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How Panda Changed My Strategy and Brought Success [Case Study]

This is a guest post from Eric at Narrow Bridge Finance.

I can’t tell you how many times I have read the phrase “content is king.” According to Google, it has been mentioned 170 times on this site alone. As much as you might think that SEO is king, marketing is queen, and everything else in the middle might take priority. I recently learned that the old adage is true.

A growing blog

My personal finance blog started as a hobby on Blogger almost four years ago, and it has come quite a long way since then. In fact, it has turned into a profitable business. I get more comments per day than I used to get visitors per day. It took a lot of persistence and hard work, as it does to grow any blog.

For years I saw slow and steady growth. I was never a guest posting superstar or mega-networker, so much of the growth came from building a strong history of quality posts and building up steam from search engines.

I did see a large jump in growth after joining a blog network with other like-minded bloggers in my niche, but most of my traffic growth over time came from Google. I was happy to see organic traffic grow, as I know that is one of the most valuable types of visitors from a revenue growth perspective.

Panda hits

When I got smacked with the Panda update, I lost about 50% of my traffic overnight. The thing that got me is that I’m not a re-poster. I’m not a spammer. I write original content on a regular schedule.

I read things all over the web and even considered giving up on the blog altogether.

Instead, I did a complete blog redesign. I moved ads below the fold and removed advertisements that I didn’t consider as savory as others. I redesigned my homepage, made some changes to my category structure, took down everything from the sidebars that did not give each visitor value, and re-focused my writing toward what I believe is a better content.

As those changes were made, I continued to shed traffic. It was frustrating, but I didn’t give up. I continued to change my revenue stream from ad sales to affiliate programs. From August, 2011 to December, 2011, I lost 51% of my traffic.

I kept on with the strong content and regular writing schedule. And, slowly, things started to turn around. From December to March, my traffic started to come back. As I wrote more consistently (I finally started to hold to a M-W-F schedule—Darren’s advice really works!) and planning my posting, I saw my traffic start to grow again.

In that time period, traffic grew 59%—not quite back to where it had been, but I was on the right track.

It worked. For a while…

Then Penguin hits

I really started to worry that Google was out to get me. I saw a slip in traffic when Penguin was released, but nothing as bad as the Panda hit. I knew that I could survive the wrath of Google at this point, so I was not quite as discouraged this time around.

The biggest change was that Penguin impacted my top ranked posts. Before Penguin, the bulk of my search engine traffic came to about five of my 700+ posts. After Penguin, traffic started to go more into the long tail of posts.

Referral traffic

Being a member of an amazing blog network known as the Yakezie, I have a strong community of friends and supporters. We often host link roundups and carnivals to support each other’s top content.

Looking back, I believe that this may be part of what hurt my site. When Google penalized blog networks, we might have been caught up in it. We interlink strongly between our sites and often work together to share contests, carnivals, and other relevant information in the personal finance niche.

The biggest upside, though, is that we share visitors. Because we all write about the same topics, we often send referral traffic to each other. We also help each other get attention to top posts, which leads to inclusions by even bigger websites and roundups.

A great post gets what it deserves

Last weekend, my sister graduated from college. While sitting on her couch the next morning, I wrote a post with her in mind. Thinking about what a pre-med graduate probably knows about personal finance, I wrote her a letter with my top money tips for new grads. I wrote from the heart and shared what I hoped would help her lay a foundation for a great financial future.

Of course, I didn’t just send her an email. I turned it into a blog post. They say that the key ingredient when cooking is love. It turns out the same goes for blogging.

It started like any other post. I had an average number of visitors the first few days after it was published. Four days later, however, it was picked up by a top personal finance website, Wise Bread, and included in their daily roundup. It was nice to see the extra traffic, but I have been included there before, and it wasn’t life changing.

Then, this morning, I logged into WordPress. I was almost above my entire previous day’s traffic by 9:00am. Something was obviously going on. That king content, that pillar post written with a touch of love, was linked to by a top blog in the personal finance niche. Trent at the Simple Dollar gave my post a little link love and sent me enough visitors to give me an all-time record number of visitors for a day.

What I learned

First and foremost, don’t give up on your blog when something bad happens. If you get a Google penalty or have to recover from any number of problems, use it as a learning experience. Any challenge can be overcome.

I bought and read the first edition of the Problogger book and have been following this site for years. It is filled with amazing tips that really do work. I have attended a niche blogging conference, and built up a network of friends and supporters. I participate in a local blogger meetup group where we discuss ideas for improving our online business strategy.

