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Google Traffic Throttling - revisited

     
2:39 am on Sep 20, 2010 (gmt 0)

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The topic of Google traffic throttling came up a good number of times over the past two years or more. Some doubt that it happens - others are convinced but have trouble breaking through the wall of other's doubt.

Last year I saw the analytics for one site that showed a drop to zero Google traffic every day at around the same time - it stayed at zero until the next day and then it cycled again. I also saw another major enterprise site that only had first page ranking for a specific 4-hour period every day. Both of the cases persisted for many weeks, but both eventually "returned to normal".

Just recently someone else contacted me with the graphs to show something very strange. Three months of nearly level Google traffic (unnaturally level in my experience) followed by a huge spike that lasted 4 hours - I'm talking up 1,000%.

So I think it's time to look at this topic again - seriously. It's not a fantasy. Something Google does every so often looks like traffic throttling or rationing. Here's a post from just today:

backdraft: I get these "windows" of sales only minutes apart, then hours of nothing. It's as if Google can turn us on and off while still showing our site in the SERPS. That is very strange and an experience shared by other sites over in the UK. I am in the US.

[webmasterworld.com...]
Here's a small sampling of past and recent discussion:

1. Google Traffic Throttling - where are we on this? [webmasterworld.com]
2. Time of day rankings changes [webmasterworld.com]
3. The Yo Yo Effect - is it now getting worse? [webmasterworld.com]
4. Huge drop in my blog traffic [webmasterworld.com]
5. Google Toggles our High Ranking On/Off Again and Again [webmasterworld.com]
6. One day spike in Google referrals [webmasterworld.com]
7. Is there a threshold for google traffic? [webmasterworld.com]

And there's more where that came from.

It seems like it's a lot harder to pin down now, and it was never easy. So what do you see? Is anyone wrestling with this on their own sites? Any ideas how it is being accomplished?
5:02 pm on Sept 28, 2010 (gmt 0)

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for millions of pages, that is still very low traffic...

but congragulations on getting things sorted out...
8:13 am on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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lol i thought this was the norm?

I always assumed that google displayed your site based on some quality score or suchlike criteria and allocated your site a fixed number of impressions per day or per month for any relevant query.

I came to this conclusion a long time ago because my stats showed the same total number of unique visitors month after month after month which didnt seem possible to me.

Even after googles recent updates my sites uniques dropped but are now back to the same monthly numbers as before.

I have also seen spikes which lasted a few hours and showing a huge increase in visitor numbers.
10:07 am on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Throttling

[i1199.photobucket.com...]

We are in the highly cyclical academic market, we should have 2 major spikes and 3 major depression each year.

But we recently broke our own site and you can see Google correctly sending less traffic our way.

Did this caused us to come under our bandwidth cap and therefore you can see the normal high week and low weekend traffic pattern emerge?

Having fixed the site, you can now see the weekends start to flatten up to the weekly traffic.

It looks like:
    we are allowed a set daily amount of non brand organic traffic
    this set number is the same every day, irrespective of weekend or weekday


Open to other explanations.
2:15 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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firstconversion - my throttled traffic has dips on the weekends too.

my site is b2b, so naturally there would be less traffic on the weekends.

i am thinking that i don't generate enough traffic on the weekends to trip the traffic governor mechanism - whatever it is.
3:06 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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the traffic governor mechanism

That's a good title for it, but I'm still trying to ascertain how they determine what that level should be for each site. For drall it is in the 36K range; for one of my sites it is in the 2K range; for firstconversion it looks to be in the 3K range ~ what criteria are they using to come up with these numbers? If we knew that, we might be able to push to a higher level, but without that crucial piece of the puzzle, it's hard to know where to start.

....................
3:46 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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and before we try to figure out how the cap is calculated, we'll need to know its purpose. they have spent 12 years developing an algo to develop the most relevant serps. then they subvert it by intentionally redistributing traffic to less relevant sites - why?
5:32 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Quite a while back I called it “traffic manipulation” and I still do. Then you got the usual people lamenting “Google would never risk its long term reputation” blah, blah, blah. Now we have the watered down “politically correct” interpretation of what they do.
5:35 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Here's my current hunch - assuming we're looking at something real and not just shoveling smoke. The activation of a traffic governor might depend on the breadth of the backlink profile. Not enough variety? Then you might get capped.

I just had a call from a long time friend who is a serious web developer and data jockey. His main website has traditionally shown seasonal peaks, based on the academic year. But this fall there's no such thing - traffic is eerily flat. He even tried launching a major modification to the site, but it had no affect, up or down. So he also is wondering about some kind of traffic "governor".
6:01 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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My site also fluctuates during the school year -- from 6-8K per week during school year to 5K during summer. I assume it's students doing research.

However my site is not capped. I have a lot of natural links coming in which may be where the difference lies. My main focus has always been to provide info that people are searching for -- tips, tutorials, scams warnings, etc. which brings in lots of natural links.

I'm wondering if the sites that are capped are providing data that people want to link to (natural links) or are they only promoting their products, services, etc. and having to gather links?
6:02 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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so tedster, your hunch is that the objective is not to water down the serps, but rather to enhance them because the backlink profile isn't smelling quite right?

outland 88, with your politically correct comment, you are thinking, like i was, that google is intentionally "spreading the wealth around" even if the serp relevamcy suffers some?

try this one: with 75% market share, google has to start thinking like a big company - the last thing they need is a bunch of little widget companies crying to their local congressman that google has ruined their business - next thing you know there are anti-trust hearings (ask bill gates about how fun these were for him...) and the google cash machine could get muzzled. so some of the corporate guys paid a visit down the hall at the plex to the search quality guys and said "make sure everybody gets some of the pie". the result is some deserving sites get governed so that the distribution is more "equitable".
6:12 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I still think that every site may have a cap, but that only a very small percentage of them ever attract enough traffic to bump up against it.
6:13 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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That could be compatible with my idea - if the backlink profile "smells funny", then the cap could be set closer to current traffic levels for that domain.
6:25 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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My backlink profile was definitely smelly. Not rotten, but smelly. I was getting 100s-1000s of backlinks per day, but they all came from either social networking sites or blogs. Not too mention all of my backlinks were all optimized with anchor text.

