Have any of your sites been hit by one of the Google algorithm updates?
Maybe it was Penguin, Panda or the New Hummingbird. Whatever it was I bet it’s pissed you off and you are left clueless as to why?
Stick with me, Even if you have not lost rankings, you will learn some niffty SEO tactics for Niche sites!!
Well I was in the same boat and quite a few of my sites got hit at some stage.
This Case study will get down to the nitty gritty stuff and I’ll use one of my own sites as an example to try and work out why Google discarded it from their rankings.
My Site Has Lost Rankings
The reason I am writing this post is because I have seen so many people hurt by this Hummingbird update, although apparently it shouldn’t affect things too much, and if your content and site are good you won’t have any problems. Yeah right!!!!
Well I personally think it’s a load of shit and Google have really messed things up here. It wouldn’t surprise me if they just throw some of the rankings out at random, because I am seeing more and more shit sites ranking over well established sites with great content.
Has Google F%@ked up
I was reading this blog page about the Hummingbird update and it got me thinking. What exactly has happened because I have noticed a significant change in some of my sites, and the people commenting on this page were not to happy either. Just look at some of the comments:
All of these comments were posted at the time the Hummingbird update was released. Now here is a quick summary of what the Hummingbird update is all about: (Supposedly)
To put it quickly, Hummingbird will be looking at the meaning, or semantics of phrases rather than just individual words. This is because Google want to focus on longer tail queries and questions.
Google will now focus on the entire search query to try and figure out exactly what people are searching for. Content is still king and the mobile visibility is also important.
This new update is supposed to increase the user experience when searching for exact requirements, but I have found that it’s messed up a lot of sites and dropped sites that do actually offer quality content.
They keep banging on about content, yet I have seen blank pages rank!. I have also seen a lot of small pages with little content fly past established sites in the same niche, so what the hell is going on Google?
Can I find a solution to these erratic rankings?
Im going to go to do a little experiment to see if I can come up with some answers! Now there are tons of factors that can affect rankings, such as quality of content, amount of content, keyword usage, H1 tags, outbound links, in bound links, site speed and a load more…
And if I can’t find a solution by the end of this then I simply have to put it down to a poor back link profile.
If that is the case I will move the site to a new domain to see if that achieves anything!!
A couple of years ago I made an affiliate site called Extremeno.co.uk and basically I was an affiliate for XtremeNo. If you don’t know what that is it’s a muscle building supplement.
I go to the gym quite regularly and I have actually tried it myself, so I new what I was on about! The affiliate program was pretty generous and I figured I could make a couple of hundred dollars a month from it. So I went and built the site and not long after it was ranking fairly well.
Here is what I was ranking for: keywords
extreme no – Number 1 (.co.uk) (Hit no: 2 on Google.com)
extreme no review – Number 1
xtreme no – Number 5
xtreme no review – Number 2
Ok, so not bad rankings! the site was getting a bit of traffic and a few referrals per month, and it was making about $200-$300.
Rankings now: At the time of writing this
extreme no – Number 37 (.co.uk) (Dropped from .com)
extreme no review – Number 25
xtreme no – Number 67
xtreme no review – dropped
Pretty shit ay!
But Im about to get even more tits off!
The site that is now ranked Number 1 for the keyword ‘Extreme No’ is: cellucor.com/product/n0-extreme.
Now this is a page ‘Not even about Xtreme No’, it’s about a similar product with very little content. According to Ahrefs the site has just 5 backlinks but it does have a few social shares!
Is this site ranked highly because it does not have a poor back link profile (because it’s hardly got any links at all!!)
A little to early to make assumptions. So now I will look at some more examples in detail. Although I was trying to rank for ‘Xtreme No’ I did target ‘extreme no’ as well as a lot of people searched for that too. Hence the example above!
Comparing My site to the Top 4
This time I am going to assess my site compared to the top 4 ranked sites for the keyword ‘Xtreme No Review’.
Now there was a Youtube video in at number 3 so I discarded that because the data Im about to show you shows the Domain metrics, so youtube would show up with billions of back links.
Ok….. Keyword ‘Xtreme No review’
At the time of writing.
Ranked number 1 – buyxtremeno.org/xtreme-no-reviews/
Funnily enough there home page is not actually ranking, it is the sub page that has the rankings. It’s not a bad site with 4 pages of content, about 500 words on each page and a few images! Has social share buttons on the page and it appears keyword density is quite high.
