My web site dannyreviews.com has ranked well in Google searches for more than a decade, but in the last few months Google has taken a dislike to it. This appears to be a result of the search algorithm change called "Panda".
- Many (maybe half?) of my reviews have been removed from Google's index in favour of duplicate copies on other web sites. For example, a search like "Her Smoke Rose Up Forever Danny Yee review should find the review on my own web site but instead finds a duplicate copy. (Another example: "dirt the erosion of civilizations danny yee")
- My web site used to rank in the top ten for a search on "book reviews", but now ranks around 60th. This kind of drop is apparently a "-50 penalty".
- overall traffic to my book reviews is down more than 60%.
So it looks like Google thinks I'm some kind of search engine spammer and is penalising my content accordingly. I haven't changed my navigation structure at all in recent years, and certainly haven't done anything spammy, but it seems I'm a false positive (or "collateral damage") in Google's war on spam.
I had always assumed that, since my site has been around forever - at an earlier location which still 301 redirects, it goes back to 1994! - and is hardly "thin content", it would never have problems like this.
What to do?
I never used to worry about duplicate content much, since I figured Google would always be smart enough to know that a) my own copies of my reviews came first and b) my site was the "more significant" one. But it seems that I can't rely on that any more, so maybe I need to start sending out a lot of DMCA takedown notices <urgh>.
I've never really done any SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). The obvious stuff - good TITLEs, simple spiderable structure, etc - I mostly got right from the very beginning. (Though if I could go back in time I'd abandon the mixed-case and underscores in URLs.) And attempting to game Google always seemed like a stupid arms race to me. My approach to "optimisation" has been to optimise for my readers and assume that that would (most of the time) work as Google optimisation, since Google was aiming at the same target (useful content).
And I've never done much in the way of PR, with self-advertisement really not being my thing. A problem here is that everyone wants links, so it's not clear that getting more of them is going to help convince Google I'm not a spammer (or a "content farm").
I'm reluctant to change too much now, both from fear of triggering other problems and because I've already fine-tuned my site for what I consider optimal usability.
It would be nice if there were some way to provide feedback to Google so they can tweak their algorithm to avoid this kind of false positive, but given that everyone who is affected (including spammers and borderline cases) would swamp any such feedback mechanism, it's not clear how they can provide one. But I have submitted a "reconsideration request" using Google's webmaster tools [response: "no manual penalty is in place"], I have a friend at Google who might be able to find me a contact, and I can always hope that someone like Matt Cutts takes an interest.
- The most popular recommendation is that I should update the site aesthetics and make it look more modern (Google having taken against old sites that are resting on their laurels, users preferring more features, etc). I've been planning a front page redesign anyway, so adding more text to the front page is at least feasible. (Any idea where I can find a "designer" who can cope with a "no images" constraint?)
There are a few people (thanks Durant!) who understand that the site looks the way it does for a reason. And I'm not convinced that every web site needs to be "social networking enabled".
- There's a general consensus that I should whack any and all duplicate copies with DMCA notices. This still seems like an endless fight to me, and I think Google should be able to distinguish the original/principal copy from duplicate content fairly reliably, but I've sent a notice off to the hosting service of the most prominent site copy.
- The Webmaster World posters lean more to "it's not broken, don't try to 'fix' it".
- No one seconded my theory that I have too many link pages. But I've removed the 1000+ "link to all reviews" title and index pages (leaving only the "full chronological index" doing that). Those pages were unwieldy anyway, and my link checker used to complain about them.
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