Those That Have No Chance – The New Internet Reality

I started this website about four years ago now, and although it took a good six months or so for things to get going, after some time, thanks to websites like StumbleUpon, Digg and especially Google. We eventually started to receive some highly anticipated visitors that were excited at what we had to offer, they linked it to their friends and liked it on the social media. Everything was going well for a while, after my first year of 80 hour work weeks I was already making a living on the website, and things were looking up. I showed a friend of mine a chart of visitors coming to the website, at this time a chart of its seemly exponential growth, and he said to me, “Just make sure those numbers keep going up.” and I said to myself, “This is simple, I will just keep doing what I am doing.” I wish it were that simple.

I ended up having a few unexpected problems along the way, some of which were caused by a combination of me trying to change the world, and my big mouth. I found that each time I spoke up publicly against a major power’s evil doing, my website suffered greatly. My first real hiccup came when I was very outspoken on this blog about something that China did, and was attacked by hackers so badly nobody could access the website anymore for days, I ended up forced to take down the post and within a day or so, all the hacking stopped.

The next great hiccup was from Digg, a website we were very quickly successful on, I am not sure if it was because I was selling a shirt that competed with one of their major advertisers, or because I became very outspoken against a different one of their main advertisers plans to rip down every sign of theirs across the word in order to change one of their major colors from yellow to green, in the hope of seeming more more environmentally friendly, this had bothered me because it would have meant destroying the already perfectly good signage and then creating more, my comment “Why don’t they just change the colors of all their packaging to green also so it blends in better at the side of the highway.” earned me about 10,000 Diggs up in a couple of days, but then suddenly and without warning or explanation, Digg banned me. No amount of e-mailing to Digg ever received a response, I tried making another account and resubmitting the website, but found that doing so would no longer allow us to be displayed in their search results, many other previous Digg users called this the “auto bury” list. So far the signs for this company in my neighborhood have not changed colors.

StumbleUpon and Facebook, kept us going on the social media side for the next couple of years, occasional someone would submit something of our to Reddit and things would pick up as well, thank goodness for these websites. On the search engine side, Bing and Yahoo always provided us with a few visitors, but Google continuously provided us with the majority. Google was a wonderful proponent for us little guys, and in my opinion what made the internet an interesting place to be, without them how could a website like Wikipedia, LOLCats, or Craigslist ever get started, and of course how on earth would anyone ever be able to see our selection of amazing t-shirts.

Not all remained good on the search engine front, during this spring, Google completely de-indexed us, we went from 1400 indexed pages down to 0, our PageRank went from four down to two even as we gained more organic links than ever. Google then gradually re-indexed us over the next month up to about 700 pages and then gradually over the next 8 months we lost most of our non-paid search visitor. I suspect it was just one of the many Google algorithm updates during that time, but also I wondered why the update did this to me, the goal was supposedly to get rid of link buying schemes as well as black hat trickery used to get better results in Google, but we had never done any black hat or grey hat SEO on this website, or link buying other than the Yahoo directory. We also have a very low bounce rate, high engagement, high repeat visitors, and even quite a decent closing ratio for our visitors. All of these should have told Google that our visitors were quite satisfied with the Google results that had sent them to us.

You can see in the image below that our impressions in Google Webmaster tools dropped to less than a third of what we were used to over a two month period.

April 11,2012 – July 10,2012 Impressions In Google Webmaster Tools Drop to A Third

We were not alone with our problems around this time however, the internet world shook in the Spring of 2012, and many websites experienced the same thing that we did. I would have said something sooner, but I though Google would have fixed it for us by now, and my previous lessons on the internet of speaking up always lead to severe punishment. Many small website operations such as this one disappeared in the last nine months, and I think many more will be giving up after this Christmas, here is one petition on that asked Google to reconsider, but they never did. I would like to sign it myself but the petition is already closed.

A more technical article about Google’s recent changes, containing equally depressing graphs can be found here:

Things changed since the nine months or so between our great deindexing till now, currently we are fully indexed in Google again, but are receiving very few visitors from them. I have waited almost nine months hoping Google would correct this, and am quite desperate that they do it before the Christmas rush, which is due start any day now.

The following is a one year graph of our Organic, non-paid Search Results from with Google from Nov 12 2011 until Nov 11 2012. It starts with our last years Christmas rush, you can see our gradual falling throughout the year. You can also see the right and left of the graph quite obviously do not line up, if it were the same as last year it would have.

One Year Of Organic Google Search Metrics

This is not quite the same story with our Google Image results which has remained pretty much rock steady throughout the year, even though we added approximately 20% more images.

