A Warning Shot or an Accident? Does it Matter?

On the 22nd of October Google had an indexing issue and a separate algorithmic change. Some of the sites associated with the indexing glitch quickly came back, whereas others seemed like they were hosed for weeks and headed toward the path of perpetual obscurity.

To give a visual of how dire this situation was for some webmasters, consider the following graphic.

The blue line is Google search traffic and the gray is total unique visitors. And since search visitors tend to monetize better than most other website visitors, the actual impact on revenues was greater than the impact on visitors. And, if you figure that sites have fixed costs (hosting, maintenance, new content creation, data licensing, marketing, etc.) then the impact on profits is even more extreme than the impact on revenues.

Hence in the search game you can go from hero to zero fast!

Search is one of the highest leverage business functions around today.

But it is also volatile. And it is a winner take most market.

When stuff heads south like that, what do you do? Do you consider it game over and try to lower costs further?

My approach to such events is to take it as a warning shot. To take it as a challenge. In the above example the traffic came back...

...but algorithms sometimes get rolled in using phases. Sometimes stuff that gets tripped up and later restored is being set up for a second fall when they refine their relevancy algorithms again. Sites that get caught in snags are sites which are fairly weak. So if you take any set back as motivation to create something better and work hard then you at least know that if you failed you tried and it just didn't work. Most likely, if you try hard, you will be able to make the site much better and not only reach your old traffic levels, but exceed them.

Even though the traffic came back for the above site, it has been getting a lot more effort. And it will continue to for months and months. The fear of loss is a great motivator to push people to create something better. Sometimes I think Google should mix up the results a bit more often just to drive people to create better stuff. :)

Published: November 12, 2010 by Aaron Wall in google


November 14, 2010 - 12:02pm

It has often been said "Google deals the cards and we can only play the hand Google gives us", however Google sometimes changesthe rules in the middle of the game. So if you have a stratagy setup and working and Google makes a switch then you have to make a new stratagy. This will continue as long as people keep trying to find a way to abuse the system. The problem is the honest people get punished for what the dishonest do while the dishonest keep doing what they do best DISHONEST actions.

Indexing and algorithmic changes are only part of the problems we have to deal with. You just have to keep fighting and never give up.

I suggest play poker to get practise for Google.
Ed from Germany

November 15, 2010 - 1:08pm

I completely agree Aaron. The fear of seeing this happen again is a great motivator and I am putting a lot of effort into improving the posts with the most traffic, getting more links from more and better sources and basically just giving it my all.

Whether it will be enough and whether the will be a double-dip is yet to be seen, but I do hope that it won't. I personally feel that the fall weighs more (emotionally) than the equivalent rise.

Please keep us update if you figure out what caused it.


November 15, 2010 - 8:28pm

"Sometimes I think Google should mix up the results a bit more often just to drive people to create better stuff. :)"

Yes, Google is not a monster trying to find ways to kill the SEO company.

I agree with Aaron. When Google makes a move be grateful and decide what you can learn from it.

They are a search engine. We are search engine specialist.

I know it's hard to admit. But we can learn from Google. They pay tons of money to people to keep their search engine attractive to the public. Attractive for every purpose a person would use a search service.

Our business is using search services to help our customers make sales.(money). If our customers think Google is the place to do that then we want to use Googles changes to our advantage whatever that may be. If we can adjust to their changes to keep in pace with them and become a better company in some small way,...then we and our customers will prosper.

We have no control over them. But we are allowed to see what they do when they make changes.

True,...not being told what's coming when your business depends on knowing what's going on in the industry is always a surprise. We can learn from surprises and be more prepared next time.
"Experience is the result of not getting what you expected"

Let Googles ups and downs in's and outs be your free learning course from them. Every time they makes us change the more specialized we become with SEO.


November 16, 2010 - 1:27am

Google is not a monster trying to find ways to kill the SEO company.

Like most large multi-national corporations, Google is just trying to make as much money as they can. Their efforts to do that will of course help some businesses and business models, while harming others.

