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Google Updates and SERP Changes - August 2016

     
8:05 am on Aug 2, 2016 (gmt 0)

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System: The following 11 messages were cut out of thread at: https://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4811319.htm [webmasterworld.com] by robert_charlton - 9:11 am on Aug 2, 2016 (PDT -8)


It seems to me that whatever happened over the weekend / last week has now rolled back. My positions were quite mixed up with some gains and some losses but traffic up overall. And sales were great. I am now seeing the results I have had for months again. It's too soon to tell is sales / conversions are on or off yet. Is anyone else seeing that?
2:56 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Is this the Adwords topic?
Anyway, I removed all of GA and while the SERPs have gone UP...traffic has gone down. You sure about your theory Dooku?
4:12 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@samwest You're right, but you can no longer separate organic discussion from Adwords discussion; they're inter-dependent. The removal of right nav search ads and similarity between organic results and search ads means text results in the SERPs should ideally be considered the combination of "unpaid organic results" and "paid organic results" to coin a more accurate terminology, rather than 'organic results' and 'search ads'.

Example... People have posted on this thread about big traffic changes yet where SERP positions appear unchanged. But 'SERP position' is almost meaningless now, as it refers to organic position, not real position. If your organic rank is #5, your real rank is anywhere between 5 and 9, as the optional paid results above you look the same to the average user. Not to mention the potential Shopping widget, local, images, etc that may appear above you, all which need to be considered.

In my experience, reported changes in organic traffic volume/quality/position are just as likely to be a result of changes on the Adwords side of things (Google or competitor campaign) as an organic algo update. So I think we need to be able to talk about this stuff on this thread.
4:38 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@Simon_H

Good tips. Checked the search terms for our PLA campaign and about 5% seem to be mismatched that tells me that I need to crack on with more negative keywords... Thanks
4:44 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@samwest and @dooku: I am small potatoes ecommerce website (antiques and collectibles), and sell also on eBay and Etsy. I took your advice and removed all GA from my website (which has maybe one or two sales per YEAR, and voila, next day, had a sale!) and high traffic (for me). So, it could be coincidence, but regardless, I went and removed all of GA on Etsy and Ebay...we'll see what happens...
4:48 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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p.s. The sale came from google.com.
5:51 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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editorialguy said:

Uh....no. Real information sites aren't "made for ads." Some information sites have ads, some have affiliate links (another form of advertising), and some are supported by the owners' trust funds or day jobs. IMHO. the test of whether a site is a "made for ads" or "made for AdSense" site is what's left over after you remove the ads. Is it editorial content that's intrinsically useful to the reader, or is it filler?

I'd also point out that information sites, other than hobby or personal sites, also depend on conversions to one degree or another. (Two examples: Affiliate links that generate commissions only if the traffic from those links converts, and AdSense CPC ads that may be "smartpriced" if the publisher's referrals convert poorly.)

But we're getting off topic. Again, what is it that distinguishes sites that are awash in zombie or "low-quality" Google traffic and those that aren't?


I've been an internet publisher, content for twenty years. Started with About (you know who) and then went on my own.

I've also been a viewer or member of WebmaterW for 15 years, so I know the threads get bogged down with this and that. It also should come as no surprise to the old timers that the forum gets visited by your basic Google trolls:)

It's as if you need a dissertation like introduction to avoid getting to the trolls and other newbs who tend to bog things down a bit. So, to start, I never bought links. Never had to. Remember I said I started with About (you know who) twenty years ago, and I've always produced good content that got natural links. I've been around twenty years because not only so I write good content, I am also an expert SEO person (like Chris Sherman my former About (you know who) colleague).

So, when Panda hit over 5 years ago, I was perplexed by the fact that the entire web was awash with stories how "crappy" made for adsense sites were the ones that Panda hit and therefore because I was hit by Panda my site must have been a crappy "made for adsense" site. Actually, I've been online longer than Google, and of course Adsense.

When Webmaster world members suggested a "merge and purge" approach for addressing Panda issues five years ago, I did. I actually rewrote a 2,000 page site. I've rewritten my site over 6 times in twenty years because I always keep the content up to date.

At the time of the initial Panda runs, there was no mention of needing to "noindex" particular pages as a Panda remedy. In fact, it was not until two years ago (maybe three) that wordpress came out with a bunch of plugins (including Yaost etc) to noindex pages on a large site.

