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|So Long Google And Thanks For All The Fish|
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.
Great post! Thanks for sharing your story. I'm sure many folks can relate. :-)
Great post, You have the right idea! .... Good luck with your next venture.
Let me counter with a couple thoughts. Agreed it is quite easy to find a comfort zone with organic traffic. You speak of that quite well.
With respect however, your post sounds like something I would read on the official Google webmaster forums. Those that understand that mentality there would applaud your sediment.
You're essentially saying you sucked some person into buying your site. Correct? No guilt there eh. You didn't want to let them know about free traffic and Panda and the fact that Google could dry up the organic traffic on them. Sucker beware! I would feel different about your post if you had of left out the part where you sold your site to some sucker. Karma please? I wouldn't be posting about it that's for sure especially when if I'm telling people they should know better. Either that or you are NOT psychic.
You know what the internet is? It's a stock market. If you have a website you depend on the stock market. Guess who own 80 or 90% of the stock market? And you're suggesting there are alternative? Like there is some other stock market out there? You are along for the ride when there is one company on the stock market.
You know what though? If Google chooses to spike what you pay for Adwords then what? The fact is, whether it's free traffic or if it's ads, you can still be screwed. If you have a tight budget and Adwords is the only real traffic solution, and Google decided to make you pay extreme amounts of money, then what? It's the same thing. Foolish us for investing our hopes in the only company on the stock market.
I will close with the fact that Google has 97% of mobile search. Think about next year and the year after that in terms of people using mobile search. To say that you can create a successful website that doesn't depend on Google is with respect, a joke to me. Some people win the lottery and some of them post here. Congrats.
Ah, this stuff happens every couple of years.
Except this time, I agree maybe it's different. This time it seems like less an algo shift, and more a business model shift for Google.
I'm not really having problems myself...BUT. The last 3-6 months has dramatically changed my future business plans. My original plan was to build my site to dominate my niche in my region, until one of the big traditional companies woke up and decided to buy me. Now I'm working on the seeds of ideas for my business that involve Google traffic not existing within 5 years. That's a bit of a scary deadline for me. I'm still working on building my business online, but in 5 years if I'm still seeing Google search traffic it'll be a bonus, not a living.
MrSavage, the buyer knew exactly what he was getting. Full disclosure. He had access to the full GA account and had weeks to review it. Also, the sales contract spelled out what happened in Panda and we discussed it live via Skype. Perhaps you could ask me before you assume and post it here.
More importantly, my post was about taking responsibility, not selling a website. Additionally, you can make money on the internet without search engines, there are thousands of examples and I hope to be one of them.
|It was FREE money and it ended. |
It is as much free money for us as its free content for Google. It is mutual and that's why most of the webmaster are complaining, whining and crying all over the place.
Panda came as no surprise ..if one was paying attention to the signs and signals before it ..neither did the crash ..but nobody wanted to hear while the money rolled in that it could not last and not to depend on property prices and credit nor on just search engine traffic or adsense or the web..
And the crash is going to get worse before it gets better ..and the search engines ( MS and "whatever" ) and Google are going to squeeze more , not less , and those predictions/facts will be ignored by most ..yet again..
The lion and the antelope got posted here not long after I joined ..wasn't the first time I'd ever read that "homily"..most people didn't pay attention enough then..and most don't / won't now..
Not surviving is not anyone else's fault..it is the fault of not being agile enough ..and not paying attention, and not looking in all directions ..
And having caught a TV program earlier this evening about 8 year old kids forced to work in coal mines and in prostitution in India..all this whining about how hard it is making a living on the web..c'mon ..grow up..all of us here have it easy compared to most of the 7 or so billion..
We aren't manacled to these screens at age 8..No one is standing over us saying we get down and work or lay down and accept it or get killed ..
I came from a house with a dirt floor and no electricity nor running water , nearest of both was along way off ..this is easy ..compared to being a child working in slavery in a slum town in the hills of India..or even getting up at 05.00am to hand milk cows on the farm as a kid..
|To say that you can create a successful website that doesn't depend on Google is with respect, a joke to me. |
It should be about creating a *successful business*, not a "website". If the business model includes a website, well and good, but part of the business model is the *offering*. Whether you sell books, real estate, or offer free information, you need repeat customers and visitors. Once you have repeat customers/visitors, you are less dependent on free traffic. Many businesses have set up direct advertising relationships so that their revenues are not concentrated on a single cash cow.
