organic-traffic-drops

Ouch! Find out what happened to my organic traffic

My Blogs Organic Traffic has disappeared

Yes, Google’s recent updates have had a crippling affect on my blogs organic traffic. For years I have followed and implemented only ‘white hat’ SEO methods complying with Google’s Best Practices as I understand them. Where I was uncertain of a SEO method, I’d rather not implement it, than risk penalties. For me honesty and integrity is a big thing and I don’t believe in cheating the system. When starting DuaneReeve.com in 2014 I made the decision to only provide unique, original and helpful content. I also made the decision to base my traffic strategy on building a following using purely organic traffic, with the principle being; Great content will lead to attaining the right kind of visitors to my blog. What transpired recently has freaked me out…

Google's Quality Update in August killed my Organic Traffic

What happened to my Blogs Organic traffic

As most of my blog readers already know, I really only started focusing on my blog in July of this year (2015), after joining the Quick Start Challenge (QSC). My strategy being to rely on organic traffic and to build a following by driving FREE traffic to my blog using on-page SEO, Blog Commenting (otherwise known as Blog Hopping) and by posting in Forums, which allow signatures containing my URL(s). On-Page SEO, I’ve done from the onset, but the two other traffic methods were taught in the QSC, hence my using them. I do very little keyword research when crafting a new blog topic and my on-page SEO pretty much involves following a checklist within the WordPress SEO Plugin I use.. What this means is that I follow some basic principles to optimise my posts content and that’s it. I DO NOT over optimise my pages and I don’t believe in Keyword Stuffing neither.

Why am I telling you all this?

For the better part of 2015, I saw a small but steady increase in organic web traffic to DuaneReeve.com. After starting the QSC, my traffic spike for the month of July (while the challenge was running) and it stabilised again in August back to the regular 3000+ Sessions (or 5000+ Page Views) per month I’d enjoyed prior to the QSC. For a relatively new Blog, I was very happy with 5000+ page views monthly coming from Organic Traffic and then…

SUDDENLY IT WAS GONE 🙁

I have been doing SEO for clients for 4-5 years, so I’m familiar with Google’s Animals (Penguin, Panda, Humming Bird etc) and very aware to avoid using methods that will see my site penalised due to a Penguin or Panda type update. It was strange (actually, very upsetting) to see my traffic has now bottomed out at less than 300 Page Views per month (from 5000+). What is more strange, is the fact that I know my site is compliant with Penguin/Panda/Humming Bird updates and still my organic traffic quite literally disappeared overnight.

The Investigation into my lost Organic Traffic

My first reaction, when I realised this drop in traffic, was to visit my Google Webmaster Tools account to see if my site had triggered a Manual Penalty or if there was a security issue. Both of these checks came up clean, leaving me more confused than ever (see image). My next step was to do the same in Bing Webmaster tools, which again was clear.

Google Webmaster Tools reveals no penaties or security issues

The next step was to double check my sites response times, as Google (and other Search Engines) have been known to penalise sites that are regarded as being unusually slow. These tests were done more to satisfy my OCD than to do with the actual issue at hand, but at least it’s another factor I’ve checked and ruled out. Speed Tests were done using GTMetrics and Pingdom’s Speed tests; both showed a better than average response time (Pingdom’s results shown below)…

Pingdom reveals better than average response time
The above speed test is OK – but should be improved upon!

So, now I know it’s NOT a Speed Issue, it’s not a Manual Penalty or a Security Issue that caused my traffic to disappear. Is it the fact that I’ve recently started using a new Affiliate Link Cloaking Plugin? Google does frown on certain methods of Link Cloaking, but I don’t believe this is the case and after contacting the Plugin Developer and doing some extra research I am now 100% certain this isn’t the issue.

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Note: Something I forgot to check initially was whether my Blog had been removed from the Google Database (de-indexed) entirely. To check this, I simply Google’d a few of my posts using the full URL in inverted comma’s. I also did a search for some of my Blog Topics in Inverted Comma’s…

Examples:

“https://duanereeve.com/how-to-choose-a-niche-for-affiliate-marketing/”
“How to Choose a Niche for Affiliate Marketing”

Of all the URL’s I tested; and I tested most… All came up in the Search Results. This meant my Blog hadn’t been de-indexed, but that my rankings had been affected. One of my affiliate marketing posts is still ranked on Page-2, which again solidified the fact that it wasn’t a Link Cloaking penalty.

