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Mysterious Traffic Drop



11:28 pm on Jun 11, 2014 (gmt 0)

I run a medium size site that does about 1.5 million unique visitors a month. This year, on the evening of 12th Feb, our google traffic suddenly plunged by more than 60% or so. As per WMT, our impressions were down from about 1.3 million daily impressions to about 200k. The drop in traffic was less due to our brand queries.
And the plunge brought in the usual panic, making us think, what did we do wrong? Nothing was to be found.
Then about 8 days later, on the evening of 20th Feb, everything came back to normal. On its own. We made a minor tweak on the site, but I doubt such a tweak would cause such a quick reversal in traffic drop.
Life went on smoothly with the usual ups and downs in traffic(less than 5 per cent variation from our expected levels) until the evening of 5th June. At about the same time, our Google traffic plunged, exactly in the same way. Our Analytics accounts shows almost similar levels of hourly traffic between the Feb days when the traffic plunged and the currently depressed levels.

I'm not sure if our site is a 'brand', but there are more than 100k queries on our site's name or some variation of it on Google every month. We never had any major Panda or Penguin problems in the past and our site is super clean with decent backlinks.

I'm at complete loss to understand why we would have such a dramatic plunge in Google traffic, especially on dates which don't overlap with the dates of any known algorithmic updates.

My own conjecture based on the previous plunge and recovery is that there was a bug in the update that was rolled out on 12th Feb that got fixed on the 20th Feb, causing our traffic to revert to normal levels. And possibly the bug got reintroduced into the newer version of some update that was run on 5th June. The bug theory is also corroborated by a few movie blogs (and possibly other sites too) that got hit on around Valentines' day and their traffic magically reappeared after Matt Cutts' intervention ten days later. Another thread on this forum discussed this issue in detail. Here's a detailed analysis of this issue:

We are down significantly in traffic and revenue, but we will survive based on the direct, branded and bing traffic.

Any theories, suggestions, ideas on what we can do? Anyone else experiencing similar declines/recoveries.

Martin Ice Web

12:16 pm on Jun 12, 2014 (gmt 0)

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OskarTerrazo and we saw the same mysterious Drops in traffic on the same Dates. Our and his traffic came back yesterday. I would say it is a g Problem. Give it a few days i bet our traffic will come back.

Robert Charlton

6:19 pm on Jun 12, 2014 (gmt 0)

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

Note that the OscarTerrazo WebmasterWorld discussion mentioned can be found here....

Having SEO problems. Lost on how to act
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4678499.htm [webmasterworld.com]

He noted mysterious recovery on June 12, 2014...
Well, for some arbitrary reason, yesterday our web recovered it's traffic and is showing up again high on searches. Really confused by what happened since the only thing I did was update the robot's sitemap and pretty much that's it.

menntarra 34

2:16 am on Jun 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

One of my sites had this 60% traffic drop on the 5th of June... No recovery yet. And i don't see any reason for the drop either.


4:47 am on Jun 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

Any idea on the types of sites that 'took over' such as buzzfeeds, prwebs, yahoo answers or niche forums? Are you seeing crm sites that heavily use bls from spbns?

Our g traffic has been in major flux lately on specific days. Other (6/7) days it returns to normal. Seemingly no correlation to mozcast.


5:07 am on Jun 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

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We also see 80% drop.. without any reason..


7:35 am on Jun 13, 2014 (gmt 0)

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One of my sites was slapped on the 21st May and regained all rankings on the 6th June...


7:47 am on Jun 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I am seeing only 4 pages when i check "Index" in my webmaster tool.. my previous index was more than 600000 pages..

can anyone confirm their index also?


12:18 pm on Jun 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

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

Tabish, that kind of a drop sounds like either a manual penalty or a technical problem.


1:09 pm on Jun 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

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netmeg - no buddy there is no manual penalty.. and everything is perfect at my server end too


11:17 pm on Jun 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

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We also see 80% drop.. without any reason

We see a huge drop on links in from ads and general search for the last month. One one site 3,000 down to 1,800 unique visitors per day is a radical drop.

Can I send Google a bill for loss of business?


7:53 pm on Jul 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

We saw a recovery starting at about 11 am Pacific time. Not quite 100%, but the massive obliteration that we witnessed is now reduced to a mere herbicide spray. We can surely recover from that on the strength of our offering.
But this was a harrowing 6 week period. It fundamentally questioned some of my life views and overall take on running a lifestyle business on the internet. More on some of these aspects later.
I'm not sure if this was a Panda data refresh or something done manually. to me, it looks more of a manual review.


8:26 pm on Jul 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I've experience this twice in the last year (actually experiencing it right now). Crash date was on September 14 or 15 2013 and full recover happened exactly 30 days later. This time the crash happened on June 27 or 28 depending on how close you were watching it. No recovery yet. People's stories about this kind of crash and recovery support the idea of a bug and subsequent fix implemented on some sort of schedule. It's like they're giving things a set period of time to percolate before adjusting or fixing them.


