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Google ZOMBIE Traffic Observations

     
1:39 pm on Oct 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Mods Note: Split out of the October 2015 Monthly Observation thread into a separate Zombie Traffic Thread
---------------------------------
Sunday morning, usually banging away, but nothing but slow moving Zombie traffic, one or two at a time and sitting on the same pages for several minutes. Switch is currently OFF.
Still in decline. No sign of any seasonal upswing, which is way overdue.

[edited by: aakk9999 at 7:08 pm (utc) on Oct 19, 2015]

10:22 am on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Mods Note:Quote is from Google Updates and SERP Changes - Oct 2015 [webmasterworld.com] Msg #4770689
If you have studied the short history of Google update Orangutan, you might have noticed that, once (or maybe twice) a week, it use to send healthy-traffic (not Zombie) to the sites which have lost part of their traffic since around 2nd September 2015.

^ I'm going with Tuesday.

Great predictions reseller and samwest. I see today so far Google has sent us zombie traffic from countries we don't ship to. What is absent is traffic from countries that we do ship to. When the on/off switch is going to be flipped is getting more predictable by the week. I could tell Google was going to shut traffic down just by the adwords coupon voucher I received in the mail yesterday. Google must be hard pressed for money because they sent me one by email too. Google traffic always drops hard and fast shortly after getting Adwords vouchers. Is this form of manipulation even legal?

[edited by: aakk9999 at 5:21 pm (utc) on Oct 19, 2015]

10:35 am on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@glakes No it's not legal. That type of abuse is the basis of the Competition Commission of India's charges against Google as Google are allegedly manipulating both organic and paid results to its advantage.
11:06 am on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@ Simon H
I liken what Google is doing with cutting off traffic timed with Adwords vouchers to the water department shutting off your water and trying to sell you jugs of bottled water right after the shutoff occurs. This appears highly unethical and is a form of strong arm sales tactics IMO.
12:10 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Just a note to reseller: I did not get the predicted "love" on Monday. I did however get two ON periods with the odd "dual" conversion within 5 minutes of each other, then OFF the rest of the day. Could they make their manipulation any more obvious? Today seeing scratch...long zero runs again. Google image search for my own images clicks through to clickbank affiliates...still.

UPDATE: not one hit in the last 30 minutes.
12:49 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I have an ecommerce site that sees the same things samwest, reseller and others here have noted here. Zombie traffic, far and few between periods of 'good' traffic where conversions noticeably improve, then mostly more zombie traffic. It has been this way for 2 years. And for this site, it wasn't Sept. 2nd, it was around Sept. 25th that visits decreased. But still there is this back and forth with zombie traffic and good traffic. Most of the time it is horrible zombie traffic unfortunately.

Another thing I notice is that with this site we are trying to get the bounce rate down. So every day I look at the GA bounce rate (I know this is not the best bounce rate to look at but it at least allows us to see really 'bad' pages that have a 100% bounce rate.) What is weird is that there are days that the total site's bounce rate jumps by 50% or even 100% from the day before. Same site, same pages, but this changes dramatically. This tells me that the traffic is obviously the changing variable.

My questions are:

1. Why are certain sites 'caught' in this torturous pattern? What exactly is causing these sites to get mostly zombie traffic?

2. Why is google even doing this? Why not just decrease the visits instead of decreasing the 'good' traffic it sends?

3. How can sites like this break free and only get the 'good' traffic?
1:28 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@aok88 - great questions, but unfortunately I have few answers, only the obvious assumptions. The late Tedster (as long as we're talking about him recently, which I think he'd appreciate) seemed to think these sites are in some sot of "test pool". Perhaps because of their age? Perhaps because their content is so compelling and authoritative, but G "needs" to push them back with a specialized algo switch to make room for ad network partners ....who knows. I guess the only way to even start an analysis would be to compare those sites affected and find some common denominators. My site is 15 years old, is now on CMS (switched in 2014 from html sales pages and WP blog to all WP) is an ecom of sorts and is located in the US. My decline started in 2010. That's not nearly enough for comparison, but I think the ecom is key as I don't see MFA's complaining much.
1:56 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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but I think the ecom is key


Maybe ecom is the key in determining "good" traffic from bad. If one is not an ecom site maybe "zombie" traffic is not all that discernible from regular traffic.

