Cornsheller Niche Site Update – Responding to Google Manual Site Action
If you remember about a month ago I announced that over Christmas I was slapped with a Google manual site action. This is something that shows up in Google Webmaster Tools. If you register your website with Google Webmaster Tools then Google will tell you things about how they see your site and what you’re doing with it, or what they’re doing to it and with it. Oftentimes if they have a problem they will let you know through Google Webmaster Tools.
One of the kinds of problems that they can have is that they can see something on your site that they don’t like and take a manual site action. One of the more common ones that we saw a lot after Penguin was actually this idea of spammy links coming in to your site where they could tell that you had hired someone to build a bunch of links back to your site in order to help it rank. Usually this was accompanied with imbalanced anchor text where an inordinate amount of the links that were pointed back at your site actually had the keyword that you were trying to rank for in the links and they’re able to figure this stuff out.
What they do is create what’s called a manual site action and that basically takes whatever rank you might have had and reduces it by five or 10 pages. It’s like a tying a boat anchor to your website. It doesn’t complete sink it, it just makes it go down farther in the search engine results. As you know, once you fall off the first page any revenue that you were getting from those keyword terms is essentially lost. Not many people go past the first page of Google.
As you might recall, many years ago on a dare I built this relatively thin website called the Cornsheller site over at Cornsheller.net. The purpose of this site was to demonstrate the effectiveness of this keyword research tool that I was using at the time, and I still use it today, Keyword Canine.
Basically Keyword Canine is a tool where you put in keywords and it tells you whether or not it will be easy to rank for these keywords. Jonathan Leger came up with some crazy keywords and he said they looked like they would be really easy to rank, so I said, “Let’s test it.” One of those keywords was cornsheller. “Cornsheller for sale” particularly was one that I could see that had traffic. Not an enormous amount of traffic, but it actually had traffic and the keyword tool was saying that it was absolutely wide open in green.
I went and registered Cornsheller.net. At the time Cornsheller.com was taken, believe it or not. I built a website and I thought, “What can I do with a website on cornshellers?” It turns out that I asked the question that you should always be asking, “What are these people searching for?” It turns out they’re typically collectors of antique cornshellers.
Cornshellers are farm implements that are used to take the dry corn off of the cob and then you take the sacks of corn to market and sell them. Several companies throughout the years that you’ve heard of like John Deere have made these cornshellers, they’re collectible and they’re for sale on eBay.
I used one of my tools that generates listings of things that are for sale on eBay on your website as if they are for sale on your website and I set that up with some thin content about the history of cornshellers and some other stuff like that at Cornsheller.net and I was off to the races. I created 10 or 15 pages of different kinds of cornshellers that were for sale and four or five pages of cornsheller information. Then because I felt like I needed some more content, I threw in some recipes or things you could make with corn.
I was just goofing around, it wasn’t a very serious thing. In fact, the content wasn’t even 100% unique at the time. This was quite some time ago, maybe four years ago by now.
Sure enough, Keyword Canine was exactly right and the website ranked. It started making $30 or $40 a month and it has been doing that for years. A couple of months it actually made over $100.
I called that a successful experiment until just recently when Google assessed the site, looked at it and said, “There’s no real content on this site.” There are a couple of pages this guy wrote about cornshellers, those are actually pretty decent, but the rest of this is just a bunch of republishing of content that is actually on eBay. I agree with them, that’s exactly what the site really is, it’s a thin content website.
Google’s point of view on this, as I’ve mentioned before, is they shouldn’t be ranking this website, they should actually just be ranking the eBay listings and send users directly to eBay. There’s no real reason for them to make a stopover at my site when they Google cornshellers for sale because there really aren’t any cornshellers actually for sale on my site. So I understand this.
I did an analysis of the site for on-site search engine optimization as well as trying to think about the intent of Google with regard to this whole topic. I’ve come out with the following things that I plan to do, so I wanted to share them with you and explain them to you. Then we can see together if after I do these things and give the changes a chance to settle in if I submit a site reconsideration request will Google remove the thin content penalty. Things one and two are pretty obvious.
Thing number one is I would like to increase the amount of content about cornshellers by about 10 pages. The real challenge is I’m not sure I’m going to be able to find 10 pages of content to write about cornshellers. There’s just not that much information out there. I need to find somebody who can do that. I’ll find a writer and challenge them to target 10 searched keyword terms about cornshellers, provided that I can even find 10. That’s going to be a stretch, but I’d like to add 10 pages of content regarding cornshellers as thing number one.
Thing number two is I for no particular reason have 10 or 15 pages of this eBay repurposed content and that’s 10 or 15 pages too many. What I intend to do is look at the top two or three pages that are most searched for. This is going to be something like one generic page on cornshellers in general showing all cornshellers that are for sale, maybe one for John Deere cornshellers, and maybe one for antique cornshellers. I’ll have to see.