Long story short, after the merge and purge of 5 years ago and finally adding "noindex" on other pages that did not get merged and/or purged, I did recover my page one ranking for all the keywords that were not affected by Penguin.

As far as I can tell, in the past three years, Google gave me one opportunity to do a perfect "disavow" file. I got hit with a wave of Chinese spam to my homepage (which by the way the links were listed in GSC at least one year prior to Panda and two years prior to Penguin) so was surprised that solving my Penguin problem was as easy as removing that wave of negatively generated SEO links.

It worked, partially. I missed disavowing one domain out of over 2,500 on my disavow file and like so many others, have been relegated to Penguin purgatory for three years. It was not to my home page with the Chinese spam. I was an exact match anchor text site with links to my site. Again, it was not me. I've always been so good at content and link development that I never needed to worry about buying links or spamming, etc.

IMHO, I think the current software engineers working on Penguin are not the brightest bulbs in the bunch because Google announced over a year ago that they would rerun the Penguin also in Dec 2015.

The date got moved to Q1 2016. Then the Google reps said, we don't know, we don't often talk to the Penguin engineers because they get grouchy when we ask. Then in June, the Google reps said, it will run "soon". Then the Google reps said "we never said we would not run Penguin again". And of course the latest "we will run Penguin" statement of two week ago.

Long story short again...I had one opportunity in three years to be perfect. Sometimes even honest publishers get sucker punched by Google, and when they bend over to breath, Google kicks them in the teeth.

Nuf said on that...now to the question of zombies. R there zombines for information sites?

Yes, I do believe I witnessed the phenomena for the past ten or so months. There were very few, if any adsense conversions, when 15 years of experience showed me differently. In the past two weeks, that changed. All of a sudden, (at least 11 of the 14 days) the regular patter of conversions (or whatever it might be called in the content world) showed up.

Without doing a statistical analysis on my adsense over the year, I quick look at the stats shows that there's a least a two standard deviation from the mean Adsense conversion during the past two weeks, compared to the zombie Adsense experience of my past eight or nine months.

I'm only speculating on why. My first hypothesis is that after some time, the Adsense reviews a sites' Panda score, and the higher the Panda score, the less probability of zombie traffic. Of course correlation does not mean causation. However, the strong correlation is there.

So, that's my long winded google zombie traffic analysis.

Anyone want to speculate on if Google will ever run Penguin?
5:59 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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forgot to add.. in 20 years, I also never contributed to ezine or other article directories. I never squidooed etc.
6:00 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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You're right, but you can no longer separate organic discussion from Adwords discussion; they're inter-dependent.

So true of a statement - both Google free and paid traffic sucks bad. Rank checkers, for the most part are useful as a gauge. Checking a site from a host or ones own computer produces the same unreliable results. Like you said, organic ranks and how they are displayed are dynamic and ever-changing from query to query. Besides that, viewing the 100% "(not provided)" keyword traffic data from organic Google traffic is essentially useless for finer detailed analysis that can only be obtained through Adwords.

@samwest
Anyway, all eyes are on you samwest. Please tell us how everything works out after removing all the Google spyware from your site.
6:57 pm on Aug 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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we have removed analytics a few times nothing improved and actually it gets worse, if we get a few potential buyers and not even these prove to convert it can only get worse
9:07 am on Aug 11, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I noticed a few of you have removed GA now and do not have good results ( I will disregard the one member with the sale because that is way too little to be useful).
First, this is like daytrading on the stock exchange, when you see the numbers go down you get nervous as I did. I stuck with it and stopped giving google my info. Then I started doing seo for traffic only, both on google and Bing. All the while checking everything in the server log files with stand-alone software and Statcounter. I am in a much better position now than I was 12 months ago which resulted in me doing the same for my other websites.

The problem here is not that google is "out to get you" as another member stated, but that google is refining their technology to improve their profit margin at all cost at the expense of their customers (your business). Instead of google improving their service and providing value for money, especially with Adwords, they ONLY concentrate on methods to improve their own profit by refining methods that cause crap traffic and other issues while at the same time trying not to let it be too obvious so nobody can prove anything. The best we can do is find out by circumstantial evidence by doing tests, as some forum members did already.
Personally I consider my "free" info(my website) as a valuable commodity for google because they earn money from me due to their behavioral ad targeting. This is because google can regulate traffic to websites where they make more money because they have all your information(GA) and the information of visitors that come to your website. The result is that google will send the traffic to places they will make more money from instead of sending you the first buyer that comes along.