A thin site that dives might still be able to get by just based on low cost structure. But an SEO firm which has 50 clients dive near the same time would basically kill the business model of the SEO firm.

They pay tons of money to people to keep their search engine attractive to the public.

That was the main driving force so long as they were gaining marketshare. But since they peaked (or at least drastically slowed in growth) in terms of marketshare they have moved from sending you away as quickly as possible to doing a lot of things that try to get you using it longer. Namely:

November 15, 2010 - 8:35pm


Do you see this mostly as a motivation to build a better site to decrease the likeliness of getting kicked out of the SERPs the next time?

Personally, I'd see this just as much as a motivation to figure out ways to get traffic/business from sources other than search/Google and see it as a warning shot not to put all of my eggs in the same basket (if I was a business owner who got hit by an algorithm update).

and of course to have a better (strategical) understanding of where the algorithms are going.

I assume you think along the same lines - right/wrong?

November 16, 2010 - 1:21am

Well sure diversification is nice. But as much as anything else it also highlights the value of either pushing to the point of having a strong defensible brand status, or of having high margins. When I showed that graph of the site that took the swan dive it was less profitable than before, but it was still profitable. ;)

So the key is to either be really thick so you can last, or to go lean and mean such that if you do get whacked you are still fine. Of course one aspires to make the best site they can...but there is always a trade off between investments and returns. If the market is rather crappy then you can easily make what becomes the best site in the space, but you still need to figure out how to make it profitable.

November 17, 2010 - 7:52pm

thx for the reply (as always)!

November 16, 2010 - 5:27pm

"If the market is rather crappy then you can easily make what becomes the best site in the space, but you still need to figure out how to make it profitable."

How to Make it profitable.
Let's get a string going on that one.
Getting Ranked on the front page has been talked to death and we all know how to do it. WORK WORK WORK.

But once there.... the WORK is all for not if sales aren't made.

The conversion and calls to action that produce money (sales)- not ranking - is what Internet Marketing really! is. And that's all gotta begin on the landing page. HOPEFULLY.

What do you think Aaron? Can we make that a subject for discussion one day soon?

November 17, 2010 - 12:10am

Most our discussions revolve around that topic every day. Though I confess to be holding fewer of them on the public web since it is more profitable to have those in private. :)

November 16, 2010 - 6:35pm

The example given above by Aaron (Google traffic dropping 90% suddenly several weeks ago) happened to my site (sixstringsoul.com) on November 2nd.

As a result my eBay Partner Network revenue dropped about 90% as well. I have yet to see any improvement, but I was prompted to take action. I changed Wordpress themes (which improved my page speed from 65/100 to 78/100), added a link to my Site Map page in the footer, have started posting more regular blog posts, and will be diving into all of my content to make sure there is enough unique content on each page.

In the past, my latest blog post (sixstringsoul.com/dr-z-brake-lite-guitar-amp-attenuator/), would have ranked on page 1 of Google within a day for a keyword phrase like "guitar amp attenuator," or a much less searched term like "dr z brake lite," but now it's nowhere near that.

I'm hoping my Google traffic will recover, like Aaron's example given, but all I can do is improve my site and try to build more inbound links (to help reduce dependency on search...although that traffic will always convert the best).

Any other suggestions, send 'em my way!

November 16, 2010 - 10:05pm

@ danielpkern - you asked what else to do to help build your strength. I think, building your quality content as you are, is a great step in the right direction. The next thing, would be to get more links into this new content, if you ask me. The combination of new, relevant, and quality content plus new incoming links from quality sources should help you - at the very least, it will keep you busy (and moving forward) while Google figures out what else will make us nutty!

November 30, 2010 - 5:30am


Good advice. I've been blogging more regularly, that's for sure. I posted a blog post on Thursday about Black Friday guitar deals and it ranked highly...driving about 100 visitors a day on Thursday/Friday. This was just after my Google traffic picked back up to normal.

Then all of a sudden, over the weekend, Google traffic dropped back down to the lower level...losing 90% of my Google traffic mainly all from long tail keyword searches. I don't get it. Things resolve and then go back down again. I'm at a loss for words.

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