11:04 pm on Jul 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

We're suffering through something like this now. On July 15th, traffic dropped by 20% globally without warning. The only changes we've made are some minor additions to meta tags (og and twitter additions) and a pagination sort order preference from most recent -> most popular, but the traffic drop was so swift it's doubtful Google had time to absorb the changes, let alone penalize us.

Nonetheless, we restored the original pagination just in case.

Strangely, the largest traffic drops were Germany and France at 30% each.

Hope everyone affected recovers soon.


2:11 am on Jul 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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"Nonetheless, we restored the original pagination just in case."

I think this is one of the biggest mistakes many people make.

Google is trying to filter out people who want to game the system. Changing things back and forth will only get you on the naughy list.

If you make a change and are sure it will have a positive impact on your website's visitors, stick with it and sit out the ranking drop/dance.


2:24 am on Jul 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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My guess would be some of it's the AI [Artificial Intelligence] or AS [Artificial Stupidity], depending on your perspective, portion of the algo making changes and gauging visitor responses to those changes, then later reverting, adjusting, or rolling back changes rather than an actual "rollout, rollback" by Google's engineers.

Sometimes I think we forget, in an A[Letter] system an algo would likely adjust/change/readjust rankings without an actual update being rolled out by Google's engineers.


4:50 am on Jul 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

@Itanium: We were responding to user requests for default pagination. It never occurred that this would have a huge impact, considering that the pagination should have already been indexed in both directions. But I understand your comment about gaming the system; perhaps Google is misinterpreting the pagination switch as duplicate content.

What we haven't implemented yet is rel=prev / rel=next to tell Google which is the preferred pagination. Not sure what the SERP changes would be, and certainly for the moment we're leaving it alone.

Looking at our logs, Google spidering activity is twice the norm tonight across 3 different IPs.

"If you make a change and are sure it will have a positive impact on your website's visitors, stick with it and sit out the ranking drop/dance. "

We did a major redesign in the spring and Google penalized the heck out of us (responsive design, elimination of potentially brand-unsafe content) which we haven't come close to recovering from. 10 year old site, going from awful table-based AOL-era design to something modern. Sometimes you poke the sleeping bear, and the bear pokes back.

We hired a highly recommended SEO 'expert' so we didn't go into this blind and tried to follow their advice to the letter, with terrible results.


5:28 am on Jul 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

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My experience is, that changes almost always impact Google ranking, one way or the other. Sometimes Google is happy you changed, other times it's not. If you get penalized for any changes, it luckily won't be permanent. Algorithmic penatlies (or whatever you want to call them) also have some automatic timeout, from what I've seen. 30 days, 60 days, 90 days and so on... those are the timespans I have witnessed in the past for recoveries.

So I'd wait and see. I know it's hard - been there myself :) Only if there's no improvement after 6 months, I'd start changing things again. But like I said: Don't change something and change it back a couple of days/weeks later because your rankings dropped.

Check this out: [searchengineland.com...]
I'm pretty sure, that Google widened this behaviour and a huge redesign might as well get caught up in something like that. There's another patent which describes a similar technique for linking, if I'm not mistaken.


6:32 pm on Jul 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

@wondering : any improvements yet? Feeling your pain here.
@itanium : The waiting is the hardest part. Petty sure got that right.

Following up on our Google penalty, digging into the last two weeks of data, the bulk of the SERP drop came from these referrers:

google.de : 29% referrer drop
google.fr : 44% referrer drop
google.com : 10% referrer drop

While there's not a direct correlation, the resulting traffic changes in the following GEOs during the same time period looked like this:

Germany: 66% sessions drop
France: 66% sessions drop
US: 42% sessions drop

It's been pretty apparent for over a year and a half that a lot of our "Unknown" referrers are still google, which may explain the huge discrepancy above.

One of the biggest changes we made was to our galleries: We have a fair amount people/gadget/etc related images titled along the lines of "Sept 2013 EVENT at LOCATION" or even far more obscure like "12415125 S 123" depending on the source. There are a large number of images, and little related for any given image aside from the description and a bit of bio data where appropriate.

There was a provision in our code that prepended the related person or subject matter's name to the description (checking to ensure the name was not found in the description already), so the above might change from:

"Sept 2013 EVENT at LOCATION"
to "Google Glass Sept 2013 EVENT at LOCATION"

... but the code was broken. We fixed the bug around the same time as the July penalty, transforming alt tags and descriptions across the board.

It seemed like a good idea to have the appropriate name attached to each piece of content if it wasn't included already. Could this be a algo spam penalty?

Any suggestions on appropriate SEO for images? Most of our reading comes from outdated articles on moz and the like. Our work with SEO professionals thus far has been disastrous.


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