Ranked number 2 – xtremenoreviewblog.com/
Pretty shit looking site, has 4 other posts, but the actual page that is ranking has very little content. Design is poor and it looks like it was thrown together quickly. I actually ran a copyscape check because I had my doubts, and guess what? It flagged up a duplicate copy! Not exact word for word but it showed signs of a copy. So much for your duplicate content bollox Google!! Again this page has social share buttons (Not that anybody has ever clicked them!!)
Ranked number 3 – xtremenoreviews1.com/
This is just a 1 page site, very basic, plain white design, 2 images and a video. Yet again it has the social share buttons. I can see some patterns emerging here, which I’ll investigate in more detail later
Ranked number 4 – xtremenoreviewinfo.com/
Yet again a 1 page site , apart from the contact and about page! very little content, I’d say about 300-400 words. Basic design. A couple of images and the keyword is used in all of the H1, H2, H3 headings, which has been apparent in all of the sites so far! and guess what? The social share buttons again!
Ok, so there is a very quick description of each site on first impressions. Now don’t forget, these are the top ranking sites in Google for this Keyword, and my site is a measly….. ‘Errrr Nowhere’, And my site is much better than these! of course 😉
Lets Compare some BackLink data
Firstly I am going to use the handy ‘domain comparison tool’ within Ahrefs. If you don’t know what Ahrefs is, it’s a back link checker, and it’s the best one!
The domain comparison tool allows us to enter up to 5 domains, and it will go and compare back links, social shares, redirects and a whole bunch of useful information! So what I have done here is entered my site in the first column, and then entered the top 4 sites in the remaining columns.
You might be surprised at what you see!!
[Click on the image to make it bigger]
Looking at this you would think that it was my site that was number 1. I have more social shares, more referring domains and more backlinks.
The site ranking at the top has 0 social links, and a whopping 2 back links!!
what the fuck!!!
So what exactly is going on here?
Well it’s quiet apparent that Google is not considering the number of back links at all here, or social signals.
I’m pretty confident that the reason my site has been dropped is because Google did not like my back link profile. if you look closely you can see there is 1,629 back links but only 132 referring domains from just 93 different IP’s
This would probably suggest some sort of unnatural link building, which is why they have dropped the site. Regardless of how good the content is or the number of social signals!
Once Google spots something it doesn’t like, that’s it, your gone!!
You can Analyse your backlink profile by following Matthew Woodwards ‘backlink analyse tutorial‘. I have actually used it myself on another one of my sites and I’ll be creating a post about that in the near future!
Rubbish Sites with no Links outranking me!!
Well, at this stage I was planning on comparing the back link profile of each site to see the type of links they had, where they were coming from and if PR and Domain authority had an impact. But I can’t do that because these site have got no god damn back links!!! HaHa
So what I will do now is look at as many on page factors as I can, because we can clearly see that building backlinks is not high in priority for this keyword.
Now Im not saying that link building is not relevant anymore, because it is, however there are certain keywords and niches that obviously don’t warrant a large back link profile, and it seems this is one of them!
Before undertaking any kind of SEO I would highly recommend that you research the top ranking sites and find as many similarities as you can.
Use Ahrefs like I have done here, and also run an audit using Website auditor, which is what I’ll be doing with these sites now!
So what exactly is ranking these sites? [Take Note]
Before I run a full audit on these sites Im going to do a quick visual Audit. I’ll open up the 4 pages on my desktop and try to spot some similarities.
Google has been banging on about readability and user experience, and to be fair, these 4 sites are very easy to read and navigate. Here are a few things that I have spotted:
- All of the sites have very short paragraphs, and 1 of the sites splits the content into 1 or lines at a time!
- They all have a H tag above every new paragraph, so basically lots of headings containing the keywords
- They all use pretty large fonts, 14+
- They are all easy to read and have a bit more spacing between each line to make it easier to read
- As we have already spotted, they all have social share buttons!!
- All 4 sites contain at least 1 image
- The main Headline begins with the Keyword on all sites
- Interestingly – They are all powered by WordPress, but they don’t make this obvious. i.e. there is no ‘powered by WP in the footer’
There are some interesting findings here. Im particularly drawn to the user experience factor. The sites are very easy to read with medium/large fonts, lots of short paragraphs and lots of headings. It’s also interesting to see that ‘they have privacy policies’ and disclosure pages.
