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No Matter What We Do Our Site Can Never Recover - How About You?

     
12:28 pm on Mar 30, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Here's a typical story I hear a lot and we have one ecommerce site that fits this perfectly: We have a site that used to do awesome in Google SERPs (yes, 'free' traffic) before 2011. Then when Panda 1 hit, it started to decline. It stll did good for a couple of years, but not as good. But it kept slowly falling. It literally has taken till about now to decline from 5k visitors a day to 300. Yes, a slow, painful death spiral.

It seems Panda and Phantom have disliked this site to no end. Each Panda and Phantom (except Panda 4) has made organic Google visits drop more. The death knell happened in the last four months especially.

However, in the last 24 months, and especially in the last 4, we've done a massive amount of improvements:

On-page: We re-designed the whole site (made it wider, with larger fonts and made the top banner much smaller so everything moved up), made it responsive, added way better navigation, changed the entire site's url structure to make the urls shorter and more intuitive, made the buying process smoother and easier, added interactive features, found (using analytics) most/all bad-performing pages and 301'd to appropriate top-level category. We've increased time on site a bit, and reduced bounce rate a bit doing this. We got most pages to W3C validate even (deleting any outdated html in the process). We've added rich snippetts (which don't show up in the SERPs), changed from private to public registration. We made the 'Buy' button stick to the top when visitors scroll down. We added testimonials to every page. We already had a terms and privacy page, but we added a disclaimer page, a FAQs page, and a disclosure page, and our physical address on every page. We found that the blog posts were getting horrible user stats and bringing the whole site down, and had a lot of old, thin posts. So we deleted it completely and 301'd all blog pages to our homepage. We added original content to every single page too.

Off-page:We tried to get rid of every possible harmful link. We used a number of tools to find 'bad' links, including the tool here at WebmasterWorld, and disavowed hundreds about a year ago. There were blogs that we owned that we linked to this site and we deleted all of those links. In the last few months we found that there were some expired domains that had new blogs on them and had a link pointing to us, so we deleted those where we could. Then in the last two months, we've launched a massive content marketing initiative where we started publishing a 3000+ word original piece every twe days or so. We've done about six of these, and every one has received thousands of Facebook shares (one got more than 5k shares) and tons of great links. The first one received more than 12 new linking domains, and the last one we did this past week has already received about 10 new, white hat links. This has increased the number of linking domains by more than 10% alone!

What has this done to improve our Google organic traffic? NOTHING!

In fact, in the last month, Google traffic has gotten worse! Worse than ever before. The site is now dead.

My only conclusion now is that this particular site has been taggedby Google, which essentially says "This site will NEVER recover, no matter what is done."

I mean, how can you do such drastic and dramatic things to a site and see no changes at all? We deleted a 1000 page blog, and Google traffic never changed!? We 301d every bad-performing page. We re-designed the whole site for way better user experience and based on everything we learned about Panda and Phantom (about 6 months ago), and Google traffic never changed. We increased our natural, white hat backlinks by 10% most recently and our Google traffic has decreased!

It appears that there is nothing I can do to even move the needle. I believe that if I took the Forbes site, or CNN, or Wikipedia or even Amazon and put it on this domain, they would tank too. I swear, this site is tagged and can never come out of purgatory. I've been doing this since Alta Vista and have never seen anything like this.

Have others had this same experience?
7:30 pm on May 3, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Editorial Guy, it seems an oversight not to mention that your information site suffered from Panda from Jan 2011 till May 2014


Does this mean that the site "fully" recovered from Panda in May 2014? Because it seems to me that once a site is hit, it will never be as strong as it would have been, even if the penalty is eventually lifted.
7:46 pm on May 3, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Bumpski, as I said in my earlier post (which you quoted), we never dropped terribly far in the rankings--we simply lost traffic as megasites and big-brand sites floated up in the wake of Panda. In other words, we weren't punished or penalized, as far as I could tell; we just ranked a few places lower for pages that had ranked at or near the top of the SERPs previously. This changed in May, 2014, when we shot up in the rankings overnight (and continued to gain for several months after that, finally settling into comfortable spots at or near the top of the SERPs for large numbers of queries).

