I started noticing something odd in my Google Search Console statistics for this site about two weeks ago:

The prior drop, in mid March, is most likely due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Around May 4th of this year, my results started tanking, anywhere from 600 less clicks to a massive 1400 less clicks per day! That's a lot of traffic that was suddenly missing, traffic that I didn't know how to get back.

This was, obviously, worrying. I'd had drops in site traffic before, but none were this pronounced or this sudden. I decided to take a closer look at my stats from Analytics and Search Console, and I did not like what I found.

Every single post on Exception Not Found, from the earliest one to the most recently public series, was now getting less search traffic. Markedly less. So if every single page was showing less organic search traffic, then there must be something site wide going on.

I started searching for answers. Many articles I read pointed out that I should check if I had any "manual actions" or "security issues" on my site, and resolve them. I found none. They suggested that I look at my keywords to see if they changed, to check the design to see if it was making the search crawler's job harder, to see if inbound links to my site had disappeared, and even if the content itself to was not actually as useful as I thought it was. I found no outstanding issues, nothing that I could find to explain the large drop in organic search traffic.

And then I stumbled on this announcement:

Note the date: May 4th, 2020. After exhausting all other options, I am left to consider that it is Google's own "core" update that has negatively impacted my site's rankings in their search results.

Now, consider this screenshot from my analytics, taken on the same day:

A whopping 90% of my traffic comes from organic search results, and guess who makes up the lion's share of that traffic?

If these results hold, and I have no reason to think they won't, I've taken a 20%-30% loss in traffic due to Google's May 4th "core" algorithm changes.

Google says that I'm not alone and, maddeningly, that I did nothing wrong:

There’s nothing wrong with pages that may perform less well in a core update. They haven’t violated our webmaster guidelines nor been subjected to a manual or algorithmic action, as can happen to pages that do violate those guidelines. In fact, there’s nothing in a core update that targets specific pages or sites. Instead, the changes are about improving how our systems assess content overall. These changes may cause some pages that were previously under-rewarded to do better.

This is supposed to make me, a small site owner heavily dependent on Google search results for traffic, feel better. But that's hard to do when 20%-30% of my traffic is gone almost overnight, and it was most likely because of Google's own changes. If I sound bitter, well, frankly I am; I worked hard on those posts and they were useful to someone, and now because of an algorithm change they're not as useful anymore?

From 5015 pageviews on Monday May 4th to 3850 pageviews on Monday May 11.

There's no two ways about it, Google wields a LOT of power when it comes to the results of their search algorithm. I'd argue they wield more power than any single other company on the Internet, merely by having the best search engine available (and make no mistake, it is the best).

It does seem, if not quite unfair, at least a little unbalanced that Google wields so much influence into who sees what on the internet. If you run a website, no matter what it is, you are at the mercy of your Google overlords.  Google is the 2000-pound gorilla, the target against which all metrics are compared, the source and arbiter of eyes on most websites.

They hold the power, and it cuts both ways; they can both raise your profile to unheard of heights and sink you so low that no one will ever find you, namely, on the second page of results. That's a lot of power for a single organization, not to mention a business that ultimately wants to make money, to wield.

And they're not very sad about it, either. Photo by Valentin Jorel / Unsplash

I am not sure how I will recover from this drop yet. Or, frankly, if I need to worry about it at all. I'm clearly not gonna stop blogging anytime soon. But Google has not stopped being, as Jeff Atwood put it 11 years ago, the elephant in the room. If anything, the elephant has only gotten larger, and hungrier. Here's hoping that, should we need to, we can get out of its way in time.


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