Something that has been discussed in the past, and something that I believe to be true, is how google uses their perception of user intent with matching searchers to search results. To do this they would have to put websites into "buckets" along with searcher intent: transactional, informational, navigational. For this discussion, navigational really does not come into play.
So, if this is the case, websites that see steady traffic with distinct periods of on/off ecom transaction may be teetering in between google buckets, sometimes google sees your site as informational and sometimes transactional.
We see this on our site, periods of good, converting traffic and periods of non converting traffic. During the periods of non converting traffic we see an increase in the number of visitors that contact us with general informational questions about our industry (not about specific products).
2:38 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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So, if this is the case, websites that see steady traffic with distinct periods of on/off ecom transaction may be teetering in between google buckets, sometimes google sees your site as informational and sometimes transactional.


I have heard that theory before and it is a good one, definitely makes sense. In fact, because of that (and other reasons) we've made this site a lot more commerce-looking than informational, and actually noindexed the blog too (did this mainly because it had such bad user stats), so that all the pages are selling pages. It has made no difference at all.

The site is ecommerce, 11 years old, every page has original content. It's gone from 11k pages 6 months ago to 5k pages because we noindexed all bad-performing pages. And this too has had NO discernible effect. So frustrating. Although I heard that the last Panda took 18 months of site data into account (rumor), so if that is the case, our recent noindexing would not have helped that much.
2:54 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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every page has original content

content==information?

noindexed all bad-performing pages

I think I remember that google still crawls no-indexed page and collect data from them, could that data still be used to place a website in a bucket, don't know.
3:00 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@aok88 @Shepherd If you have a blog that's of such little value that you're noindexing it, you should just get rid of it ASAP and 410 the pages. Panda et al theoretically ignore noindexed pages, but no-one knows for sure, so if you're trying to recover from Panda and you really don't need those pages, just get rid of them. Better for users. Better for Google.
4:16 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I have read over and over that a way to get out of Panda is to either improve, delete or noindex bad-performing pages. That is the first time I heard Panda counts them if they are noindexed.

@Shepard - where did you hear that google still crawls no-indexed pages and collect data from them?
6:30 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I'm in absolute awe today of the precision "signup page avoidance" that is going on. Every page of my site has a link in the top right sidebar to join the site, and when "normal", "natural" human traffic is on the site, they all check out the link, perhaps out of morbid curiosity. Usually it's hit at rate of about 1 of 10 clicks. So far today it's more link 1 in 500 clicks. Awesome precision G. Pure Zombies.
6:57 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Hello!

I signed up specifically for this thread (and september thread) I do SEO work for a few small businesses and at least one of these is suffering all of the above symptoms. (FYI: I consider conversions for this business model to be contact submissions for consultation)

- Started on around Sept 2 and showed same fluctuations in late Sept as others
- Traffic numbers not all that different but very few conversions (Almost zero)
- Conversions sometimes coming in pairs
- Real human traffic (converting traffic) is coming in waves and is almost predictable
- Someone referred to it as buckets overflowing into other buckets, I like this analogy - I think it fits somehow
- Last night had a flurry of traffic, no conversions

I know what Iíve posted is of little help to anyone, I just wanted to voice my disgust with Google and the helplessness felt when G has no transparency or at least hints as to how I can help improve the situation.
7:17 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@wgchris Wow. Exactly the same here with traffic last night. I'm reluctant to jump to conclusions about this sort of thing because people often see what they want to see based on what they read. But there does appear to be significant evidence and many examples here of huge drops in conversion rates during September.
9:21 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I think that we all see the same non converting long periods of traffic. Sudden surges with good traffic and conversions for a very short time. What i don'tt realy understaand is, that the seps during the good traffic periods seems not to have changed. Not in a drastic way that would be a explanation for the. better traffic. So what causes this change in traffic?
Is it google shuts down personalization for a short time?
Is it the suggestions that changes?

