If you have been following The Financial Blogger for more than a year, you will remember that I was hit by the Panda update. This was an update done by Google in order to “improve” site rankings in its search engine. Some of my sites were hit hard and I lost up to 50% of my traffic on some of them. This wasn’t the first time that Google “played” with my network. In the past, I’ve been through several “Page Rank updates” (PR) where I could go from a PR4 to a PR2 or worse, a PR0 in the span of a mouse click. The Page Rank is the system used by Google to determine a site’s importance on the internet. A PR0 basically tells the world that your site doesn’t mean much in Google’s eyes. Trust me, when 2 or 3 of your biggest sites get a PR0, it’s worse than getting driven into a pillar by Zdeno Chara.
Each time I get hit by Google, I freak out. You put so much effort to please your god and it turns around and slaps you in the face. Considering that Google’s hand is the size of an elephant, that slap hurts man! I’ve been asked for help by many bloggers with regards to getting back their PR or their search engine traffic. This is why I thought about writing this article where I’ll be sharing with you most of my tricks on how to survive a “Google Apocalypse”.
There are basically 2 things where Google could hit your site very hard:
The search engine optimization game has been in place since the internet was invented. Once Google established its supremacy in the late 90’s early 2000’s, the race for the #1 spot in Google has been the primary objective of most online marketers. Around the mid 2000’s, we saw the progression of a new type of website and Google felt for them: blogs. They offered fresh content almost daily on very specific topics.
This was like the perfect definition of a search engine optimized website: keyword rich with daily fresh content. Over the years, people started to make more and more money with their websites. In the Personal Finance niche, I can tell you that people were laughing at me when I told them back in 2007 that I wanted to make money online. Today, it’s a whole different ballgame where an experienced blogger can make $10,000 per month with his blogs.
However, while bloggers were transforming their blogs to make more and more money, the obsession with tweaking their site to please Google and rank higher reached a level close to prostitution. This is why Google decided to improve its algorithm many times throughout the years. Their most recent update was the “Panda Update” that happened in April and October of 2011. Some people saw their traffic drop by 50% in the span of a week. This is how hard Google can hit if it “deranks” your site from its search engine.
A blog or website, is not much without visitors. More importantly, a blog without search engine traffic cannot become a money making machine. Most loyal readers will comment on the blog and contribute to its community but will rarely click on ads. Unless you have super loyal readers in a very specific niche where there is a need, you won’t be able to sell them many things either (how many of you are making over $1,000/month with affiliate products?). Therefore, Google traffic is a gold mine for any blogger. If you don’t get that traffic, you pretty much say “goodbye” to tons of money.
While understanding how you can rank higher in a search engine is “relatively simple”, understanding how Page Rank (PR) works is a totally different thing. By definition, the Page Rank is a measure used by Google to determine if your site is worth something or not. New and relatively small sites usually range from PR0 to PR2. When you have an established blog, you can get a PR3 (most common), PR4 or PR5 (pretty rare). Some super lucky bloggers will reach a PR6 or PR7 but that’s incredibly rare and your chances of keeping this ranking for several years are not good.
Besides determining your “importance” to Google, it also determines the “power” of any links coming from your site. For example, if you have a PR3 site and you link to a PR2, you are definitely helping them and giving them a push. Your links are “worth” more than another blog that has a PR1 or PR2.
It is important not to mix Page Rank and Search Engine Traffic. You can have a PR4 with a lower level of traffic than a PR3 and so on. If you have a PR drop, it doesn’t mean that you will have less traffic. This is the same if you have a PR increase. Don’t get too excited, you won’t be getting many benefits from it.
To be honest, I’ve quit trying to understand and use this simple definition of a PR update: Google rolls the magic dice with roughly 6 sides and you get the PR on your site that way
Now, if you don’t offer private advertising on your blog, your PR doesn’t matter. Why? Because most people interested in your PR are advertisers who are trying to rank higher in search engines. Therefore, getting links from a PR4 blog in their niche is very powerful. As Google sets pretty much all the rules for search engines, advertisers will want to have links from high PR sites and won’t give much interest to low PR (read PR0) sites. In fact, you can get 100,000 visitors per month and have PR0, you will generate very little interest from most (read 90%) advertisers. You can always try to tell them that other metrics exist, the creators of the “other metrics” don’t operate the biggest search engine in the world.