I’m going to look at the website statistics and determine the top three to five pages only to show sales content, and those are the only sales pages that I’m going to have, just those three. I’m going to kill the rest of those pages. That is going to dramatically reduce the thin content. At the same time I’m going to 3X or 4X the real content by adding 10 pages to the site. Those are the first two things.
The third thing, which is related to item two, is on these thin pages I’m going to add 500 to 800 words of unique content at the top of the page. For example, on the John Deere cornshellers for sale page I’m going to have 800 words about John Deere cornshellers before I ever even show one of them for sale.
That’s the plan on the content side. There are some on-page and on-site SEO things that I need to take care of. If you take a look at all of the pages that are listed for the Cornsheller site you can immediately see that there is a problem. I never optimized this site for search engine optimization.
If you go to Google and type in a site colon search for this site [site:cornsheller.net] what you find out is that there are 56 results and there’s a bunch of stuff in there that we don’t really want to have in the index. First of all, the top pages that are ranking for the site are the disclaimer, the disclosures, the contact page, the DMCA policy page, and a bunch of other stuff that we want to have on the site because Google is expecting that but we certainly don’t want that ranking at the top of the rankings. That takes up the first two pages.
Then what you can see is that the rest of the pages all have the site name in the page title, they don’t have good descriptions. Basically the problem is that the pages listed in the Google search results actually haven’t been managed very well. We know for SEO Google is paying attention to that and you really need to have good search engine optimization on every page on your website, starting with the page title and the descriptions for the page. The descriptions not so much for search results, but when people get that result you want to have a really strong description that encourages them to click through.
When I first noticed the thin content penalty another thing that I noticed was that category pages and tag pages and a bunch of that type of stuff was listed in the search engines and I’ve removed that. That would be the fifth thing. The fourth thing is to optimize page by page the SEO and the fifth thing is to go in and remove the category pages, the tag pages, the archive pages, and all of that from the Google index. You can do that using the Yoast SEO plugin. That will help you get all of this garbage content out of the search engine results.
The reason that you want to do that is because Google abhors duplicate content on the same site. They really don’t want you to have multiple pages with the same content on the site, it’s written right in the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Those archive pages and category pages, all of that stuff is just a rehashing of content that is elsewhere on the site, so it’s really important that you get rid of all that stuff. I know that I need to get rid of those things so that’s what I plan to do.
Again, to recap the things that I plan to do.
- Add content,
- take away the thin content,
- add actual text to the thin content to make it less thin,
- go in and optimize the blog content page by page so that pages that shouldn’t show in the Google index are marked no index and the ones that should show have great titles and great descriptions,
- and make sure I’ve suppressed the archive, category, and tag pages from the Google index.
Those are the five things that I plan to do on Cornsheller.net. The thing is those are five things you should probably do to your website. You should probably do a site colon search and see what you see. If you see pages that aren’t of any use to a searcher in any case, you should have those marked as no index as a signal to Google that they should drop that page from their index. No one needs to find your disclaimer page in a search. If they’re on your site they can click to it, but there’s no reason anyone is ever going to search for your disclaimer and so there’s no reason to clutter up Google’s search results with those kinds of pages. You want to get all of that junk out of there.
Sometimes, depending on whether or not you have an ecommerce solution on your site or some other kind of thing where there is a lot of searching going on, you’ll find that you actually have other junk in your search results that needs to be suppressed. Sometimes if you’re using PrettyLinks to cloak affiliate links and you haven’t identified them to be no index or no follow that they will be showing up, so you’ll have other website’s pages showing up in your search results and that’s also a big no-no from Google, when they see that makes them angry. You want to check all of that stuff and make sure that all of your referral links are actually marked no index and/or no follow.
The plan will be I’ll do that, we’ll let it roll for a couple of weeks, and then I’ll report back the results. Eventually we’ll do a site reconsideration request.
I’m not terribly optimistic about this. First of all, site reconsideration requests don’t have a very good hit rate with Google. Second, this really is kind of a thin site and I don’t plan on investing hundreds of millions of dollars or hours to make this a fantastic site. But, it is instructive to go through the exercise so you’ll know what to do in the event that you get hit with a thin content penalty – and I hope that doesn’t happen to you.
Late Night Traffic Tip: Blog Commenting
A new segment this week, Late Night Traffic Tips. Each week I wanted to give a traffic tip to help you get more traffic to your website. I think that’s something that people always are interested in and it’s something that’s really pretty difficult.
In fact, a lot of people feel like that’s the hardest part of internet marketing. It’s pretty straightforward to create a website these days, it’s pretty straightforward to create great content, but building traffic is a question. What I want to talk about a little bit each week are some simple things that you can do without a big budget.
