5 Good Reasons Why I Persevered with Panda

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I’m sure you’re all very much aware of the Google Panda update that’s caused many a heart attack in affiliate land since it was launched 6 long months ago.  My own sad experience has seen me almost completely lose a very large site which was IMHO largely because Google never did work out the difference between my original content and the stuff that had been stolen by oodles of horrid scrapers. I had to remove 1100 pages of a 1300 page site and consign most of it to the internet dustbin. Ouch.

Despite the fact I had other sites with much better EPCs I could have thrown my effort into to replace the income I lost I’ve sweated blood these last few months to go through the painstaking process of rebuilding my site. To date, I’m about 25% of the way there and have a lovely uphill climb over razorblades to look forward to.

However, I decided to persevere with Panda and these are the reasons I think it was the right thing to do: -

1. I Need to Understand Google’s New Way Of Thinking – Yes it’s tempting just to consign an apparently unsavable site to the rubbish bin. But if I don’t take time to understand the fundamentals of what Panda needs to see from me I’m not going to have an affiliate business at all in 2 or 3 years. Working on my hammered site may not be the best short term use of time from a revenue point of view but I’d rather use this experience to improve my business than focus on short term gain.

2. Let Google Get The Better Of Me? Get F**ked! I’d rather stick hot needles under my fingernails than admit to myself that Google took one of my favourite sites. I will fix it, the Panda will not win! Someone mentioned to me the other day that I may or may not have sadistic tendencies when it comes to things like this.  If I do, more power to my elbow.

3. It’s Sort Of Fun Whenever things like this happen I always have a renewed appreciation for my SEO roots, I love the problem solving aspect of algo changes.  To be fair this has been the toughest one to date because it’s had a huge and admittedly depressing effect on Lingerie Brands in particular, and to a lesser extent two of my other main sites.

4. I Can Use What I Learn on My Other Sites – I had two other sites hit by Panda in the June update.  Not badly, but enough to annoy me quite a fair bit.  I used what I’d laboriously learned with my other poorly site to immediately make some key changes I thought could help.  In the August update I recouped about half of what I’d lost. Cheered me up immensely that did!

5. They Might Not be Bloody Done Yet! Like all Google’s wonderful ideas, they’re working hard to refine it.  If I don’t take the time to be up to date with it and they raise the bar again, things could get really gnarly. By working hard to recreate an improved site and passing all I’ve learned into my existing sites I hope to avoid any further traffic upsets.  Incidentally, I really hope we’ve seen all the big changes go through that will affect affiliate content sites – I don’t think I can take any more Pandalisation in my fragile pregnant state, LOL.  MMMM Morning sickness and Panda – thanks for nothing Google ;)

Well, those are my reasons for Persevering with Panda. I could have made this post why “YOU” should persevere but I know a lot of people have just been totally stumped by this. I guess I’m lucky I found a path forward with my sites.

Good luck to all my Pandalised affiliate pals :)

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Get a Lovely Traffic Increase Over The Weekend? Are You Sure?!

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So there I was on Sunday morning, dribbling bacon grease all over my keyboard and checking out a few stats as is my usual ritual, when to my joy I discovered 3 of my sites had gotten stonking great traffic increases in the region of 30%.

“Oh Deep Joy!” I thought, “Perhaps something to do with the foreign language Panda Update they’ve rolled out” followed a little while later with “Hmmm… deep concern. Why have I not seen extra traffic through to merchants?”

After also noticing a nasty old drop in user session times, new visitor rates, and pages per visit combined with increased bounce rate I knew something was badly wrong somewhere so got my internet investigationing hat on and did a spot of research.

Introducing The New And Improved Analytics Data Roll Out

It transpired that Google Analytics had made some improvements to the way user sessions are counted.

Of course they had anticipated a slight skewing of data mentioning in their post that, “Overall, this change may slightly increase the number of visits. Based on our research, most users will see less than a 1% change.”

Well, I can only speak for myself but I think they’ve gotten it a teeny tiny bit wrong. You only have to read the comments on their post to see I’m not alone there!

I’m no analytics expert – I confess to being a basic user so if anyone knows of a fix please let me know! Although I *think* the absolute unique visitor data is pretty much correct it’s totally humped my ability to look at things like organic traffic stats and see which terms are doing well or just work out how many “real” organic visits I’m getting from particular sources.

No comment from Google yet, but I sure do hope there’s a workaround or they can fix things up :(

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Google Panda Recovery – The Journey So Far

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Welcome to part two of my series of an unknown length looking at my exciting adventures recovering one of my affiliate sites from it’s Google Panda woes!

The first thing I did after returning from New Zealand and getting over the huff that I’d been in was formulate a recovery plan.

Here’s The Plan Stan!!