I am not against a company that tries to improve their profit margin. However, what google is doing since the at least the last 12 months is bordering on the criminal. Some of you might find this a harsh statement, but I have seen this before with large companies thinking themselves to be almighty. In a former life I was negotiating licensing contracts for companies over 10.000 seats with Microsoft and they were arrogant beyond belief. Now they are happy if you just don't switch to Linux, but I digress.

The real issue here is that we do not get a reasonable value for our money, especially with adwords. This is the reason I stopped being dependent on google. If I pay for a Mercedes S500 and I get a Fiat Panda 500 delivered to my door, than yes I get pissed!

Regarding my first paragraph, Adwords is really difficult to set up for most people. I have seen a lot of adwords accounts now from friends, fellow entrepeneurs and a few customers and they are set up mediocre at best. Now it takes a lot of effort and time to set up a good adwords campaign that is profitable(and I mean really profitable). Than why would I do that AND pay google money? I might as well use that time to do seo for traffic instead.

We can debate these algorithm changes, "zombie" traffic, bad adwords traffic etc..etc...until we are blue in the face, but in the end nothing will change. You can bet that google is keeping an eye on the larger forums regarding seo and "reading" the current state of mind, but as long as they are not alarmed too much they keep on laughing at us. The only thing that would send a message to google is if tomorrow at least 500.000 of us just closed their Adwords and GA accounts and sent google a nice and polite email that google can go (.....) themselves.

Basically, forget about rankings, positions for keywords or amount of traffic because I have seen to many statistics now to confirm they have no bearing on correct or good amounts of traffic or correct interpretations in google results. I make sure my link content is as relevant as can be for the products I sell and gear that content towards intentional buyers who are already far up the sales funnel to buy that product. You will notice that you do not even need much traffic to get a good income because of the far above average conversion rates.
12:55 pm on Aug 11, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Looks like Google's Rank Brain team will be answering some questions on Reddit today. See Barry's post: [seroundtable.com...]

If you think Rank Brain is the reason for the quality traffic drain, ask a question.
4:20 pm on Aug 11, 2016 (gmt 0)

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In our industry only high street stores rank in the first 10 and get more and more of long tail money terms. We cannot survive with SEO we need adwords to send real people not zombies. If the site creates great user experience I guess that analytics could help but maybe as dooku said long run we will be better off
6:04 pm on Aug 11, 2016 (gmt 0)

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The #1 issue is - they learned from Microsoft's mistakes and pay sh*tload of money to everyone capable to shake Google down...
8:17 pm on Aug 11, 2016 (gmt 0)

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If the site creates great user experience I guess that analytics could help but maybe as dooku said long run we will be better off

I think what dooku was referring to, and many of us have been seeing since last year, is that a great user experience does not make Google money and therefore has a limited impact on our conversions. Google makes money by people clicking ads and the more irrelevant ads that they click the more money we lose in Adwords and the more money Google makes. Simon referred to this in a more eloquent way than I. Regardless, money is the incentive for Google to display irrelevant results under a controlled environment and it may be Rank Brain's main task - to maximize ad clicks without turning off searchers. Interpreting Analytics data and data from other Google spyware may help feed Rank Brain the detailed data it needs to exert control over the search results with greater precision. Not that it matters much. Nothing short of a full blown legitimate FTC investigation, or state attorney generals getting together to launch a collective investigation, will any change to the stranglehold over commerce that Google has now. Ripping us off in Adwords, while using searchers as pawns to click as many irrelevant results as possible, is just the beginning.
8:23 pm on Aug 11, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Two times this week I paused my adwords shopping campaign. Saw that I had a "zombie false alarm" and turned the ads back on. Both times my campaign was off until midnight..off in that I received just about zero impressions...down something like 90%.

Adwords customer service is spectacular - called them yesterday - they are smart and helpful. Anyway, it's a bug they are aware of from other customers and they say their engineering team is looking into a solution. So you "may" have the same issue...pause ads at your own risk. I love being able to turn my ads on and off to avoid zombies sucking out my money. If they don't fix this soon I will be suspicious but for now I take them at their word and will just have to wait.