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So, what next? I was running out of options. I found several online Google Penalty Checking tools and most came back with contradictory results. In fact, one such tool basically said my blog had been affected 100% by every Google Update known to man and then some. The FEE to get this fixed, was a monthly subscription of $75. Really!

After reading countless articles on Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and Moz.com, I eventually found the this article on TheSEMPost.com

The above mentioned article and a related post within that article (found Here) has led me to the conclusion that my blog has in fact been affected by either or both the PANDA 4.2 Update and/or Google’s core search ranking algorithm update, known as ‘the Quality Update‘ (or Phantom Update). I’m leaning more towards this being a Phantom Update Issue, but won’t rule out Panda 4.2 at this stage.

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Both the Panda and the Phantom updates are there to penalise sites with ‘thin content’ or ‘poor quality content’. I don’t believe my blog is guilty of either, however, when comparing my blog with its 25-30 posts to other more established blogs in my Niche, it could be seen as being ‘thin content’. Let’s face it, how do I compare with other more established sites when that comparison is based on a mathematical algorithm and the shear volume of content on those sites.

In my opinion, my Blog also offers great quality content (not bragging), but one of the major penalties within the Phantom Updates (and something I never saw coming) is penalties imposed on sites offering a high percentage of “How To” articles. These “How To” posts are regarded as being of low quality because such articles have been manipulated by online marketers for years. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with offering “How To” articles, provided they offer value to the readers and help them resolve a real issue. I believe the percentage of “How To” posts in relation to other posts on my blog may be the influencing factor in Google determining my site to be of lesser quality (at this stage).

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Note: Everything I have mentioned or discussed above is a result of my research and findings. Fact is; I have never had to deal with any traffic penalties in the past, so while I feel my discovery is spot on, I could also be way off the mark. Hopefully, my analysis is correct, in which case I can move on with the road to recovering my Organic Traffic.

The road to recovering my blog traffic

Let me first mention a few facts:

  1. My organic traffic vanished roughly at the time of the PANDA 4.2 Updates
  2. My percentage of “How To” posts is high compared with overall post count
  3. My Blog contains Affiliate Marketing posts (also regarded as low quality)
  4. My Content is ‘thin’ when compared with more established sites

If you’ve read the posts I linked to earlier (on TheSEMPost.com), you may be able to recognise how I came to determining the issues on my blog. Whether these are true or not, is yet to be determined. If it is the real reason why my organic traffic has fallen away, hell it’s NOT FAIR, but it is, what it is…

If I’m completely off the mark >>>
Maybe someone reading this can help me out?

My Traffic Recover Strategies

  1. Implement Traffic methods that don’t rely on Google Rankings
  2. Do more in-depth Keyword Research (maybe Long-Tail Keyword Strategies)
  3. Include some Video Blog Posts – to improve time on site and YouTube Traffic
  4. Make sure the new content doesn’t use “How To” topics as keywords
  5. Write more content for my Blog – Way more content!
  6. Reduce percentage of posts with Affiliate Links
  7. Get more Social Media Signals

My first challenge is to get more content onto my Blog. The only way to overcome being seen as a ‘thin site’, is to become a ‘fat site’ (authority site, maybe). I’ll have to come up with a ‘Content Strategy’ that will allow me to add more quality content, more frequently. The content to be added should also avoid “How To” topics where possible. Simply re-wording a proposed blog post title may do the trick…

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eg. If a post topic was to be: “How to setup WordPress

maybe “WordPress Setup Guide” is a better choice?