  • Removing all site content except the core pages around which the site is themed and rebuilding the whole thing from the ground up. In a site of almost 1,300 pages this leaves me with around 150 to play with.
  • Increase average page views per user, time spent on site, and general visitor happiness by not having any core pages that redirect straight out to merchant.
  • The core pages (which feature individual fashion brands) will be completely redesigned to form decent information resources about the brand beyond the current description and “shop now” type links. Things like sizing guides, information on the types of product they specialise in etc. I’m also going to have a special offers widget created for the site that’ll allow me to present information on sales, discount codes, and offers for each brand or by specific category.
  • Investing heavily in site functionality. I have an early version of a plugin that’ll let me take merchant feeds, grab and save all their images, resizing and renaming them automagically (Oh how I’m coming to love that word). The plugin also creates masked affiliate links and will allow users to browse all the products in ways they wouldn’t be able to on a single merchant site. Each core page will have a small widget which will display the latest products on the site for the brand. I started organising this back in January when I realised that we had a problem.
  • Thin “product reviews”  which were really only rewritten product overviews and whizzed people straight back out to merchant will be replaced by newsy items and how to articles.  These will not be monetised.
  • I’ll also start doing real product reviews under some kind of nom de plume.  We’ll be setting up a mini photo studio to take detailed pictures of bras. I will not be modelling these :D . These  reviews will also form part of my shiny new social media strategy. I shall be trying to get the merchants and brands to bestow some retweetage upon me for my efforts. Again, these will not be monetised but I’m holding out real hopes of scoring serious amounts of free underwear and link love once I get it going.
  • Competitions – again around social media to try to get people retweeting, liking, and generally engaging with the site.
  • I’ll be going through and re-optimising the core pages, well de-optimising them really. I’ll also be rewriting anything that isn’t clear and concise and where there’s too much repetition of terms closely related to the page content.
  • Lots of social media type fun, all totally new and nosebleed inducing but I think essential for the longer term.
  • Theme update.
  • Site speed overhaul.

If you read the above carefully you’ll see it caters for an awful lot of things Google could use to tell you are an unoriginal site.

It Is Alive!! The Early Results

I’ve already put in two solid weeks of work on pulling my site apart and starting to reconstruct it and am seeing some early, but limited, results.  Here’s a list of what changes I’ve made, when I made them, followed by some results and observations.  Hope you’re still awake by the time you’ve gotten through ‘em!

First of all, here’s the Google referral data from my Analytics account: -

Encouraging hey?

The upward trend is all the more pleasing when you consider that the increase in traffic is being countered by the removal of all the pages that were generating 90% of the traffic we’d regained as at April 25th or so. In a twist of fate only Google could engineer the only pages left ranking were complete and utter spammy shite which I’d accidentally let get indexed – they were old PPC pages and had no unique content whatsoever.

What Have I Done So Far From My Plan?

I hear you ask. Here’s a list of what we did, and when.

  • April 3rd. I changed all the brand overview pages so that rather than the user going straight out to merchant from my “view whole range” button, they were directed to my internal product feed section which I thought would increase the average page views per user that Google was seeing happen on the site.
  • May 2nd. I removed all the content from the site except my main pages. This took my 1,300 page site down to a whopping 169.
  • May 4th. New site design and structure is put in place. For now, I’ve based the site completely around the core content. Replacing the old feed content in the top bar with links to categories containing all my brands.
  • May 6th. I began the process of deoptimising my pages and rewriting content where needed.
  • May 12th Finish the deoptimisation and rewriting. I can assure you alcohol will be taken this evening!

Observations

  • Like Site B I found some pages on Site A where my SEO plugin had let me down. A significant number (but not all) of them were quietly ranking away. Not enough to alert me by producing much traffic, but high enough to cheer me up significantly.  This reinforced the idea that softening the SEO on the site was looking like a winner.
  • As I went through my pages on I also did test searches and discovered that many pages that were previously totally buried or around page 5 were now mid page 2.  Another trend was that in many cases “softer” site pages that perhaps mentioned the brand name once were ranking relatively high in the serps i.e. within pages 2 to 5.
  • The cached date on the majority of the pages returning to the rankings was initially around April 14th to 18th.  So either my change to the way people flowed through the site early April was something Google liked, which has resulted in some pages at least appearing within the first five pages (they weren’t before!) or I’m simply benefitting from an algo adjustment and this information is meaningless.
  • Many of the pages I adjusted on were reindexed immediately. Some of them were suddenly looking a lot sunnier on the rankings front. Others still nowhere in sight. An oddity with this is that the new titles and meta descriptions are showing in the index but the cached version of the page is still old.  Another thing I’ve seen is that pages I’ve adjusted will often be catapulted back into the SERPS but it’ll be the old page version ranking rather than the new one. I’ve seen this repeatedly in the last two weeks.
  • Average time spent on site and visitor page views have more than doubled and are now in line with my other sites.