[edited by: ecommerceprofit at 8:27 pm (utc) on Aug 11, 2016]

8:24 pm on Aug 11, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Google Seo has turned into Conspiracy Theory. Close GA - right do you think they would create a ranking system reliant on an opt in Analytical Data. As popular as GA is, its by no means universal so many many sites blogs and social networking pages would fall through the algorithms.
12:24 am on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Google makes money by people clicking ads and the more irrelevant ads that they click the more money we lose in Adwords and the more money Google makes.

You've got it backwards. Wasted clicks = dissatisfied AdWords customers = lower bids = lower profits for Google over the long run. (And yes, Google is in the ad business for the long run.)
2:25 am on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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You've got it backwards. Wasted clicks = dissatisfied AdWords customers = lower bids = lower profits for Google over the long run. (And yes, Google is in the ad business for the long run.)

Re-read what Simon posted when he said:

The fewer the clicks required for a user to research and buy, the better the user experience, but the lower Google's revenue. But both users and advertisers can tolerate a higher-than-minimum number of clicks for a sale to still happen. It's in Google's interests to find that sweet spot

Now, couple what Simon said with Google's decision to drop sidebar ads and shrink the advertising real estate. Most industries have more then four players in Adwords to fill the ad spots and if they want to be seen above the fold they are forced to receive irrelevant clicks or go to page 2+ and not be seen. Keep in mind I'm looking at this from an Adwords user's perspective, and I suspect you are looking at this from an Adsense user's perspective.

You are right that Google is in this for the long haul, and they move in minor steps. Sidebar ads were removed, an extra ad placement was added that pushed organic below the fold, and now Google reaps the benefits (profits) from irrelevant traffic while we absorb the losses. It's working out rather well for Google having reported profits up 24%. Most of their revenue comes from advertising and from the sounds of other Adwords users, and my own personal experience, we are not seeing growth of 24%. Instead many of us are seeing losses. Much of Google's growth has come from the losses we sustained from zombie traffic.
5:58 am on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Interesting adsense lawsuit:

[businessinsider.com...]

looks like going to settlement maybe - I don't know:

[dockets.justia.com...]

Represented by - looks like a class action (click on parties tab to see names of attorneys:

[pacermonitor.com...]
7:45 am on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I was shocked by the 24% profit boost they recieved too. I hope the EU does see this as anticompetitive and fines the hell out of them.

They should also penalize themselves for having too many ads above the fold, which is an awful user experience.
10:16 am on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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A lot of changes this morning in my UK vertical. All I can say is - what a mess. Many completely irrelevant results from pages with high numbers of links. Hopefully it's temporary.
10:23 am on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Sidebar ads were removed, an extra ad placement was added that pushed organic below the fold, and now Google reaps the benefits (profits) from irrelevant traffic while we absorb the losses.


With the exception of a single remarketing exercise, which is barely profitable, I have had to stop all Google advertising. Because there are fewer ads, they are dominated by the big boys who are paying completely uneconomical rates; not in order to make a profit, but to keep the smaller players out of the game.

The Google monopoly is creating many smaller monopolies.
10:32 am on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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You've got it backwards. Wasted clicks = dissatisfied AdWords customers = lower bids = lower profits for Google over the long run. (And yes, Google is in the ad business for the long run.)


@EditorialGuy I've previously said exactly that. But on reflection, it's not correct. Firstly, every bid group will have an optimal bid. Wasted clicks won't change that optimal point on the graph. It will just reduce the profitability of the optimal point. If an advertiser reduced their bid, they'd just reduce their profit still further. So the advertiser ecosystem can happily support a level of wasted clicks, even if some of the smaller players drop out as they can't support the resulting decreased profit.

Secondly, users can also support increased clicks-to-sale. Typical conversion paths show that users click LOTS of times before they buy. A typical sale might involve clicks from Google paid, organic, organic navigational, direct across multiple sites and multiple devices. When I'm in the research phase of buying something, I certainly do that!

If you plot a graph of clicks-required-to-sale on the x-axis and Google-revenue on the y-axis, it would be a bell curve with a sweet spot. Too few clicks means a great UX, but sacrificed revenue. Too many clicks means users will drop off due to a poor UX and advertisers can't support the increased click cost. Google has considerable control of the clicks-required-to-sale and so, much like a paid campaign manager will play with a bid to hit the maximum profit point, Google *could* very easily vary the amount of mis-matched results it shows in paid and organic results to hit that sweet spot.

I'm not making any comment here on whether Google is evil/criminal/whatever, simply stating some facts.

