Category: SEO

see-sawIn the early days of the World Wide Web, it provided a level playing field for anyone with something to say. If a website published good content, it could rise quickly through the ranks of search engine results, and get placement in major Internet directories. In short order, a small website could become a widely-recognized resource.

Now, in 2018. this is no longer the case.

I am currently experiencing this firsthand with a project I am working on.

I have a new website, EDtreatment.info, which provides information, resources, help and support for erectile dysfunction sufferers and their partners. There is already a great deal of information about ED on the web, but we are trying to do two things that other sites are not:

  1. We tailor our content specifically to the needs of the ED community. We participate in many online forums, where we see the questions that people are asking. We sponsor ongoing survey research to understand how ED affects men and their partners. We use this information to prioritize our content development.
  2. We provide links to clinical research to support and justify the information we provide.

Despite the fact that my site provides very useful, relevant, and accurate content, I am struggling to gain visibility and traffic.

The purpose of this article is to explain why.

The Rise of Megasites

Search engines give better placement to sites with a high Internet presence - that is, with many high-quality inbound links. (In the past, we could estimate this Internet presence with a measure called Google PageRank. Google has stopped making this metric public, so we now use metrics such as the Moz Domain Authority, or AHREFS Domain Rating.)

Large websites have lots of inbound links, and therefore a high rank.  The sites pass the power of their rank on to every page on the site... so as sites become larger, the number of inbound links increases, and each page on the site becomes harder to compete with.

In the case of my own site, EDtreatment.info, I have many inbound links... but I can't begin to compete with the number of links to megasites such as WebMD.com. And therefore, it is very difficult for pages on my site to compete with pages on the WebMD site.

Authoritative Links

Search engines give preference to websites with "authoritative" links pointing to them. These authoritative links typically come from news sites, government sites, and educational sites.

Large sites tend to accumulate these high authority links. If someone at a major publication is writing an article on erectile dysfunction, they are likely to include a link to information on WebMD... and much less likely to include a link to a small website such as mine.

Thus, sites that already have a strong web presence grow stronger and stronger, and it is virtually impossible for small sites to catch up.

The Consequences

If the web is no longer a level playing field, a small number of megasites will come to dominate broad categories of web searches... and it will become virtually impossible for new sites to establish themselves by providing better content or services.

telemarks-guide-to-dogsContent-based websites and products are rarely glamorous, and are often disparaged by investors and developers. But there is a huge, overlooked advantage of content-based products...  they retain their value for a long, long time.

I was a co-developer of Telemark's Guide to Dogs, which was released on CD-ROM in 1995. The disk contained all sorts of information about dog activities, profiles and photos of 168 AKC-recognized dog breeds, and a "dog breed selector" that helped users to find the ideal dog breeds for their lifestyles and preferences.

The product was originally self-published. It was later licensed to The Learning Company, where it sold over 45,000 copies and won a National Educational Media Network Silver Apple Award in 1997.

When the CD-ROM market began to die, the dog breed selector and profiles were licensed to the IAMs pet food company for use on their website, iams.com. In addition to paying license fees for the product, IAMs paid for regular updates, as the AKC added new breeds and modified breed standards. (In 2017, IAMs changed their branding strategy, and did not renew the license.)

The Dog Breed Selector, Dog Breed Comparer, and over 200 dog profiles and photos are now hosted on an ad-supported website, dogspotters.com. The extensive content has high SEO value.

The products and content are available for purchase or licensing.

In short, an information content product has generated revenue for 22 years, and still has value. There are very, very few technology products and businesses that can make the same claim.

 

mobile-friendlyRecently I've gotten a lot of questions about the Google mobile algorithm change, which was rolled out on April 21.

The change - which the press dubbed "mobile-geddon" - affects sites that are not mobile-friendly. If a web page is not designed to display properly on a mobile phone, it will be penalized and will show up lower in search results on mobile phones. The change will not affect search results on desktop computers, laptops, or tablets.

(You can find out if a page is mobile-friendly using the free Mobile Test Tool provided by Google.)

I wanted to assess the actual impact of the April 21 changes on real sites. Rather than looking at placement in search results, I decided to focus on traffic.  I made a few assumptions:

  • If a site is not mobile-friendly, it should now appear lower in search results on mobile devices, which should result in fewer clicks, and less traffic.
  • If a site is mobile-friendly, it should now appear higher in search results on mobile devices (because "unfriendly" sites have slipped lower), which should result in more clicks, and more traffic.
  • Placement in search results (and hence traffic) on non-mobile devices should not be affected.

Given these assumptions, we can assess the results of the algorithm changes by measuring the percentage of traffic that comes from mobile searches, both before and after the algorithm change.  Mobile-friendly sites should see more mobile traffic, and unfriendly sites should see less.  I used percentage rather than absolute numbers, because traffic can vary for many reasons unrelated to the Google change.

Using Google Analytics, I examined eight sites that are mobile-friendly, and nine that are not mobile-friendly.  I gathered data for the period from April 11-17, before the change, and for May 2-8, after the change.  Both periods begin on a Saturday and run through Friday; there are no significant US holidays contained in either range.

The aggregate results are shown below.

Non-Friendly

Prior to the change, 30.6% of site traffic came from mobile devices.  After the change, 28.8% of site traffic came from mobile devices.  As expected, the percentage of traffic from mobile devices fell.  The decrease amounted to 1.3% of overall site traffic.

Mobile-Friendly

Prior to the change, 26.7% of site traffic came from mobile devices. After the change, 26.3% of site traffic came from mobile devices. Surprisingly, the percentage of traffic from mobile devices fell!  The decrease amounted to 0.4% of overall site traffic.

Conclusions

The fact that the percentage of traffic from mobile devices fell, even on mobile-friendly sites, calls into question the validity of the results - despite the fact that mobile traffic on "unfriendly" sites fell more (as expected).

It may be that my sample size was too small, or that other factors I have not considered affected the results.  But one thing is clear: the affect of the April 21 algorithm change is small.  It was certainly not "mobile-geddon."

Nevertheless, it's important to remember that mobile use is increasing. Google and other search engines will probably favor mobile-friendly sites more over time.

Plus, once you make a site mobile-friendly, it takes some time for Google to re-crawl the site and recognize the changes (see Were You Ready for Mobile-geddon?).

If you haven't already made your site mobile-friendly, it's time.

 

shutterstock_114417286On April 21, Google made sweeping changes to their search engine algorithm for mobile devices. Sites that are not "mobile friendly" will appear lower in search results on mobile devices.

Google announced the change months in advance, to give site operators time to make changes. They even provided a Mobile Test Tool to determine if a page is mobile friendly.

Many sites made great efforts to be ready for the April 21 deadline... but neglected to take into account Google's indexing cycle, which may take weeks or months to revisit a site.

One client's site was ready for the change by April 18.  However, Google last crawled the site on April 14.  Now, two weeks after the algorithm change, Google Webmaster Tools still reports 56 pages with mobile access errors (despite that fact that all pages have been fixed).

I am gathering data on how the changes impact a number of sites, and I'll be reporting the results once the dust settles.  However, many sites that made an honest attempt to meet Google's widely trumpeted deadline are still going to be penalized until Google catches up.

Despite the delays, the recent changes are a clear indication of the direction search companies are going.  Sites that have made changes will benefit in the coming months. Businesses that have not upgraded their sites should do so soon.