Wow. Well this post has got a bit on the long side but it’ll hopefully be useful in this form.

Before You Get Jealous Of My Recovery…

Green eyed SERPS monster bothering ya? Never fear!

Because I still have a very, very long way to go.

With having made the decision to take the site back to it’s core I’ve lost a large number of pages that previously brought traffic and income to the site. I decided that for my site there was no quick solution because when I looked at it and asked “does this add value and could it stand alone without the affiliate content?” The answer was a resounding no.

I think it’ll probably take me at least 6 months to get back to where I was but I honestly believe it’s more than worth the effort. I know I’ll end up with a much stronger resource that really does add value in the long term – which will put me streets ahead of those not prepared to put in the work.

Good luck to everyone out there who has been Pandalised – and remember the road to recovery isn’t an easy one but it is worthwhile!

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Google Panda – A Tale of Two Websites

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Affiliate marketing has always been fun. The dynamic cut and thrust and the thrill of making those sales until… the horror of a Google update that wipes you off the planet. More of a slash and stab than cut and thrust!

I thought about trying to write an affiliate guide to the Panda update. But given the many faceted ways this simple sounding “content farm and quality” update is affecting my affiliate colleagues I decided I just wasn’t qualified to talk about things I don’t understand. However what I can do is talk about what’s happened in my own tiny corner of the affiliate sphere.

My Tale of Two Websites

I’m in a bit of a unique situation. I have two websites that, at least on the face of things, are identical in structure and SEO strategy and are even occupying similar niches. One took a downward spiral to bogey town whilst the other enjoyed a meteoric rise to SERPS wonderfulness.

So paying special attention to user experience or things that might give off poor quality signals similar to those employed by naughty spammers here’s the key differences I found between my sites.

I’m sure regular readers will know which sites I’m talking about, but I’m going to refer to them as Site A (affected) and Site B (unaffected) to make this easier to read.

User Experience

  • Engagement – Site B has a much higher repeat visitor rate, double the average page views per visitor, and almost double the average time spent on site than Site A. It  is generally a much more efficient website and seems to engage the users much more. The majority of Site B’s main pages channelled users into a feed section where there was product data from several merchants. Site A zipped visitors straight through to merchant from key pages – effectively “getting in the way” of the merchant.
  • Site Performance – Site B has a faster download speed whilst Site A is increasingly slow, clunky, and inefficient. It also has a dated design in desperate need of updating.

 

Quality Signals

  • Usage Patterns – Visitors to Site B tend to have a more natural pattern of moving through the site whilst Site A’s visitors are more likely to be catapulted straight out to a merchant. The main categories are populated with useful content and rank well whereas Site A is the exact opposite. From a common sense POV having useful content in parts of the site architecture that Google would expect to be key to the site, and having users interact with it, does make sense from a quality perspective.
  • Thin Affiliate – Google had indexed all the masked redirects on Site A despite them being blocked via the Robots.txt – thus it knew exactly what all those links were i.e. of an affiliate nature. Site B did not suffer this fate.
  • Site scrapers – Site A is absolutely plagued by these whilst Site B hasn’t had many hassles. Pretty much all my mini articles have been scraped back to front and sideways. For many, the site doesn’t even rank first for unique text snippets and hasn’t done for quite some time.  There are literally hundreds of these and they outweigh the brand pages in terms of volume. They are all also very thin and will be pages people only spend a few seconds on. Sounding toxic much??
  • Link Profiles – Site A has quite a poor link profile. Too many exchanges and directory submissions and not enough natural looking link love. On the other hand, Site B has a bit more content with “oh my god would you look at that” appeal. It has therefore got a smattering of unrequested links from quality sources.
  • Highly Optimised Pages - Thanks to a malfunctioning SEO plugin many of Site B’s page titles were much less optimised than Site A’s. Totally unoptimsied even. I noticed this after being given the heads up on “Soft” pages ranking better than more aggressively optimised pages post Panda by SEO champ Lee McCoy (he has my eternal gratitude). To my surprise many of Site B’s pages were ranking better in their less optimised form.

Conclusions?

There are some pretty glaring differences between those two sites – and it seems Site A has an awful lot of tell tell negative factors.

However fear not! By paying attention to the above factors plus some other common sense stuff I’ve already managed to get Site A on the long trudge back up the SERPS.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode where I’ll tell you my recovery plan, what changes I’ve made so far, and how they have affected Site A’s performance!

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Why Affiliates Need To Be Better Than Merchants

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Hey… can you guys hear that? I think I may be able to hear the winds of change advancing upon affiliate land!

