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Are search results being throttled ?

     
9:44 pm on Nov 29, 2016 (gmt 0)

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A weird trend i've noticed recently... (from someone that analyzes his stats several times days )

It almost seems like our positions lately are being throttled. (our as in everybody's)

No more are the days where you were #1 or #2 forever on google... it's like once google realizes you've had a certain amount of hits per day, your results get throttled back some...and others gain forward.

thoughts ?
2:26 pm on Jan 2, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Representativeness heuristic


Has nothing to do with the loss of a natural pattern that previously existed. I have 16 years of data that proves your theory is interesting, but off target. I love the speculation, but it's not helping explain what is really happening. I'd say it's more likely FUD used to promote the use of Adwords. Sorry, but I subscribe more to glakes version of the money motivator than improved UE or any other statistical theories. I've seen "normal" and this is not normal...unless they started applying a progressive throttling mechanism or AI...to promote the sales of Ads. Occam's Razor.

I will say that right after the first of the year, the throttle seems to have relented quite a bit with the site in question seeing a much more natural flow of traffic and more reliable conversion. This too punches a hole in the RH theory because if it was a statistical anomaly, it would hold always, not turn on and off. Appreciate the thought though.
2:40 pm on Jan 2, 2017 (gmt 0)

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throttling is not legal regardless of the country you are doing business in even if you are referring to organic only

I'm not sure how throttling organic traffic would be illegal for search engines. By their design, websites are ranked from top to bottom and one could argue that giving more websites the opportunity on top would be fair. Aaron Wall discussed this in-depth years ago, and I wish I could find the story because it does intersect with this issue. Also, those listed in the search results and Google are not in any type of contractual agreement which makes civil liability non-existent as well. I'm not defending throttling by any means, but instead pointing out it would be difficult to find Google at fault for doing it unless they were regulated. And while I'm not a fan of big government, in the case of Google I believe they need to be regulated as their actions have profound impacts on the global economy.

And once you have the user engaged you can adjust their experience to the point where an outside observer would say goes too far. After a viewer has visited a number of pages on my site i force them to register.

I've seen some major media websites employ the same strategy, though I did not find a news story compelling enough to register so I left. It's unfortunate, but too many people think the user experience is solely focused on making a user happy when in fact the end game is almost always about making more money. If your industry permits forced registrations, and it is working well for you, that's a good thing. Content does not get created for free and someone has to pay the bill.

With googles authority they can get away with all kinds of manipulation that on the surface looks like poor user experience but in reality works for googles bottom line simply because the viewers don't know where else to go.

This is the problem we have with a search engine that controls nearly 3/4 of the marketshare and remains allowed to self-regulate themselves. Until laws and regulations catch up to modern times, if they ever will, my guess is that we will see many more "quality enhancements" and improvements in the "user experience" that harm small businesses while at the same time increase Google's profits.
2:55 pm on Jan 2, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@glakes

Depends which country you are operating but definetally talk to a lawyer and you will be surprised how many laws are broken and not necessarily only competition/fair trade laws
10:23 pm on Jan 5, 2017 (gmt 0)

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A morning of what appeared to be completely unfettered traffic and conversions (7 in total between 4am and 9am) than BAM! Shut right down. Nothing the rest of the day. It's "phenomena" like this that make you believe in some type of throttling.
6:41 pm on Jan 6, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@samwest

Don't be evil!