Please let me know what you think in the comments below…

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Conclusion: The loss of my blogs organic traffic has been a massive blow and very disheartening. In the last 2-3 weeks I have even considered abandoning this Blog and moving forward using another one of my dormant domains. Fact is I am too stubborn to quit and therefore decided to turn this into a Challenge for myself. At this stage, I haven’t set my Traffic Goals or the methods I intend using to get this traffic, but I will map out a plan soon. I very nearly, out of desperation, purchased Video Traffic X over the weekend to boost my traffic via YouTube. In the end I decided against buying the product as I’d rather publish quality Videos rather than crappy videos that simply rank quickly. With that said…

Please share your thoughts, opinions and advice in the comments section below.
I’d really like to hear your feedback and if you have any ideas and or solutions to help me get my Organic Traffic Back, I’d love to hear them (If your friends can benefit from my experience, please feel free to share this post – My Social Sharing Bar is to the left, ‘to the left’ [awp_icon name=”icon-music” scale=”1″ type=”normal” align=”none”]).

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Comments

  1. Duane, I cannot imagine how you feel about this. This would devastate me if it happened to me. I believe all of us in the QSC can learn from your experience. Thank you for sharing this, and I hope you get it resolved.
    Roy Miller recently posted…The Big Commission BlueprintMy Profile

    1. Hi Roy – This whole episode has been rather demoralising, but I’ve decided to take from it what I can to learn how to deal with such occurrences. Hopefully, my blog recovers quickly and more importantly I hope this will teach me how to help others recover from similar situations (I can offer this as a service once I know how)..

  2. Interesting. I had heard that Google may start penalizing How To articles, but I had no idea they actually went through with it. Good to know for future blog posts!
    David recently posted…11 Blogs Every Marketer Should Subscribe ToMy Profile

    1. Hi David – Thanks for taking the time to comment. If I didn’t do the research, I still wouldn’t have known about the ‘How To’ article penalties. I guess that’s why the update has been nicknamed ‘Phantom’.

  3. Hi, Duane

    Sorry for you. Thanks for detail account for your recovery.
    I’ve saved this for my second read. I really want to get all the inforamtion.
    Thanks

    Stella Chiu
    Stella Chiu recently posted…How to Combat or Stop BullyingMy Profile

  4. Duane,

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this. One of the things it tells me is that you’re going about your business the right way. You track and keep tabs on what’s going on in your business.

    I admire the lengths to which you’ve gone to get to the bottom of the traffic loss, and I’d strongly encourage you not to give up on this blog, because you have tons on valuable content on it. If you can identify the problem, do all you can to avoid a recurrence. At the same time keep adding more content with informative topics until you recover some of what was lost. You might even consider adding different types of content like, Infographics, videos, etc.
    Yvonne A Jones recently posted…Does a Desire for Perfection Cause Procrastination?My Profile

    1. Thx Yvonne – I have definitely decided to keep going and to document my progress as best possible. I think this will make for an interesting case study and I’ll surely learn a lot during the process. Thanks for the compliments regarding my content – appreciated! As for mixing up the content; thanks for the tip – InfoGraphics and SlideShare are on my list for renewed traffic methods

  5. Hi Duane,

    I’m sorry that you have experienced a drop in hard-earned traffic, but I’m also inspired by your ‘never give up’ attitude. I do agree that changing your titles can help you out, and I’ve started using the Headline Analyzer from CoSchedule to help me choose the best headline possible.

    Additionally, I know that the only way to beat the Google core ranking algorithm is to continue providing useful, relevant, and high-quality content. Though I wasn’t aware that a new Panda update was released.

    Continue on with the great content, and I wish you the best with your content strategy.
    Davina recently posted…The 10 Most Powerful TED Talks for EntrepreneursMy Profile

    1. Thx Davina – What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger! or so ‘they’ say. I’ve used the Advanced Marketing Institutes Headline Analyser for 90% of my posts. Their site was down for a few days, so used the CoSchedule Headline tool for this post. ‘How to’ articles get very high ratings on both, so while these are both great tools/services, you still need to watch those ‘How To’ (for now, anyway). The Panda 4.2 Update was very quietly drip-fed into the core algorithm. This makes it increasingly difficult to trace traffic issues, as there is no specific date to work with and why I’m struggling so to pin point exactly what happened (i.e. was it Panda or Phantom Updates)

  6. Hi Duane,

    I have to say that organic SEO is not something that’s ever appealed to me, mostly because you are so dependent on somebody else for your traffic – i.e. it’s not under your control. However I do admire the people who do make it work for them, which obviously you have done for a good while.