I always knew what to do; I just needed motivation to do it.

Panda was that motivation, and record traffic was the reward for following blogging best practices.

You really never know which post is going to take off and send you a record number of visitors. That is why it’s important to treat each post like an opportunity to show off to the world.

Who knows? One of these days the world might show up on your blog’s front door. Make sure you’re ready.

This is a post from Eric Rosenberg, who blogs at both Narrow Bridge Finance, a personal finance and lifestyle blog, and The Israel Situation, a blog about politics, culture, and life in the Israel and the Middle East.

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Comments

  1. Samuel says:

    Good to know that you were able to rebound quite successfully. Many who got hit badly probably never even tried to get back to where they were and left their sites to be abandoned.

    You didn’t do that and you worked around the changes quite nicely. These updates are about letting you know what to improve on and get updated the correct way. I know some of the updates are unfair, and Google has to be more careful with these to not hit non-spammers.

    • Eric says:

      There are far too many abandoned blogs around the web. This is one reason that passion about your topic is important. Even when I got hit, I still cared about helping people with their finances.

  2. Awesome story Eric! Congrats on staying the course. I’m curious – how much of your lost income with Panda/Penguin have you been able to recoup with affiliate ads? Is it able to fill the gap significantly?

    • Eric says:

      The affiliates have surpassed AdSense. I didn’t do a scientific study on other ad types though. I would say, after all this time, that I am about even. My PageRank didn’t fall, only traffic, so I didn’t lose much in direct advertisers.

  3. Great post. Sometimes we can forget about a vital ingredient: love. All the tricks in the world can’t make up for something that truly comes from the heart. Best of luck to you Eric!

  4. Steve K says:

    Wow, you could be writing about exactly what my blog is going through right now. In my case, a fair chunk of my readers are regulars, but a 50% drop in attention from the big G hurts both pageviews and the bottom line.

    I write what I feel is excellent content, so I will keep soldiering on (though I have thought of giving up more than a few times lately.) I don’t have a sister, so I’ll keep writing for my regulars and hope something sparks.

    It’s a good reminder how frail organic traffic can really be.

    • Eric says:

      Sounds like we took a similar ride. It hurts to see the big drops, but glad to see that you are pressing forward as well. What sucks the most is knowing that we have been following the rules and get hit anyway.

  5. Eric – very inspiring. Some of us newer bloggers can forget that there are people out there with 700+ posts that have been working for consistency – which is the trait that all pro bloggers share. That and they don’t give up when misfortune strikes.

  6. Great job on persevering Eric!

    Hopefully all these Google quirks smooth themselves out and make things better for ALL of us, not just them for the future.

    All the updates have made me diversify my revenue streams with the creation of Financial Samurai Online Consulting, and writing a book among other things. It’s exciting to fight and change!

    • Eric says:

      It was tough in the interim, but definitely gave me better ideas for the long haul. Just like you started with consulting, I tried to do more with affiliates (which has been working fairly well so far).

      • Affiliate advertising has definitely been better than expected. When you find something you care about, it’s a win win that brings traffic and business.

  7. Thanks for the tips Eric. As a newer blogger I haven’t had to deal with the gZoo but I hope it comes to that. I enjoy the Yakezie network and have learned a lot from it. Hopefully it doesn’t hurt us but even if it does I’ve learned more from it than any traffic I could have lost at this point in the early life of my blog.

    • Eric says:

      As a part of the Yakezie, I have gained far more in real life support and friendships (including off the web) than the money alone is worth. That support is what helped me keep on truckin.

  8. Priceless lesson here Eric. GO with the flow. Do not resist change, or do not quit when change occurs.

    Google sets the rules. You either change along with any change in the search engine rules, and succeed, or resist, complain, fight and fail. You chose to persist, act intelligently, and because of this you succeed.

    I have 3 websites persistently on Page 1 of google for a “cash gifting” search, along with a fourth social networking site I maintain a heavy presence on. I intended to create helpful content, create value and make strong connections throughout my career so neither Penguin or Panda affected me much.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

  9. Jai Catalano says:

    To lose 50% is always a tough thing to go through. I can’t wait for it to all work itself out so we can all feel a little more relaxed. I guess it keeps us on our toes which is a good thing. Lately I find myself hitting page 1 a lot but I don’t know if it’s a string of luck or skill.

    • Eric says:

      I think it is probably a combination of both. Just keep doing what is working well, try to replicate your successes, and find what isn’t working and stop focusing your efforts there.