I also suspect that businesses with AdSense as a major revenue source are an insignificant % in $ terms relative to businesses with websites. I work at a major bank, whose reported annual profit is in the $Bs and it gets over 80% of traffic from existing customers.
While we can't all set up a bank, we can build online businesses that are not dependent on Google. I recently spoke to a person who has received funding to build an online comparison site - you'd think it's a saturated market and is SEO'd to the hilt, but his model is entirely dependent on traditional marketing (AdWords, radio, TV etc).
You know what I think, if Google squeezes harder the spam problem will increase, webmasters who have previously played it fair will switch sides because they can and no longer have any scrap of loyalty. The gloves will come off because right now a lot of quality sites have been hit and scrapers appear to be doing ok. Beware of the webmaster who has nothing left to lose.
I don't get the "free money" part.
Is it free money if someone finds your physical store in the Yellow Pages or in a classified listing? Before someone can pay for your product or service they have to know you exist. Advertising doesn't tell me you're the best; it just tells me you have the best ad agency. Word of mouth only works if I happen to know someone who has bought the same product and has the same tastes and requirements as I do.
A lot of people saying they will go "black hat" probably already were ..one member here recently said he would go "blackhat"..forgetting that in early Panda he said how he had copied loads of pages exactly from other sites without their permission ( thereby maybe causing them, the innocent sites "dupe" penalties or Panda problems ..he didn't care about that though ..just himself )..been complaining here ever since that now he has taken the stolen pages out ..Google should forgive him and put his site back high in the rankings for where he was with the aid of some stolen pages..
Calling Google all kinds of things, they were "dishonest", etc ( pot , kettle ) ..announced a few days ago "he'd go blackhat because he had nothing to lose" and Google were being unfair to him..
IMO he and anyone else doing similar was already Blackhat ( in my book stealing content is blackhat and unethical )..not everyone complaining is that kind of blackhat ..but I have seen more and more of those complaining admitting to "not all their content was actually theirs"..
Those who steal others content ( maybe yours or mine ) deserve no sympathy..
Relying on a single source for your visitors is always dangerous, the same applies for brick and mortar businesses as well, but Google was so dominant, and it was so much easier for the smaller guys to compete against the big guys and scrapers, so a lot of it wasn't down to choice or anything. A lot of us, me included, did take Google traffic for granted, and that was our mistake.
I'm also starting a few more websites that won't be reliant on Google traffic, and I think a lot of webmasters are doing the same. And it's all thanks to Panda for informing us what we should have known already, that Google is not reliable enough of a "business partner", mainly because they're not in business *with* us (often competing against us website owners, actually).
And if webmasters succeed in weaning off Google's teat, then that may very well be Google search's undoing, as they too have a lot to lose if webmasters stop jumping through their hoops.
People talk about making money or surviving without Google. Believe me, there are amazingly brilliant people here who can and do that. There are also a few millionaires around and a few people who won the lottery. To say that it's simple to become a millionaire is not realistic for most mortals. I go back to the 97% of mobile search for Google. When the future is mobile search, honestly, today you're banking on people NOT using Google for mobile search in the coming years? Don't get me wrong. I want to be wrong about getting off the "Google crutch" and the likelihood of success. I think for most people, who made a secondary income and aren't "rich" from their online business need a big 'ol reality check. I want to believe that yes I can build it and they will come. If you can do it, then I would suggest writing a book. A best seller without doubt. Nobody wants to give away secrets, but hey, people write books about making money all the time. So I'm first in line for that when it comes out. And no, I'm serious about that and not speaking sarcastically. It's great advice, but I wonder how realistic it is for most average or below average intelligence (like me) webmasters to do.
|It is mutual and that's why most of the webmaster are complaining, whining and crying all over the place. |
Not all webmasters, some lost their top spots, others that didn't have them previously now have them and are raking in the cash lost by the whiners. You probably won't hear much from the Panda winners because they don't want the whiners to focus on them and try to unseat their new found gains. They'll quietly rake in the dough, work hard to maximize it while they can, while others waste time complaining and not getting back to business.
Reality cramps are that only 10 sites can be at the top 10 and if one webmaster isn't there, another one is, and you only hear from the guy that lost his free ride. It's unrealistic to expect to keep that top 10 spot as everyone is gunning for your spot already. Truth is, most will never really know if it was a competitor, Panda, or a perfect storm of both that unseated them in the latest updates.
