How to survive a Gogole penalty

Don't let a Google penalty destroy your online business

Running an online business, whether it is an eCommerce site or a blog, means that you rely to some extent on income derived from Google organic search traffic.

Until Google pulls the plug, that is.

SME Pals did really well on the back of organic traffic right up until the Hummingbird update in 2013. At that point, over 95% of our traffic disappeared overnight in some sort of algorithmic snafu - most likely Panda.

We never indulged in spammy link building techniques (a) because the whole point of the site is to provide guidance on the 'right way to do things', and b) because there was no need to build links - our content was a traffic magnet). So Penguin was never the culprit.

Nevertheless, for 2 years now, Google has steadfastly refused to send us any traffic. I have some 10 page websites that draw more organic traffic than SME Pals, which is a blog written by a published technical writer whose books have been translated into 12 (possibly more) languages around the world.

The point being that no matter how much you try to make a site useful and engaging, there is no guarantee that Google will show you any love. They can flick a switch and your traffic and livelihood can disappear in an instant.

But that's not what this article is about. This article is about how our Google problem forced us to become much better at what we do - and you can too.

You've lost all your Web traffic. Now what?

One of the mistakes we made was assuming that if we do everything right, Google will eventually turn the taps back on and traffic will return. Well, I can tell you that this is not going to work.

Yes, big companies who violate the rules to such an extent they receive a manual penalty can simply fix the issues and get back to business. But, if you are a small company, suffering from an algorithmic penalty there is no hope of this. Google won't tell you why, when, what or how to fix the issue.

It's up to you to take stock of what you have and what opportunities exist in order to make the best of a bad situation. Here's what we did.

Less can be more

The crux of our 'recovery' in terms of revenue lies in our realization that up until the penalty we had only ever explored one side of the money making coin. That is:

More traffic = more conversions = more money

But, this is not the entire picture because the amount of money you can generate from a website depends on two factors:

  1. Amount of traffic
  2. Conversion rate

Intitially, we had plenty of traffic and our conversion rates were (what we considered) good. But what we have discovered is that despite losing all the hugely valuable traffic, we weren't nearly squeezing as much revenue from it as we could.

Basically:

Compensate for lost traffic with higher conversions.

You'll be absolutely amazed by how much revenue you can generate from relatively little traffic. Here's what we did...

1. Look at what inbound channels and traffic exist

Hopefully, you haven't made the same mistake we made and relied completely on organic search traffic. At the time we were penalized, our email marketing list building had only just started. We also hadn't focused much on social media, preferring to put all our efforts into creating great content - instead of building relationships and a social network.

Jot down any channels you have that can drive any traffic at all - this may still include a drastically reduced amount of organic search traffic. We still receive around 50 visits a day from Google, down from several thousand.

2. Determine which pages are the most popular

Even if you are only getting a handful of visits each day, some content may be getting more than the rest. Take note of the 'high traffic' pages and make sure you know exactly what they're about.

3. Focus the sales funnels

Armed with the knowledge of which pages were still driving small amounts of traffic, and what those pages were about, we set about redesigning them to convert better.

Our entire focus shifted from producing new content, to delivering exactly what visitors were after (on the odd occasion we got a visitor).

Basically, we:

  1. Removed any content that wasn't necessary
  2. Redesigned the site to remove ads and any other unwanted distractions
  3. Moved lead capture and conversion elements up the page
  4. Fine-tuned the content to "convince and convert" better
  5. Shortened the funnel

Instead of writing content, we began changing the focus of our content to get readers to take action much earlier. In fact, once we realized that conversions were starting to trickle in, we took things a step further.

4. Capitalize on any and all success

Knowing that the pages we could get traffic to were working hard to deliver conversions and revenue meant that we felt comfortable trying out paid traffic - in our case, Google AdWords.

We began bidding on keywords that were relevant to the pages we had invested time and effort into optimizing for conversions. And... it worked.

Our blog posts now generate enough to keep the site active despite that fact that we are working on a small fraction of the traffic we once had, and that we are paying for a significant portion of it.

Paid traffic would not have been profitable in the old days when simply producing great content was our primary focus. Now, our content and sales funnels are lean and mean and convert on a regular basis - which allows us to pay for traffic and still make a profit.

I guess the two real lessons I learned from this entire ordeal/experience is that:

  1. Don't rely in any way on Google
  2. Work harder and smarter to optimize everything you do for conversions

Oddly enough, if Google ever does decide that we're not an ad placeholder page (for a year they returned an unrelated domain squatter in first place on a search for smepals.com), we are in a great position to truly capitalize on that in a way we never would be.

The moral of the story?

Don't give up - get smarter

Have you had a similar experience? Are you still struggling to generate enough income to get by? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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