Google Organic Image Search Remains Unchanged

Although I still feel some desperation about Google’s slow and painful dismissal of our website, things have started to look up. Unable to appease Google with our website’s massively decreased loading time, more accurate descriptions, and continuous freshly added content, we recently have been turning more and more towards social media for our visitors. Social media now seems to be a more reliable source of traffic for us than Google.

The new Google results seem to be less relevant than they used to be at times, at one time I would search Google for what I needed, and Google would deliver it to me like magic, sure there might be some garbage mixed in the results but I could quickly weed through them. Recently after trying a Google search three different ways for some computer programming code I needed, and each time manually reading through several pages of Google’s search results, I was forced to switch to Bing for the first time in months. Bing linked me to some great code on the first page of results using the exact same search that failed me in Google. Google kept trying to get me to go to eHow for answers, but they were not nearly technical enough for the type of stuff I was looking for, Bing however linked me to a personal blog of a fellow programmer that had the exact highly technical answer that I needed. Score one for Bing. I then switched my default search back to Google, but mentally noted that this might be necessary again in the future.

The graph below is from our server side, non Google Analytics program called Webalizer, it shows that even though Google dropped us pretty badly, we are surviving still with less of their help.

Increasing Popularity At Times Even Without Google

On top of all our other problems, recently Google discontinued Google Merchants, this once free service provided us very few visitors each day, but these visitors made up a decent share of our buyers. Google still provide a similar service, but now we are forced to pay for it, so far it is working out that we need to pay about $60 for each $20 retail shirt we sell, which is obviously a very large loss per sale. We are unsure if this is of any benefit to us, we do not know exactly what percentage will come back or recommend their friends to us, we are still testing, but suspect this will be a loss for us even over the long term.

Google used to allow us to make a living off the hundred page website I had three years ago, but now that we have expanded to 1500 pages, Goggle does not give us enough free visitors to make a living anymore for myself, let alone to support the company we have become. As thankful as you might think we should be toward Google for all the people they sent us for free, sometimes I feel like screaming at our Internet God “Why did you give us hope ?!” Sometimes I wish I had just failed in the first months of starting up, before I had invested so many years in this, as well as reinvested all the earnings, more of my own money, and some even borrowed from the bank that I need to pay back. Also we have to rent considerable more space than we used to due to the huge amount of stock we acquired. If things had not fallen apart with Google for us over the last year I would be singing their praises, but they have fallen apart badly, and it looks as though there is no hope in sight.

I can think of quite a few ways to try and advertise our way out of our problems, but we can not afford to make any mistakes with this. The idea is that if we throw enough money into advertising, it will lead to plenty more recommendations to others and hopefully create a buzz just like the big advertisers do, but we are not in the same league as the big advertisers, they make more money in a single day than we have in our four years, and we have to compete with them directly for the same advertising space.It is a risky gamble that we can only do for a short time.

Just like all the interesting mom and pop stores can no longer compete with the likes of WalMart in the brick and mortar scenarios, in the Internet’s current environment, we, and people like us, no longer seem to be able to compete with the “” of the world.

I often feel angry when I read new articles suggesting others start an online business in this day and age, and feel sorry for anyone that takes their advice. I wish readers would first find out how successful the writer actually is, when they obtained their success, and what their angle is on recommending this to others, almost all of the time I find they are just trying to just sell you something, often it is an e-book, sometimes website marketing, or their website creation and hosting services sometimes of course it is a college trying to sell courses, or a bank trying to get you into debt so they can make money off the interest. It seems only the snake oil salespeople and big business are busy making money on the internet these days, not the writers, or small scale online stores.

I have come to the conclusion that there will not be very many true rags to riches stories based on the internet in the coming decade, unless miraculously Google goes back to the way they were or an alternate super relevant search engine somehow become the mainstream.

This website will keep hanging on here for a few years yet no matter what happens, the website has been paid up for the next five years or so and we have a few years worth of stock to go through before we can think about closing. I can only hope that our hard work for the last four years has somehow gotten our foot far enough in the door to survive in this current market, but this is more due to stubbornness than logic, as I do not believe the internet is fair for the little guy anymore. I am currently making plans to make a brick and mortar store out of some of my storage and office space, to keep my staff and I employed in case things don’t work out on the digital front.

In my opinion, the internet changed greatly in the spring of 2012, I feel it has been cut in halve, and I can’t quite figure out which halve I belong to.

On one side we have the “Haves”, and on the other side “Those That Have No Chance”.

I hope I am wrong.

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