Sorry the slogan applies to big pigs only!
7:13 pm on Jan 6, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@mos

Not saying there's any "evil" involved, just that whatever is the cause, it is very apparent and easy to observe...on some sites.
One would think that if it works during one period of time, it would certainly work during another...on the same day no less.
Since my vertical has little to no competition and few ads, it's hard to blame it on ad scheduling. Something else is afoot.
Not even going to speculate. Just observing and reporting.
7:30 pm on Jan 6, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@samwest

Yes, you are observing injustice, we all know now what is going on
12:56 am on Jan 8, 2017 (gmt 0)

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...if it was a statistical anomaly, it would hold always, not turn on and off
samwest... if it's turning on and off, is there any periodicity to it?... perhaps conversions switching on during weekends in India and Australia, or some such?
5:48 am on Jan 8, 2017 (gmt 0)

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...if it was a statistical anomaly, it would hold always, not turn on and off

If something holds always then by definition it is not an anomaly.
1:58 pm on Jan 8, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@NickMNS - you are misinterpreting my meaning. By "hold always" I mean with "regularity" or repeatable over a predictable time frame. Please excuse the confusion of my choice of words.

By definition "A statistical anomaly is an occurrence when something fall out of a normal scope for one group but at the same time it is not a result of being that group. In web analytics anomalies detection plays a crucial role for site owners."

@RC - There is absolutely no periodicity anymore. From 1996 through 2010 there was definitely solid daily, weekly and monthly patterns.I could set my watch by the regularity of sales conversions and traffic patterns. I've mitigated a good portion of my oddball foreign traffic just by using Cloudflare to block or CAPTCHA traffic from countries in which I never do business.
Strangely though, I used to get a lot of traffic from "down under" (Australia), but it's been over a year since seeing an Australian customer. I do not block Australia...but something else appears to be doing that on it's own.

Since 2010, the patterns of regularity have slowly disappeared and the peakedness of natural variation has flattened. The sample size has shrunk somewhat, but does not explain the sudden OFF/ON patterns which appear to be completely random and not tied to any day of the week. Being as random as they are, it's amazing that weekly conversion totals continue to fall withing a very predictable quantity. In the past weeks it's +/- 1. in 100 samples. Amazing.
5:29 am on Jan 10, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I don't know what you guys mean by "throttling", but CONSTANT shuffling of the results has been going on for at least a year now, if not longer. I have been seeing this for a long time now, that I can't exactly recall when it first began. The SERPs just won't stay put!
5:19 pm on Jan 10, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I'm going to take a guess and suggest a variation of the quality or targeting of users is occurring. After a few brief, spotty rashes of crazy one after the other conversions, followed by days of zombies, now getting spotty rashes of tire kicker/ abandoned cart jobs. Never seen 5 abandons in a row. Think I need an ointment for all these rashes...I also schmell a GOM segue coming on....


John: He doesn't know the meaning of the word pain, Phil. I got a pinched sciatica that makes your lumbago look like eyestrain. Max: Pain, he wants to talk about pain. I had a gallstone the size of a baseball. John: Gallstones, yeah. Gallstones are for pussies. When I had the shingles, did you see me complaining to Phil about it? Max: Shingles shmingles. When I had my ulcers, I was... farting razor blades.
8:25 pm on Jan 10, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@samwest

Wonder if you are using any cart abandonment software to contact the 5 abandonments you mentioned. I do not think those are real users especially if they did not fill in any details.
1:55 pm on Jan 11, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@mos - yes, the system automatically follows up with them , but looking at the email addresses, they are not legit. 10 bot signups in the past 2 days...time to turn captcha back on.
.
3:11 am on Jan 15, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Many of us are being taken to the cleaners. I believe there is a dossier that is quite complex of our site which caps and regulates our traffic and conversions. I believe 100% there is something nefarious going on with Google.Reminds me of that ancestry site that collects all your info and lists your current address and assoicates etc. Well we gave Google access in WMT and anylatics and a bunch of slick marketers flooded the internet saying to use it and to do SEO etc all the while Google is ripping us off.

There is no way that the traffic should be the exact same 1 year later and sales being the same. It is a big world and many factors contribute to a sale. I don't believe in the "it's just this time of year stuff". There is robbery going on under our noises. I've done a years' worth of work, new links, new posts etc only to have the same results? come on Man!
11:05 pm on Jan 17, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Yup, one sale at 5:29am during a drip trickle of traffic and yet nothing the rest of the day on moderate volumes of traffic that statistically SHOULD convert, but don't. Everyone has seen it, once they start sending you garbage zombie traffic, you couldn't give away gold bars to these "visitors".
4:53 pm on Jan 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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For a relative newbie, both to this forum and SEO in general, would anyone mind explaining the concept of "sending traffic"? Given that Google don't send as such, rather users click on results displayed on the SERPs.