Update: Whilst writing this post I decided to check the rankings again, and it appears that a new site has climbed to number 2 position for this keyword. The site is xtremeno.biz/
I checked it out and it has all of the attributes that I have listed above, apart from the social share buttons (Maybe adding this could push it to number 1)
Ive done a backlink check on Ahrefs and this site does have a back link profile.
Unlike the other sites, this has a lot of backlinks and keyword density is low. maybe they have a clean back link profile, or maybe it’s doing a little Google dance before it’s dropped!
I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.
I am reading through the content on the site and although there is probably more than the other sites, the quality is really poor. It’s either been written by a none english person or its been spun, because some of it doesn’t even make sense!
So what the hell are you playing at Google? You tell us we need quality content, yet you can’t even distinguish between well written and poor quality content.
I think the reason Google bangs on about quality content so much is because they are powerless when it comes to determining who’s content is better, therefore they try to convince us that we should produce high quality content so less shit appears on their searches.
Now Im not saying you should go out and post a load of shit content on your site, because 1 day Google may find a way to spot this. It’s also a good idea to have great content so that other people will share it!
Hint Hint 😉
Lets compare page 1 results to page 2
Lets take this further. I’ve just had a look through pages 2 and 3 of google to see if I can spot why the sites the sites there are ranked lower down than the sites I have been talking about above!
Here are a few I picked out:
.xtremenofacts.net/ – Ranked on page 3 – Very simple and basic design, not much content. The main thing I can see here is that this site has smaller text and it does not mention the keyword in the main heading.
xtremenoreviewx.com/ – Currently ranked 27, Ticks all of the boxes, but it does say ‘Powered by WordPress’ in the footer. Looks pretty good and it is difficult to see why this site is not ranking amongst the top 4 sites. It has a few backlinks which could be the cause but I will be doing a full audit to see if that brings anything up, such as broken links, html errors etc.
Why you should run a full web site Audit
So far I have determined what factors are used to rank in this niche with the keyword ‘xtreme no review’. Now I wasn’t planning on taking it this far but I don’t know about you, but Im rather intrigued with my findings so far and I want to take it a bit further.
I want to know why the site ranked 27 is 26 positions behind site 1, even though they are very similar and tick nearly all of the ranking factors that we have found!
Time for Website Auditor (One of my favourite tools)
This little beauty may reveal the answers to our questions! I have been using this software for a few years and it’s become an absolutely essential tool in my armoury. It performs a full audit on your site and reveals every last detail.
Lets Compare the number 1 ranking to the number 27 ranking
Im going to run a website audit on the number 1 ranked site and compare it to the audit on the number 27 ranked site!
Site Ranked Number 1
As we can see from this report, it’s not perfect and there are a few errors that require attention. This site that is ranking number is only 5 months old! There are a few html and css validation issues but I can’t see nothing major here.
This is just a basic report of the website structure, there are lots of other factors that I can check, but I’d probably be here all day. WebSite Auditor does a great job of analysing a site!
Here is the report from the site ranked number 27
Now what we can see here is that this site is a little older. Pretty similar to the other site with very few crawl errors, however look at the html and CSS validation errors. This site has a lot of them! Maybe this is one of the reasons why the site remains on page 3?
Ive not finished yet, lets compare on page Optimisation
Probably the best feature in WebSite Auditor is the ‘page optimisation report’. This actually compares all of the ranking data of the top 10 sites to your own site, it then advises you on the changes you should make!
Now Im not going to publish the full report on here as it’s rather large, but it tells us useful info, such as the keyword density we should be aiming at in the H1 Title, body, h2-h6 titles etc…
The software gives us results for the top 10 ranked sites, and then tells us what to do to bring our site up to scratch with these.
Now I have compared these 2 sites and to be honest, there’s not a lot of evidence to say that it’s the on page optimisation causing the problem. If anything the site ranking 27 may have over optimised it slightly, and heres why….
Take a look at this screenshot. It shows the site I am analysing (ranked 27) compared to the top 10 sites on the first page! I don’t know why they are not in the same order as I found them when searching Google myself, but they are all here…
I have analysed the keyword ‘Xtreme no review’ and the plural version
As you can see, the keyword density is a bit higher than all of the other sites. I have highlighted it in red. The sites highlighted in Green are the top ranking sites which I gave a summary on earlier.
Maybe reducing the Keyword density a little may help this site move up!!
