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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.



 11:20 pm on Oct 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

travelin cat, can I ask a question?

Were you primarily relying on a small number (maybe even just one or two?) magical high ranking keyword(s) that was bringing in the bulk of your traffic until you were hit with Panda?


 11:37 pm on Oct 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

It's not over, its changing and fortunes will still be made. Its tough as hell when you get hit as many of us have, myself included. The initial shock has been replaced by a new fire in my gut and I'm seeing opportunity in places I've never bothered to look at before. I'm out of my comfort zone and feeling alive. Lesson learned.


 2:42 am on Oct 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

It's rather simple, the lack of true business sense, how could anyone think on depending on the free traffic provided by google.

Hindsight is 20:20. Travelling_Cat owned the site since 1995, i.e. before Google. At some point, the Google traffic would have passed AltaVista and he would have made changes along the way to optimise for Google. I don't know the site in question, but if it was making him a lot of money, then the "true business sense" along the years would be to continue making money from this channel rather than stop and look for some other line of business.

It's easy for us to say now that he could have made time to consider opening a restaurant or a massage parlour, but we don't know his options.

Is there any business we can advise Sergey or Larry to start on the side as a Plan B in case Google collapses one day?


 7:15 am on Oct 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

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.

@travelin cat - Did the perfect buyer ( hypothetically speaking - similar site buying folks read these threads ) make a success of their acquisition ? I guess I'm asking if they turned the site around with good results.

It's simply a question of observation - nothing else read into it on my part.


 10:06 am on Oct 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Fantastic post. I think there is a shift happening as a result of the changes that Google are making. A lot of SEOs are looking into PPC as a career, others are thinking about doing something different almost entirely. I too have considered moving away from online to traditional advertising. I'm sorry to say that Google are going to put a lot of people out of business and as you rightly say the ones that depend on 'free' traffic will be hit the worst. It's very distressing, but times change, people move on. 'Twas ever thus..


 10:20 am on Oct 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

danwhitehouse think about it in other way. Making money from "free trafic" has become too easy, knowledge is easily accesible, making website(it's technical side) is not a rocket science, hosting is cheap, making/scraping content takes few minutes.. and so on.

My point is that there may be too many people in this business already, so maybe it's not G#!@le kicking someone, but they are doing it themselves. Number of "SEOs" inflated for years, but there can be only one page one of SERP and G%!#le rather does not increase it's popularity, it may only go down at this point as it reached the top many years ago.

It was inevitable.


 12:01 pm on Oct 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

It's easy for us to say now that he could have made time to consider opening a restaurant or a massage parlour, but we don't know his options.

That could've been way worse. I'm still seeing signs of B&M businesses tightening their belt.

A local retail store just shortened their hours - on what I would have thought were prime retail time, and this close to Christmas - they're not doing that because business is going gangbusters. And the store has been a focal point of our town for probably 40 years. And I see that kind of thing all over. We can reaoptimize for Google. How are you going to fix people not buying in a B&M store? Not a fun job.


 12:42 pm on Oct 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

(None of the SEOs I know - and I know a lot - are looking into different careers, at least not because of Google)


 1:30 pm on Oct 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

There are more opportunities out there for savvy people than than has been for years, as the less efficient, complacent and downright spammy people get driven out. Please note this is a general observation and not aimed at any individuals who are genuinely suffering from the side effects of G's antics.


 1:39 pm on Oct 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

If you got top rankings because you were "lucky" then the right strategy is to make hay while the sun shines and put a little aside for the rainy day.

In Google SERPS there's only one #1, one #2 etc. Panda changed the rules on how you get to #1, #2, #3 but it did so by measuring stuff about web sites and pages. It is measuring different things and mixing up the factors in a new way but at the end of the day Google is still using data it has measured.

To have a successful Google fed website now is exactly the same as it was before. You need to find the things that Google measures and values and do those things. You might do that by luck or by judgement. If you do it by luck start reading at the top again. If you do it by judgement then when things change next time you will be in a good position to change with it.



 2:46 pm on Oct 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Some very skilled/good webmasters may decide to look for another job because don't have the stomach for risk/stress of wake up someday without his main revenue source. Even doing very nice job have no guarantee. Every site owner relying on google traffic/adsense know the terrible feeling. Some important niches can't live without search traffic anymore. Because the Google changed the way of find your needs. Few need watch and bookmark good sites, or learn surfing its content page by page. You search everthing, and everything is by demand.

By the other side, always will have many bad intentioned people willing do anything to grab any penny. These ones have very strong stomach, because most of then have nothing to lose. Don't have a better oportunity to win money.

The panic/insegure atmosfere tends attract the bad guys.

Also the google relies on statistics of the user experience. We all know, the mass hardly likes the best technical sites, the best music, the most important issues.... they prefer the superficial, stupid, futile or "for dummies howto"... The theory of give what the mass want is beautiful... not in real world.


