diberry - 3:49 pm on Jun 7, 2012 (gmt 0)
The problem with my site is that while I was getting over 100k visitors per month for a while there, I'm now getting far less since Penguin - like you said, it's not a big enough sample pool to yield any real statistical meaning. In fact, one possibility is that whatever I've been seeing has been going on all along under the surface, and it's only the loss of my most popular keyphrases that has revealed it.
I should also mention I can't see "zombie" traffic. My conversions have slowed to a trickle since Penguin, and I can't see any on-off pattern. It's just mostly off.
I'll tell you what I'm seeing as best I can describe it, using pretend stuff that I think will give you a good approximation of what's going on. Let's say my site is about jobs, and I have categories about getting a job, keeping your job, getting along with co-workers, dressing for success, getting promotions, your rights as an employee and dealing with stress. Until Penguin, Google mainly just ranked pages from my Dressing For Success category, which were up against pages from fashion websites. This made me scratch my head and wonder if Google was totally confused about the site's purpose, or if I just couldn't compete on the other topics but somehow was rocking it in the fashion topic, but hey, whatever. Traffic was good!
Then Penguin came, and my DFS pages fell to the second fold or other pages entirely. My traffic from Google fell by over 80%. For weeks, the DFS pages were still my main source of traffic from Google, I just wasn't getting as much of it.
Then I started seeing long tails I hadn't been seeing before, same as many others have noted. These long tails were still mainly for DFS pages. Then on May 28, I logged in around 7am as usual, and instead of the usual mix of keyphrases leading to DFS pages, my Google traffic had all gone almost exclusively to the Getting A Job category, which was actually my most popular. I was happy about this - until later that day, when it went back to the usual keyphrases.
That particular day seemed REALLY distinctive to me, and I believe anyone looking at it would agree something was happening on Google. Since then, there are days when it sure feels distinct, but maybe people are just searching for different things according to what they've heard about elsewhere or something.
Yesterday's a good example. My analytics package tracks my average Google ranking, using a string Google puts in the URLs. I noticed at 7am that I'd fallen several positions on all my usual top keyphrases. By 5pm, this had turned around, and my average rank was back up to normal (which suggests it had been ABOVE normal for some searchers, since my search volume didn't increase by much).
Search Volume lack of shifts
The number of searchers Google sends me each day varies by no more than 25% of the highest number. This trend seems to be following a weekly pattern of troughs and valleys that the site has followed for years, it's just now it's about 80% less traffic than they used to send.
THIS, to my thinking, is where it gets odd, given the shifting keyphrases. What are the odds that I would rank exactly equally well on Dressing For Success and Getting A Job, two very different categories? Traffic from other sources (other SEs and social media like Pinterest, Stumble, FB) shows an overall preference for Getting A Job pages, and visitors respond better to it, and it's certainly the topic I know more about. Somehow, no matter how Google presents my site to searchers, my traffic volume doesn't vary by more than 25%. Could it happen by coincidence? Sure, but why is the Google algo the only thing on the internet that thinks these categories perform exactly equally well or badly? It just doesn't pass the sniff test for me.
Feel free to ask for more specifics, and I'll provide what I can/feel comfortable sharing.
I should also mention that I've done the following since Penguin:
--I had a lot of articles with "14 tips for..." or "how to" in the titles, and I've gone through and changed many of those to leave those phrases out. (I only did those to be trendy, but I realize now they were probably a trend because they were good for SEO, and therefore might make me look overoptimized).
--Over the past week or so, I've deleted about 40% of my pages because various signals led me to believe visitors found these particular pages irrelevant, lacking or even irritating.
--I'm very slowly rewriting lots or pages, hopefully to make them more valuable to visitors.