Have you started a website or blog in the last several months or even years, but get next to no traffic from Google's organic search results? Don't worry, you're not alone and you've probably done nothing wrong.
I've been running websites on and off since 2006 and the 1st website I made was a footwear related site that (as you can probably guess) sold a small selection of shoes.
My opportunity to start this website came about after a redundancy where both me and my father lost our jobs from a well-known British sports retailer. Lucky enough, my father found a job locally, with a clothing company who distributed a small range of clothing to UK high street stores. This clothing company just like all companies had a surplus of clothing that retailers were not interested in or had simply been replaced by newer models.
That's where I came in and I was given the opportunity to start selling some of the footwear, they couldn't shift. I suppose it was very similar to what we now call dropshipping, except I collected and posted the shoes myself. Every pair of shoes I sold, I would naturally get a cut of the profits usually something in the region of £3-£6. Not a lot, but certainly enough to make it worth my while.
Despite having absolutely no experience when it came to designing a website or selling on the Internet, I took on the challenge. In fact, I didn't start off with my own website, but instead used eBay to sell the products. Despite a very slow start, I eventually started selling a good number of shoes every single week as I built up my positive feedback.
However, eBay just didn't seem like the right choice, as it was costing me a lot of money in fees (between £200-£300 per month) and I just felt that things could work a lot more efficiently if I had my own website. So I decided to invest in some shopping cart software, domain and web hosting and took things from their.
The initial process of actually setting up the website and populating it with products wasn't that difficult, but when it came to actual search engine traffic and sales, it was pretty much zero. Despite this, I continued improving the website and added new products over the months, but still, there was just no significant traffic coming from Google, despite my websites selling a particular brand of footwear that sold like hot cakes on eBay.
It was so frustrating, I had thousands of pairs of shoes to sell and was offering an excellent service to all my customers, yet just couldn't get a break from Google and had to continue using eBay for 99% of my sales.
So, What Was Google's Problem?
After approximately 5 or 6 months of practically selling nothing through my website, I decided to thoroughly research exactly what it takes to rank in Google. There was a lot of conflicting and outdated info but one thing that came back time and time again when it came to ranking a website in Google was building backlinks.
Backlinks are essentially a link from another website to your website. These acted like a vote of trust in Google's eyes and the more links (or I should say, the more quality links you built) the higher your website would appear in Google's organic search results. So despite being a complete novice, I built some links to my website, which were mainly from Internet directories initially. Within a couple of weeks, this had a positive effect on my website that saw it rise in Google's rankings. As the months passed, I became more experience in building backlinks and started getting much higher quality ones from footwear related blogs and so on. This had a dramatic effect on my website and it was now appearing in Google search results for keywords such as "Women's Shoes" which drove a lot of traffic and sales to my website and meant I no longer had to use eBay as I was generating more sales, all without paying extortionate fees.
I enjoyed a good couple of years selling shoes, but sadly the recession hit, and the maker of shoes I was selling was hit hard and eventually had to shut down, which meant my small business was also dead. I explored some options and considered buying some stock of my own, but eventually decided against it which was a blessing in disguise.
Despite my shoe selling business being over, I turn my website into a footwear resource site that gave practical information such as the history and philosophy of brands. This wasn't a particularly big site, but it earned me a nice little income of roughly £15-£25 per day through ads. In all honesty, I was delighted with the site as it didn't require much maintenance and I was planning on expanding it over time so I could earn more.
As I mentioned earlier, the key to ranking a website in Google was building backlinks, but this all dramatically changed when Google encouraged blog and website developers to introduce the nofollow rule into their software, which effectively wiped out backlinks built through websites and blog comments, and then Google themselves introduced their Penguin and Panda updates, which wiped out directory and other links that Google viewed as unnatural. The Penguin and Panda updates also targeted websites that had too much duplicate contents, and also penalised them.
When the nofollow rule, and then later the Penguin and Panda updates hit that was it. My site was dead along with thousands if not millions of other websites across the Internet. The nofollow rule had practically wiped out all the high quality blog comments I had made and the directory submissions had triggered a penalty.
Naturally, I was devastated, as I was earning a nice income for minimal work, but things could have been so much worse if I was still selling shoes as I would have gone from a living income to practically £0 in a split second. Things would have been even worse if I was a small company with several employees as we would all have been out of a job, thanks to Google.
Why Did Google Start Penalising Sites Left, Right and Centre?
There's probably several reasons for it. Firstly, they probably weren't to happy about website owners being able to achieve a high ranking in their search engine by simply building up backlinks from blogs and other websites, which effectively meant Webmasters had little reason to invest in Google AdWords, Google's pay per click ad network, which has made them the multibillion dollar company they are today. Google has also claimed that the introduction of the nofollow rule and continuous algorithm changes to their search engine is to combat low quality and spam sites. Sure, we all know that low quality and spam sites exist, and that Google has to remain vigilant, but was it a major problem before the Penguin and Panda updates? I personally preferred Google search before those updates.
Google's Double Standards
When Google 1st introduced their Penguin algorithm update in 2012, it was intended to clamp down on websites that violated Google's Webmaster guidelines, such as building links or having too much duplicate contents, and so on.
However, a large percentage of big websites on the Internet are breaking Google's guidelines right now, but go completely unpunished. Some of these include Amazon and Expedia, who both place do-follow footer links on their websites linking to other websites in their network. Placing do-follow footer links on your website that link to other websites in your ownership is a total no-no and is seen as a sign that you are trying to artificially inflate your search engine position, and will in most cases get you severely penalised.
