I guess it was only a matter of time but I really wished and even started to think it won’t happen to me. But turns out that it did. On February 21st I lost quite a few of my top ranked Google positions and most of my reviews have dropped in rankings significantly. It really sucks but I promised myself not to take it too hard and not let it depress me in any way.
So far so good
When it happened I didn’t really knew why and what was the main reason. I had some ideas but they turned out to be wrong so no need to mention them. This is also the reason it took me about a week to get this post out there. I really wanted to get a better understanding as to what happened, both for me and for you.
So What Happened?
It seems that Google has finally targeted the networks that provide homepage backlinks services (HPBL) and they simply de-indexed tons of sites and blogs across the internet which was the cause for major ranking drops in all the sites that were using these services and were being linked to on the sites that got de-indexed.
You can read more about this issue on the following threads on the Traffic Planet forum:
- Does Google Penalize Your Site If Your Link Network Gets Deindexed
- Thoughts Feedback on Googles Recent Slapping/Algo Change
Here is also an interesting video from Terry Kyle about this recent Google update. Terry had one of the most famous and popular homepage backlinks services that was closed a while back so he knows a thing or two about operating such networks.
The problem is that I didn’t use these type of services on my blog so that didn’t make much sense to me unless you also include private blog networks being de-indexed, networks such as BuildMyRank which I did use quite a bit on all of the pages that got hit on my blog. So I did a little more research and found this thread:
It seems that other BMR users have noticed the same kind of drops in rankings. I asked the guys over at BMR about this and they didn’t confirm any major de-indexing across their network but when you think about it, why would they confirm that?
I decided to check this myself as BMR has an option for you to find where your posts have been published on. I asked my VA to go over all of the posts I have in BMR and grab all the URLs it could find where my posts have been published. I ended up with a list of 729 URLs on 682 unique domains.
I checked the index rate of the 682 unique domains suing Scrapebox and all of them are indexed:
Must admit I didn’t expect such results. 100% index rate is pretty amazing and I have been posting to this network for the past 6 months or so. I also took the 729 page URLs where the actual posts are located on and run them to check the index rate and here are the results:
A 98.3% index rate. From these results it doesn’t really look like BMR was targeted by Google or penalized. If that was the case than I should have seen a much much lower index rates. I assume that the 682 blogs I checked are only a small part of the entire BMR network so the fact that they are all OK and indexed doesn’t mean that BMR wasn’t affected in any way. I simply can’t say anything for sure and i’m providing you with all the information I have.
Must admit that when I read the forum thread about BMR I kind of already made up my mind that BMR was responsible for my loss of rankings. I am more than happy that I didn’t take what I read for granted and actually took the time to check this out myself. Turns out BMR has nothing to do with my loss of rankings and I just want to emphasize that you shouldn’t take anything you read in such forums for granted. Test things out for yourself and see what is true and what isn’t. There is so much miss information out there that you really need to learn not to take as the cold hard truth. People have opinions about everything and today it is very easy to share them with others thanks to the internet but only few really take the time to test what they say and validate if it is indeed true or not.
Google Confirms Panda 3.3
It took a while but Google finally confirmed a new Panda update along with 40 search quality updates that took place in February. This is mainly what I was waiting for and the reason I delayed publishing this post. I simply waited to get some kind of confimation that Google indeed made some changes to their search algorithm.
I’m not even going to try and explain what all these changes mean (mostly because I don’t know) but there seems to be one major change Google announced that will take most of the attention. Among those 40 search quality changes, Google says the following:
Panda update. This launch refreshes data in the Panda system, making it more accurate and more sensitive to recent changes on the web.
This doesn’t really say much except to confirm that Google keeps on updating Panda which was first launched a year ago, on February 2011 and caused a huge stir in the search engine optimization world. If you are not very familiar with Google Panda and all of its updates across the last year than you should check out The Google Panda Update, One Year Later infographic.
Here is the one major change I mentioned. It has to do with link evaluation and here is what Google has to say about it:
Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.
What did they turn off?
That is the main question and Google will not be providing any clearer answers. You can bet that every one that are doing SEO are asking themselves what is this signal that was turned off and what does it mean for the future of link building. From what I was able to read online it seems most people are putting their money on anchor text being the signal that was tuned off.
I don’t really know if that is true or not (no one does) but if it is true, than how will Google rank pages now? Based on what factors? It seems to me that anchor text is just too important of a factor when it comes to determining which pages should rank for specific keywords.
I guess only time and testing will tell exactly what happened and what has changed.
How Was my Blog Affected?
As some of you already noticed and mentioned in various comments over the past week, most of my reviews are no longer ranking where they used to rank. Some of my reviews dropped to the bottom of page one, others to pages 2 and 3 and one also dropped all the way to page 8. It varies across all of my top reviews and of course that translates into loss of traffic and income.