The same thing is apparent with the H1 heading. The site ranked 27 has a keyword density of 100%, however the average keyword density for the top 10 sites is just 35.6%. Again, over optimised!
What changes would I make to the site ranking at number 27?
Well, looking at the evidence I selected this site because I thought it looked good at it ticked all of the boxes from the data that we found. Most of the sites on page 2 or higher has pretty noticeable attributes that were preventing the site ranking any higher, but this one wasn’t so obvious.
If I had the chance to work on this site I would love to see what happened if they added social share buttons, cleaned up some of the validation errors and toned down the keyword density a little. I think doing these simple steps would have a positive affect on the site.
What do you think?
I may be wrong, but what I do know is that it shouldn’t take much to get this site on page 1. I’ll keep an eye on it over the next few weeks to see if it climbs, as it maybe on it’s way up already, without these minor changes..
In fact, I am going to email the site owner and show them this case study, and hopefully they will implement the changes.
They’ll probably tell me to piss off, but it’s worth a try!
Oh shit! What about my own site
I know, I know! you are probably thinking the same as me, Im sure I started this post to see why my own site had lost rankings!, somehow I went on to evaluate some other guys site in my own niche and then tried to help him out!
What a lovely person I am! LOL
Somewhere near the beginning of this case study I settled on the fact that my site had a poor link profile and that was the reason it lost rankings, but having discovered all of the factors that were ranking the top sites, I have realised that my site is missing quite a few of them.
Lets take a look…
Here is what I can see is wrong with my site:
- The text is too small
- Paragraphs are too long
- Not enough headings
- I used the old blogroll style, with my recent posts on the front page. None of the top sites now do this!
- My site says ‘powered by WordPress’ in the footer
- I have no contact page!
Hmmmm!!! Now I am beginning to wonder. Is it really my back link profile or is it my on page factors? or maybe a combination of both?
Well there is only one way to find out!
Make changes to my site or ditch and start again?
This is the question that most people ask themselves at some stage when they see their site tumbling down the serp’s. It’s a very important question and there is no right or wrong answer. The important thing to do here is to asses the situation.
In my case with extremeno.co.uk it’s just a small affiliate site. Most of the sites ranking at the top are new sites with no back links, so in my case it’s probably just easier to make a new site and be sure to implement all of factors that I have discovered that help to rank in this Niche
If however, your site is your main business and you have built a solid brand, then you should work at recovering the site, because starting again would be a lot of work and probably unnecessary work!
So what am I going to do?
Well common sense tells me to start a fresh, but Im too caught up in it now and I am more interested to see if the site will rank again if I implement the required changes, and I want to find out if it really is down to my back link profile.
If I wasn’t doing this experiment I would simply start again. But because I am doing this experiment I will work on the site, and if it doesn’t work, I will make a new one and see how that does!
Now Im getting excited!
The one thing that my site does currently have is good content. Now I know that we have already proved that Google can’t distinguish between good content and poor content, but it surely can’t harm our causes and I won’t have to spend time creating new articles. It’s just a case of re-jigging my site.
I have also run a full page audit with ‘Website Auditor‘ and it has reported that my sites current Optimisation rate is 40.2%, so I need to address this and make some changes. It seems a couple of my titles are over optimised and my ‘body’ content needs a higher keyword density.
… It’s Off to work I go
The first thing I am going to do is to change the design of my site so that it looks more like the sites that are ranked at the top. There are millions of free WordPress Plugins out there so I just selected a nice clean, clutter free one.
Before I make the changes, here is a screenshot of what my site looked like before:
My Site before I made any changes
Ok, thats what it looked like before. I’ll now make a few changes!
I spent about an hour making a few changes. Ive not made all of the changes yet, because I want to see if my rankings will increase by simply making the text larger and easier to read. I have improved the user experience.
What I have done so far:
- Changed the theme to a more basic layout
- Used a stand alone page as my homepage
- Split the content into more paragraphs
- Used more headings
- Increased the size of the text
- Increased the spacing between the lines
Here is what it now looks like….
You can only see the top half of the page here but you get an idea. Im going to give it about a week before I make the next set of changes.
Lets see what happens!
Remember, I thought the reason behind my sites loss of rankings was maybe due to a poor link profile. If that was the case then these changes won’t have an affect!
24 Hours later we see some action!!
Within just 24 hours of implementing the changes I searched the rankings again using RankChecker. Quite surprisingly we are back in the top 100, at number 40!!!