In recent weeks I’ve been hearing campfire-esque affiliate horror stories told in hushed tones from some corners of the internet.  There are tales of affiliate websites being hit with the dreaded Google slap and *gasp* some of them have unique content.

Google’s New “Low Quality” Algo Tweak

It was only ever a matter of time – but in recent days Google’s very own Matt Cutts has announced that there has been an algo change to try and weed out sites with “shallow or low-quality content“. Of course the announcement is very vague in nature, but it’s clear this is a further advance on the Mayday Update which had so many affiliates shuddering in horror.

The key question here is, what constitutes low quality content? I’d suggest that this is something all us affiliates should be giving some mighty careful consideration. “Low quality” is not the same as “Non Unique”. Two recent cases in point from the Google Webmaster help threads when the algo tweak began to bite should serve to illustrate my point neatly: -

The Case Of The Travel Site Owner

A travel site owner found his site complete with unique content had been slapped silly. Now, whether or not this was justified aside Google Employee John Mu posts some useful points to the thread including: -

  • “One thing that is very important to us with affiliate-oriented sites is that the site provides enough unique and compelling content of its own, that it would stand on its own feet if the affiliate content were removed.”
  • “our algorithms generally tend to prefer sites that are either the original source (saving the user time on clicking through) or sites that have really strong content.

I really feel for the webmaster in that thread, when you read through it his anguish is all too obvious.

The Case of Unique Not Being Unique Enough

In another thread, a webmaster complains that Google has penalized my entire network of 30+ sites (credit to Lee McCoy who posted the link on Facebook!). He scores a reply from Matt Cutts himself.  In this case Matt is saying that although his content is unique on the face of things, it’s not very high quality and therefore not considered unique enough by the algo.

Specific Examples Aside…

What we as affiliates should all be taking away from this is that we need to make sure what we are providing users isn’t just the same as a merchant site, or equal in quality. It must surpass the information people can get by going straight to the merchant.

Due to a lack of wholesale wailing and gnashing of teeth from the affiliate world I’d say that Googles algos are developing subtly. However, as we see time and time again Google constantly raise the bar on us affiliates. I think it’s time for us all to take a step back, look at our sites sites, and ask “Does this add value over and above what my users can find on the merchant site?”.

If the answer is no, or you’re not sure I think it’s time to start working towards changing that. The thing about a truly valuable resource is that it takes a heck of a lot of time and effort to build. In my opinion it’s better to start now and avoid potential pain later. I’m certainly going to do this as of today. My mantra will be “I have to be better than the merchant”.

If the Google boogey man doesn’t eventuate (and lets face it Google love to slide on the boogey man outfit where affiliates are concerned!), my websites will be much better for my efforts and will ultimately benefit my business more.

I’d say that was a win-win, huh? :)

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The End of My PPC Affiliate Career is in Sight!

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It seems to happens without fail every time I leave my office for a significant stretch. Before we left on our little affiliate jolly I said to Duncs, “Well? What’ll it be this time darling???”

“What do you mean?” He said, looking up from his packing with the usual confused look he bestows upon my frequent random outbursts.

“What will go wrong when we’re away? What lovely little surprise will Google bestow upon us right at the point when we’re totally unable to do anything about it?”

Thankfully It’s Not PPC Armageddon

I’ve just returned from a blissful 10 days going internet cold turkey to discover that whilst I was gone my Australian underwear site has had a review and found a polite note from Google pointing out that my humble offering was in “violation of our Landing Page and Site Policies” and “the site is disabled within your AdWords account.”

Well gee thanks guys – my holiday was wonderful thanks!

But it Didn’t Stop There…

Upon closer examination I discovered that Blokes Undies had also been given the old QS thumbs down no less than 6 weeks ago and I simply didn’t notice (no dear John letter about that one though!).

Happily the reason for this was that the PPC was only about 15% of the site traffic and the slap coincided with a nice organic boost… so I actually ended up with a profit increase during September and subsequently didn’t investigate why the PPC traffic was 50% down in September. It was only today when doing my stats I realised that during October I’d had hee haw from Adwords and that every keyword in that campaign was wearing a shiny “rarely shown due to low quality score” badge.

Tightening The Noose?

I’ve always prided myself on adding value to the user and creating pages I didn’t consider to be “thin” pages. I’ve come through the various affiliate culls over the last 2 years totally untouched. Until now that is.

Does this mean Google is tightening it’s rules relating to affiliates, or have I just been lucky in recent times? I’m pragmatic enough to realise it could be either or neither of those two options.

One thing I do know about Google is that whenever you start to see such things appearing in your account it’s rarely a one off. Considering how much similarity in structure, content, and strategy the affected sites have to others still lucky enough to be blessed with Adwords traffic my days as a PPC affiliate may be numbered.

Am I Surprised?

