IT discussion community site DaniWeb has had a rather hectic year or so. Hit by Google’s Panda update last year, the site has seen a series of ups and downs - hard hits from Google's algorithm and tremendous recoveries. The site has been hit yet again, and Founder/CEO Dani Horowitz is telling us about what’s going on this time. She's not sure if it’s the Panda update, though the whole thing just happens to coincide with a recent iteration of it.
Have you seen traffic increase or decrease since the latest known Panda update? Let us know in the comments.
DaniWeb is one of those sites, which in the heart of the mad Panda scramble of 2011, seemed to be unjustly hit. It’s a forum with a solid user base, where people can discuss issues related to hardware, software, software development, web development, Internet marketing ,etc. It’s the kind of site that often provides just the right kind of answer for a troubled searcher.
We did an interview with Horowitz last year, who told us about some of the things she was doing to help the site recover from the Panda trauma. Here’s the interview, or you can click the link for more about that.
That was in May. In July, Horowitz claimed DaniWeb had made a 110% recovery from Google. In September, Panda appeared to have slapped the site again, causing it to lose over half of its traffic. Shortly thereafter, in early October, Horowitz announced that the site had managed to recover yet again. “Clearly Google admitted they screwed up with us,” she said at the time.
Now, six months later, DaniWeb has been hit yet again, but this time, Horowitz is taking at least part of the blame.
The tweet links to this Google Groups forum discussion, where Horowitz describes her new issues in great depth, also noting that the site had eventually made a 130% recovery from its pre-Panda numbers. DaniWeb rolled out a new platform, coincidentally at the same time a Panda update was made in March, and she says the site’s been going downhill ever since.
Horowitz tells WebProNews she’s been “hibernating in a cave the past few months coding the new version of the site.”
“I do not believe that we were hit by Panda,” she says in the forum post. “Unlike Panda, which was an instantaneous 50-60% drop in traffic literally overnight, we've instead had a steady decrease in traffic every day ever since our launch. At this point, we're down about 45%. We are using 301 redirects, but our site's URL structure *DID* change. While we're on an entirely new platform, the actual content is entirely the same, and there is a 1-to-1 relationship between each page in the old system and the new system (all being 301-redirected).”
Later in the post, she says, “This mess is partially my fault, I will have to admit. As mentioned, we changed our URL structure, and I am 301 redirecting the old URLs to the new URLs. However, we also changed our URL structure last February, right after Panda originally hit. I have to admit that when we first went live, I completely forgot about that. While I was 301 redirecting the old version to the new, I was *NOT* redirecting the old old version to the new for about 72 hours, until I remembered! However, by that time, it was too late, and we ended up with over 500,000 404 errors in Google Webmaster Tools. That has been fixed for quite a few weeks already though.”
In between those two quotes, she details the observations in Google’s behavior with her site she’s not happy with. The first one:
If you visit a page such as: http://www.daniweb.com/web-development/php/17 you will see that the article titles have URLs in the format http://www.daniweb.com/web-development/php/threads/420572/php-apotrophe-issue ... However, you can also click on the timestamp of the last post to jump to the last post in the article (a url such as http://www.daniweb.com/posts/jump/1794174)
The /posts/jump/ URLs will 301 redirect you to the full article pages. For example, in this specific example, to http://www.daniweb.com/web-development/php/threads/420572/php-apotrophe-issue/1#post1794174 (the first page of the thread, with an anchor to the specific post).
The page specifies rel="canonical" pointing to http://www.daniweb.com/web-development/php/threads/420572/php-apotrophe-issue
Why then, does the /posts/jump/ URL show up in the Google search results instead of my preferred URL?? Not only am I doing a 301 redirect away from the /posts/jump/ format, but I am also specifying a rel="canonical" of my preferred URL.
