Ho Ho Ho, Go Google Go

Some sites have seen pretty drastic drops in Google search traffic recently, related to indexing issues. Google maintains that it is a glitch:

Just to be clear, the issues from this thread, which I have reviewed in detail, are not due to changes in our policies or changes in our algorithms; they is due to a technical issue on our side that will be visibly resolved as soon as possible (it may take up to a few days to be visible for all sites though). You do not need to change anything on your side and we will continue to crawl and index your content (perhaps not as quickly at the moment, but we hope that will be resolved for all sites soon). I would not recommend changing anything significantly at this moment (unless you spot obvious problems on your side), as these may result in other issues once this problem is resolved on our side.

An example of one site's search traffic that was butchered by this glitch, see the below images. Note that in the before, Google traffic is ~ 10x what Yahoo! or Bing drive, and after the bug the traffic is ~ even.

Not that long ago I saw another site with over 500 unique linking domains which simply disappeared from the index for a few days, then came right back 3 days later. Google's push to become faster and more comprehensive has perhaps made them less stable, as digging into social media highlights a lot of false signals & often promotes a copy over the original. Add in any sort of indexing issues and things get really ugly really fast.

Now this may just be a glitch, but as Tedster points out, many such "glitches" often precede or coincide with major index updates. Ever since I have been in the SEO field I think Google has done a major algorithmic change just before the holidays every year except last year.

I think the reasons they do it are likely 3 or 4 fold

  • they want to make SEO unpredictable & unreliable (which ultimately means less resources are spent on SEO & the results are overall less manipulated)
  • they want to force businesses (who just stocked up on inventory) to enter the AdWords game in a big way
  • by making changes to the core relevancy algorithms (and having the market discuss those) they can slide in more self promotion via their vertical search services without it drawing much anti-trust scrutiny
  • the holidays are when conversion rates are the highest, so if they want to make changes to seek additional yield it is the best time to do it, and the holidays give them an excuse to offer specials or beta tests of various sorts

As an SEO with clients, the unpredictability is a bad thing, because it makes it harder to manage expectations. Sharp drops in rankings from Google "glitches" erode customer trust in the SEO provider. Sometimes Google will admit to major issues happening, and other times they won't until well *after* the fact. Being proven right after the fact still doesn't take back 100% of the uncertainty unleashed into the marketplace weeks later.

Even if half your clients double their business while 1/3 lose half their search traffic, as an SEO business you typically don't generally get to capture much of the additional upside...whereas you certainly capture the complaints from those who just fell behind. Ultimately this is one of the reasons why I think being a diversified web publisher is better than being an SEO consultant... if something takes off & something else drops then you can just pour additional resources into whatever is taking well and capture the lift from those changes.

If you haven't been tracking rankings now would be a great time to get on it. It is worth tracking a variety of keywords (at various levels of competition) daily while there is major flux going on, because that gives you another lens through which to view the relevancy algorithms, and where they might be headed.

Published: October 24, 2010 by Aaron Wall in google


October 24, 2010 - 10:32pm

Hi Aaron,

i have a remark about the unpredictable that you talk about - its depend on the point of view, to my opinion when there is unpredictable situations the client need the SEO expert more then ever, he need that the seo expert will take care his assets on the web so maybe its a possibility that opposed to your conclusion google will encourage more customers to use SEO experts.
lets think for a moment what will happen if all the clients will use their budget just on adwords? what will happen to the ROI? it will be reduced. because there will be more budget on the same market, the competition will get stronger and the bids will be naturally higher and the usage of adwords want be worthwhile for google customers. i dont think that google wants to achieve that.

October 24, 2010 - 11:07pm

When planning a utility business of any type one must build out their system to handle the *peak* load. However, if you can design your business such that the peak and the average are fairly close to one another that business will be more profitable.

For example, some electricity generation stations had lower load when everyone was leaving work & headed home. To offset that lower demand during those hours of the day the electricity companies tried to sign up trains to help fill demand in that gap.

SEO consulting is not a utility business, but the same concept still prevails. The big issue with rapid algorithmic changes is that during those periods of rapid change & rapid uncertainty many consultants are put in a place where *all* (or nearly all) of their clients need some hand holding, guidance & 1:1 attention...and, worse yet, if the change is from a bug there might not be any easy or immediate solution.

Sure you need some level of change in the marketplace over time so that your knowledge is worth a premium & the clients want to stick with you. But that huge spike in demand for hours means that an SEO business focused on client work should also have non-client portions of their business to smooth out the demand cycle. When things are calm they can work on their own sites more, and when things go awry the house projects are put on pause and the clients get 100% of the cycles.

October 25, 2010 - 10:01pm

This also highlights the folly of sticking to Google's Guidelines thinking your site is safe.

You can stick to the guidelines and still get taken out. And - what do you know - many "non guideline compliant" sites stay in high positions.

I think I'll do a post on this issue in the next few days if the so-called "glitch" doesn't right itself :)

October 25, 2010 - 11:54pm

i agree with you and i will wait for your post :)

Amit Meyraz

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