If you are on my newsletter you will have seen the edition I sent out Monday explaining how I met with Ed Dale last week, the Australian internet marketer and part of the founding team behind MagCast (although he is calling it Digital Publishing Blueprint now).
MagCast is a software platform and course that Ed and his team built to help people to publish a magazine on the IOS newsstand, which you can currently access on iPad or iPhone.
If you look on your iPhone or iPad you should see a Newsstand app, where you can subscribe and download magazines. It looks like a magazine shelf.
I have decided to produce a magazine and test out this new channel of distribution for my content and also as a place to sell my training products.
I will explain why this is exciting in a moment, but first I want to talk about something that has been an ongoing concern for me for about a year now, which is a problem I have seen many long term authority site owners experience.
A Good Start For A Blog
When I started my blog growth was organic and consistent. My blog’s traffic plotted on a graph appeared like a slowly rising mountain, punctuated with the occasional spike whenever I attracted a link from a large site. It wasn’t a hockey stick shaped graph like so many start-ups desire, but it was always trending upwards, which made me happy.
This is a graph from my webalizer stats back in 2005 (before Google Analytics) that shows the very first six months of life of Entrepreneurs-Journey.com. I show this to my Blog Mastermind members as an example of what can happen with steady work on your blog during the first half year.
After about two to three years of growth my blog hit a traffic ceiling.
My traffic went up and down, but usually stayed between 3,000 and 5,000 daily visitors during the week according to Google Analytics. Traffic would spike as high as 6,000 to 7,000 daily visitors whenever I sent a newsletter pointing people to a blog post, or when I got some exposure on other sites. Most of the time thanks to organic and direct visitors it would stay at about the 4,000 visitor mark.
While I was a little bit frustrated that my traffic curve didn’t continue the trend upwards, it wasn’t going downwards either. Nothing will grow forever and since I wasn’t being as proactive building new communication channels back to my blog, it’s not surprising I hit a ceiling.
The key area that mattered most to me was newsletter subscribers. With the organic traffic I had, about 100 people a day signed up to my newsletter, which was pretty good – more than enough to grow my business.
To put it simply, I became complacent because things were good enough. Thanks to my hard work during the first three to four years of my blog business I could afford to sit back and relax a little, which is what I did.
The Downturn I Had To Have
Amazingly enough my traffic remained stable for years. It hit a peak around 2007-2008 and for the next four years held strong around the same levels.
That’s some pretty amazing consistency, but of course I was blogging the entire time, so it was justified.
During this period Google made lots of changes, however my search marketing strategy didn’t really change at all. I continued to focus on producing good content, which was easy for me because I enjoy it. I continued to attract links organically, not quite as many as I used to but still plenty, and things stayed the same.
As social media rose to prominence and factor in search rankings I realised it was important to start participating. I certainly wasn’t an early adopter of any of the tools, but I caught on eventually.
I became a regular on Facebook and Twitter, primarily because they are the sites I personally enjoy using the most, and more recently on Instagram too. I have a LinkedIn and Google+ account, but I don’t really use them proactively… yet.
Around late 2011 I noticed a slight downturn in my Google Analytics traffic data. I was focused on CrankyAds and looking after my mother in hospital at the time. Although I still wrote to my blog, I wasn’t focused on it.
By late 2012 I noticed a definite downward trend had set in. For the first time ever my site was not holding steady thanks to organic traffic and the status quo effort I continued to put in.
By the middle of this year (2013) my traffic had almost halved and I was much more concerned. My newsletter sign-up rate has halved as well, a natural result of fewer new people finding my blog.
Why Did My Traffic Drop?
You might ask whether Google updates like Panda and Penguin had anything to do with it – and I can’t conclusively say they haven’t – however since my traffic has had a slow gradual decline rather than a sudden drop, it’s less likely these are the cause.
I hypothesised that perhaps I had too many advertisements on my site, or because I had reduced the frequency of updates to weekly that Google decided I wasn’t as authoritative as I once was. Or maybe because my older posts don’t have as many social media recommendations they weren’t ranking as well anymore (they were written in a time before Twitter and Facebook).
Some people suggested that the switch to a group writer model in 2010-2011 could have impacted things, but since more content was published then and links continued to come in, I doubt it was that. My traffic remained steady the entire time I had the columnists, so I don’t think that is to blame.