I have pages that rank well for certain keywords and get lots of clicks from those results. I guess Google can't decide WHO clicks those links (ie, good or time-wasters/"zombies" as I read on here) - how would they know the user's intention?

So is this 'sent traffic' fake traffic that is computer generated just to show up in Analytics and appear like real humans?

Sorry if it's a silly question - we all have to start somewhere :)
5:28 pm on Jan 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@MrOnTheRopes

When we mean google sending traffic, it means that google rotates the SERP positions. It "sends" you traffic when it puts you on the top 3 (or higher SERP in general), and "stops sending" when it rotates you out of those positions. When we see any kinds of ranking tool or webmaster console, it's always a value of average SERP. Sometimes our site is #1, and for certain users our site can disappear completely. This is why I think rank is somewhat useless in our current environment by itself, I care about the relationship between ranking and final traffic volume. One cannot just look at rank and think that's all.

It's good that you are ranking for your keywords, but Google can "stop" sending you those traffic if you lose your positions, or competitors overtake you. It's generally a tug-of-war between you and competitors (regardless or throttling or not, I am in the throttling exist camp that believe throttling or an appearance of it exists due to other moving parts of the algo). Throttling is not an end nor purpose, but it is necessary to achieve better analytical models. Traffic has to go somewhere, if not yourself, it will end up on a competitors site.

My definition of throttling is that when you met your "quota", Google will shift those traffic to competitor's pages, even when your pages serve users better. Better user experience, faster, lesser ads, etc.

User intentions varies. But it's more or less machine learning's guess work on statistical level. For example, google may send you traffic via your key words, but when users add a "buy keyword", now Google rotates Amazon serp to the top because a "buy" is added. Google also knows quite a bit from user intentions based on the "buy" or "research phrase". Perhaps the first thing that people search is "keyword price", or "keyword review", if this is an early phase search, Google may shown price comparison sites, review sites more. But if users search 2~3 daysafter, or after a few sites have been given, Google may decide to start showing actual sale destinations, or ads slots that are more likely to convert.

It is all done on a scaleable AI machine learning level. Sometimes they're right, and sometimes they're wrong. It's consistently evolving. For example, if on valentine's day, you search buy flowers, Google will send you to buy roses. But if on christmas and you go buy flowers, google might send you to buy more christmas related flowers instead of rose. Google will guess user intentions based on person in question, where it is searched, and when it is searched. That's the direction we're moving as a whole. Keywords are becoming less important, but anticipating what users want is the end goal.

Zombies and nonconverting traffic is another story that I really think shouldn't be discussed in detail here with the focus on throttling. It is kinda related but different animal. I think there was a zombie thread / nonconverting thread somewhere ;p.

But yes I do think "fake" traffic that utilizes Google can have negative impact for the short term, it can destroy or fuzz the metrics that Google counts on. Google has more than once warned about using Google's automatic search etc. I don't think it's that google's servers can't handle the loads, but it messes with their SERP and analysis. But I think over the long haul the fake traffics's influence disappears or cancels out because Google discounts those IP / setup once they're in operation for a while and found on Google's end.
7:19 pm on Jan 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I guess Google can't decide WHO clicks those links (ie, good or time-wasters/"zombies" as I read on here) - how would they know the user's intention?

No need to guess. Google claims to have the ability to isolate buyers from tire kickers and includes smart bidding in Adwords. This has been widely available for a number of years and could have been integrated into the organic search results quite some time ago.

Enhanced cost per click (ECPC) is a bid strategy that automatically adjusts your manual bids for clicks that seem more likely to lead to a sale or conversion on your website.

