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Drop in Google Traffic Around the 4th of December

Traffic has drastically dropped again, and this is what I personally plan to do about it.

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Edited: 2020-12-15 13:59

Only just about a year has passed since I noticed a severe drop in rankings the last time, Beamtic quickly recovered from that, but here we are again; this time it seems to be in the range of -30% to -50%.

Now, there has been some chat of an update to Google's core search, so perhaps that has something to do with it. Barry Schwartz wrote about this over at seroundtable.com: Google December 2020 Core Update Is Live - Here Is What We See Now

My Google search performance for the last 12 months look like this:

Google search console performance for 2020

It is important to remember that drops like these are often temporary. I am confident I will recover the lost traffic, and more — it will just take time. In the meantime I will continue improving all aspects of my website.

In my opinion, SEO still remains a very small part of maintaining a website; ideally you really should not have to think too much about it. Let the search engines do their thing, and continue to focus on doing your thing — creating great products for users, and/or focusing on your content and user experience.

Danny Sullivan wrote here:

Today we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. It is called the December 2020 Core Update. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before. Please see this blog post for more about that.

How much Beamtic's traffic dropped

I tried comparing my current traffic, from a single peak-day, with the traffic from a couple of weeks before the drop and arrived at a -49% drop in traffic. This is very roughly calculated, as I have not looked at actual traffic, or traffic from other sources. But, the Google search console data is pretty clear that traffic has dropped.

(389 - 195) / 389 * 100 = 49.87%

I do not actively track my rankings, so I do not know what the cause is. It could also be something seasonal. Last year traffic dropped around late November, and the traffic did not really start to recover until around the 4'th of January.

The environment is changing

I have felt strange about writing articles for Beamtic's sites for a while; it just seems like there is more competition and it has become harder to rank well, especially due to sites like StackOverflow, which is a very popular Q/A site.

In addition, I have also noticed a lot of low-quality spam outranking my articles. Typically content is close to copy-pasted from other sites, with little original content to supplement the official references; that is not what I aim to do with this site, and I also do not want to create another "reference type" of site — there is enough of those already. Beamtic is mainly a tutorial site.

It also feels like the techniques I used to apply no longer works. I remember easily ranking new articles in the top-5, but this is no longer the case, and some of my best ranking content has also dropped.

The cause of dropped rankings sometimes seems to be the very act of releasing new content in itself. If the new content is "too closely related" to something you have already written about, it seems the ranking of that other content suffers as a result. It is important to note that I am not entirely sure if that is the case, but I have observed this pattern a few times. It could be coincidental. Regardless, I would not want to change my practice, since that extra content does create value to my visitors.

Attracting new visitors

Attracting visitors with tutorial content is very difficult, even when writing about stuff that has little competition, search engines will still find a way to throw in some poor results.

Since Beamtic is build on my own CMS or framework (I am not quite sure what to call it), I have been working on preparing my code for release on GitHub, and providing documentation on Beamtic.

Unlike Wordpress, I want to use a License like MIT or Apache, since the GPL license is unnecessarily restrictive, as it requires modifications of the code to also be GPL. This effort is also bound to attract some traffic to my website, and maybe even a few donations towards the maintenance of the site.

I would also like to disable ads on the site, or at least limit them to places where they do not disrupt the users. I do not believe in completely removing ads, rather the ads we do include should be carefully placed to not annoy users. If the ads are annoying to you, then they are probably also annoying your users — and this should be tested from slow devices as well, since ads tends to occasionally freeze my own laptop.

Still opportunities to build and improve

Operating a plain tutorial site just does not seem to be worth anything — at least not in the short term. You need to think very long-term, and continue releasing content, and then perhaps, also mix it with some video material. I have not made many videos since YouTube kicked me out of the partner program, but I really want to start doing that again; Beamtic's channel has also continiued to attract a steady flow of views, so it is just really stupid that I have not focused more on video content.

I would also like to add images to all of my articles, which would at least give them a boost when shared on social media, as well as give a better impression of the articles themselves. But, this is a rather slow process as I still have not implemented a function to upload files; I am still using FTP to upload images. Of course I could easily do this in plain HTMP/PHP, but I want to look into doing it properly, allowing for large file uploads without changing server settings.

I also see some opportunities in improving my website layout generally, and adding more content to pages that are a bit thin, such as the tag-pagination pages. This is mostly about trying to make the pages seem more unique in the eyes of search engines, but also to add some extra content for visitors.

One idea I am playing with is adding "suggested content" in the right column, which is currently empty on those tag pages. Pagination/tag pages are probably of limited use to users, but it still allows some traditional-navigation rather than using the search feature.

Improving the site features

Owning a website is not just about writing content and doing SEO work, the UI design also has to work in order to attract and keep visitors — or even better, create fans of your site that keep coming back and also recommend your site to their friends.

I am a web developer, and a multimedia designer by education, so almost anything is possible. This also means that I created my own search feature for the website to improve the user experience. But again there is room for improvements to how the suggestion-feature works. If visitors are comfortable with using Google, then they also got high expectations to our site's search feature. Search should include auto-completion and suggestions, and results should be highly relevant.

We got to face it, people are using search more than they are manually and tediously navigating around on our websites. Popular CMS systems have their own search feature, which can probably also be improved with Plugins. But since I am using a custom build CMS, I had to create my own.

A decent search feature will also have a autocomplete feature. In my case, I implemented this by sending a HTTP request to the search back-end on each key-release; the back-end will then respond with a list of suggestions.

I think it is important to think of these things as a work-in-progress. You will never be completely finished improving your site. The search algorithm alone is probably something you will be fine-tuning for many years.

Links

  1. Google December 2020 Core Update Is Live - Here Is What We See Now - seroundtable.com
  2. Google on core updates - google.com
  3. December 2020 Core Update - google.com

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