 4:11 pm on Oct 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

Well, I am thinking now that if and when my sites do recover, that I will most likely sell out. For good content, quality aged sites, I would hope to get 5-7 years income. I can invest that in real estate and get half as much income, but with a more solid return.


 5:45 pm on Oct 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

The theory of give what the mass want is beautiful... not in real world.

Excellence is something that most professional webmasters strive for, because it is a mark of competence & maturity, and it tends to get accolades from one's peers, which we all appreciate.

The public at large does not necessarily follow the same script. Evidence? The most popular tv shows; the most popular movies; the checkout stand magazines at your local grocery store.

So there is too often a dichotomy between what we as webmasters strive to accomplish, and what works most successfuly for the online public. There are exceptions to that statement of course, but as a generality, I stand by it.

When we look at the current Panda SERPs, in many cases it becomes immediately obvious that we may need to dumb-down our sites if we want to compete ~ they are that bad. Pretty sad.

There was a time when Google seemed to be committed to the "high road" ~ I no longer believe that is the case, in fact, just the opposite appears to be true because the road they are on is where the treasure is buried, and their committment now is to dig it all up.

It's been quoted here many times before, but again the line from H L Menchen seems most relevant:

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

Menchen said that over half-a-century ago ~ proof yet again, as if we need more proof, that some things never change.



 6:17 pm on Oct 26, 2011 (gmt 0)

For good content, quality aged sites, I would hope to get 5-7 years income

If the traffic sources are varied enough to provide stability in the event of a traffic hit in another algo change then that might be achievable but if, as you suggest, the sites suffered badly with Panda, then that strikes me as optiistic to find a buyer that would go that far.

Having studied the buying and selling of online business it struck me as incredibly rare to find a site with enough diversity of traffic to survive it's major traffic source turning sour. Even when you do, then paying > than 3 years income for an online-only business is a risky strategy. Most deals I see on "solid" sites are 18 months to 2 years. Most...not "all," to be fair.

Hissing Sid's "rainy day fund" idea is very sensible. I think too many businesses re-invest too much of their income to try and chase more $$ when, without the aforementioned stability of diverse traffic sources it is asking for trouble down the line if you don't put some aside. A solid business should ideally have at least 12 months working capital in the bank before re-investment IMO - 6 at a push.

I have to admit it annoys me to see people complaining of Google forcing people out of business. Any business that can't survive one traffic source going down is a flimsily built business in the first place.


 5:02 pm on Oct 30, 2011 (gmt 0)

Ternary Thinking: Seek the "third way".

Be wary of becoming ensnared in false or oversimplified binary models of the (real) world - whether it's a decision tree, a business plan, a political campaign strategy, a program to immunize children in the Third World - whatever.

Example: Your business is "sticky"; mine isn't. A mobile lunch truck isn't "inherently" sticky, but one in my city creates enormous stickiness - superglue, in fact. They (a) follow a very carefully planned, consistent route, hitting the same places at the same time reliably every day; (b) offer a "loyalty" ticket - 5 stamps on the ticket and your next drink is free even if you don't buy lunch; (c) use text messages to distribute coupons. Show your text message and get half off on a sandwich or something else; (d) have a mobile-friendly order form; your lunch is already boxed and ready when they hit the site. And last but not least, (e) they serve great sandwiches, scrumptious soup and really fresh salads. Imagine people who could go out for lunch but who PREFER to get lunch from the truck.

Now, these are people who believed there was a "third way" - an alternative to the usual BINARY choice for people who don't bring their lunch to work: I can eat lousy "lunch truck food" OR I can go to a restaurant to get a "decent meal". These people challenged the established decision tree, and I'm sure you can easily guess "the rest of the story". They're adding trucks and routes as rapidly as they can, but in a controlled way that preserves the integrity of their ternary business model.

There's a lot of false binary modeling on display in this thread and it's neither necessary or useful to take a "pro-Google" OR an "anti-Google" position. There is no business that is inherently "helplessly dependent" on Google for traffic; there is no business that is smart to ignore (fail to optimize for), "bypass" or try to "defeat" Google's ranking algorithms. For every single business out there - with NO exceptions - there is always a third way, like the paid membership site that gets over half its membership from emails she collects by giving something away at street fairs.


 10:31 pm on Oct 30, 2011 (gmt 0)

What's not getting clearly distinguished in this thread is the difference between foolishly depending on Google and actually being independent of Google.

What's not getting clearly distinguished-- ever-- is the difference between g### as a specific entity, and search engines as a concept. It's not always clear whether it is a matter of begging the question or of, well, giving up.

Be wary of becoming ensnared in false or oversimplified binary models of the (real) world

There are two kinds of people in the world: the ones who divide the world into two kinds of people, and the ones who don't. Betcha there are web-based businesses in Bombay that make daba lunches.


 11:38 pm on Oct 30, 2011 (gmt 0)

Beware of Maya ..

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