Read [support.google.com...] for more information regarding how targeting buyers works.

Zombies and nonconverting traffic is another story that I really think shouldn't be discussed in detail here with the focus on throttling.

So what you are saying is that this thread should be restricted to discussing only the throttling as it relates to the quantity of visitors Google sends? Many, including myself, see quality buyer traffic throttled and the fake and/or tire kicker traffic Google sends (which many of us call zombies) as filler material to reach an artificial cap on the quantity of traffic. In other words, both traffic quantity and traffic quality are components of throttling.

It is all done on a scaleable AI machine learning level. Sometimes they're right, and sometimes they're wrong. It's consistently evolving.

I've seen zombie traffic since the fall of 2015 and nothing has changed, with the exception of brief periods of time during major updates. If you are right that zombies are the result of AI that is constantly evolving, it may be the stupidest and slowest learning AI ever created. One could argue that Google's AI has a learning disability, if it is indeed responsible for the zombie traffic I and many others are seeing.
8:51 pm on Jan 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@Glakes

You are right about non-converting traffic must also be a component of "throttling-like apperances" (ah do I have to call it that now after Google officially states that they do not throttle? ;p). I apologize.

I should elaborate...Non-converting zombie traffic had been discussed in multiple places and multiple threads including monthly chatter and multiple dedicated posts. This is the first time that the actual "volume" based throttling being discussed. And I think your right, zombie traffic does indirectly verify the existence of volume based throttling, since filler traffic is sent to reach the site's given quotas.

And I do think Google's AI has a learning disability since it follows the behavior of people and user. ;p. People are flawed. It will probably never change. If anything, zombie like behavior will only become worse. Google's algo acts as an feedback loop amplifier and self-fulling prophecy. The cycle is hard to break out of.
10:15 pm on Jan 18, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I should elaborate...Non-converting zombie traffic had been discussed in multiple places and multiple threads including monthly chatter and multiple dedicated posts. This is the first time that the actual "volume" based throttling being discussed. And I think your right, zombie traffic does indirectly verify the existence of volume based throttling, since filler traffic is sent to reach the site's given quotas.

I would agree with your detailed explanation. I see Google's intent to deliver a relatively consistent quantity of traffic as a method to disguise the diversion of quality traffic. As it relates to the zombie traffic pattern, Shaddows described it in the zombie thread at [webmasterworld.com...] on November 11, 2015 and noted:

Personally, I think there is a deliberate attempt to deliver a consitant level of traffic to some sites- and further that this is reasonable as cycling through 100 potential destinations is better than only showing a static 5 above the fold on a single SERP. Especially if you give different frequency weightings to those sites, and use Personalisation data as part of the selection criteria for what subset you surface in any given circumstance.

I generally agree with what Shaddows stated, though a lack of competitors in my industry makes it hard to believe Google is distributing quality buyer traffic to other companies as a means to be "fair." There simply are not many competitors in my industry, of which I can count on one hand.

I had thought that AI could have been responsible about a year ago, but this has gone on for so long that in the absence of all reasonable conclusions the most simplest answer is pure and intentional manipulation by Google. Bing and Yahoo continues to outperform Google in daily conversions on just a small fraction of the traffic that Google sends. Therefore, throttling or no throttling, at the end of the day it's the conversions that matter most and there's no way for Google to disguise the abysmal results they are producing for my site. Though I would like to see this change, as any business would like to see a return to productive traffic, for all intensive purposes I see Google's traffic as garbage that compares to pop-under traffic back in the later part of that trend. As you may have seen from my other posts, I've written Google off for the time being and moved on. Though the topic and any positive change that impacts my bottom line will always be of interest to me.
2:31 am on Jan 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Great explanations guys, + votes for all...and yes, when we say "Zombies" or "Throttling" it's only the appearance of such....nobody can say what exactly is causing these phenomena, we are just left to describe the chilling effects. Patterns are such that they appear highly un-natural so that's why they get flagged by this observant group of webmasters. I'm going to go out a limb and predict a much better week next week since a changing of the guard is underway. Today was a generally "natural" pattern day. Once you know what to look for, it's easy to spot...but over the past 6 years, highly unpredictable.
7:15 am on Jan 19, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@frankleeceo @glakes