Not at all. I’ve been preparing for this type of eventuality for quite some time and with some degree of urgency since I asked a very experienced PPC manager if I had anything to worry about with all the affiliate bannings that went on this time last year and got back an e-mail that basically said “be very, very worried if you rely upon PPC for your livelihood”. That was me told.

Since then, I’ve been feverishly working at building organic traffic whilst refusing to add any more to my Adwords account. My logic being that every adgroup and new domain added a greater element of risk for getting a ban.

Do You Think It’ll Never Happen?

Think again. Those two black marks on my account could well be reason enough for Google to slap me with a nice Adwords ban next time they decide to give a few more affiliates the shove. Far fetched? Not at all. I recently had a conversation with someone who had an entire account banned as a result of one long forgotten, ill conceived thin landing page. He’d fixed some dodgy old pages they warned him about after his “last chance” e-mail, only to cop a ban for the long forgotten page – which they hadn’t.

Draconian? Unfair? Probably, but this is Google we’re talking about and anyone who thinks common sense will prevail when dealing with them is clearly deluded.

What Will I Do Next?

Well, precisely what I’ve been doing already. I’ll continue to create decent sites that add value to the user and constantly strive to improve them. A majority of the PPC traffic I have relied upon in the past is getting too expensive for my margins anyway, so I’m no longer prepared to spend time and resources dancing to the Adwords tune.

For the last year I’ve been running my business on the basis that I will only continue to have Adwords traffic available to me in the short term rather than on a permanent basis. I’m happy to say that PPC now only accounts for around 16% of overall traffic to my websites. This time last year it was closer to 60% and a massive liability to my business.

Prior to leaving Australia I’d already started work on a brand new organic site to replace my now doubly slapped offering. There’ll be a slight gap until we can get home to do the 20% work remaining to get it up and running, but I’ll replace the PPC traffic with organic within a few months.

It’s Not Me, It’s You

So Adwords, like a selfish lover I’ll take what’s on offer for as long as you continue to provide it. But if you finally decide you’ve had enough of me I’ll walk on without breaking step and hope that your brother who provides me with lovely organic traffic doesn’t find out about our broken affair and give me the push. ;)

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Google Caffeine – A Look at Some Winning & Losing Sites

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With the recently completed Caffeine update Google has once more clearly demonstrated it’s power to make or break a business to many affiliates.  The initial update at the start of May was followed by a final adjustment to the algo between June 4th and 2nd which hit many sites whose owners were breathing sighs of relief that they had escaped this latest shake up.  Those affected lost up to 60% of their site traffic – a huge blow.

There’s lots of chat about large e-commerce sites largely being the ones affected, but I know that a lot of affiliate sites have also been hit.  What I wanted to do in this post was show you guys different sites that I own which were affected in different ways and share with you some of my early feelings about what’s been going on here.  Anyone needing a refresher on the joy of Google Caffeine can read my previous post talking about it here.

My Winners and Losers…

The Winners

Blokes Undies – Traffic has increased by around 30% since the start of May.

Lingerie Brands – Up there and rocking with a lovely 25% boost.

The Losers

Personalised Gifts UK – 70% reduction

Fragrance Brands – As above.

Fortunately for me, the sites affected were not at all key to my business. That in itself is probably a bit of a clue – they’re all sites I probably haven’t really done “properly” for one reason or another.

What The Sites Have In Common

  • All 4 have either exactly the same or similar basic structures.
  • All have reasonable cross linking and no real issues with orphan pages.
  • All have completely unique content.

Features of The Winners

  • Both have had extensive work done on generating good quality links. This has either been through quality exchanges or spontaneous links to bits and pieces of my content from sources such as blogs, forums, and other online publications because people have found them useful or interesting.
  • Both are relatively large sites.  One around 1,100 pages the other around 500.

Features of The Losers

  • Some are long neglected sites I’ve been meaning to get back around to working on (there are more than listed above!).
  • Some are niche sites which I took to a certain stage and then left alone, updating infrequently.
  • Many had a low number of pages. The largest had around 280.
  • None of them have had much time at all put into generating links beyond the usual round of mailing some friends with relevant sites and cadging links from them. Very few links go to internal pages (although there are some).
  • All the affected sites were slapped in the second part of the algo adjustment at the start of June.

My Conclusions

  • My traffic boosts have come from the shift in the SERPS caused by the downgrading of larger sites’ quality signals. Happy days :)
  • My own quality and relevance signals for sites that benefitedwere a-ok with Google.
  • Those signals were related to good unique content, decent cross linkage, very few orphan pages, and decent inbound links to many different parts of my sites.
  • Ranking value of domain names remains strong, I didn’t lose any traffic within affected sites which was related directly to the domain.