My guess is personalization is shut off. I guess this because before panda we sold a item in big amount every day. We had spot 1 for this key. In this times we sell this item once or twice a month. Although we are still at spot 1. so it must be that other users must see other sources to buy this item.


Sidenote: today amazon expulsed apple tv and google chromecast out of marketplace. It is not longer allowed for resellers to sell this items in germany on amazon.
When is google to end the amazon biased serps? While get kicked from amazon in the ...
9:53 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I see the same predictable swings in Google zombie traffic that everyone else is seeing. With no communication from Google, and their lack of transparency, I can only speculate that they are diverting quality traffic in a way that they can monetize the best. Different industries may give Google different ways to monetize their organic traffic or this could be the beginning of weaning webmasters off of free organic traffic. Who really knows except for Google. But I will say these traffic patterns are highly suspicious. With the enormous impact Google has on the broader economy, this warrants further investigation by regulators.
10:20 pm on Oct 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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This has NOTHING to do with any updates, quality, back links or otherwise. I'd tend to agree more with mrengine and who ever suggested the bucket analogy. First of all it's been happening for MUCH longer than we are reporting here, it's just become much more widespread. It's also come to the point of shutting sites down completely for hours, days or soon enough, weeks. In fact, it might not be due to Google at all!
With nothing but a black box to examine, I guess we need to observe the obvious. Google's profits are up, so yes, it's likely a mechanism that targets buying traffic and redirects it as they desire. The small gaps where we are "thrown a bone" may be switches in data sets or simply them actually throwing us a virtual bone.
There could be other causes, perhaps a network problem with IP4 running out and poor IP6 implementation (unlikely but possible), or maybe something as sinister as PRISM controlling traffic...after all, look at the acronym... "Planning Tool for Resource Integration, Synchronization, and Management". At this point, who knows and honestly, who cares anymore, it's out of our hands. The "free" internet is dead.
1:21 am on Oct 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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My rankings seem to have gone up from the major hit I took about 2 weeks ago. My keywords have returned to their usual spots... however, converting traffic is still low. This was the site that is still penalized under Penguin (although disavows have been submitted and links have been removed). I don't think "free" internet is dead, but I also mentioned at SER that it's completely possible that they are diverting traffic that converts to places where they will make a profit. I don't believe that our profits would disappear like that without a very good plan to recoup their losses due to ad blockers, other search engines becoming more popular because they are defaulted on new browsers/computers, facebook etc. I would suggest they had taken a massive hit this year and are taking last resort measures to maintain their "growth". I pray that it eventually implodes on them and webmasters will stop trying to please them within the next 5 years and move onto greener pastures.
3:49 am on Oct 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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IMHO, any manipulation designed to divert traffic away from one party to another for profit of the other negates a "free" internet. Clearly, they want it all. My apologies if anyone is offended. I'm simply disgusted.
8:39 am on Oct 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Talking about possibility of Google manipulation of its organic traffic which some of you have hinted at or suggested, I just wish to draw your attention to the followings:

EU Files Formal Antitrust Charges Against Google (April 2015)
European Union regulators formally accused Google of violating the bloc's antitrust laws by abusing its dominance of online search
[wsj.com...]

Europe Challenges Google, Seeing Violations of Its Antitrust Law (April 2015)
Margrethe Vestager, the European Unionís competition commissioner, accused Google of distorting Internet search results and began an antitrust investigation into its Android mobile operating system.
[nytimes.com...]
9:02 am on Oct 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Come on guys let's stop the conspiracy theories on this thread. The minute Google starts serving too many ads, the minute people are flocking to Bing. Ask around anyone who isn't a webmaster if they are aware of what Google Ads are and they will not only tell you that they know how to distinguish them but that they will also tell you that they see Google as sneaky and greedy for trying to blend the ads on search results with the rest of results. Google knows this, I know this and you know this. Google is walking a fine line with their ads and their search engine when it comes to end users so I doubt that they're going to be doing all the stuff some of you are theorizing to try to leech more money.