Again, we didn't do anything in an effort to "recover." We just continued as usual, and eventually Google came up with its "subject authority" boost that benefited expert niche sites instead of automatically giving preference to the About coms and Tripadvisors of the world.

I've always been a believer in focusing on the long term, and after 16 years at our current domain, I'd have to say that it's an approach that has worked pretty well overall.
12:38 am on May 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I'm of the impression that a number of sites were caught as "false positives" by Panda. Those that stuck it out and continued business as usual are the ones who "came back" during the next Panda roll out.

Panda comes so seldom, and webmasters are so antic/frantic! when traffic drops that they actually burn themselves trying to fix something that won't update for another year or more ... and in the process make many bad decisions.

Do it right, avoid the shortcut or snake oil SEO, and in most cases simply WAIT until the next update instead of descending into panic. I have seen three sites "come back" by doing that ... but every site that went nuts trying to MAKE IT CHANGE OVER NIGHT have failed.
10:42 am on May 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Whilst I agree with your comments regarding false positives, unfortunately:

Those that stuck it out and continued business as usual


I know of a quite a few who couldn't wait that long, since no one knew how long "long" would be, and have subsequently gone bust/closed/lost loads of money.

Google screwed them over through absolutely no fault of their own.
10:48 am on May 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I agree with Redbar.

But then there have been cases of Panda recoveries. There are a couple of threads on the same.
12:10 pm on May 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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tangor wrote:
I'm of the impression that a number of sites were caught as "false positives" by Panda.

Most likely these "false positives" are borderline cases where the quality of the site just barely falls short of what would be a passing score. Then it might shift back across the line (and escape the penalty) on the next update due to changes in the algorithm or in the data associated with the site.
5:10 pm on May 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Google screwed them over through absolutely no fault of their own.

Google didn't "screw them over," it just changed its algorithm in a way that favored other sites or types of sites (in our case, megasites and name brands, which got a boost from Panda between February, 2011 and May, 2014).

There are always going to be winners and losers. I'm happy that we're again outranking megasites and big brands for most of the queries that matter to us, and that niche authority sites have been getting respect from Panda for the past two years, but I don't think in terms of "Google was being mean to me" or "Google is being nice to me." Algorithms aren't people.
5:23 pm on May 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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A further comment about niche authority sites, which I referenced previously:

Back at the beginning of 2014 (I don't recall the exact date), Matt Cutts said that Google was working on a way to give a boost to sites that had authority, a.k.a. subject expertise, for specific topics. IMHO, this is what led to the jump in rankings that some of us saw in May, 2014--a boost that continued, presumably as a result of further iterations of the algorithm, deep crawls, recalculations of scores for "deep pages," or whatever for several months after that.

One thing I've definitely noticed is this:

Before May, 2014, we ranked high for pages about our key in-depth topics, but we also ranked high for miscellaneous pages that we shouldn't have ranked high for. Some of those pages generated a lot of traffic (low-quality traffic as far as I was concerned, since we didn't have much about those miscellaneous topics to keep readers from leaving after looking at a page or two).

Since May, 2014, Google has done a much better job of sending us traffic for topics that we cover in depth. We don't get nearly as much traffic on random or miscellaneous pages, which means that the overall quality of Google traffic is much better, since it's skewed toward our in-depth topics that have the most value for readers and for us.
5:43 pm on May 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Algorithms aren't people.


Who are they written by, mice?

Of course an algorithm can be written precisely how they want it to be, I would venture to suggest you were extremely fortunate whereas many others were royally screwed!

Matt Cutts said that Google was working on a way to give a boost to sites that had authority, a.k.a. subject expertise, for specific topics.