Like others have rightly said, if you only rely on Google free traffic as your only source of traffic then you have a loser business model in the first place. I've lost Google before and I didn't disappear off the map thanks to the fact that I get direct traffic from links on other sites, bookmarks, Yahoo, Bing, social media, and a wide variety of other free traffic sources. Webmasters that don't cultivate those traffic models don't have a real business, they don't have a sustainable business model, and will ultimately fail.
Yes, I get links to drive traffic to my site, not raise my PR in Google.
Many webmasters have forgotten this age off source of traffic, too bad for them.
If your livelihood is tied solely to Google SERPs and AdSense, the odds are more likely than not one morning you'll wake up and you'll be screwed.
|With respect however, your post sounds like something I would read on the official Google webmaster forums. Those that understand that mentality there would applaud your sediment. |
With respect, that's just insulting.
The OP decided to sell his site and get out, that's better than waiting for it to fade further and with full disclosure he was lucky to find a buyer IMO.
I've been on the Google free ride for years as well and got semi-trapped in Panda but since I have an actual business model that uses more traffic sources other than Google SERPs, I'm still up and running making money.
Do I make as much post-Panda? Nope.
Am I dead in the water? Nope.
Still making money and still milking this cow as hard as possible.
I didn't decide to sell my site but decided to take some of the technology from my site and start selling it as an online service. The upside to selling online services is the swings of Google SERPs don't really have any impact as traffic won't be my focus, it will be on customers who will already be using the service.
See? A business plan.
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.
Nice post except for the "FREE money" part. How was that free money, didn't you work hard and had to build something to get it? You may not have to pay for *each* visitor, but of course you "pay" for traffic by investing your time and using your skills.
It wasn't PPC traffic, it was all free traffic, no rent.
Sure there was work involved, but with free traffic there is no other overhead, just money, almost pure profit.
As I just wrote in the other similar thread...I completely disagree with this characterization. Free traffic? Are you joking? Many webmasters including myself work harder and spend more money than physical business owners. There is nothing free about organic traffic unless you're not in a competitive niche.
If you own a physical store on a busy shopping street, is the foot traffic "free traffic"? If one day your city decides to bulldoze your business or move it to a low traffic location, is that ok? An ungodly number of transactions occur on the web, and Google's search results have physical parallels.
The reason this "free traffic" is gone for real, quality businesses (if they were hit by Panda) is because Google has totally screwed up with their machine learning layer on top of the algo. It's because Google is irresponsibly running tests that have dramatic and UNKNOWN affects on real businesses and lives. They have tremendous power, and they're abusing it.
|There is nothing free about organic traffic unless you're not in a competitive niche. |
Sorry. Wrong. The traffic you receive is free in that it came to you with no cost at all. You must differentiate between the fixed costs that all website owners have and the income that the websites generate. One is a cost, the other is revenue.
It does not matter what you built your site to do, it could be about Malaysian worms and have 10,000 pages or it could be about a football team. All of these incur costs to create. But if you want to make money on a site, or more importantly, you NEED to make money to survive, you need traffic to your site.
If you need money, you can get it either organically, or pay for it. Many sites have no ROI with ads so they depend on organic traffic.... free traffic. When that traffic converts into income, it's free money. You've already created your site, now your are making money from free traffic, free traffic that you have NO control over.
You may do everything correct to get Google to send you traffic, but what happens when somebody else does a better job? What happens when 5 or 6 people do a better job? You can't tell Google to put you in a better position above them. You can't tell Google anything.
Again, think about the future. Do you really think you will be on the first page forever? If you do, you are doomed to fail.
|The reason this "free traffic" is gone for real, quality businesses (if they were hit by Panda) is because Google has totally screwed up with their machine learning layer on top of the algo. It's because Google is irresponsibly running tests that have dramatic and UNKNOWN affects on real businesses and lives. They have tremendous power, and they're abusing it. |
You just made my point with that statement. Does it matter WHY Google did what they did? Who cares? They stopped giving you free traffic. They stopped feeding your money machine with their free gasoline. They have the power to do as they will and you willingly and knowingly allowed it to happen.
Stop thinking about if the traffic is free or not and think about what you can do to get other traffic. If there is nothing you can do, as was my case, then you should get out of your business model.
|If you need money, you can get it either organically, or pay for it. |
I think the distinction being made is that while the 'click' is free for organic traffic, getting ranked high enough to get the click is expensive in terms of dollars and time.
Wheel, true. However you are still depending on a 3rd party to provide you with traffic at their whim.
Exactly my point Wheel. Organic traffic can be as much or more as PPC. It's not "free" in the sense that it most definitely costs money to obtain and maintain.