What Does This Mean For Affiliates

Cutting through lots of algo related jargon about quality and relevance signals, it does come back to the type of frustratingly bland statements one always finds in Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Try to add value, create a site with unique and compelling content, and don’t make it all about earning money. I think the last one of those is probably key to affiliates.  Understandably we want to channel our time into creating traffic with the strongest possible chance of generating a sale for us. However, I think affiliates ignoring this latest warning shot from Google and not thinking about whether they need to change their strategy will be very ill advised indeed. Lets face it, this won’t be the last algo adjustment. How close were you to the cut off this time? Do you think you’d make it through the eye of Google’s algo needle next time??? Are you sure?

Incidentally, Matt Woods mentioned in an article on A4U that this update might see a mainstream return to the micro niche site in affiliate marketing.  He’s absolutely right that those sites will still work. I’ll certainly still be popping the odd one up here and there.  However, I’d say that anyone building a business on them is creating wealth propped up by a house of cards.  I predict their days will be numbered in the longer term. Looking at them from Google’s viewpoint they’re often thin on content, add little value, and are designed to funnel people straight through to another site. If you think sites like that aren’t already on the big G’s radar you’re deluding yourself.

My Own Next Steps

In an attempt to add a little more value than handing all those slapped affiliates a report card type statement reading “must do better” I’ve popped my own recently written “to do” list for all my sites. Some of it will never happen but it’ll all be thoroughly investigated and I will apply bits of this (and some other stuff I think of along the way) to all of my sites – not just the ones with problems.

  • Perform an audit and decide which sites I’ll leave “as is” and which I will try to “rescue”
  • Create more newsy articles of relevance to the industry I’m promoting.
  • Investigate social networking angles so that Google can see me in lots of different places.
  • Look at ways of helping my users more.  Maybe a section on some types of sites offering to help locate hard to find items or answer questions?
  • Investigate creating some unique product browsing tools for my sites. The ipad generation really do love their visuals.
  • Work consistently on all key sites on ethical link building (hopefully the above will generate a lot of this!!)
  • Look at site speed (Google has warned us all!!).

Food For Thought?

I hope I’ve given you at least a tasty little nibble.  Whether you are affected or not, I think bearing in mind that Google can and does raise the quality bar for affiliates on a regular basis is a jolly good idea. Despite having no real impact on my income, this update has given me the proper willies and no doubt about it. I’ve been sitting still for too long and not innovating.  I can visualise all too clearly how easily I could have been on the other side of the fence with this update. The difference between my affected and unaffected sites is uncomfortably small.

Onwards, upwards, and always… Forward!! :D

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Have You Been Google Caffeinated or is it Mayday?

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This week Google confirmed that the much speculated upon Caffeine Update has finished and is here to stay. This new search index has been hot gossip around the interweb for quite some time now. There’s some confusion about what current changes are related to Caffeine and which are down to an unrelated algo adjustment over at Google HQ which has been referred to as the “Mayday” update.

With that in mind, I thought I’d do a bit of a post about what’s happening, who it’s happening to, how its impacted me personally and include a bit of wild conjecture about how affiliates will be affected for entertainment value.

So What Is Google Caffeine?

Fortunately Google saw fit to release a concise diagram which explains it all.

Clearly the forecast for Google searchers is cloudy with a chance of  cyclonic outbursts of random information and images.  Do please use the new index with caution if searching in an enclosed space, or a subject area with sharp edges.

*ahem*

Alternatively it could be that the above indicates that users can now enjoy the following: -

  • The new index will be continuously updated, and will deliver fresh content faster than ever.  Delays between the time Google finds new content and includes it in the index have been eradicated.
  • Google can now index staggering amounts of data, giving them the ability to add more all singing and dancing features to their search engine offerings.
  • Real time web here we come!!

Changes to Longtail Search – Caffeine or Mayday?

  • Current site ranking changes being experienced by some webmasters aren’t related to Google caffeine. Apparently they’ve just been rolled out together and current traffic changes are just part of one of the many hundreds of updates the big G makes every year. Well, that’s what Matt Cutts said anyhow.  So caffeine = quicker search, Mayday = quality adjustments.
  • The changes are based around a re-assessment of how the best quality pages to rank for long tail searches are determined.
  • Until now, the internal pages of many large sites with good authority were ranked well for long tail searches. We’ve all seen these results in the SERPS and greeted them with a wry “Urgh, these guys have such good authority they can put any old shit up and rank for it”.  The changes mean that this authority will now no longer be enough to make Google believe sites are the best quality match to be returned for long tail searches.
  • Most likely to be affected are large sites with many internal pages which are buried deep within a site’s structure and which don’t attract much in the way of external links and aren’t terribly well linked to from within the site either. The buzz around internet town is that ecommerce sites are most likely to be affected.
  • The pages containing  individual products on ecommerce sites fit the above profile and also often do not contain unique content, and may be populated by descriptions and information from manufacturers databases.  i.e. duplicate content. There have been lots of reports from hard hit merchants verifying this.