That doesn't mean that Google will play with their ad placements or that they will rotate organically listed websites for the same terms to get a better idea of which one is clicked through the most (they do this so as to serve the best organic search results, not to lock you at 56 visitors per day or whatever number you've come up with). Come on gents, throttling/bucket-ing/sandbox/zombie traffic etc? Stand back for a second and read through objectively at some of the crazy stuff some of you are writing (I can fully understand the desperation and such making you get out of focus and reality). I can easily explain the zombie traffic some of you are reporting because I get the same (hint, scrapers acting as humans -loading JS- and bots made to click on sites with the belief that this will increase their ranking-they click on your site to make it less obvious which site it is that they are targeting). I'm not even a SEO or know about coding but I see this every day and all I do is block range of IPs belonging to server farms like Unified Layer.

There's an update going on or there has been update going on recently. We know Panda is rolling out still. Penguin will do soon. The only thing here that we're all fedup -and have a reason to- is that Google remains silent with what's going on and leaves 2 guys (Mueller and Illyes) who aren't even in the Search Quality team. I know for a fact that one team at Google has no idea of what the other teams are doing, that's why for example Matt Cutts had to get a written response from the GA team -their head manager- to tell us that Google does NOT use GA data to rank one's website (and there goes out the window all the silly bounce rate and other UX stuff that the gooroos keep selling to the starry eyed wannabe webmastesr).

For those of you using Adwords. It's a fact that Google has an internal ranking to grade different ads/landing pages. It's as easy as a new competitor appearing out of nowhere and bidding for your keywords and having a better ad or page. This itself can too affect organic traffic (more people clicking on ads). We're in October and sellers are prepping up for Christmas so I've no doubts that more Adwords bidding is taking place since late September.
9:24 am on Oct 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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A few points to consider when coming up with theories:
1. The same zombie traffic/reduced CR is happening on paid as well as organic. Google would be really dumb to do that intentionally because the correct response to a lower value-per-click is to drop bids, not increase them. So the most likely outcome would be Google making a loss.
2. Of course, the above argument doesn't apply if you're not on paid, so it could be argued Google is trying to drive shops to use paid. But I still think that this would be such an obvious and provable manipulation of results, that Google are unlikely to be doing it (intentionally - see point 6). Google are on the record saying that conversion rate should not change based on position in paid SERPs. So whether rankings increase or decrease, CR should stay constant even if click volume changes. Yes, there will be seasonal fluctuations and if your site changes or your products change or Google's UI changes, CR will change as the user will react differently. But if none of those things have changed yet there is a sudden change in CR, it strongly suggests something is up on Google's side.
3. I'm pretty sure there was an organic algo update around 15th September, but I don't think that accounts for what most of us are talking about here. I think we're seeing more than just an organic update as it's something fluid with (almost) predictable good days and the rest silly days.
4. I totally agree with the 'Google works with buckets'/user intent theory; you can see this by the fact that some SERPs show adwords, some don't, some show images, some don't, etc. So Google is definitely considering user intent. But if this was playing a part in the reduced CR, you would expect to see significantly different bounce rates, session duration, etc on good vs bad days. We're not seeing this. Is anyone else?
5. @samwest makes an excellent point that this might not even (just) be Google at all. This is where I'm veering. This feels very much like something external that Google is incapable of dealing with. For example, very well disguised bots or 100s of real people in a low-wage country with spoofed IPs running endless searches for some unknown reason. Or some new OS/browser failing to render pages correctly.
6. I'm not a conspiracy theorist and I don't look at Google as an evil entity where every employee is out to help Google destroy the world. I personally think that most search disasters like this one are caused by Google struggling technically or, to be blunt, technical incompetence. They regularly admit it themselves, committed dates are always missed, promised updates get withdrawn. The data in GSC is a joke, merchant center is so bug-ridden it's unbelievable and rarely does a week go by without SER reporting some problem with a Google tool. I'm hoping that what we're seeing now is Google screwing up again because it means that it should get fixed at some point.
9:35 am on Oct 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@Kratos I just saw your comment after publishing mine and they're not too dissimilar. Only point I would make about your last paragraph is that changes in position based on competitors should not change the conversion rate, just the number of impressions and number of clicks. So that wouldn't account for what people are seeing.
10:25 am on Oct 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I have no doubt in my mind that Google is manipulating traffic, and if this were indeed an update then we would not be able to predict when zombie traffic would arrive and how long it would last. And there's no question that Google's profit continues to rise while many of us experience these on and off again periods of zombie traffic and periods when users convert (buy) and don't. The timing of zombie traffic and useless non-converting traffic with the receipt of an Adwords coupon in the mail is no coincidence and has been happening to me for months. The "take away your traffic and hand you an Adwords coupon" is a strong arm sales tactic and highly unethical IMO.

