I have seen many companies over the years all of a sudden lose a lot of traffic from Google, sometimes overnight. I met a company that has 3 websites and did over 1 billion page views last year. That is a great job for content sites today. They pump out a lot of content everyday, all unique and they get their content shared by some large news sites too. They have millions of real backlinks as well.
When I met them they had large drop in their Google traffic. They had some ideas on what it could be, but had been scratching their heads for about 6 months. They did make some changes to the sites, but weren’t 100% sure what the problem could be. When you have a problem like this, you have to look deep into the site, there aren’t any automated tools that are going to spit out an answer. You literally have to click around the site and see what you can find. Of course there are some tools that can help guide you, like Google Webmaster Tools, SEOmoz and other pieces of software that can show possible duplicate content issues or backlink problems, but you need to get your hands dirty for this type of problem.
Over the past 15 years I have pretty much seen it all and usually you can narrow down major problems to a couple of things. The first potential issue I look for is duplicate content. With the Panda and Penguin updates from Google, these issues are on the rise. If that doesn’t seem to be it then I look for a drop in indexed pages on Google. This could also be a result of duplicate content problems, but if Google is de-indexing pages, then you know something is wrong with the actual content on the site. I also look for backlink red flags, maybe links from spam networks or too many backlinks from certain sites or odd networks. You really just need to dig into the site and see what is going on.
The below image shows the 62.27% drop in traffic. The height of the traffic was September 2012 and the lowest point was April 2013. They went from 2,841,447 visits from Google down to 1,072,204. Just wanted to mention that the traffic mentioned in this case study is just from Google. No other traffic sources are counted.
Looking at the image below you can see the comparison from April 2013 to June 2013 and the 40% increase in traffic. The problems started getting fixed in April, but since the site is very large it’s going to take a while for Google to re-index everything. Plus, the company did make other large unrelated changes to their site at the same time. I like to stay away from making multiple large changes to a site at once, this way if something does go wrong you have a better handle on what it was. The below comparison is only 26 days in each month since I am writing this on June 27th.
So you might be wondering, what the problem was. Well, let me start by saying these sites are content sites but have a lot more images than actual text. Since they have thousands of image galleries, they wanted to tweak them to increase their CTR for ad revenue. The script they used actually removed the images from Google being able to index the images. The main reason for this is because they are hosting their sites at WordPress VIP hosting. When you are hosted at WordPress VIP, then your images are hidden from Google unless they appear on the website. This was new to me, but I was able to figure out that the images were not being indexed anymore and worked backwards into figuring out what happen.
The fix was tweaking the image gallery code so the images “displayed” on the site for Google, even though the images were in the image gallery.
I also created some new guidelines for their writers so they can write more SEO friendly content. Images are great for users, but not so great for SEO. So each article should have at least 500 words, but closer to 1,000 is better.
We did a test to prove the amount of words in an article equals better rankings on Google. They had an article that was on page 2 Google and all we did was add about 700 words to it. Originally it had less than 100 words, so we beefed it up. After about 4-6 weeks the article reached #1.
Another thing I wanted to mention was if they were hosted on their own servers and did not use WordPress VIP, then this problem doesn’t happen. But that is what I am here for, to figure out the hard stuff.
What did we learn?
- Do not make a lot of changes to a site at once, especially if the changes are large
- If you are on WordPress.com VIP hosting, then understand how Google indexes images
- When you write content, closer to 1,000 words is much better
- If you ever have a problem, call me
I personally love challenges like this, it’s what makes what I do fun. If you have any problems with your website, give me a call.
Oh yeah, you might be wondering who the company is… I am not able to mention their name. Sorry about that.