So How Does This Affect Affiliates?

I can only speak for my own sites with any sort of surety, but I seem to have fallen heir to a lot of long tail traffic since the start of May.  For example, my mens underwear site has had a 25% increase in traffic and my lingerie site is enjoying a boost of 30%. Some of this is attributable to swimwear and holiday season, but I’m definately seeing a sudden glut of longtail traffic and an increase in the number of search phrases referring traffic to my sites. Happy days for me (touch wood!)

I’d have thought I might fall victim to the “isolated page with poor linkage” syndrome with many of my blog posts, particularly on Lingerie Brands which has had terrible linkage between blog post pages up until about 10 days ago when I finally got the site sorted with a pagination plugin. However, it seems that the unique content on these pages combined with the internal cross linkage from related posts has been enough to give Google a good “quality signal” about my content.

And It’s Really All About The Signals Baby…

I have read nothing about affiliate sites being affected, but I imagine there are a few that could fall victim to the current changes. Sites heavily reliant upon feeds and not adding value through the addition of unique and compelling content could very well be affected.  Perhaps voucher code and offer sites that pull in and publish feed based content without any alteration could see a reduction in Google’s willingness to rank their pages well. If you auto generate content, it may well be search engine brown trouser time.  And of course, there’ll be the usual outbreak of innocent bystanders who have done absolutely nothing wrong, just to add the appropriate levels of confusion to the mix ;)

Feed affiliates and those using automated methods to build sites could be on a sticky wicket with this, but I think a lot of affiliates could use these changes to their advantage. If you’re prepared to put in the time and effort to create a well structured, content rich, and unique site you’ll have a much better chance now of getting valuable long tail traffic to your site that was previously being hoovered up by large sites you were unable to compete with.

It’s going to be a bit like dating I reckon.  If you can give the right quality signals with your website’s “body language”, there’s every chance Google will hook you up with a red hot love match in the form of some beautiful traffic.

Further Reading

Google Confirms Mayday Update Impacts Longtail -  from Searchengineland.

Webmasterworld Disaster Thread – lots of people chat about how their sites have been affected.

Google Sends the Long Tail Screaming for May-Day by Kieran Flanagan

Official Google Blog on caffeine update

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Ask Kirsty – Google Penalty For Link Spam on My Site?

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Paul’s site vanished from Google over a month ago.  Dropped like the proverbial hot stone into the cold abyss of Google-blivion.  Is it a penalty or is it just a natural phenomenon?

You seem to have had plenty of experience of dealing with penalised sites in the past, so I’m hoping you might be able to provide a little bit of advice for me regarding one of my sites – http://www.preschooltoysandgames.co.uk/

I started the site late November 2008 and it did okay over the Christmas period, then around late February early March virtually all traffic from Google stopped. The site is still indexed in Google but it doesn’t seem to appear in the serps till at least page 4 for any keywords.

It used to be on page one of Google for a number of phrases such as -

Charlie And Lola Toys
postman pat toys
postman pat special delivery service toys
Sylvanian Families Willow Hall

Now you can even do an exact search for the domain name “Preschool Toys And Games” and the site doesn’t appear till the bottom of page 3 – and with only 8,760 competing sites surely my site should be on page one given that the words appear in the domain, title, and on the page itself? It used to be on page one for that phrase even without doing an exact search.

Iv’e only been building affiliate sites for about a year so there’s a good chance one of the following newb mistakes has led to it being penalised -

I did pay to have the site submitted to about 50 social bookmarking sites, it turns out that some of the sites it was submitted to aren’t the best quality in the world. My understanding was that Google devalued these types of links though rather than penalise a site though.

It’s a wordpress based site and I was unaware that every time I made a minor change on a page I was pinging the site, but that was early on when the site was still ranking ok. I’ve since disabled pinging using a plugin.

Of course theres always the chance that it’s just not ranking very well, but do you think my site has been penalised?

And if it has, would it be worth putting it under another domain?

It’s not the end of the world if I can’t get the site ranking again, but more than anything I want to make sure I don’t make any mistakes with other bigger sites.