As I mentioned in the introduction, I have lost Page Rank (I once went from PR4 to PR0 on several blogs!) and been hit by the Panda update. So I’ve suffered from both Google Apocalypses… I just hope that there isn’t a third type that I haven’t discovered yet! Nonetheless, my business revenue has kept increasing throughout the years. I’ll share how to get back on track later but I want to focus on what you can do to make money blogging with less traffic or a lower PR.
Warning: this is not a walk in the park (and a 3,000 words article), if you don’t want to work, skip this post and forget about making money blogging .
Losing ranking sucks. Losing money sucks. But losing hope sucks even more! It’s not the time to panic or waste valuable time and energy complaining or thinking about some kind of evil conspiracy theory against your blog. Reality check: your blog is pretty small in the blogosphere (unless you are a guy like Get Rich Slowly or I Will Teach You To Be Rich ). When I say that, I’m not being arrogant. My whole network is nothing compared to the blogosphere. There are sites reaching my monthly traffic bynoon on a daily basis.
Repeat after me: there is no conspiracy, there is no “poor you”, it’s just a day in a real business life. The business has evolved without you, now it’s up to you to get back on your feet and evolve as well.
Young blogger or experienced one, it is always good to go back to the basics once in a while. Every year or so, I read 2 of my “bibles of blogging”. It helps me to concentrate on what really matters and improve greatly my blog each time I review them. The first book is 31 Days to Build a Better Blog written by ProBlogger. This is definitely the most complete book on how to create a solid and sustainable blog. The thing I appreciate the most about this book is it includes specific tasks to achieve for each “day”. If you haven’t read this at least 3 times, you haven’t covered all blogging angles. The second book I read on a yearly basis is Blueprint for How to Make Money with a Blog by Peter Anderson @ Bibble Money Matters. While ProBlogger’s Book will teach you how to build an incredible blog with great traffic, Blueprint for How to Make Money with a Blog will focus on various ways to make money from it (including how to create your own product). Peter’s surely knows what he is doing as we replaced his wife’s income with his blogs (and he is now doing it without private advertising!). The package comes in 2 versions (PDF and an mp3 file that you can upload to your iPod). If you only want to buy one book, I think that 31 Days to Build a Better Blog is the best option.
First and obvious tip: focus on your readers. You might have been unfairly punished by Google and deliver great content. But the key is to continue to deliver this content. On the other hand, you should be questioning if your content is gold or not. A good trick would be to ask yourself: “would I pay $50 for this post I just wrote?”. If you wouldn’t, this is because you are not providing incredibly good content. A great article will provide a solid opinion on a specific topic with added value for the reader (e.g. things they didn’t know, a how to article or simply an article that helps people to do or understand something). These kinds of articles will get the attention of your readers and probably from other bloggers. You have a great chance of getting references and increase your readership. Your loyal readers will always help you going through tough situations.
Another great way to increase your traffic is to work with other bloggers. By focusing on your readers, you will increase your direct hits. By focusing on other bloggers, you will increase your reference hits. This goes beyond asking a few friends to link towards your site. You will need several actions to generate traffic:
- Guest posts on great blogs
- Comment a lot
- Submit to carnivals
- Participate on forums
- Help other bloggers
- Create group project (see my Dividend Growth Index project)
Don’t underestimate the power of doing group projects. If you are able to gather 10 or so bloggers that are in your same niche, you can “share” your readers amongst the network and everybody gains.
I’ve asked Will Chen one of the founders of Wisebread what was his #1 trick to connect with bloggers and he told me that the best way to do it is to connect with a very few influential bloggers at a time. They can be big stars or people that you truly like (they will most likely become the next big guys anyway). Instead of commenting on 20 sites, focus on 3-4 per month. Don’t just comment, email them, share passions and interests. Build true friendships with them. Don’t just talk about blogging, become friends.
Some people are pretty good at working with other bloggers and are already doing it. I’m not reinventing the wheel here. So if you are doing this part perfectly, focus on the following points.
I’ve written a great series on how to build your newsletter and how I made $463 in a single day with mine. This series outlines the power of a newsletter. Most people are too lazy to register to your RSS and read all your posts. It may be too much for them. However, receiving a bi-weekly newsletter is awesome for them. Especially if you provide your best content in there! The key with a newsletter is that you engage your most loyal readers to follow you all the time. You can drive traffic to your sites, start new projects, and ask them for their opinions. This has tremendous value if you want to build a real business.
The last part of this series (and probably the most important part) is left for my newsletter subscribers (hehehe, I know, I’m a sucker sometimes ). You can subscribe here:
Creating a newsletter will require additional time and it’s not easy to manage everything. On the other hand, your newsletter is one of the tools that is completely independent from Google. This is worth a lot.