I'll stick to my initial belief that Google is timing the events many of us have been experiencing to drive profits. If Google had a sense of decency to explain themselves, then I might have something else to make a judgement on. However, Google's secrecy and present run ins with unfair competition claims around the world would make me think long and hard if what Google is saying is either (a) truthful or (b) being communicated by someone in Google who actually knows what he/she is talking about.
5:06 pm on Oct 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Hi guys, need your thoughts on something and if you reckon it relates to this saga.

This morning we had 30 items added to the basket by a certain IP. If I 'host' the IP, I get that it's not found. If I 'whois' the IP, I get 'Google Inc'. Googlebot has never added items to basket before on our site and I've always had a proper response to 'host' with a real Googlebot before.

Presuming this is either a bad bot/person impersonating Google or Google doing something on our site that isn't the usual googlebot stuff? Wdyt?
5:17 pm on Oct 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I think you should take notes and we should start gathering evidence that they are altering search traffic. When we figure out where they are sending our traffic, we can build a good ass lawsuit against them, and hopefully the EU will take note and add it to their laundry list. Simon if that's what you are seeing I really do think it's a cause for concern. A bot adding items? That sounds like some serious face-saving tactic from G if they are banking right now due to whatever "update" this is.

In all seriousness, I have made a few sales since last week, mainly due to some promotional emails I sent to a list of 500. Through the site? Almost nothing, I got a new subscriber, whereas I typically get 3-8 every day like clockwork... maybe 1 sale through organic traffic.
9:56 pm on Oct 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Folks

Would you be kind to post few words about which day(s) of the week you receive "Zombie-traffic" and which day(s) you receive "converting-traffic". Just wish we see whether there is a specific pattern. Who knows ;)
9:58 pm on Oct 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I have more information on those 30 items added to basket by a google bot, and it's seriously revealing...

Recapping... we had 30 items added to basket by an IP that didn't resolve a 'host' but the 'whois' resolved to 'Google Inc'. Each basket-add was around 5 seconds apart, so this was clearly a bot. So it seemed that Google was adding items to basket, but it wasn't the normal googlebot crawler doing this. We've since checked the details in Google Analytics and the source country was India and the traffic was direct (not paid or organic). But most alarmingly, 28 out of the 30 items added to basket were in the top 5% of click volume on Google Shopping. The only people that could have known this were us and Google. So this is strong evidence that Google have a bot that is targeting high click volume items and doing artificial adds to basket, albeit as direct traffic rather than cpc.

I'd like to think that this is just Merchant Centre doing a site scan to compare the feed with the actual site, but that doesn't seem possible. If it was Merchant Centre, it wouldn't appear on GA, there would be no need for the bot to add to basket and they wouldn't target only the high click items.

So this is a mystery. Anyone have any explanations?
12:38 am on Oct 8, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Simon_H -- That IP is probably a Google-owned proxy (Google has a lot of them), which the bot was using to hide its true origin. Possibly some dishonest person is trying to develop a clickbot, and was testing it, but it isn't working as intended and went awry.

Just keep watching your logs, and if this turns out to be an isolated incident, then you should just forget about it.
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