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Google's Secret Updates Leave Small Sites Scrambling

     

mrengine

4:37 pm on Jun 23, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Whether you're a start-up, family-owned, or publicly traded, there's danger in letting your business rely too heavily on Google search for site traffic.

While the updates are targeted at bad actors, for people like Stradley, who aren't trying to game the system, they can be devastating. At 72, Stradley works at least eight hours a day and relies on the income from her website and its more than 3,000 pages. In trying to rebuild her position on Google, she's working with a software consulting firm to migrate her ancient program to WordPress and improve her search engine optimization (SEO). She says the costs will be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

[cnbc.com...]

lucy24

5:17 am on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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"relies on the income from her website" To live a lavish retirement?

That bit got me too. If a given activity is your primary source of income-- no matter what the activity is, no matter how large or small the income-- then you are not retired.

Robert Charlton

6:45 am on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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The site appears to be virtually all dupe content... anywhere from a half dozen to five hundred exact copies of almost all of the sentences I searched, more if you allow for occasional word substitution. It's just not clear whose was first. Did some college of agriculture scrape her, or did she scrape the college's site? Or was it sometimes one, sometimes the other? Whatever else might have happened, it's probable that the site has been scraped to death.

Things get messier when some of the dupes provide keyword links to the mother site (assuming it is the mother site), in a fashion not too different from a lot of linking within the site. I haven't looked deeply enough to tell whether this is typical of her backlinks.

The site is excessively cross-linked internally, and the structure is hard to sort out. It's like there's every conceivable method of grouping pages together... by region, by ingredient, alphabetically, and by keyword. Many of the pages also often go on way too long, with no focus and lots of fluff. Etc.

Many cooking sites I've seen lean toward the chaotic with their navigation structures, and this one is byzantine. The site is more attractive than most, and I have no doubt she worked hard on it. With regard to content, it's not clear from the article, which probably does her a disservice, whether she understood fair use, or was a victim of her own popularity in Google.

Planet13

2:18 pm on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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"Many cooking sites I've seen lean toward the chaotic with their navigation structures, and this one is byzantine."


+1 Robert Charlton

The site is something of a mess.

If I landed on there, I would probably leave pretty quickly.

There are much more user-friendly recipe sites out there.

icedowl

3:59 pm on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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One of my sites is a recipe site that's now over 14 years old. And in all these years I had never heard of her site until this thread was started. If it's all that good/popular I have a hard time believing that I've never seen it in the serps nor have I ever seen references to it at any of the cooking forums I've visited or been a part of. Another puzzle is that it's stated that the site was started in 1997, yet I also see a start date of 2004. It can't be both.

How likely is it that over the years she's not learned enough coding to make a switch to WP (or another, better CMS) by herself? And using a consulting firm for any purpose just boggles my mind.

simplo

4:33 pm on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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How likely is it that over the years she's not learned enough coding to make a switch to WP (or another, better CMS) by herself? And using a consulting firm for any purpose just boggles my mind.


She's pretty old buddy [72 yrs], it's hard to learn new things for the older generation. It's a bit strange that she doesn't have someone to help her with the backend stuff after doing it for so many years.

icedowl

5:06 pm on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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At 72 she's only 5 years older than myself. It's not that hard to learn especially when it has to do with a source of income. It might take us a little bit longer but not by much. Maybe only an hour longer.

and don't call me Buddy

simplo

5:15 pm on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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and don't call me Buddy


I knew that was coming :)

5 years is a big difference. 5 years ago my father could remember things the first time, now I have to explain to him multiple times how to check his voicemail even though he has it written down. He's 72 as well.

Despite using the internet for over 10 years he doesn't know anything beyond opening a browser and skype. Should he know how to code a browser just because he's been using one for 10 years? No.

piatkow

5:25 pm on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Another puzzle is that it's stated that the site was started in 1997, yet I also see a start date of 2004. It can't be both.

I wonder what the start date for the site that I currently run should be stated as? The domain pointed to a site on a different web host for several years before I took over.

brotherhood of LAN

5:28 pm on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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>domain age

WHOIS says 2002-01-03

Lame_Wolf

5:36 pm on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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The number of visitors to the site, which had reached around 5 million a month, was suddenly down by 44 percent, cutting ad earnings by 56 percent.
For one, she isn't suppose to talk about earnings, and she also breaks the Adsense TOS in a number of places.