So why doesn't Google apply the same rules to everybody? Google is a search engine and essentially wants to deliver the best search results possible, and (in their eyes) the big websites deliver the best results and user experience. If Google penalised the big websites for breaking their guidelines, then smaller un-trusted websites would have to take their place. Google doesn't want this and essentially wants the biggest and most established brands/companies at the top of their search engine. In other words, Google is looking after themselves. Most of the big websites also invest heavily in Google AdWords, which makes Google billions every single year. Though I'm sure Google would never admit it, they are bound to look after and give special treatment to their best customers.
That's why you should never copy other websites, and assume you can do this or that, with your website, just because one of the big boys is doing it. Google isn't a fair search engine and will kick small Webmasters in the teeth for violating their guidelines while completely ignoring the bad behaviour from the big boys.
What Happens after a Penalty and Can You Get Back into Google's Good Books?
You may think that Google would be on hand to help you or at least provide some significant details via the Webmasters panel as to why you got penalised. If you're lucky you may get a message telling you why your website has been penalised. However, these are always vague, generic messages, which often leave Webmasters confused rather than helping them to pinpoint the exact problem. Even if you make significant improvements and correct the offending problems, Google's response after a reconsideration request is always a vague automatic yes or no which can leave you in limbo, if the penalty hasn't been lifted. Even if they say the penalty has been removed, they won't give you any indications as to when or if your site will recover its ranking. In my experience, I've only heard of a very small amount of Webmasters being able to recover their website after a penalty. In all honesty, you're probably just better off ditching that domain name and moving on to a new one, rather than wasting months of your time.
What's the Key to Ranking in Google, in the Present Day?
Despite some of the brainiest computer/Internet engineers being on Google's payroll, its search engine still uses a very primitive system of ranking websites, i.e. the number of links pointing to it and its age. If you do an English search on Google.com or Google.co.uk for a popular subject or product right now, it's absolutely dominated by big named websites that have thousands possibly even millions of links pointing to them. If you do come across smaller websites, these are usually at least 5 or 6+ years old and have been focusing on the same subject for that time. Small independent websites that have little or no links or age on their side are practically non-existent in Google search results unless they are covering an extremely obscure subject.
In fact, just wind your mind back to 4 or 5 years ago and think how popular personal blogs were on the Internet. Now I know personal blogs have probably never been more popular, such as WordPress and Blogspot, et cetera but I'm talking about blogs that actually ranked and had hundreds of visitors a day who engaged with the blog owner. Last year I came across this blog post which explains perfectly how pathetically rubbish both Google and Bing
have become when it comes to delivering search results.
It's become pretty clear to see that Google and Bing now favour big established websites when it comes to their search results, while small independent websites such as this one will struggle unless they can naturally build a good number of high quality links, which has now become extremely difficult, if not borderline impossible.
But What If You Make Unique Quality Contents on Your Website?
There seems to be a myth on the Internet that if you create unique quality contents, then your website will rank (or at least receive significant traffic) and in turn attract links which will further improve your ranking. Naturally, it's a no-brainer to create unique quality contents, and if you want any chance of having a successful website, it has to be quality and not copied like-for-like from other websites which will get you penalised pretty quickly.
Unfortunately, quality unique contents will not get you to the top of Google, nor will it get you any significant traffic. For that links still play a massive role. Google wants you to earn links naturally, but in my experience, very few Webmasters will link to your site, and of course, nobody is going to link to your site, unless they can actually find it in the search results.
Small independent website owners are in a pretty difficult position at the present moment under Google's current search engine dominance, and things are not going to improve any time soon. Unless your website covers an obscure subject that hasn't been covered by the big websites, it's extremely unlikely that you're going to receive any significant traffic from Google. For that, you're going to have to promote and advertise your website, possibly through Google's very own AdWords and other ad networks.
If you have launched a quality website recently, or even several years ago, but haven't managed attracted enough traffic to make it worth your while, don't be too disheartened, because you are most definitely not alone.
Google has over the last 5 or 6 years, slowly destroyed the independent web to the point that big or aged websites are the only ones who are appearing high up in their search results. Despite lots of conflicting information links still play a massive role when it comes to ranking a website. Google sees a link as a vote of trust and will always place websites who have lots of quality links above those who do not. However, you need to careful when building links as the wrong ones can get your website penalised.
When it comes to creating a website it's always a good idea to focus on a subject you are interested in and have vast knowledge about, as this will make the whole experience more enjoyable for yourself, but you have to consider whether it's a saturated subject and if the big websites have already covered it. For example, you may think is a good idea to start a site that gives reviews about the latest Apple products, but the Internet is saturated with these kinds of websites, meaning your website will never receive any significant traffic, no matter how good it is. Instead, try to make your website about something that isn't too saturated, but isn't so obscure that virtually nobody searches for it.
If English isn't your 1st language, then avoid making your website in English, but instead focus on your native language, even if you're from a country that has a very low population. You may think just because English is the biggest (or at least one of the biggest) when it comes to search queries, then it makes the most financial sense to focus on that language. It most definitely doesn't, and a site made in the Swedish language would almost certainly get far more views than a English site that focus on the same subject, simply because there's far less competition.
Despite Google's dominance in the search engine market and their favouring of big-name websites, don't be put off starting a website. It has become extremely difficult (maybe even borderline impossible) for small Webmasters to make a living through Google's organic search results. But if you don't try, you will never know. Remember, starting a website is a long-term project and not something that will start earning you money within a couple of months. Follow good SEO practices and make sure your website is as good as it can possibly be.