“I don't like this at all for a few reasons,” she continues. “Firstly, the breadcrumb trail doesn't show up in the SERPS. Secondly, there is no reason for Google to be sending everyone to shortened URLs, because now nearly every visitor coming in from Google has to go through a 301 redirect before seeing any content, which causes an unnecessary delay in page load time. Thirdly, the /posts/jump/ URLs all tack on a #post123 anchor to the end, meaning that everyone is being instantaneously jumped halfway down the page to a specific post, instead of getting the complete picture, where they can start reading from the beginning. This certainly isn't desirable behavior!”
You can read the post for further elaboration.
Dani’s second observation:
After skimming the first 40 or 50 pages of the Google search results for site:daniweb.com, it's essentially entirely a mix of two types of URLs. Those in the /posts/jump/ format, and links to member profiles. Essentially, two types of pages which are both not what I would consider putting our best foot forward.
We currently have nearly one million members, and therefore nearly one million member profiles. However, we choose to use the rel="noindex" meta tag directive on about 850,000 of the member profiles, only allowing those by good contributors to be indexed. I think it's a happy medium between allowing our good contributors to have their profiles found in Google by prospective employers and clients searching for their name, and not having one million member profiles saturate our search results. We allow just under 100,000 of our 950,000+ member profiles to be indexed.
However, as mentioned, it just seems as if member profiles are being ranked too high up and just way too abundant when doing a site:daniweb.com, overshadowing our content. This was no the case before the relaunch, and nothing changed in terms of our noindex approach.
Based on prior experience, the quality of the results when I do a site:daniweb.com has a direct correlation to whether Google has a strong grasp of our navigation structure and is indexing our site the way that I want them to. I noticed when I was going through my Panda ordeal that, at the beginning, doing a site: query gave very random results, listing our non-important pages first and really giving very messy, non-quality results. Towards the end of our recovery, the results were really high quality, with our best content being shown on the first chunk of pages.
The bottom line, it seems, according to Horowitz, is that Google has “no grasp on the structure” of the site. Once again, you can read her post in its entirety for further details and explanation from Horowitz herself.
Until the most recent issue, DaniWeb was clearly having a lot of success in the post-Panda world. When asked what she attributes this success to, Horowitz tells WebProNews, “We were at an all-time high in terms of traffic, and there was still constant growth. I definitely don't think it was just the Panda recovery but all of the other positive SEO changes I made when we were being Pandalized that contributed to our post-Panda success.”
It goes to show, Panda is just one of many signals Google has (over 200, in fact).
“I've already documented just about everything that I did along the way, so there's not much that I can think of adding,” she says. You can go back through the other links in these articles for more discussion with Dani about all of that. “At the end of the day, I think it just comes down to Google having a really good grasp of your entire site structure.”
“Taking yet another massive hit was completely unexpected for us,” she says. “We launched at the exact same time as Panda rolled out (completely not planned), and therefore I don't know which to attribute our latest round of issues to. It might be Panda, it might be issues with our new version, it might be a little of both, or it might be new signals that Google is now factoring into their algorithm.”
Google has, of course, been providing monthly updates on many of the new changes it has been making. You can see the list for March here.
There’s no question that search engines, including Google, are putting a lot more emphasis on social media these days. We asked Horowitz if she believes social media played a significant role in DaniWeb’s search visibility.
“Absolutely,” she says. “I can definitely see the value in Twitter and Facebook likes, recommendations, and mentions. I think it just all goes into building a solid brand on the web. I forget where I read somewhere recently about how Google is favoring big brands. I don't think you need to be a fortune 500 company to have earned a reputation for yourself on the web.”
“While I personally still haven't quite found the value in Google+, I'm not going to discount it for its part in building brand equity in the eyes of Google, either.”
When asked if Google’s “Search Plus Your World” has been a positive thing for Daniweb, and/or the Google user experience (it’s received a lot of criticism), she says, “I happen to be a fan of personalized search results. Am I the only one?”
Do you think Google's results are better now in the post-Panda, "Search Plus Your World" era? Let us know what you think in the comments.