"America's most popular cooking web site"... false claims too.

EditorialGuy

5:54 pm on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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So who picked up the traffic that this site lost?

netmeg

5:55 pm on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Please allow for some journalistic hyperbole; it might not have all come from her. I've been interviewed more than once where the newspaper or magazine got it totally wrong and made themselves and me sound like blithering idiots.

nomis5

10:58 pm on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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If I landed on there, I would probably leave pretty quickly.

There are much more user-friendly recipe sites out there.


You miss the point of a recipe site. You go there for the recipe, you may take a look around for a couple more ideas and then leave.

User friendly is not the key factor as far as viewers are concerned, In fact some element of disorganisation may well help viewers keep delving.

The key problem with this site is that it has no kudos for the younger generation who are quickly becoming the middle aged generation. The site has no celebrity status, just plain good information.

icedowl

11:11 pm on Jun 25, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Did anyone else happen to look at the source code? From what I saw (Mso codes) it was created in Microsoft Word or something very much like that. It's not responsive either so the traffic drop is not too surprising with the heavy use of tablets & phones these days. She really does need to do something for the site to survive much longer.

Jane_Doe

3:15 am on Jun 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Too bad that it sounds like she didn't invest her Adsense earnings of prior years to live off the investment income in retirement, instead of expecting the earnings to never drop.

sahm

4:49 am on Jun 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I actually met this woman several years ago at one of the Adsense publisher get-together's in Seattle and we had a good visit. She did not hide the fact that all of her site's traffic came from Google. My site is similar to hers so we had a lot in common. My site is also about the same age as hers. My site, however, was hit by the first round of Panda, and did not recover until May of this year. I feel sorry for her because her site was never affected until now but it unfortunately was going to happen sooner or later. I have spent the past several years building up my presence on Pinterest, which has been time well spent. Now the extra traffic from Google is just icing on the cake. It is too bad no one warned her that the free ride would eventually end.

tangor

5:14 am on Jun 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I think we can all agree (now) that the link bait title was a red herring... that this is a an examination of a single website report, how it was operated, and exploring the possible failures and potential changes which might have avoided the article in the first place?

No matter how we look at this, grandma got screwed by the algo... and we still don't know what caused that. With all the chatter, we still do not know.

Andem

6:44 pm on Jun 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I know I sounded harsh on the last page, but it's my honest opinion and initial reaction. After looking closer at the code, it's a big mess.

The problem for her is that content is only half of the equation and I don't have the time to judge the recipes on the site, except that they look alright with illustrations. On user experience, that's probably where the site fails.

>> No matter how we look at this, grandma got screwed by the algo

Or you could look at it that some other site(s) with a better user experience and compliant code rightfully gained.

I still stand by my criticism of this CNBC story and the claim that it should cost tens of thousands to migrate to WordPress. To that, I have two words: Regular Expressions.

breeks

7:31 pm on Jun 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I think a name change is in order

From Panda 4.0 to Screw Grandma 1.0

lucy24

8:51 pm on Jun 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

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To that, I have two words: Regular Expressions.

I'm going to print this in 96-point type and post it on the wall over my computer.

Planet13

9:33 pm on Jun 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

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@ sahm

"I have spent the past several years building up my presence on Pinterest, which has been time well spent."


How does one build up their presence on Pintrest?

I admit that I am behind the times in terms of social media.

brotherhood of LAN

9:38 pm on Jun 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

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@Planet13, sounds like that's for another thread in the Pinterest forum, feel free to update your post with a link to the thread if you decide to make it.

Planet13

9:57 pm on Jun 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

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You are correct, BOL. Will do.

Saffron

10:14 pm on Jun 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

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@Planet13, sounds like that's for another thread in the Pinterest forum, feel free to update your post with a link to the thread if you decide to make it.


Yes, please do. I would be really interested to know too.

