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Using Google Analytics to detect a penalty?



5:51 pm on Apr 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I'd like to get people's opinions on how one might use Google Analytics to detect Google penalties.

My site is well-established and focuses on a sport. I have been tracking my traffic daily since 1998 via log stats, and implemented Google Analytics on July 1, 2013. I was negatively affected by Google from April 24, 2013 until October 12 2013, when I recovered.

I won't get into details unless someone wants to hear them, but I think that I'm seeing evidence that Google is sending me less traffic again. My question is, what are some techniques to analyze this?

One thing I did was to use Segments within Google Analytics to create a "Google" versus a "Not Google" segment. I then compared last week's traffic to the same period a month earlier. The Not Google number of uniques was down by 5%. The Google number of uniques was down by 15%.

I also use Wikipedia referrals as a benchmark, since I get 100-200 of them per hour. Since Wikipedia generally holds the top spot on the kinds of searches that people use to get to my site, I use it to estimate demand in a topic. Wikipedia uniques are down by 5%, which matches the "Not Google" segment.

Are there other techniques I could use? Since Google has baked Panda updates into its general algorithm, the lack of a sudden dropoff date makes it harder to detect negative algorithm impacts.

[edited by: tedster at 6:39 pm (utc) on Apr 16, 2013]
[edit reason] removed specifics [/edit]


6:51 pm on Apr 16, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

First, I assume those dates should be 2012. Is that correct?

Next, small traffic changes such as 5% down or up can be extremely challenging to analyze. For example, it can be that rankings changed for just a few locations. It can be that the Google Suggestions drop down changed. It can be that other sites were given a promotion for some reason and your rankings drop was a side effect. These factors are almost impossible to nail down.

If you can zero in on specific keywords whose traffic changed, then you might have something a bit more actionable. If you find a keyword that shows a major traffic drop, then that could be a keyword-specific penalty and you could investigate further. One keyword's major drop could generate an overall 5% drop.


12:54 am on Apr 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Yes tedster, sorry, it should be 2012.

I hear what you're saying about plus or minus 5%, but I was trending +45% over Jan 2012, +25% over Feb 2012, and +35% over Mar 2012. A 5% drop in Apr 2013 is more significant when you compare to +35% trend in March - it is like a -40%.

Keyword analysis is hard because a my traffic has two components; long-tail and sports figures who become newsworthy (maybe because of a trade or a big performance). It is very hard to perform analysis on the long-tail queries because each term is too sporadic to have a pattern. It is very hard to perform analysis on the top performers because the traffic is tied to external publicity that the player receives and this is too variable.

I have been trying to define segments of visitors in Analytics to try and see what has changed, but I haven't hit on anything major yet except what appears to be a general 10% drop from Google. For example, I defined a two-part segment (defined as a particular page and with a source of Google) and compare last week to the first week in March, and then I change it to exclude the source of Google (i.e. it is effectively "Not Google") and I'm seeing some differences.

I'm hoping someone has a good Analytics technique they can share.

Since my site is well established, the Google impact is clouded by direct traffic and other referrers. What puzzles me is that even when I had the penalty applied, the percentage of organic/direct/referral was similar - about 60-65% organic, 22-25% direct, and 10-15% referral. There was a small shift, from 15% to 10%, when my penalty was lifted, but despite my traffic ranging from 40k uniques to 120k uniques on various days, the percentages don't move much at all. I find that really weird.


5:17 am on Apr 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

You can compare weeks or days in GA,the traffic counter is first that will alert you.

How did you recovered from that penalty, what changes have you made and what was the reason of that penatly in your opinion? (i suppose is Panda?)


5:22 am on Apr 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

There's a chrome plugin you can install that will overlay specific algorithm & holiday dates on your GA charts.