    I have read that some effects are temporary and their is a Google ‘yo-yo effect’ after many updates, where formerly good ranking pages dip down the rankings for a while before recovering, often taking some weeks to do so. Obviously then you cannot be sure if it’s anything you’ve done or just the search engine re-indexing.

    Good luck with all your efforts and it’s great to read about these things, even if we have little or no intention of implementing anything ourselves.

    Regards,

    Steven Lucas
    Steven Lucas recently posted…Easy YouTube Marketing TipsMy Profile

    1. Hi Steven – when I started my online journey, SEO was a direction I took due to the fact that I was bankrupt and couldn’t afford paid traffic (I tried Adwords PPC once and managed a ROI of 0%). With minimal budget, I decided to focus on SEO as I could sell that as a service to clients, which today is one of my major income sources. That being said; I’m aware of the Google Yo-Yo effect and hoping for the best, which is one of the reasons I decide to continue without changing any of my existing content and just continually adding more content without ‘How To’ guides for now. I seriously need to get cracking with some Video and build my Social Signals…

    • Sue
    • 27/10/2015

    Oh oh… You have an amazing attitude, Duane – not to mention skills and talents! Negative occurences like this, only bring out the best in you.

    Thanks for sharing, especially about the “How to…..” titles in blog posts. That means I have to go back and change my most recent post’s title – “My Solo Ads Horror Story and How you can avoid it”.

    Tremendously appreciate your valuable content, delivered with honesty and integrity.

    To your continued success,
    Sue
    Sue recently posted…My Solo Ads Horror Story and How You can avoid itMy Profile

    1. Thx Sue – I’ve read and commented on your Solo Ad Post! I wouldn’t rush out and change the title. One or two ‘How To’ posts aren’t going to hurt your blog. If the majority, or a high percentage, of your posts are ‘How To’, then do as I’m doing and add more non ‘How To’ posts to reduce the percentages. If you decide to rename your posts, remember to add a redirection from the old URL to the new.

  7. Wow! You’ve got some great engagement here about traffic, blogging and SEO. Thanks for sharing your experience with Google’s ranking! Like everyone else, I find it challenging, frustrating and am also inspired by your perseverance. I believe that to succeed as an entrepreneur, perseverance is a key. So many throw in the towel too soon. Congrats on yours! And look forward to hearing how your new plan works. I know the other thing that I am adding to my blog is periscope. Right now, I am testing it and pulling in my feed to a blog. Once I see it working I will move it to my main site. But it seems that it might have value — of course, provided that the content is interesting, values based and relevant.
    Donna Price recently posted…REI Closes For Black Friday — Good Business??My Profile

    1. Hi Donna – Thx for the compliments and feedback. I’ve had a look at periscope and not sure if I’ll tackle this right now – My fear of live video (eeek), which I still have to overcome.

  8. Hello Duane,
    Outch! Luckily I haven’t been in your situation (yet) – knock on wood!
    However, I’ve read from multiple blogs and forum posts that it’s best to not depend on google all too much.
    You’ve written a very good article here and I like your attitude on moving forward. Keep at it!
    At the end of the day it’s still a computer program who determines if a website provides “good” or “bad” content…
    I do use the same SEO tactic as you, altho I use Yoast SEO, but I too just write about topics I have something to say about and because I can rank well with a certain keyword…
    Alex recently posted…Should you follow your passion?My Profile

    1. Hopefully some of what I shared will help you NOT having to go through this. To be honest, I’ve also read about it many times… Don’t reply on Google for traffic and I whole heatedly support that (especially now). The issue for me, was that I haven’t had the time to setup other traffic strategies. Now I have to find the time.

  9. Great fightback Duane, unfortunately everyone is at risk from the ‘Google Zoo’ great information about the ‘how to articles’ You may be wise to write an indepth cornerstone article which links to others that you have written, google puts these in a special corner of the Zoo reserved for superstars
    Mike Gardner is The Time Doctor recently posted…5 warning signs that you’re an email puppetMy Profile

    1. Hi Mike. Thanks for the tip regarding the ‘cornerstone article’. I think that may very well be my next mission. I’m also going to spend a lot of time and effort finding other traffic methods that free me from future Google onslaughts (i.e. non-google traffic).

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