The moment I felt something funny the night of April 23, I quickly checked my Google Analytics account. I couldn’t see much because of the lag, but the next day, I discovered something terrible. One of my most important and “in season” websites was losing it’s rankings.
A different website had been affected by something earlier on in the month, but that wasn’t my primary concern. The website I am talking about here was revved up and ready to go. It was being searched like mad and was extremely popular. All that search engine optimization I had done through the years had paid off once again, and my website visitors were happy.
I had to wait a few days to get a clear picture of what was going on. I hadn’t even thought of visiting Google Webmaster Tools until it dawned upon me that I should take a look at what was going on over on that end of things. I did that and discovered that two primary keyword combinations had lost their rankings. They were “for sale” and “used.”
Let’s say for a moment that the website I am discussing here had many keyword combinations that were something like, “widgets for sale” and “used widgets.” If I was lucky, I would see “used widgets for sale.” Search entries via these combinations of keywords accounted for most of my traffic. Now that Google deemed that I had somehow violated something to do with those keywords, traffic had taken a nosedive.
Here’s a quick look at what I’m referring to:
Now, for years I haven’t done much link building. Back in the day, I used to submit articles to be distributed with those keyword variations in the footer. I also placed the website in some cheesy directories and perhaps (I’m not sure) used the keywords in the anchor text. This was years ago and nothing to the scale of what people are capable of doing today. When I read about some of the services people use to either purchase links, trade links or flat out acquire links, I don’t recognize any of them. And I’ve been in this business a long time. That just shows you how little I entertain off site SEO.
My primary concern has been on-site SEO and that’s what I’ve focused on most of my online career. As much as people out there like to say that on-page SEO doesn’t matter anymore, I’m telling you it does. Just de-optimize your website and look at the results. You’ll see just how much it matters.
When my sites were hit by Google Penguin, I knew in my gut that it wasn’t because of off-site factors. I looked at all the metrics and they tell me there is some shady business going on over there, but I know that what I’ve done recently to the site affected the ranking.
So, what have I done to cause this (in my opinion)? I’ll give you a glance – and remember, this is an e-commerce website I’m talking about here:
– The homepage had “Widgets For Sale” in the title
– Each category page had “Category For Sale – Widgets” in the title
– Each product page had “Category For Sale” in the title
Now, just a reminder – in these page titles, there were additional words. Also, they were ranking great.
I did some other things recently to only the websites in question, which may have affected them:
– I put search drop-down boxes on the homepage, category pages and the product pages. These search drop-down boxes included choices for all 50 states and the 50 most popular cities in the U.S.
– I put another search drop-down box on the product pages that included all the names of all the categories.
– I created landing pages that were targeting each state and the top 50 cities in the U.S. The products referring to those states were listed on those pages.
Now, looking back, it seems kind of silly to do these things, but at the time, visitors were visiting and everyone was happy.
I had a suspicion that I had over-used (stuffed) keywords in the category and product page title and meta tags. I didn’t consider it stuffing, because the phrases and words were relevant to the content on the page, but when I looked at the list of page titles on the website’s HTML sitemap, my eyes nearly popped out of my head. Holy keyword.
While the keywords and phrases may have been related to the content on each page, I’m sure that the fact that they were running site-wide had something to do with this penalty. That’s the trouble with large e-commerce websites; when making changes, one has to remember that they are applied to hundreds, if not thousands, of pages.
Once I discovered which keywords were punished by Google, I decided to remove them from most of the pages on the site. I had nothing else to do. I wasn’t going to find websites that were linking to mine for years and ask them to remove the links. I wasn’t going to do this – especially since I wasn’t even sure if that was the problem. I decided to tackle the keyword stuffing / landing page / duplicate content issue that I suspected invited the wrath of Google Penguin.
You can look at the results by viewing the images I posted above. I made the changes early on, and not much has happened. You can also look at my earlier post that shows two more general charts and see that things haven’t gotten any better over there either. No matter what changes I make, the results are minimal, which indicates to me a penalty more than a ranking change.