[edited by: Simon_H at 11:36 am (utc) on Aug 12, 2016]

11:29 am on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@Simon

While this does make sense, would it justify what some users here are seeing, ie. conversions dropping to close to zero? I can see how the tactic you described could reduce (perhaps significantly) conversions, but to make them approach zero? I have never used AdWords so am genuinely curious.
11:52 am on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I do run a medical information website in France since 2002, good popularity DA 36/PA index 46, a lot of good authoritative links, few pages (70), no adds.

Our traffic dropped 50% from june 14 (200k month) to dec 14 (100k) and then increased 350% from dec 15 (100K) to July 16 (350K) - all this for no obvious reason. A few pages were added, external linking was cleaned up, some bas links were denounced/

We observe a 60% traffic drop since august 1st ! We have no adds and nothing to sale in our website. Not easy to understand !
11:57 am on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Okay, so I just checked into some stats. I know some of you don't care about traffic anymore, but on Wednesday I have received historically the lowest amount of traffic for the last 3 months. As in less than half my usual traffic... but sales were pretty decent for what I got out of it.

Thursday, traffic went to an all time high historically on this particular site, but I haven't had a single conversion.

That's some anecdotal evidence, did anyone see traffic lows/highs in the past 2 days?
1:02 pm on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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paying completely uneconomical rates; not in order to make a profit, but to keep the smaller players out of the game.


Or... maybe they are making incredible profits, maybe they are better at what they do than the average (or below average) players.
2:42 pm on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@hasek747 Yes, this can definitely explain conversions dropping to near zero. But, adding to what @Shepherd has said, proper campaign optimisation can counteract to a large extent the negative impact I've described. So someone relatively inexperienced in campaign optimisation or reliant on organic traffic could get hit far harder than someone experienced in campaign optimisation. And the inexperienced advertisers tend to be the small businesses.

Also I've made several different points here, so just clarifying how each contributes to conversions dropping to near zero:

1. It was suggested that it is not in Google's interests to mismatch paid traffic, because that will just result in advertisers reducing their bids. I hope I've explained that's not the case and that mismatched traffic does not change the optimal bid point, it just changes the profitability of the optimal bid. Hence, the advertiser ecosystem can generally quite happily support a level of mismatched paid traffic.

2. Related to the above, I've explained how a combination of mis-matched traffic, competitor ad scheduling and Google enforcing minimum bidding can result in the zombie phenomenon on both paid and organic traffic, i.e. where conversions suddenly start and stop at different times of day. The inter-dependencies of organic and paid are very complex, but I certainly believe that mis-matched paid traffic is the catalyst for zombie traffic and until Google stops intentionally mis-matching traffic and quietly enforcing minimum bids, we'll keep seeing zombies on both organic and paid.

3. Regarding people reporting no change in SERP positions but big changes in traffic and conversions, the point here is that SERP position (i.e. the position in the organic results) is rather meaningless. Search ads are no longer perceived as supplementary content, they are just paid organic results. Being #1 "in the SERPs" means you're actually anywhere between #1 and #5 in the real results, as there are up to 4 paid results above you, not to mention Shopping, local, images, etc. 'Smart bidding' (or even just normal bidding) means that Google may identify the 5% of traffic that is likely to buy from your site and drop 2 pages-worth of paid ads above you to absorb that traffic. Whereas another user may see you at the very top of the page. You'll see no change in reported SERP position, minimal change in traffic, but your conversions will change massively.
2:42 pm on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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No great changes since removing GA code. In fact, traffic has almost stopped completely. When I do get a few hits, they do convert, but there are so few, I'm lucky to get one per day now. Also removed adsense from pages. Maybe I'm not doing this right. I'm guessing I need to delete the webmaster tools account too?

The current traffic pattern is "one at a time". During an entire day I get no surges, it's like visitors are qued up in single file with a 5 to 20 minute delay between them. Terrible. Might as well pull the plug.
3:25 pm on Aug 12, 2016 (gmt 0)

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@masterjoe, we are all over the place when it comes to traffic, but specifically only organic. The measures that i'm taking to increase direct is diluting the problem slightly, but today at 12pm until 1pm we didnt see a single conversion, which never happens for us, especially at lunch! Terms continue to fluctuate and whats worse, we offer the best rates on a very specific brand, which appears to have dropped completely out the SERPs for its traditionally most popular terms. Now that brand is getting conversions from completely unrelated terms.... its a complete mess!
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