Believe that and you'll believe anything that comes from a G mouthpiece.
6:29 pm on May 4, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Of course an algorithm can be written precisely how they want it to be, I would venture to suggest you were extremely fortunate whereas many others were royally screwed!

Those others weren't "screwed," they just didn't have the kinds of pages or sites that Google was trying to boost with the algorithm--or maybe the had the kinds of pages or sites that Google wanted to demote with the algorithm. Either way, it wasn't personal: Google was trying to achieve certain objectives with the algorithm, and it's highly unlikely that "Let's screw John Doe" or "Let's reduce Jane Buck's monthly income" was on Google's to-do list.

Believe that and you'll believe anything that comes from a G mouthpiece.

I see the results of Google's "subject authority boost" routinely in my own searches (and not just on my topics). YMMV.
12:18 am on May 6, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Those others weren't "screwed," they just didn't have the kinds of pages or sites that Google was trying to boost with the algorithm


Good grief man!

This is entirely the point, Google trying to BOOST whatever kind of pages with THEIR fictitious algorithm.

Is their algo correct ... absolutley not yet THEY rule the freakin' roost by implementing a flawed analysis, yes, analysis, since that is what their algorithm is.

Their thinking is that they want THIS RESULT and if one's site does not fit their thinking then it is deemed to be WRONG and penalised when it may have done absolutely nothing wrong.

You have been lucky, I do not have a problem with your site, I cannot understand how it could be penalised, yet there are thousands, probaly millions of sites that have been Google-screwed for no other reason than a programmer's will.

This is WRONG and will inevitably lead to Google's demise if they continue this way.
10:48 am on May 6, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I see the results of Google's "subject authority boost" routinely in my own searches (and not just on my topics). YMMV.


I see subject authority prioritized over relevance, particularly for tech queries. As far as I'm concerned it could be dialed back a bit for more variety in the results.

Like EG, my niche site was demoted in 2011 and continued to lose ground until May 2014 when it shot up again. Unlike, EG, it has not regained all its former traffic, probably because it has not been online as long as EG's. A competing site which has been online twice as long as mine did regain its former traffic and then some. Given two sites of equal quality, it appears that length of time online is weighted heavily in terms of determining authority.
2:16 pm on May 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Given two sites of equal quality, it appears that length of time online is weighted heavily in terms of determining authority.

Heavily weighted how? for or against? The decline as most of us know started on May Day 2010 and has been going slowly downward ever since.
No amount of new traffic or cleanup has helped has helped this 15 year old site. It was suggested by a beloved former mod that the site could be "tagged" as a test site. Test site?
12:14 pm on May 16, 2016 (gmt 0)

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This is a follow up to my original post here that started this thread about a site of ours that I believe is forever negatively 'tagged' by Google.

I indeed submitted a new disavow file and disavowed about 130 domains. My thinking (and a few others here as well) was that since I did everything under the sun it seemed to fix and improve this site, it continually got worse in Google, so maybe it had some really bad inbound links that needed to be disavowed. Maybe the links were holding the site back. (Even after getting a lot of fantastic and relevant new inbound links (and social) from a bunch of content marketing initiatives, the site continued its decline.)

So I submitted a disavow file on 4/18/16 and after about a week or two, THINGS GOT EVEN WORSE! Which I kind of expected. Now the site gets only a few Google search visits a day, down from thousands a few years ago. It is essentially dead..

So since it wasn't 'bad links' that was holding the site back, I conclude that this site has definitely been tagged by Google as a site that will never, under any circumstances, be viewed positively again by Google, no matter what. Purgatory forever. Total bull.
4:41 pm on May 16, 2016 (gmt 0)

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aok88 -- It sounds like some of the backlinks you disavowed must have been helping your site's rankings. I suggest that you cancel the file you uploaded by uploading a new disavow file that doesn't contain those backlinks.
6:12 pm on May 16, 2016 (gmt 0)

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aristotle - yes, last week, I did that but less than half the ones I originally disavowed I left. I suppose I'll just upload one now that gets rid of them all...
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