  10. bloemkol says:

    that’s is very impressive story. i like the way you take. Sometimes i feel stuck with how to get more traffic to my blog. After read your story, i learn now how to make changes. Thanks for great inspiration.

    • Eric says:

      Glad I could be helpful. A good tip early on is to look at your most successful posts and try to replicate that style and see if it keeps working well. I have a handful of similar posts that generate most of my search engine traffic. I treat those as landing pages which is use to drive people deeper into my site.

  11. Guy Hogan says:

    You are an inspiration. I’ve gone through three and a half years of ups and downs; but now my little blog averages over 300 hits every day and I think it is on the edge of even greater hits. 400 hits every day by the end of the year would be really nice. It’s all a process, as you well know.

    • Eric says:

      If you are already at 300 page views per day, you are doing something well. Keep focusing on great content and sharing it with the right people. Even after a big hit like Panda, your loyal community will stay with you.

  12. Rob Sevilla says:

    Eric,
    Maintaining a blog can be very frustrating. I’ve been a serious blogger now for about 2 years, and I was getting close to about 12k in traffic every month. That was until recently where my traffic dropped about 30 to 40%. Your story is very inspiring, and it pushes me to keep writing original content and provide value to my readership.

    Thanks,
    Rob

    • Eric says:

      Glad to be helpful Rob. You are in a tough, competitive niche on your site. There are always going to be other bloggers nipping at your heels, so you have to stay sharp and consistent to do well.

  13. Very encouraging article. Definitely going on my flagged posts that I reference at a later date for blogging information.

    It is apparent that success in blogging is the same as success in life. You have to have dedication no matter what obstacles you face. We will all face good times and tough times. What I take from your post is to make the changes necessary and never give up pursuing your goal of a successful blog.

    • Eric says:

      I’m glad to have been so helpful Jason. You made a great analogy there. Just like in life, you only get out what you put in for a blog. If you get discouraged easily, it can be tough. However, overcoming is important. when you meet new challenges and obstacles.

  14. Kevin says:

    Glad to see you didn’t give up. These google changes can be a pain but they also get rid of the people who don’t want it more. All you need is to persevere and adapt and the google god can’t keep you down.

    One thing I’ve learned is to diversify your income stream and your traffic sources. The less eggs you put in one basket the better.

    • Eric says:

      It was easy for me to diversify income streams, but traffic was tougher for me. It took the big hit from the big G to force me into that. Now, as some of my Google traffic has recovered, the other sources (referrals, etc) have stayed a bigger portion of my incoming visits.

  15. darkduck says:

    Sorry to be sarcastic, but this (and some more stories on ProBlogger, sorry Darrell) remind me a story of “how did you become rich? – I bought an apple, made a juice, sold it and earned my first penny. Then I did the second, the third. And when I earned a dollar, my grandmother died and left me a million”.

    You have not earned the traffic. You have got the prize from the more powerful bloggers who dared to notice you.

    This is nothing to do with Panda or Penguin. This is simply a story “just do it and believe in success”. The success may come… may not.

    • Eric says:

      It is true that success may not come, but I don’t think it is coincidental that this happened. The mention on Wise Bread did not come out of luck, it came out of networking and getting to know their team over time. Working with a larger site gives you more exposure for the sites bigger than them, and so on.

      It just took the right combination of networking and quality. Sure, like everything else in life it took a little luck. But it always seems that the best luck come to those who work hard.

  16. You are a genius sir. You show us how to face any conditions.Thank you very much

  17. Carolyn says:

    Interesting, as I did a big redesign because my site was going well — and two days later, Penguin hit (similarly I have all original content and am not even a member of any groups), then my host had some nightmarish problems, and traffic was cut in half over about a four day period. Similarly, I doubled up on posts, tried some new things, and poured my heart into the blog. Traffic is now finally better than ever — but it’s taken a lot of hard work, but I think my work habits are actually better for it!

    • Eric says:

      It sounds like we have similar stories. Great job persevering even in tough times Carolyn!

  18. Karen says:

    I agree completely about writing from the heart. I’ve written real estate blogs for 5 years, and it’s sometimes difficult to write from the heart about some topics and some industries. I ended up starting a community blog 2 years ago, not at all about real estate, but about things going on in my city. By highlighting non-profits and small businesses, it is super easy to write from the heart. This blog gets lots of traffic and lots of subscribers. In this blog I promote my real estate blogs and website… like a back door. It turned out to be a good strategy.

  19. Strong! So have you stopped participating in carnivals?

  20. CJ says:

    Exactly the same situation I faced with my Stock Market Blog. Really useful information. Thanks.