2:00 pm on Apr 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Rowtc, my site has a lot of time series fluctuations and a good chunk of traffic based on external events so it is very hard to analyze by doing basic period comparisons. I'm looking for more sophisticated techniques. I suspect that Segment Analysis could do the trick, but I am still gaining experience with it, and it's all hunt and peck for me right now.

Ideally, I'd like a button that said "your traffic is down specifically because of a 75% dropoff in Canadian mobile users who are arriving via Google search via your team pages". I know that's not going to happen automatically, but I bet there are techniques to cull that information out of Analytics.

I don't know why my site was penalized but I have zero doubt that the penalty hit on April 24 and the penalty was lifted on Oct 12. The search impression graphs on WMT are absolutely clear on that. The dates suggest Penguin but other things suggest Panda.

I did the following things:
  • Introduced better site navigation with breadcrumb links on most pages.

  • Consolidated some pages to create fatter pages.

  • Did original research and added textual information to various league and team pages, maybe about 24 to 36 such pages that have the most complete information on the topic of any page on the internet (I focused on more obscure teams and leagues since trying to out-rank Wikipedia in a mainstream topic is futile).

  • Changed page titles to be more informative and changed H1 elements to be more descriptive and to remove internal links (that was part of the old site navigation).

  • Removed significant advertising so that there is now no more than 2 ads per page, in many cases just one and sometimes zero (if the content is thinner).

  • Put "noindex" on some pages such as search results or stub pages that had little or no content.

  • Solved a bunch of duplicate title/description problems, such as when two players or teams have the same name.

  • Added more text to player search results with a “suggested [internal] links” section.

  • Put in removal requests for thousands of infrastructure-type pages that shouldn’t have been indexed.

  • Fixed situation where a calendar-type link allowed Google to infinitely crawl non-existent pages which still returned 200 code (like requesting a season for the year 1492).

  • Fixed site architecture bug whereby valid content was returned even though site gave 404 code.

  • Included a canonical tag on pages so that a slightly different query string would not make it appear as though there were multiple pages.

  • Put rel=nofollow on the 10-12 links on my links page even though the links were organic, and not the result of paid placement or link exchanges.

  • Added noindex, nofollow meta tags to VBulletin section of site except for the index and post pages, blocking duplicate content such as archive pages or printable pages.

  • Upgraded VBulletin to latest version so that all embedded links from users are rel=nofollow.

  • Removed hidden spam that users had put on VBulletin (in user private messages, an area I didn’t even know existed). Also put in moderation of new users to keep spammers out.

  • Completely blocked a development domain which had some (but not many) pages indexed in Google - duplicating pages on my main server. Removed the development domain from Google via WMT.

  • Requested some backlinking forum sites where my site is linked like a blogroll to remove the links. That had resulted in link profiles such as 25,000 links to a single page on my site. Not all have removed the links though.

  • As always, added plenty more content, focusing on biographical information on hundreds of players so that the information about them is more than just a name (it now includes birthdate, birthplace, height, weight, and position). Site is constantly being updated with new information, for example, the stats from teams from about 30 different leagues for the current season, updated daily (something Wikipedia doesn’t have – very current data).

  • Added rich snippets to the player page, so that each player is marked up as a “Person” from schema.org.

  • I have a widget-type javascript tool where someone can embed stats from my site on their own site - with links to my site - I changed all links in the widget to nofollow with the exception of one link which points back to the player’s page on my site (since the code snippet is placed organically).

Of course, now that my traffic has returned, I'm overly paranoid about it disappearing again. Since Panda is now a "baked-in" algorithm, that makes it hard to detect when you're hit by it since it runs all the time. After being +30% for March and each day a minimum of +12% and a max of +65%, I'm getting nervous because in the past 7 days my numbers have ranged from -6% to +11% with an average of 0% compared to last year.


2:24 pm on Apr 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member netmeg is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

You need to do a combination of custom segments and intelligence alerts.



3:14 pm on Apr 17, 2013 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Aha, that is in the direction towards what I was looking for. I will play around with that, thanks!

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