We noticed that beginning March 2012, search traffic to our sites started falling. First there was a sharp fall and then it went down slowly. We were a little alarmed but thought it was temporary and that it should go up again. The trend continued over the weeks and after a month our traffic was 50% of what it originally was. We tried to find out the reason behind the fall in traffic but could not find anything. We analyzed data from Analytics and also Webmaster Tools and nothing seemed wrong anywhere. No warning or anything of that sort.
Then we searched online for possible causes for this fall in search traffic. Many had reported similar fall in traffic and they suspected it to be somewhat related to their linking strategy. I was going through one of the articles where this guy said that they have about 4000 backlinks and that a major share of those links are coming from one particular domain. He wrote a reconsideration request to Google and apparently he got a reply that Google is suspicious of his linking strategy. Perhaps Google thought that he was buying link on other sites. The guy explained that he got all his links by writing guest posts over these years and it was impossible for him to contact all websites individually to remove his link from their site. From the comments it was evident that other people also thought that 4000 backlinks were too much for one site and the site was sure to get penalized for this.
This got me thinking. We checked our backlinks in Webmaster Tools and had a total of 358,959 links to our site. The site in question is www.raytemplates.com. Also a major share of the links was coming from blogspot.com. Our SEO strategy over the past many years have been to design Blogger templates and let people download them free of cost. We got a lot of link backs from the credit link at the bottom of the templates. This strategy worked fine all these years, but now something was definitely wrong.
I received a message in Webmaster Tools:
http://www.raytemplates.com/: Big traffic change for top URL
Search results clicks for http://www.raytemplates.com/ have decreased significantly.
Message ID: 593f1ceb2d67. Please include this ID in any messages you post in our Help forum.
We looked for answers online and everyone talked about Google penalty for bad linking strategy. By this time I was sure our site had been penalized for something that we were unable to figure out. I was reluctant, but had not choice, but to write to Google for a reconsideration request. I asked how a site could be penalized if it gets too many back links from one site. I also explained that the huge amount of links were actually credit links for the time and money invested over the years for designing the free templates and that we had our contribution too in popularizing Blogger by creating original Blogger templates when most templates available for Blogger were copied design from WordPress.
I got quite an elaborate reply from Google telling me that they have evaluated our site and that there is no need to write to them as there was no manual action from the Google webspam team that might affect our site’s ranking in Google.
An excerpt from the email:
“We reviewed your site and found no manual actions by the webspam team that might affect your site’s ranking in Google. There’s no need to file a reconsideration request for your site, because any ranking issues you may be experiencing are not related to a manual action taken by the webspam team. Of course, there may be other issues with your site that affect your site’s ranking.”
I did not copy the entire email as I was not sure if it was okay to do so. Anyway, so we are now sure that there is no penalty, so why the sudden drastic drop in traffic?
My assumptions are as follows:
1. Google is not giving importance to the excessive links you may have from a site. More weight age is perhaps being given to the variation of inbound links. So getting backlinks from a lot of different sites or domains would be a better linking strategy.
2. I was also reading a lot of articles on how bad or spammy links can cause you harm. Many suggested that you should contact those site owners and have your site removed from their spammy sites. I still don’t think that others can deliberately or unknowingly harm your site by linking to it. There is no need to contact individual sites and tell them to remove your link from their site.
Well, as for us, we have decided that we will no longer create free Blogger templates as there is no incentive for us to continue doing so. However, we might start designing free WordPress templates as they are used on individual domains and hence backlinks from a variety of sites.
It is also making us think of our over reliance on Google for traffic and using alternatives we have with us like Social Media and other Search Engines. Google is making drastic changes to its search algorithm too fast which is not good for both Google and people like us who rely heavily on search for traffic.