Elsmarc - 10:42 pm on Mar 18, 2012 (gmt 0)
I can't say much about Panda or any of the other "updates" over the years. I chart # visitors, page views, unique visitors and $ income. I do well year over year. I have read a fair amount about different Google search updates over the years and, just like Panda, there are too many known and unknown variables to *really* be able to say why some sites do better, some sites don't change, and some sites crash and burn. That's why I haven't done any significant SEO on any sites in some years. Even when I used to have a Google rep who would give me recommendations, when I thought they were too aggressive (obnoxious) visually (for example) I didn't take the rep's advice.
This is not to say I haven't seen what I *think* was Panda 1 on a couple sites. They declined a little bit at a time over about 4 to 5 months, but then they jumped back up and are doing OK again. As I look at a couple graphs of sites, each has it's "up" and "down" times. Thing is, looking long term, year over year, the sites keep doing better.
I do have forums and one question I ask people who register in the forum is how they found the site. These days a lot of visitors are recommendations from teachers, colleagues, email links from a friend. I also get a lot of referrals saying things like "my boss told me about it" and stuff like that. Another question I ask is what they were searching for and I get a lot who were searching for the specific domain name. I'm sure this is because the sites have been around for a long time and I would guess they present a good user experience and have useful information or there wouldn't be as much direct and organic(?) search traffic as there is.
I do find it puzzling that with "literally 10,000's of inbound links from other authority sites [universities and colleges]" you're having problems. Maybe the niche? None of mine come close to 10,000+ inbound non-reciprocal links. I've never done any link building, but believe inbound non-reciprocal links are part of the G algo. I just always believed link building was sorta trying to win by gaming the algorithm (aka "black hat"). I would think the links you have would be good coming from universities and colleges. I'm definitely envious of you.
Maybe I do things that help that I don't know I'm doing. Something I did was register all my domain names and paid up through 2020 (a Danny Sullivan SEO tip from a news letter he did in the late 1990's).
I can look back at the couple of B&M businesses I have had that failed and can pretty much say why. Not so with the internet from a business aspect. I have no idea why the ups and downs. But - Since I look at it long term, it doesn't really matter. Once the critical mass of a site is at a point where it can survive on greatly reduced search engine result links, it doesn't matter much.
And I'm a relative light weight. I've never made $30K in a month on a site, but I'm happy with what I make.
Like I said in my earlier post - Businesses don't last forever, and in the internet world a person may never know specifically what caused the failure. I do plan for my "business model" to fail at some point. It's the same, really, with every day people who work at companies - They never know when a layoff is coming or when/if they'll be fired. It's just part of life.