Today is the last day of PubCon in Las Vegas and yesterday I was fortunate enough to be on the expert panel discussing Google Panda/Penguin and the recovery.
I took a different approach from the other panelists and showed an actual case study including steps that my team has taken to pull our sites out from the clutches of these two Google Updates.
I was last to present and what was the crowd’s reaction?
Since the onslaught began in 2011, Panda and now Penguin have killed off many sites. There has been a lot of advice out there on how to fix things, but there isn’t a magic formula that works with all sites. Let me be clear on that: you have to figure out the problems and address each one in order for the recovery to work. There is no BIG RED BUTTON that will make your problems go away either. This takes real work.
And this is what separates me from many experts in the field. I don’t believe in bullshit. I don’t go by theory, I just look at test results. If it worked on one domain and you push the same process on dozens of domains and it works on all of them, that’s a pretty good indication that it is going to work. Even the crowd picked up on it.
Let’s get to the case study and Steve Metivier from InspirationalSpark.com. His site was cranking some pretty serious traffic. What is the definition of serious traffic? How about 7.4 million page views over the last year.
7.4 million page views is pretty impressive in and of itself. I know you will look at his bounce rate of over 70% and point to that as a main reason. No. Focus on what the purpose of the site is: to give quotes and inspirational ideas to the visitor who normally just comes in, gets the information and leaves. Usually their need is handled with just one page view. That is key to realize with bounce rate, ensuring the site is performing properly based on its intent.
So, in Google Analytics we can see that Panda struck this site on June 9th. The real mystery is why Google didn’t pound this site earlier as most of it is in bad shape; you will see how bad of shape it’s in further down.
While that slide is horrific, it didn’t stop there. Check this out…
It is a gradual slide down and then it is ALL DOWNHILL in September. If this was your site, the stress would be through the roof.
Let’s peel back the site piece by piece and do some analysis of what could have caused this.
Skinny Content and Duplicates
The content is a major issue with this site and the worst problem area is within the blog subdomain. Below is a picture-perfect example of the ridiculously thin content: a one line quote from Roosevelt. It is so short that the excerpt itself covers the entirety of the content; so not only is it thin, it is internal duplicate content. Let’s not forget these are just quotes so duplicates are elsewhere on the web. This is not good and there were so many pages like this, Google should have punted this site a long time ago.
How strong is the site in terms of content? Well, take a look:
384 pages of similar content. That’s 45% of the site that Google thinks is essentially useless. That can be a site killer just itself, but there’s more. To the next problem…
The second largest issue has to be site speed. The load times on the domain are horrendous and likely affect the site in Google. This is a bad user experience and should be fixed even if SEO wasn’t the goal.
Here is how the top pages fare in terms of load time. You can see just how painfully slow here:
Of course part of this speed drain is from hot linking (when a site fetches an image not on its own server, but from another domain). In the next image you can see some of the hot link offenses found on this site:
Some of this is just simple fixes, like a missing title tag. These things can’t be overlooked. Not with these updates, you can’t overlook ANYTHING.
You may have noticed in the previous image that the URL was a bit strange, /1528/1528/ – why does that exist? When Google crawls just /1528/, it finds a page with a canonical that points to /1528/1528/. The current standard is the /sample-post/ format. You have to be aware of how you are doing your URL structure as it can completely screw you with Google if you do it wrong.
The sitemap is one of the key components of a site to help it get indexed, stay indexed and then reindexed when changes occur. It is also a way for you to tell Google how important your pages are. The problem is, some webmasters label all their pages as important and that is as effective as labeling all your boxes in your move fragile; it just gets ignored. Don’t do that.
The weirdest thing with this sitemap is the filename. This is not a web standard sitemap.xml. The priorities within should be as follows:
1.0 – Home Page
0.7-0.8 – Very important pages/top category pages (less than 10 of your pages should carry this weight typically)
0.6 – The rest of your category pages
0.4-0.5 – Your content pages
0.3 – About Us
0.2 – Any other low-level pages.
So, what is our prescription for Steven to fix his site? It won’t be easy, but he will have a much better site than before and should regain all the Google-love he lost.
- Time to “pony up” and get a real design. The current design is a failure and if he wants to really be a serious player in the quote space then he needs to look like one. My suggestion is to make the www root (actual home) a WordPress site and use the Genesis framework for the theme. Things need to be simple, including the code. This is why I recommend a platform that is easy to edit site-wide without hassles from Dreamweaver or FTP logins. We have tested nearly every framework and Genesis passed all of our tests.
- Shut down the subdomain blog.inspirationalspark.com. There is no real reason for him to have a subdomain, but the reason he does is he wanted a WordPress blog and the framework of his original design would not support one. This is taken care of with the new design. The content found on the subdomain was mostly the omitted results and thin pages anyway. It would be wise to take the pages with decent content or backlinks and 301 redirect them to a new location.
- Fix Content. Google would just say “add value” without giving specifics. Here are some real ideas that could be added:
- Explanation of when and where the quote was said
- Historical context, and/or interpretation.
- Use a standard social share button closer to the quotes and encourage comments. This will engage users on the site and can generate links. All good things.
- Where are all the pictures? Infographics? Videos? The site is basically dead and needs life injected into it to really stand out.
- Change sitemap file name to sitemap.xml (this is a web standard for bots). Most WordPress sitemap plugins do this properly.
- Verify the redirect from /index.html to the homepage (http://www.inspirationalspark.com/). Currently it doesn’t work. Too much internal duplicate content exists which has to be causing issues. Most internal duplicate content issue will disappear with the WordPress redesign.
- Write custom excerpts on each post to lessen internal content issues and encourage traffic flow throughout the site.
- Site speed matters. Use these tools’ recommendations:
- Minimize DNS Lookups. If the server is drained and the images have to be elsewhere, consider using a CDN or reverse proxy like CloudFlare.
- Minimize Redirects. They add an unnecessary tenth of a second each time one is loaded. Use a tool like Scrutiny, Screaming Frog SEO, or the Broken Link Checker WordPress plugin.
- Remove StatCounter. Using Google Analytics is enough.
- Add blog titles to each blog post. This is a simple one. Again, using a tool like Scrutiny or Screaming Frog SEO will highlight where title tags and meta descriptions are missing.
SEO is different now than it was just a year or two ago. You can’t be lazy anymore. You can’t just post other people’s content without actually doing something to it to make it worthwhile. You can’t just sit on your hands and wait for the traffic come to you, you have to go out and get it. Be aggressive. Using programs like WP Robot, Scrapebox and other automated programs just don’t work. This is getting back to grass-roots marketing. Focusing. Delivering what your visitor wants. Giving them a solid experience.
I am sure you are saying, “Shouldn’t that have been happening since Day One when a site is launched? Yes it should, but it wasn’t happening. And the reason it wasn’t happening is webmasters were blinded by the checks. First $10k a month, then $30k, soon it was $100k and some even surpassed $200k a month. That kind of money will taint even the most respectable webmaster into doing shady things.
It is time to get to work and to be awesome again.
Note: The link for the Genesis Framework for WordPress is an affiliate link. I have the reputation of never recommending a product until it meets our strict testing criteria … and that includes us using the product. Genesis not only meets our criteria, but we are moving all of our WordPress installations over to it. It is that good.