How big of an impact it made I don’t yet know since it has only been a week but I’m sure I’ll get the big picture over the next few weeks and I will be able to better understand the scope of losing these rankings.
Got be honest with you. It really sucks
It also came in a pretty bad timing as it seemed my blog was doing better than ever and was breaking traffic and income records just before I got hit. Maybe someone from Google visited my blog and read my Lets Get Personal, My Real Name Is Not Dave post in which I said that I plan to rebrand the blog and move it to a new domain but I’m not doing it yet because I don’t know how it will effect my rankings, and he decided to help me out and make the decision to move to the new domain much easier .
Is It a Penalty or Not?
This is a question I don’t really know the answer to yet. I’m not sure if my blog got penalized or if I just lost the rankings because many of the links that helped me gain them simply got de-indexed which will obviously result in a loss of traffic.
My blog didn’t get de-indexed and I still have pages that are ranking just as they did before. From what I read in the tread I mentioned above it seems that some say it is a penalty and others say it isn’t. There is no clear answer and even though my blog didn’t get de-indexed doesn’t mean it wasn’t penalized as you can clearly understand from the following statement that was made by Matt Cutts from Google:
In the rare cases in which Google perceives that duplicate content may be shown with intent to manipulate our rankings and deceive our users, we’ll also make appropriate adjustments in the indexing and ranking of the sites involved. As a result, the ranking of the site may suffer, or the site might be removed entirely from the Google index, in which case it will no longer appear in search results.
Focus on the parts I highlighted and never mind that he talks about duplicate content in this case. It just goes to show that Google can penalize sites by dropping their rankings and not just by de-indexing them.
I guess the only way to get a clear answer is to try and get the rankings I lost back by building links and promoting those pages, and that is what I’m going to do. You can be sure that I will share the results with you once I will get some information and hopefully it will be good news .
What Did I Learn?
It has only been a week and the entire picture is not clear yet but I know that there are plenty to learn from what happened and that is what I’m planning to do. There is good in what happened and it might take me a while to figure what it was but I know I will do my best to figure it out and learn from this experience.
With that said, I did manage to learn a few things that I want to share with you:
SEO Is Risky
SEO is a risky business and it is constantly changing. The methods that work today might not work tomorrow and might actually hurt you tomorrow. Keep in mind that in the eyes of Google, any link building method is not legit unless the links are being built naturally by people coming to your site, liking the content and simply sharing it out of their own free will.
Anchor Text Diversity
I don’t know if low anchor text diversity has anything to do with the recent Google update (but I feel it does), and I’m not sure there is a way to know that for sure but I can tell you that I didn’t really diversify the anchor texts I used when promoting my reviews on this blog. I only started doing so recently so that is also something I learned and that I will implement from now on with all my link building.
Aside from the actual keywords I will target, I will also use the following as anchor texts:
- Click here
- The root domain
- The full URL
- General keywords that I will use to promote the home page
- Any other general keywords you might think of
Don’t Use Homepage Backlinks Services
Even though I didn’t use these services, I don’t see me using them now as it seems clear that Google targeted these type of blogs and networks according to all the chatter on the traffic planet forum. If you are still thinking of using such services than I recommend you watch the video from Terry Kyle as he mentions what type of network will be safer than others to use.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket
Relying on just one site is not smart in my opinion. This blog provides me with most of my income and as long as it was OK and my rankings were high everything really looked great. But I learned what many others have learned online over the years, that things can change in a split second.
I have no doubt that my income will take a hit due to the rankings drop I experienced but I’m happy to say that I already decided a few months ago to focus on creating additional income sources that are not related to this blog so that I won’t depend on it too much.
Pat Flynn had a very interesting post about this issue. He asked his readers What’s Better: Having 1 Site or 10 Sites? which turned out to be one of the most popular posts on his blog and I think you can learn a lot from the various comments and thoughts his readers shared.
Traffic Is Not Just Google
The same way relying on just one site isn’t smart, I also think that relying only on Google as the main traffic source is not a smart thing to do. There are plenty of other traffic sources out there that I should be using and I planning to focus on that alongside the traffic I get from Google.
The other traffic sources I can think of are:
- Building an email list
- Increasing your RSS subscribers
- Social Sites, mainly Twitter and Facebook
My big brother has what is probably the biggest architectural visualization blog online and Google isn’t among his top 10 traffic sources which just goes to show that you can build a very big and successful blog without focusing only on SEO and traffic from Google.
Did you notice any ranking changes over the past few days? Did any of your sites got hit? Do you have any ideas on why that happened and what has changed after the last Google update?
Please share your thoughts by commenting below. I’m sure we can all learn from each others experiences so don’t be a stranger.
To your success (and mine ),