You are missing the point of this thread. The traffic can go away at anytime. You are not in control. Google/Bing are in control. The only thing you are in control of is allowing them to control you.
You must separate out costs (which you will have no matter what your biz model) and revenue streams. This is the problem. You are not entitled to anything from the search engines, they owe you nothing.
|The traffic can go away at anytime. You are not in control. Google/Bing are in control. |
Agreed. I was attempting to make another point, that it's highly irresponsible of Google to test experiments on real businesses with real people working in them. But that is the reality, and we do have to be prepared for that. Good point.
Good for you and thanks for posting. Glad to hear you got out of it.
Not easy for others to get out. You can't sell a site that doesn't earn anymore. Unless you lie about stats and earnings.
Interesting post, but I'm a bit surprised you decided to sell out. Since nobody, and I mean nobody, knows what is triggering Panda downgrades and upgrades, it's quite possible you'd have come back. I guess you got the right price that fit your economic and emotional needs, I couldn't even imagine the right price for me.
Like you, I've had a strong web presence since 1995, though other than "hobbies", the main point was always to support my bricks-and-mortar business activity. While the February Panda took away around 75% of our web derived income, it hasn't had much impact on the rest of the business, though I suppose if the business site doesn't recover from Panda, it eventually will.
But as I've written here before, my hobby-only site recovered from Panda and is current getting 10X as much traffic as it did at the Panda depths - that's several times as much as it got from Google pre-Panda. I didn't change a thing on the website, it simply came back. I guessed earlier it may have been because I reduced the number of links to it from my Pandalized business site, who knows.
While I would never suggest to anybody that they borrow money and start a business based on organic web traffic, it's still the best bet for people who genuinely have something to say, something they are passionate about. Whether we get over ten thousand visitors a day from Google or less than a thousand, it's still hundreds of thousands of people a year that we're reaching without even leaving the house. That just didn't exist before Internet search.
I'm beginning to suspect that my business site will eventually come back unless Google has slapped a manual penalty on it for some unknown reason. The steps down have come on Panda days, so I think it's automated. What I've been doing is slowly stripping out links from the site, so that in the end, it will be nothing but text and pictures with no commercial connections and doesn't relate to any other websites. I'm going slowly because I really don't believe that Google is hating on Adsense, and we never had it on more that 20% of the page views and never more than one unit on the pages that had Adsense.
I wouldn't be a bit surprised if over the course of time, some links I added ten years ago or more may not be pointing to sites that have been taken over by blackhats, and Panda seems inclined to penalize websites for what must be very small mistakes, otherwise everybody with a legitimate website would be back in by now.
The real issue for me, from the business standpoint, isn't that Google acted irresponsibly, which they have. It's that they have a near monopoly on search traffic. This is something we've all gotten used to over the last five or six years, but I still remember the old days when search engines rose and fell each year, and if one didn't like you, another did.
So it's not just a question of hoping to recover from Panda, either through waiting or through reworking, it's also realizing that the Google monopoly is unlikely to hold up in the long run. It's not like Windows or Office, where there's hardware or collaboration involved. Search remains a stand-alone function, as much as Google would like to change it with Plus:-) A new search engine, or even Bing, could knock Google from the top just by having a good viral promotion or spending a few hundred million of clever Super Bowel commercials.
I'm routing for one with monkeys and laser pointers - I laugh even thinking about that one.
Rule #1 whether it be in SEO or in life, everything comes with a price tag. The old grade school adage there are no free lunches is as true today as then.
The only free money is if your time and your skills have no value, like walking the streets all day picking up lost coins ?
The nature of the internet is that it's so vast a portal must be created that guides you to your destination. Enter Google who for years has been the dominant portal, people loved Google. Lately Google has been closing the portal, or severely restricting it, for a growing number of websites so the very people who seek the portal are funneled to a smaller sub-set of sites. That's not likely to change, Google is on Wall st with crazy expectations.
Here's the thing though, does Google have the legal right to restrict the portal to maintain profit? People require the portal as much to surf as they do water to drink. Surfing the net needs to remain free from such funneling for the greater good and health of the internet.
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.
To fix the wrong regulation needs to be implemented, maintaining a portal to the internet isn't proprietary, it's a service and the peoples rights (including webmasters) need to be weighed a little more reasonably. I'd like to see being the default search engine as a privilege, a licensed privilege, and things like Panda should not be possible without independent review and/or risking that license.
The internet is FREE, not a cash cow for Google to milk.
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