If you have a big budget, thousands of dollars a month for example, it’s pretty straightforward to hire somebody to handle all of your SEO. I even know who to call. If you want to know, drop me a line and I’ll tell you my guy.
But if you’re just starting out you don’t have that budget and usually your website doesn’t have the profit engine going to pay to sustain that budget. It’s one thing if you’re making $500 a month on a website to spend $200 of that each month for ongoing SEO and promotion. But if you’re making $0, spending hundreds of dollars every month on SEO is a nonstarter in a lot of cases.
What can you do for free? This week the first tip is don’t forget about blog commenting.
This is one of the few things that is left that still seems to influence search engine rankings and will actually create some traffic on its own on occasion. It also makes the internet a better place, which I really like.
Things that used to work once upon a time, like article marketing and other things that we’ve talked about over the years, aren’t working. If you go to a blog in your niche and read a blog post, first of all you’re going to be a better blogger for it because now hopefully you will have learned something. If you leave a comment on that blog that is actually helpful to other readers, that engages the author, that starts a discussion, most blogs on the internet are going to leave you with some kind of reference back to your website.
In the cases where that’s true, that is going to cause one of two things to happen. Either Google is going to notice that link back to your website and over time involve that in some way in their search engine rankings. Yes, I know a lot of blog comment links are no follow and I know you shouldn’t put the keywords there. I’m not talking about any of that kind of mass production stuff, I’m just saying that Google is looking for natural behavior on the internet. If they find over time that you are an active member of this niche and you own a website, in the best possible scenario where Google gets it right that is going to make your rankings go up.
That’s not a comment about Google’s algorithm, it just makes sense. I think people that are worried about fooling and tricking Google’s algorithm into ranking their site sometimes forget about the fact that with thousands of engineers at Google working on the search engine algorithm and making on average one to two changes per day in updates to the algorithm, with that energy and effort eventually in the fullness of time Google is going to surface the best websites and the best authors to the top of the search rankings.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next week, but in 10 years I’m going to tell you that my money is on Google having a better search engine than they have today. By better I mean that they’re going to be doing a better job of getting the good content and the good authors up to the top of the pile.
Part of being a good author is being engaged in the community. That’s one reason to leave comments, because they result in some kind of signal back to Google that your website is important.
The second thing is people who are reading those comments will often click through to your website. I see this in my stats and on some of my affiliate sites. When you leave a thoughtful comment, not a promotional one, that leads people who are really interested in the stuff that you’re talking about to say, “Who’s that guy?” and click on that link to go see your website.
If you leave one comment on one blog that’s maybe not going to be that significant, but if you leave a couple of comments on a couple of blogs every day for a year all of a sudden you have 500 or 1,000 links back to your site – naturally occurring blog comment links – and those webpages are getting 100 views a day each, then by the time you do all that math you may actually create some click through traffic back to your site.
If I told you that you could just piddle around on the internet reading stuff that you were interested in and actually build a base of an extra 100 visits per day (or whatever it works out to be) by just reading and interacting with people in your niche, well, that sounds like a pretty good deal. That’s the traffic tip for today; don’t forget about blog commenting. Go ahead and continue to do that because indications are that it still has some significance with regard to search engine optimization and traffic.
Wrapping Things Up…
Before I let you go today, I have a couple of announcements.
One announcement is I will be attending Social Media Marketing World in San Diego in April. This is the premier conference for social media marketing. I will be leading a track out there, I’m not sure of the details. I may or may not be giving a paper, I did last year but I’m not sure if I will this year, that’s still a little bit up in the air. I’ll definitely be leading a track. I’ll be out there, my family is coming with me and they are going to play in the sun while I’m at the conference, which sounds like fun.
If you’re interested in learning more about Social Media Marketing World you can find out more at LateNightIM.com/SMMW. I’d love to see you out there, let me know if you’re coming and I’ll look for you and we can get together and talk, that would be really fun.
The second thing I wanted to tell you was this is episode 99. You knew that because I announced it at the beginning of the episode, but what’s exciting about episode 99 is it will almost certainly be followed by episode 100. I have something special in store for episode 100, I have a guest panel that I assembled.
Actually, it’s my mastermind group; Leslie Samuel, Ray Edwards, Michael Stelzner (who runs Social Media Marketing World), Pat Flynn, and Cliff Ravenscraft will all be on the show with me and we’ll talk about internet marketing and what to do, what they would do, what they wish they knew about getting started online if they could go back and talk to themselves. It’s kind of a common question that you hear people ask, but it’s fun to have it in this roundtable environment.
That’s what we’ll do for Episode 100, be sure to tune into that next week, that’s going to be really groovy. Hopefully the feed will still be up and things will be okay.
Until then, I hope you have an absolutely fantastic day. Thanks for listening.