So even though the my backlink text remains optimized, I spread the links around now to 1000s of internal pages and 1000s of different combinations of anchor text.

That being said, it could also have been that the throttling reduced the number of new incoming backlinks and due to the nonstickiness of links via social networking, the link turnover was greater than the incoming new links..which changed my backlink profile.

In theory with the cap removed now and if I get to 60,000+ uniques per day again, the daily backlinks should shoot up which might again cause the cap to be implemented again?
6:27 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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they have spent 12 years developing an algo to develop the most relevant serps. then they subvert it by intentionally redistributing traffic to less relevant sites - why?

Because they can? Nerds like to do things...because they can. Google is always experimenting and they have noone to answer to.
6:39 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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That could be compatible with my idea - if the backlink profile "smells funny", then the cap could be set closer to current traffic levels for that domain.


Seems like this would be easy to test, by balancing out the link profile, although the change in results might take a month or so.
6:48 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Ah, but I think the kinds of links that would balance it in Google's view are not so easy to get "on your own power" - and that's the point I think the traffic throttle could be making.
6:58 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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the kinds of links that would balance it in Google's view are not so easy to get "on your own power"

Could you explain what you mean here?

I also have a feeling traffic is being limited in some way. Daily visits are almost too consistent to be normal.
7:02 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I'm looking at the kind of links they've always said they value the most - freely given "editorial" links in the content area of other unaffiliated websites. All the blog comments, article marketing, press releases etc that you can summon up won't create those powerhouse citations.

It takes great content and solid word of mouth to get the best backlinks. This where social media is at its best, IMO. but you've got to have a well developed presence first. Not an afternoon's project!
7:07 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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to tedster's theory, remembering the oop and -950 experience, many of us have seen what a really good backlink can do to fix a problem.

but drall said he added backlinks to no avail - this doesn't necessarily conflict, though - because we don't know what the makeup of those links were...
7:10 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Not an afternoon's project!

Damn...
7:17 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Right you are. There's one Google trend I've seen over the years. They don't want to feature content because it is published with technical cleverness and savvy, they're looking for ways to judge content itself, on its own merit. And clear social recognition is a natural measure.
7:25 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Not an afternoon's project!


That's a relief... afternoons are when I have my siesta!
8:11 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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and i thought that social media links were at the bottom of the food chain as far as backlink value goes. i am sure google is trying to learn to differentiate blog, facebook, twitter and forum posts for value - probably not an easy task.
8:31 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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and i thought that social media links were at the bottom of the food chain

Yeah, that's a misconception that's common in technical SEO. And that's why I only came around to it slowly.

It's not the link itself that does the trick, although lots of retweets, etc, might be helpful. Instead it's the conversation itself that can spread and that attracts wider interest in your content. That entire process can spawn natural backlinks from others who are looking for interesting things to write about. It's "word of mouth" marketing, done digitally.

Especially once you've got a following, people who search social media for content in their areas of interest will see what you're offering - if you share it well.
8:41 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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And clear social recognition is a natural measure.

Can't that be abused too? Why not just tell a bunch of people to link to your site under a false pretense of say some kind of reward? Like the old tricky approach of "pass this email on (link to this site) to 20 friends and Bill Gates will pay you $$$$". Or how about actual paid links from social site users? I can hear the gears spinning already on "how can we beat this"? Word of mouth is great until it becomes PAID word of mouth, and how can Godzilla determine that?
8:45 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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People are already trying to abuse it. But it gets harder and harder all the time to make it look right.
8:48 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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@tedster - right you are! and whatever G is up to, I believe they'll make it so obscure, dynamic & convoluted that NOBODY can figure it out. But there will always be someone out there trying. Think of it as Google's version of "the meaning of life". lol
10:05 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Can't that be abused too? Why not just tell a bunch of people to link to your site under a false pretense of say some kind of reward? Like the old tricky approach of "pass this email on (link to this site) to 20 friends and Bill Gates will pay you $$$$". Or how about actual paid links from social site users? I can hear the gears spinning already on "how can we beat this"? Word of mouth is great until it becomes PAID word of mouth, and how can Godzilla determine that?


Watch the "mommy" and "food" blogger niches, you can "win" everything from kitchenaids, shoes, clothing, etc., just for retweeting, subscribing or linking to a twitter profile or blog post. Same with facebook "likes", blog posts, leaving blog comments (and one contest can generate hundreds, even thousands, of comments and links). That's been happening for at least 3 years now so I HOPE google is accounting for this incentivized social media "buzz".

Edit: adding subscription numbers are inflated too since if you subscribe to a blog or a twitter profile or a facebook profile, it counts as another "entry" into the contest.
10:40 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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The bad backlinks profile theory just doesn't sound right to me - It rather goes against the 'you can't do anything to damage your competitors sites' philosophy that Google has adopted.
11:02 pm on Sept 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

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@Tallon - you're right on target with human nature. There will always be some greedy, scammy sob to mess it up for the rest of us forcing Google to tighten the system up once again.
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