A couple of days ago I noticed that the traffic to my blog had dropped significantly. I was not aware of any penalty’s for my site so I was a bit puzzled. I checked Webmaster tools to confirm that my site was not flagged by Google for anything and I also checked analytics to see if the stats lined up with the WordPress plugins I use to track my site’s visitors. The last thing I did was check Google for a few keywords that my site has always ranked well for and I was surprised to see that my site was no longer ranking at all.
In a few months I watched my site go from page fourteen on Google for the keyword “money making ideas” to eventually make it to page one. I never made it to the top spot, but being in the fifth position was still sufficient for a nice bit of traffic. I was well aware of all the changes that Google has been making with its algorithm, but I saw no reason for my site to completely vanish if I was not being flagged for any penalty.
I checked my site’s backlinks just to make sure I was not a victim of some type of reverse SEO attack and then I decided to reverse all changes I made in the past 48 hours.
1. I removed a caching plugin that I added to increase my sites performance.
2. I got rid of some tags that I added to a number of posts in hopes of gaining some extra traffic.
3. I was already using a sitemap plugin, but I decided to add a sitemap to Webmaster tools as well. I am sure that did not cause this, but I decided to remove the sitemap from Google as well.
After 48 hours my site reappeared in Google search, albeit on page three instead of page one for my major keywords. In another 24 hours I was at the top of page 2 and I had not moved any higher. A few days later I noticed my site had vanished again. I searched Google and found that my site was now on page 38 for my keyword and that it must be under some penalty from the Penguin update. At this point it is not a big deal because I still get decent traffic and I never wanted to solely focus on Google for visitors. I am certain if I continue to add content and relevant backlinks that I can eventually climb again, but thankfully I do not rely on this blog to pay the bills.
What Is the Google Penguin Update?
Penguin is the code-name for a recent Google algorithm update that targets sites for using black-hat SEO techniques like keyword stuffing, cloaking, link schemes or duplicate content. Since the update is not a manual penalty you can recover from it by making whatever necessary changes to get back compliant with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Unfortunately, it is pretty much impossible to know exactly why you got penalized and it is probably a waste of time making serious changes to your site without knowing why.
Plenty of small businesses have been destroyed by this update and it is a hard lesson for anyone affected that had all their eggs in one basket.
There is no way to know for certain what happened, but this experience is a perfect example of why I have always been against focusing on Google as a primary traffic source. Although it would be foolish to ignore Google, it is dangerous to place your business at the whims of every algorithm change. Your goal should be to obtain traffic from multiple sources like social websites, forums, blogs, web 2.0 sites and paid traffic.
I am sure this is not the last time I will witness some odd things happen with my search rankings, but my goal is to ensure that the percentage of traffic I lose is insignificant due to my efforts to receive traffic from multiple sources outside of Google. If you rely on Google to run your business you are taking a huge risk. These constant updates are taking out some quality sites under the guise of creating a better search experience. My guess is Google is trying to squeeze sites in hopes that they can make more money from their Adwords program.
If you have time, check out this interesting interview on Tim Carter of AskTheBuilder.com on how a Google update can destroy your business.