staple in Google, they are ultimately heading for failure. If we got traffic over the years from Google, we essentially were part of building them into something special. People liked them because they found us. Now you can't find a lot of us. So the part that made them so great, is slowly going away thanks to their quest for quality such as Wikipedia, Amazon, etc. It will take a while, but since our sites made their SERPS and their company what it is today, them losing us in the shuffle at some point has to set in to searchers. As in, why am I finding a bunch of sites that I already know about? There is an irony if you can sort through my point.

If we were a component in their engine, and their engine was the fastest and best car on the circuit for years, how can they tinker and remove parts and yet expect to still be that fastest and best car? They can't. It defies logic. If your site was good then, it's probably pretty good still. Users will slowly clue in and some have already. People are missing out on some of the best the web has to offer thanks to what's happening right now.

ps. a fantastic read. thanks!


 2:25 am on Oct 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

MrSavage - I agree, but I don't think Google care, hopefully they have gone too far, and their arrogance will quickly catch up with them.

Sure we work in a fast changing/moving industry, but part of our business is to keep up to date with everything, and make sure we invest in the right areas. But this was just beyond our control.


 2:33 am on Oct 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

The whole "build a website that doesn't rely on Google" thing is interesting.

I've noticed many people these days don't even bother typing the domain name into the URL section of the browser anymore. What they do is they actually go to Google and search for the website e.g. searching for "webmaster world" and then clicking on the first result.

If have a website and you're not in Google, you're screwed. Yelp certainly know this.

There's a difference between not relying on Google (for the majority of your traffic), and not being listed in Google at all. Most websites still do rank for their name (unless their name is a really common one, or they've been severely penalized), but if you rely on competitive keywords to bring you organic search engine traffic (not just Google) as key to staying alive, then that's a huge risk being taken there.

Sometimes, SE reliance is thrust upon websites without really being much of a choice, for example, if Google really really likes your website right now, then having a huge percentage of your traffic coming from them is unavoidable - but such good fortune should be taken advantage of and used to gain as much traffic from other sources as quickly as possible through social marketing, brand name building, and traffic generating link building, or even just improving results from other search engines. The ironic thing is that the more non Google related traffic building you do (as long as it's all genuine, relevant traffic), Google will probably like you even more and you will be more protected from algorithm changes in the future!


 3:18 am on Oct 22, 2011 (gmt 0)

travelin cat, congragulations on making the best choice and wish you all success in your new google independent business model on the web.

But I qualify the words "free traffic" with double quotes because nothing is free. Webmasters allow them (Google) to crawl and index their websites as they send traffic and google crawls and indexes their websites as they had to serve their users who make them money. Though there wasn't any binding relationship between the two parties, there isn't anything free in this arrangement. Webmasters bartered content for traffic that google sent their way.

In this kind of barter economy, Google decides now and then to dump certain websites and their owners in favor of others.They could do that because they have established this kind of economy on a massive scale on the web and they aren't dependent on any individual webmaster or groups of webmasters. They source their content from diverse suppliers and that makes them immune to these outcries from a subset of webmasters (who aren't popular).

Yours is a perfect example of what webmaster should do going forward. They shouldn't be too dependent on one source of traffic.

But there is nothing free in this barter economy and I am guessing that this is just your way of saying goodbye to them and not necessarily to thank them.

Swapping is the increasingly prevalent informal bartering system in which participants in Internet communities trade items of comparable value on a trust basis using the Internet. The most notable disadvantage to electronic barter is inherent in Internet commerce, that of trust. How can consumers have confidence that they will receive what they bargained, or paid, for? Although the Internet based consumer market has by its continued existence and growth demonstrated that it works, there is never a guarantee of satisfaction in consumer to consumer transactions. There is no absolute defense against fraud. However, it can be argued that when a person barters there is less incentive to deliberately mislead. Neither party is paid; each party receives something that would only then have to be converted to cash

Source: [en.wikipedia.org...]

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