MikeNoLastName

1:18 am on Jun 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

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I don't see why G wastes so much time and effort trying to guess what the true searcher wants and thus constantly changing algos just because the BHs have figured them out. Just because I search for widgets, red widgets or even a certain model of widget doesn't mean I want to BUY one or read reviews as it seems they assume, maybe I just want to see what famous people own one like I do. The way G is set up currently, it's HARD to search for THAT! Besides the obvious fact that G is trying to absorb (aka scrape) all the knowledge out there and serve it itself to avoid paying out for adsense ads, as others mentioned, I think they need to take the rest of our page results that they haven't decided to scrape yet, and which precisely match the search terms (without presumption of searchers intent) and just "randomize them" in the results. Every single time anyone searches for the same keywords they get a different set of, more or less, related results say from what is now the top 150 results. But almost never the same results on page one or definitely not in first position especially for anything less than say 3 or 4 keywords. Therefore, if people actually learned to do proper searches like used to be taught in information science classes (e.g. A and (B or C) but not D) G's algo would become practically irrelevant. Ebay search seems to work rather efficiently on this basis (despite the fact that everyone IS likely looking to buy in that case.) The more specific (i.e. "long tail") terms you enter the more accurate the results for your need and the more obviously bad results G would weed out. Less specific, single word terms would return mostly random rubbish... as they should! BH'rs would have a very hard time coming up with specific pages for every set of possible terms (which would get exponentially greater) and have practically no incentive to do so since even if they match precisely, there's no guarantee they'll be on the top page more often than anyone else.

tangor

2:00 am on Jun 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

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Therefore, if people actually learned to do proper searches like used to be taught in information science classes


Sadly, that's not going to happen. G AND Bing have it right as far as serving results. They have a clue what the idiots want, and give it to them. As for the concept of "taking all we have and rotating it" is pretty close to some tacky jokes involving an extended finger. That just will NOT happen. After all, their (SE's) business is to MATCH and RETURN the QUERY as best possible.

These days, however, one need go no further than the SERP for many simple answers... and simple has been dang difficult for all of us from day one. Simple as in "keyword", "widget", "place"...

The landscape has changed, the SE's are "getting smarter", and in the process our content is slowly becoming their "best find response for the user query, see here..."

Will that lead to a click to our site(s)?

That seems to be the question.

As for Grandma... There's enough evidence that she didn't keep up with the times, or actually made any effort to capture new market reach. Quite possible she was just shot down by others a bit more gun-slinger in their websites (think "kewl!"). However, since everything g does is "secret", even when they "tell" us what they are doing (no pictures or manuals provided) we can only guess.

Sgt_Kickaxe

3:45 am on Jun 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

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If she can't generate a very solid monthly profit on that kind of traffic she's not trying very hard to make money with it, even adsense's recommendations would generate significant revenue from a half million monthly visitors. $10,000+ for a wordpress conversion? 8 hours of reading wordpress literature and she'd be a semi-pro at it like everyone else.

"I've never seen anything like this and I had no idea it was going to happen,"

She claims 17 years of working online which makes "never" seem like a strong word. Except for a spike to 1.2M visits during one month it seems to have been steady at 600k-800k per month for a year.

She also says that Google used to reach out to her, proactively providing SEO recommendations.

The article is linkbait, possibly paid linkbait, in my opinion. You'll notice that the article mentions that each of the examples pays a company to help generate social exposure.... yeah. full stop.

iammeiamfree

11:09 am on Jun 27, 2014 (gmt 0)



Looking at the code on that site it suggests to me that the recent update could have had something to do with code quality. This site does have a bunch of missing tags and the font tags probably are not helping. In my own niche I have had similar thoughts about a really well coded css site moving up recently.

On a side note whats cooking america = google :)

Lame_Wolf

1:20 pm on Jun 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

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would generate significant revenue from a half million monthly visitors.
I wonder if she is getting visitors mixed up with hits. Time and time again I hear "we have x amount of hits per month" and think that is the same as the amount of visitors.

mcneely

3:10 pm on Jun 27, 2014 (gmt 0)

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So I went in and took a look

Doesn't look any better or worse than webmasterworld does, so I'm guessing that all of the geek cooks visit that site, just like all of the geek webmasters visit this one.

The style/layout is spot on for 2001-02 - code needs a bit of work and formatted, but beyond that, I'm not seeing a problem other than G just messing about with it.

I gave the link to my dear Wife as a matter of fact, because this sort of thing interests her. She likes to cook things for some strange reason.

I'm also pretty sure that with that link on CNBC, her traffic will get right on back up there ..

I just hope she doesn't go off and do something stupid like getting rid of any of her content for the sake of WP - Older sites are sort of like older cars - If they aren't broken, then don't fix them. (I'll cite Webmasterworld as an example)

All of the pages are static, that I can see, so she must be busying herself fairly frequently to keep it all in order.
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