What happened to not being evil…

A few weeks back, I saw the number of browser visits to this site drop dramatically overnight whilst RSS subscriptions remained constant. Thankfully, traffic is now back up to the previous levels and there could be many reasons for this but I have to suspect it’s down to Google’s latest round of cat and mouse with the SEOs.

Webstats for the last few weeks, showing a sharp dip and return to normal and last year's numbers for comparison.

markwilson.it is not a big-shot technology website – just the blog of a guy who works in IT, writes down what he learns, and publishes it for others to read. I don’t charge for that content, largely because I don’t think anyone would pay for it but also because I don’t think that to do so would fit with the spirit of the Internet. I like it when I meet people that read my blog. And I like it when I write something and someone gives something back, like a comment that says it helped them, or that they have something to add to the story. I like it when I find myself in conversation with the public relations agencies of some of the world’s largest IT companies. I also like that the advertising revenues, though still small, have been enough to cover my hosting costs and maybe buy me the odd gadget. Or at least they did until Google made its latest round of changes.

Google is trying to penalise paid links and, at the time of writing, I have a few (clearly marked under the heading of sponsors). There’s nothing wrong with what Google is doing (trying to increase the quality of the results in its index) but it’s the way they do it. I sell advertising here because I need to (somehow) monetise this site (although if I convert that into an hourly wage rate, I’m sure it will make me cry). Ironically, it seems to be OK to carry Google’s paid ads but not anybody else’s – even if they are relevant.

Prominent Google blogger, Matt Cutts, said (in 2005) that:

“Reputable sites that sell links won’t have their search engine rankings or PageRank penalized […] However, link-selling sites can lose their ability to give reputation (e.g. PageRank and anchortext).”

That’s fair enough. It seems that I can take some revenue from selling links but it won’t help the sites that I link to gain PageRank; however, if the paid links are relevant, there is a chance that people reading my site will click through to them and everyone’s a winner. Except that now that seems to have changed and selling links can hurt Google rankings. For what it’s worth, I have a disclosure notice and the advertising, sponsorship and other forms of compensation received do not influence the editorial content on this site. I also use rel="nofollow" tags where relevant to ensure that I follow Google’s directions (although I acknowledge the contribution that comments make to the blogosphere by removing the rel="nofollow" as appropriate). And after two months of tweaking links to fit Google’s model, this week my biggest sponsor ended our contract prematurely because they are dropping this form of advertising altogether.

Thanks for nothing Google. Cutts may be right when he asserts that:

“[…] Google has the right to do whatever we think is best (in our index, algorithms, or scoring) to return relevant results.”

but now they are hitting the small guys too. I can’t rely on AdSense alone. It varies too wildly (and has been declining in recent months, suggesting to me that people are spending less on Internet advertising – probably a reflection on the state of various western economies) and now you’ve started to hit the only form of regular income that this site has. What happened to the “don’t be evil” corporate motto?

I will continue to blog about things I find interesting. Maybe some other people will find it interesting too. Perhaps they will link back here and maybe the number of visitors will start to climb again as I gradually increase my placement in the Google index (however I look at things, I’m still 34.95% up on unique visits so far this month, compared to the same period last year, 47.71% up in pageviews with average pageviews and time on site also on the up, and a falling bouncerate – so the metrics all look good, it’s just the financials that are suffering). Until then, I guess I won’t be buying the MacBook Pro that I’ve had my eye on for so long.

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