Did you know that Google wasn’t the only traffic provider? Think outside the box and try to become more active in the following channels:
- YouTube (yeah I know, it’s still Google)
Social media is one of the highest sources of search results after classic search engines. If you build a reputation on social media, it will be pretty hard to be “de-ranked” from there. Social media is probably one of the most powerful platforms besides Google where you can increase your readership. If you are popular on Facebook, chances are that these people will eventually read your blog too!
It’s time to open up your mind and get to the drawing board. You need to think about your blog differently. Focus on your passion and forget about the money for a while. If you know a lot about something (and you surely do), focus on that specific niche. When I say focus I mean:
- Do keyword research (read how I use Market Samurai).
- Create a series of articles around these keywords.
- Don’t play keyword stuffing but rather write epic articles on specific topics with these keywords.
- Create a small eBook or an email series to engage your audience.
- Search for affiliates on products you use and are related to your new “niche”.
- Once you get more traction on this niche, you can go for companies to get advertising deals.
- Don’t build a niche site; just focus heavily on a niche within your blog.
- This is how you become the reference in a specific domain (as I’m a reference for buying/selling blogs with TFB for example).
: A classic reflex would be to reduce your blogging activity and your cost. After all, you are going to tell me that you won’t be going anywhere if you lose money each month, right? I’d say that you are half right, half wrong. Invest money, time and energy towards the right activities (those which create value), your blog will grow. You have been spoiled by making money easily, now you have to work to earn a buck. This is the reality of any business. If you thought that the internet or blogging was different, welcome to the real world! Change the word “spend” to “invest”. When you “spend money”, expect a return. Most people doubt in investing strategy for my online company. However, I can tell you that I’ve been growing continuously since 2008. After 4 years of aggressive investment, my expenses are now more stable while my revenues keep growing.
I can never tell people often enough. Diversify your sites, your traffic sources, your income sources, diversify everything. This is the perfect way of not getting brutally hit by any storm. I’m currently running on 4 different servers for the very same reason: if one of my servers goes bust for a day, I’m not losing all my traffic, just 25% of it. There are a lot of ways you can expand your blog to a whole network and become diversified:
- Be active on social media
- Do a podcast
- Create YouTube videos
- Create a forum or group of mastermind bloggers
The 3 Gs (Google’s Good Grace) is the holy trinity of the internet ;-). Getting it back is not an easy task. In fact, I don’t really know how to gain or lose the 3Gs. Getting traffic back or your Page Rank is not easy as there are no clear guidelines. This is why I focused this article on these 8 steps to survive instead of working on getting what you have lost from the very same source. Becoming more independent from the 3Gs is probably the best attitude you can have. Your blog will get a lot stronger if you do that than if you desperately work on what has been lost.
It doesn’t mean don’t make any changes to your site and ignore what just happened. I’ve actually learned a lot from the Panda Update (read lessons learned here). Here’s a resume of what I’ve changed since getting hit:
- Focus on my reader’s experience
- Work on metrics such as number of pages viewed and average time spent on site
- Focus on getting RSS and newsletter subscribers
- Write less articles but more powerful ones (like this one )
- Take clear directions for each of my blogs (so readers really get what they are looking for)
- Implement quarterly objectives to make sure we work on value added projects
- Make sure that each site gets fresh content and with fresh incoming links all the time
I think that focusing on fresh content and fresh incoming links on all our sites was one of the best decisions we ever made. This is being done through various strategies:
- Blogroll exchange
- Carnival submissions
- Comments on other blogs
- Forum posting (with signatures)
- Writing great content so you get more links towards your site
- Highlighting other bloggers (so they are more likely to do the same in the future)
- Create group projects (everybody links to each other and adds a lot of value for readers)
- Write controversial posts (this always brings a lot of comments and links )
- Guest posts
Unfortunately, doing all this won’t necessary get your traffic or Page Rank back from Google. On the other had, it will help you grow your traffic and make more income without being dependent on the 3Gs. If you are somewhat lucky, you will eventually get back the 3Gs on top of gaining traction from all these actions. This is how you will get stronger and become more diversified.
As in any kind of business, there is nothing more important than being diversified. You don’t want to be that guy whose only client is Wal-Mart. If you lose that client, you don’t have a business anymore. This is not having a business model, this is being lucky until the perfect storm strikes.
The day the 3Gs pulls the plug, it sinks your blog ;-). Be independent.
If you have any questions, I’m here to answer on this blog!
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