However, its not for our root domain. It’s ranking for the category ‘xtreme no review’ which is not what we really want.
So what am i going to do about this?
Well Im going to give it a week. If our site is not back in the top 100 I will move our ‘review’ page from the home page to a sub directory to see if that works. Remember the site ranked number 1? well thats exactly what they are doing! buyxtremeno.org/xtreme-no-reviews/
Rankings continue to improve each day, they went to 35 then 31…. but it’s still for the subdirectory and not my actual home page (Which has my review on).
Time for Plan B
My home page is still nowhere to be seen, so Im going to move my ‘review page’ to a subdirectory and just place some other content on the home page instead!
To do this I simply go to my WordPress dashboard. Click Settings > Reading > Static home page > And select a different page other than my ‘Xtreme no review’ page
Now my original review page is now located at: extremeno.co.uk/xtreme-no-review/
I have also made sure that this page appears in the menu
Ok thats it….. 2 minutes to implement the change
Now lets see what happens!!!
If you are unsure of what I just did, I simply moved the home page of my site ‘extremeno.co.uk’ to a subdirectory… extremeno.co.uk/xtreme-no-review/
Update: The site I analysed at number 27 ( xtremenoreviewx.com/) is now number 24!
Come on Google, show me some Love
A couple of days went by and nothing happened, then on day 3 our new page has appeared on Google.com at number 38, but it has yet to appear on google.co.uk.
Now we are back in the top 100 with our new page, this is great news and just what I wanted to see.
Oooops… I spoke to soon, our page is now also showing on Google.co.uk at 43. I’ll be checking the rankings everyday for the next week!
Lets implement some more Changes
It’s now been over a week and we have seen the site appear back in the top 100 in the Google. Here is a snapshot of the ranking data…
As you can see, it looks like it is stabilising around page 4, so now I am going to implement a couple more ranking factors that I discovered earlier in this post. This time I am going to remove the ‘powered by WordPress’ from the footer of the site, and I am also going to cloak the affiliate link so that it doesn’t appear to obvious that I am promoting an affiliate product.
All of the other sites that are ranking have done this and you should really do this with all of your sites and affiliate links.
Removing the ‘Powered by WordPress’ from footer:
Go to your WP dashboard, click > Appearance > Editor > footer.php and remove the link and anchor to WordPress
Cloak your link
If you don’t have a robots.txt file there is a plugin that you can download. Go to >Settings > Reading and you will see the .robots.txt file.
Make up a name for a folder. i.e. /offer/
now enter this in your robots.txt file: Disallow: /offer/
Now download a plugin called ‘redirection.
Enter your actual affiliate link in the Target URL box, and enter http://yourdomain.com/offer/whateveryouwant in the source URL box
Click save, now you will see that it has created a redirection above in green. Click on this and change the Http code to: 302 found
That’s it. Now instead of linking to your raw affiliate link, you simply link to http://yourdomain.com/offer/whateveryouwant
Lets see what happens now! I’ll report back in 1 week to see if our rankings have improved!
Jumps 6 Places
It’s not quite been a week but I am going away tomorrow so wanted to implement the next set of changes. Here is a screenshot of the last few days since I made the 2 changes.
As you can see, we have improved 6 places but no significant progress 🙁 I think it’s just bouncing around on page 4
Right! Lets see if that has any affect on our rankings!!
Update: The site that went to number 2 xtremeno.biz has now disappeared!! It has been replaced with a new entry.
Interestingly enough, xtremeno.biz was a site that had a lot of back links and it has continued to build links. I ran a search on Ahrefs and you can see here that they are continually building links…
This shows new and lost links!
I think they have been hit for unnatural link building, what do you think? Number 2 to nowhere!!
The new site that has appeared in the top 3 has just 5 backlinks to it’s root domain!
The site now ranking number 1 is xtremenoreviews1.com – THE SITE WITH 5.1k THOUSAND TWEETS!!
Social signals having their say?
This is turning out to be a very volatile niche, sites are bouncing around all over the place!
Pulling My hair out time!!
Ok, I am back from my trip and I have just taken a look at the rankings, hoping that we have jumped up a bit…
What has happened?…. Nothing, apart from dropping 1 place. It seems that no matter what changes I implement, Google is not going to put me on the first page, and I still think that my original thought of unnatural link building on my domain is the cause!
Is it time to move to a fresh new domain?
This post is currently being updated…..