Superb information. Many thanks for such detailed explanation. Cheers!
1:54 pm on Jan 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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I think I can explain the problems you are experiencing.
I have been with google adwards office in London for few months not as a REP but I know the REPs have the tools to monetize the traffic.
For a search performed by a persona with good buying history the system shows first the main accounts the REPs manage and only if their main accounts do not convert the system shows other sites at the end of the funnel.

It is not about how much you bid or where your website ranks, initially your website will not even show up at the auction and rankings also may drop. The only way your website will participate at auction and show in the rankings is if the persona is familiar to your website like has bought from you before or visited your website a few times in the past. And also if persona searches for your brand terms.

So I suggest building a brand and try to bid and rank your website for terms related to your brand...
11:04 pm on Jan 20, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Paula, if this is the case then Adwords is rigged beyond our control and would explain why all the tweaks we performed had no impact. Though we did spend a great deal of time with Adwords reps and our account manger in an effort to fix the problem to no avail. But how does this translate into organics? Many of us will see good converting traffic from Google in both free and paid that turns sour at the same time consistently. Regardless, thank you for your insight. It's always helpful to explore different theories and how they may apply to our situations.
2:33 pm on Jan 21, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Friendly Reminder: This is the Google SEO section which means we should focus on organic search and discuss Adwords in the Adwords section.
2:18 pm on Jan 23, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Can we argue that throttling/zombies occur for first page results or it is website based like carrying a restriction to quality traffic? On the other hand if reps have the tools to monetize google traffic that will be open to nepotism and may explain the fluctuation in orders/quality of traffic sent to our websites?
5:08 am on Feb 12, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@mosxu
Can we argue that throttling/zombies occur for first page results or it is website based like carrying a restriction to quality traffic?


You'd get zombies no matter what your position or page. Those are free and cost nobody anything, nor do they produce you anything.

For my site, traffic kill occurs only after making sales. So I would say the productive traffic level you get is dependant on a quota of monetisation amount google arbitrarily assigned to your site. If you buy advertising, you would have a higher quota. Once your sales exceed the quota, you are immediately shut down. I don't think ranking matters that much. There were plenty of times my sales came in when my rank was below its normal position.
8:39 am on Feb 12, 2017 (gmt 0)

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Disclaimer: I don't know much about this stuff, that's why I've had recent interest in some of the recent conversations. Rotating traffic and serps, that's not mysterious, but saying "traffic kill occurs only after making sales" is a head scratcher. How would g know you made a sale? (Other than someone using their Chrome browser, for example). And how would they, or what criteria, apply to sent junk traffic until it is time to let you sell again?

The dang web is riddled with automatic traffic these days, perhaps upwards of 50-65% and these robotics are getting better everyday. More inclined to believe they might have more to do with bogus traffic than g either throttling, operating a sales quota, or other method of spreading unhappiness on a regular basis.

I believe we've seen more UNEVEN results since the AI was introduced ... all too easy to set one "AI" against another "AI" than against human review. This, more than anything, is proof that the machine is not yet ready to take over the world, but it can sure irritate us. :)
9:23 am on Feb 12, 2017 (gmt 0)

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@tangor

In all commerce when it is someone's business to know, then they will know. This is not limited just to the internet business.

How they know it is unimportant. They might buy it, steal it, share it, or get it in any other exotic ways.

What I do know is their reaction time to transactions can be as low as 2 hours. In contrast, amazon's reaction to the same transactions is around 7 days. So there are players of different divisions and leagues out there.

No doubt you are going to ask how do you know any of this ? Well, it's my business to know. What they do affects my business.
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