Why Relying on Google isn’t a Good Idea

I know I really should have wrote about this at the end of September (when the update took place), but I kind of wanted to wait a while just to see whether Google would backtrack on the “minor weather report” that Matt Cutts mentioned on Twitter at the time that this update took place, which you can see below.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Google will ever tweak this update which targets EMDs and low quality sites. Nearly everyone that I know that owns sites have been affected by this algorithm change, many of which have seen their income drop suddenly overnight which is quite scary when you think about it. A few months ago, I started working on a site with someone else and we both thought that it was going great. However, one night I checked the sites rankings and then noticed that it looked like the site had disappeared, nowhere to be seen at all! After checking out a few forums I realised that it was because of an algorithm change.

I think we’re all used to algorithm changes by now, but this one was something else! Here’s what happened to the site that I’m talking about:

As you can see, the impressions literally dropped to pretty much nothing within a very short period of time. Personally, I wouldn’t call this a “minor weather report”, this update was one of the biggest updates yet! Now, since October is over I can compare the month of September and October to see how things have changed.

Firstly, here’s a bit of basic info about the site:

  • The site allows people to compare mobile phone insurance policies.
  • The site is on an EMD (with a hyphen).

Here’s how things have changed:

  • In September, there were over 2,500 clicks to sites that sell mobile phone insurance from the site. In October, this dropped to 70 which means that clicks on affiliate links dropped by a massive 97.2%.
  • In September, the site made roughly £1,500. The following month it made £230 which is an 85% drop in earnings. This mightn’t sound too bad at first, but nearly all of that £230 is from cookies from September, August etc. so it doesn’t really show the real impact.

This is just one of the reasons why relying on Google is a bad idea in the long term. The thing that makes it even more annoying is that me and the other person who runs the site put loads of work in to the site, and it had its best day just a couple of days before the update. At the rate that it was going it looked like this site was going to be a great little earner, but we didn’t know what was around the corner for us!

By the way, if you’re interested in finding out what Google changed in this update, it’s worth taking a look at ranking factors in Google late 2012. If you don’t want to read through all of that, I’d recommend just taking a look at the picture and the little paragraph below it which basically explains everything that you need to know.

What to do next?

Now that Google has basically killed off all affiliate sites, I’m not too sure what to do to be honest. From looking at the SERPs it looks like you need to be a big brand to have any chance of ranking well on Google these days. I think it’s about time that people started thinking of new ideas for sites now (including me!) rather than just making a site, throwing up a few articles and then building links. I’m sure that it’s not easy to come up with a unique idea and make a great site from it though but then again I’ve never tried. If I ever come up with a good idea I’m sure that I’ll give it a go though!

Something that has made me think about the whole “Do I need to rely on Google for traffic?” debate is a site which was originally called WhatPoppyWore.com. It only started in 2010 and is now doing very well. The idea behind the site is quite simple really, a girl from London (Poppy Dinsey) set up a WordPress blog to post pictures of what she wore each day.

After a while Poppy started linking her visitors to sites where they could buy the clothes that she was wearing – pretty good idea! Now, the site is on Wiwt.com which stands for “What I Wore Today” and it’s more of a social networking site where anybody can share what they are wearing with the world. Affiliate links are still being used as you’d expect though, but that’s not the only way that the site makes money these days. There’s now a daily newsletter and so on. As you might guess, a site like this isn’t really going to rank well for competitive keywords but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to do well, social media plays a huge role for a site like this along with getting noticed by The Guardian, TechCrunch, Channel 4 News and so on (you can see more things that Wiwt.com was mentioned on here).

As you can see from Wiwt.com, you don’t actually need Google (or any other search engine for that matter) to make money online. And as Poppy says under the FAQ’s of her old site on how to start blogging:

“Just start! Keep at it, define your writing style, figure out who your audience is and then just be consistent. At first it will feel like you’re writing for nobody…that’s because you are writing for nobody. But that’s how all bloggers start.”