I’ve had a look through your site and can’t see anything wrong with the content or WordPress structure. Google is behaving mighty oddly towards your site though. I can’t get it to rank for your own unique snippets of text without quotation marks around the phrase.  Grab any bit of text from your Postman Pat page and you should generally be on page one.  Here’s what’s happening with your site: -

http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Originally+set+in+the+gentle+but+busy+village+of+Greendale&sourceid=navclient-ff&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1B3GGGL_enGB249GB249

As compared with a similar sized snippet from my mens underwear site, BlokesUndies.co.uk:-

http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Latino+men+are+well+known+for+their+love+of+underwear+&sourceid=navclient-ff&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1B3GGGL_enGB249GB249

Based on my own experiences, that’s pretty ominous from a Google penalty point of view. You’re absolutely correct when you say your site should be ranking better for its own name. You’re currently hanging out at result 63 from the term “Preschool Toys and Games” without quotation marks: -

http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=preschool+toys+and+games&hl=en&rlz=1B3GGGL_enGB249GB249&start=60&sa=N

As for your supposition that Google will ignore low quality links, that’s right but alas they sometimes don’t ignore what they see as spammy link building techniques.

Here’s an example of what’s happening on searches conducted on your content: -

http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&rlz=1B3GGGL_enGB249GB249&q=%22Children+will+especially+love+acting+out+stories+with+Peppa+Pig%22&btnG=Search&meta=

As you can see, a scraper site is ranking and yours only shows up when you ask Google to show omitted results. This is something I’ve seen before on my own sites when an automated filter had been applied. This is not widespread however, in most cases it’s your site turning up which does sort of rule out the scrapers being to blame.

I do think a penalty has been applied to your site.  You should be showing up for unique snippets of text from your own pages, and you’re not. Your site is still showing for those searches with quotation marks around them and will eventually turn up for its own name, albeit on the 3rd page of results, which suggests it is some form of automatic filter rather than the dreaded manual penalty. The fact that your site has now been down for over a month makes it look like this may not be a blip as a result of a mistake when Google updated (although you can never rule that out!).

You mentioned pinging Google every time you updated your site – this will not negatively impact your rankings and wouldn’t have incurred a penalty.

Given that you have said you paid for link activity and had this penalty befall you soon after I think we should focus on that as the most likely cause. It seems like your site is being suppressed in the rankings rather than being blown totally out of the water. I’m reluctant to use terms such as -30 penalty or similar though, because these penalties / filters are never straightforward and don’t seem to have any hard and fast rules.

I think the best thing to do is to see if you can get the links to those naughty sites removed, and submit a reinclusion request. If you can’t, you can always try to submit a reinclusion request and tell them what you did, say sorry, and that you’ll be good from now on. It certainly won’t do you any harm.

Other than that, I’d add some more unique content, get some decent quality links and see if the situation improves with time. Alternatively, you could start again with a new domain – the choice is yours!

I think it would be a mistake to participate in any kind of mass submission scheme in the future with new projects. The general rule of thumb you have to follow with SEO is that if it seems to easy or good to be true – it is!

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Google Penalty For Hidden Text – Diagnosed and Cured!

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Greetings Google penalty fans, and welcome to another thrilling update on my all too frequent tangles with the Google algo cops!

So on March 30th I wrote a post complaining that once again I’d fallen victim to the whims of dear old Google and had been handed a right old royal slapping on my new mens undies site.  Refresh your memory here if you need to.

My site was so badly slapped it wasn’t ranking for it’s own name :(    The hunch I spoke of in that post proved to be correct.  As soon as I removed the plugin that was causing oodles of hidden text to be displayed on each and every page was removed I saw an immediate “bounce back” in organic traffic.

This Told Me A Few Things: -

  • The featured content plugin was definately to blame – the other scraped content was still alive and kicking at that time.  NB – for users of this plugin I believe there are settings to prevent this, I’m just a lazy affiliate who never reads instructions.  What can I say?!
  • The penalty might have been for the hidden text, but could also have been for dupe content.  Now it seems that sometimes when I talk about duplicate content penalties someone jumps up and tells me there’s “no such thing”.  However, I contend that there is… but not for single incidences of dupe content. Not even for the odd wee issue here and there.  In my experience, Google tolerates this to a certain extent and does what it says it will.  It chooses the “right” content to rank. However, should you go beyond what Google thinks of as acceptable you’ll soon find yourself winging your way to Google-blivion.   As with all things algo related there will be a threshold over which you really should not go! Worth bearing in mind.
  • This penalty is taking a while to lift. Despite a return to search engine visibility, there are still many pages of my site affected.  You can see this from the gentle increase in search engine traffic over the months of April and May despite me not having added much at all in the way of content.  Pages are only ranking again once Google has been around and spidered them again.  Hence I deduce if you have had a penalty of this nature it is a dashed fine time to start posting fresh content like a madman and thinking up as many ways as possible to get Google respidering your entire site to speed up your recovery process.

I hope this update has helped.  As always, I didn’t like it but I certainly learned something from it!  Will it be the last time? Probably not, but I’ll tell you guys this here and now, I will NEVER let a Google penalty get the better of me.  Come hell or high water I will ALWAYS solve it.

I hate search engines getting the better of me ;)

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