Around November 17, 2012, Squidoo and many sites across the web experienced major traffic changes. In Squidoo’s case, it was the worst drop I’ve seen in years.
Barry Schwartz of Seoroundtable got a brief nonanswer from Google about it. One thing is clear: it’s not a Panda update. Google said Panda would be updated in the next week.
I don’t think it’s an EMD update, because that specifically targets domain names — the website part of a URL, not the individual page’s filename. (squidoo.com = domain name, /my-cool-lens = the filename.) I also don’t think it’s Penguin, because the main target of Penguin is sites using artificial link schemes and other heavy-duty black hat SEO practices which I think are beyond the capacity and budget of even the most spammy Squidoo lensmasters.
So what happened? Here’s a couple half-assed theories. Also, for my own enlightenment, I’ve compiled Squidoo sitewide traffic graphs for the past five years to see how our autumn traffic normally fluctuates. Bad news: there IS no “normal.”
P.S. Credit Where Due: Thanks to Victoriuh for pointing out some of the SEO industry analysis posts that I cite below.
Google “Top Heavy” algorithm change?
It could be related to the Top Heavy Algorithm, which targets pages that have too many ads and non-content “Above the Fold.” Flynn has heard me rant about this problem often enough to clap hands over ears, assuming I’d say “I told you so.” Well, yeah. Last January, for example, I posted:
I.. was not well pleased when Squidoo added one more line of Adsense above the fold in March a year ago, after the first Panda release. There was a great deal of chatter in the SEO punditverse at that time that many sites were getting hammered for excessive above-the-fold advertising back then (and even before that). I was concerned that Squidoo was going to get thwacked the same way. So far, I’ve been wrong about that, thankfully — in fact, I’ve seen an uptick in traffic in the past week, although that may just be people coming back from the holidays — but I remain wary.
~ My reply to a SquidU thread discussing Google’s new “Top Heavy” algorithm when it was first announced.
But is there any evidence that this is, in fact, the cause of Squidoo’s Nov 17 traffic woes?
Well, there’s the fact that Hubpages’ traffic may actually have improved from this same update. After getting clobbered by Panda 20, my traffic dropped from 500 a day to 300 a day, had mostly but not entirely recovered, then jumped to 600+ a day on November 17. Hubpages has much less of a mess “Above the Fold” than Squidoo does.
There has also been some anecdotal chitchat on SEO forums about sites with too many ads above the fold getting hammered by the Nov 17 update, whatever it was. (Then again, there’s lots of wild speculation, often wrong, after every traffic upheaval.)
On the other hand, the first Google update to the Top Heavy / Above the Fold algorithm since January fell on October 10. It seems atypical that they’d let it go for ten months, then start doing monthly updates.
Google Image Search algorithm change?
Another likely culprit is that Google may have updated Image Search. Now, that I can test, as I have a number of lenses shamelessly exploiting image searches. So let’s see. Here’s some lenses that get the bulk of their traffic from image search:
- Funny Signs and Billboards: dropped from 150-250 a day to 60-70 a day
- Apollo Moon Lander Photos from Space: dropped from 50-70 a day to 20-35 a day.
- Another Funny Signs lens: drop from 30-70 a day to 15-30 a day.
- Cosplay lens on a niche account: drop from 50-80 a day to 20-50 a day.
- Video game graphics lens (another niche lens): 20-40 visits a day dropped to 5-10 visits a day.
- Middle-Earth Names: 50-100 dropped to 30-70.
- Greek mythology puzzles: unchanged.
Addendum: Squidoo traffic stats for past five years compared on Quantcast.
I was going to make a geeky post analyzing past traffic patterns for Squidoo in the fall, but I got nothin’. All I can say is that you can tell which years HQ has really really REALLY pushed Halloween lenses and when it was pushing Thanksgiving. Also, while the recent drop is alarming, we can take some reassurance from the fact that Squidoo’s past has overall been a slow but steady rise.
And, for comparison purposes (you can clearly see where Hubpages got clobbered by a Panda update on September 27th, but may now be benefitting from this unknown Nov 17 Google update):
Squidoo Fall 2012 (Quantcast)
Above, you can see Squidoo’s dramatic Halloween traffic spike.
Hubpages Fall 2012 (Quantcast)
Above, the September 27 “Panda 20″ update is clearly visible.
My Own Squidoo Traffic (Google Analytics)
My Own Hubpages Traffic (Google Analytics)
Remember there’s always a weekend drop. I’ll watch next week to see if the HP traffic pops back up.
Phew. Bottom line: I was gettin 20,000-24,000 visitors a week before whatever happened on Nov. 17, and now I’m suddenly down to less than 15,000.
I just commented to a Squidoo friend about my lenses “biting the big one” over the last month. Ah ha! ’tis not just me. Thank you for the in-depth look and links to more information.
I wondered if the east coast hurricane that knocked out power to so many would be the culprit. Then I checked that date and it was late October. Although many people are still struggling to clean up, get their housing liveable again and dealing with the aftermath.
The drop would have shown up earlier than Nov. 17, so we can’t blame the weather.
Thanks for analyzing this for those of us who aren’t statistically inclined.
Ellen, great post. It is always interesting to see your point of view. As usual, I am relying on sales number to tell me how I am doing, and although my traffic has gone down a bit since Halloween, maybe 25%, my sales keep going up. I am going to keep an eye on those numbers, as I have a couple of Halloween lenses that got a lot of traffic.
It certainly will be interesting to watch.
Thank you for the info. One of my lenses was getting over 200 a day with good sales. Now barely any sales and just 40-50 visitors. I thought I must have made a change that was giving this result. Thanks – and let’s hope that this is a blip and not the norm.
I think that this is something related like you say to above the fold penalty.
If you check scribd on Quantcast you can see that they also dropped a lot while other similar site like slideshare.net gain more and more traffic since that.
Keep us updated about this please!
Happy new year!
Scribd is a site where many members post copyrighted content they’ve found elsewhere, whereas Slideshare is largely presentations created by the people who uploaded them.
Google Panda downranks domains where most of the content isn’t original. Also, starting in 2012, Google is downranking sites for which it’s received a lot of copyright infringement notices.
It’s therefore not surprising that Scribd has trouble getting Google traffic. It would probably be hit even worse, except that most of the copyrighted content posted on it is not found elsewhere on the web, but in printed books. Also, most of the authors whose work is being uploaded to Scribd probably aren’t aware of it or don’t know how to report it to Google.