Analysing my traffic data it is difficult to spot a specific cause for the drop. It appears that all my content has decreased in how much traffic it attracts. Google search is definitely to blame, so my hypothesis is that site-wide, all my content is not ranking as high as it was across the long tail of phrases I used to attract traffic from.
A Curious Traffic Trend
A couple of months back I was visiting with Liz and Matt Raad at their Gold Coast hinterland house along with a few other people from our industry for a bonfire in their backyard.
I was explaining to them how I was looking to get back into investing in websites and had begun watching Flippa again for potential acquisition targets. I had even made some initial investigations into a few deals for some fairly large blogs.
Two of the blogs I looked at acquiring were both authority sites. By that I mean they had published consistent weekly or even daily content for years. One of the sites was almost as old as my own blog and the other was a good 5+ years old.
These were not new sites. They had history, had covered their industry for years and had attracted millions of visitors from Google over their lifespan. One of the sites even had as many as 17,000 unique visitors a day during its peak, more than double my own blog’s traffic peak, but that was a few years ago.
Unfortunately — and this is why I decided not to purchase either site — they both had a bad trend in their Google Analytics traffic reports. Over the last year their organic traffic had steadily fallen away. I was allowed to look into their Analytics accounts and their graphs looked eerily similar to mine… a slowly sloping downwards mountain.
I didn’t buy the sites because I wasn’t sure how much further down the traffic had to fall. They still had good enough traffic to make the sites valuable, but they were so far from what they used to be I just didn’t feel comfortable taking them over.
Normally I love sites like this because I know how to instantly make them more profitable. I had plenty of ideas for how I could increase their revenue, but without traffic it doesn’t matter how clever my monetization techniques are. It was just too risky.
I told Liz and Matt about these blogs and my own site’s downward trend in traffic. They mentioned they also had sites with SEO problems recently, especially their older, larger sites with lots of content.
They had a theory that they were testing and getting some positive results with that they explained to me. The theory was that Google is valuing newer, fresher content now more highly than older content. Even if you have an authority site with an aged domain and lots of quality backlinks – factors that used to give you an advantage — if the content is old, it won’t rank as well.
In other words, Google is valuing freshness higher than traditional SEO values.
I immediately felt like this could be the problem with my blog.
It made sense.
My site had experienced a site-wide reduction in traffic from Google. All my old content was not ranking as well as it used to.
If the freshness theory was true, then something as simple as the publication date of the article or date of the most recent comment left could heavily influence how that piece of content ranked.
The lack of social media endorsements I mentioned previously could still factor too, since my older content has less likes and shares, further demonstrating their lack of popularity with the social web, even if they were popular back before social media.
While I believe freshness is important, it shouldn’t be the deciding factor when determining which content is the most relevant. New does not equal better, especially for subjects that are not time dependent.
Gaming The Freshness Factor
Liz and Matt had some interesting ideas they were testing regarding content freshness, including adjusting old posts to include new content and then republishing them so they had more recent publication dates.
As silly as this sounds, it might be a solution, or even an easy way to game the system right now when it comes to Google SEO.
I understand Google’s motivation. Given social media is so focused on fresh and new (today’s social timeline is what matters most), perhaps Google is adjusting things along this line with their rankings too.
Just last week I was reading Glen Allsop’s work over at his Viperchill blog. I came across an article titled Revealed: The New SEO (When Google Takes Freshness Too Far).
In typical Glen style it’s a long post (as a fellow long article writer I salute you Glen!), and he covers a lot of things, all centered around this same idea - that Google has the freshness factor influencing rankings too highly.
Since Glen lives and breathes SEO, he went and did some experiments and researched a bunch of data to prove his point. I’ll let you read his article for all those details, but to summarise, the way things are right now is that a new site with barely any links can outrank a very old authority sites with quality links, simply because the new site is newer.
That clearly backs up my assumption about why this blog’s traffic has steadily decreased. I have old content with lots of links because it’s good content, but the date of publication is more than two years ago, which kills my rankings.
Sigh. Talk about a complete switcheroo on Google’s behalf. From rewarding age and links to just sending traffic to anything new. I doubt that is Google’s intentions, but hey who knows what is really going on.
Asking For Help
I asked my friend David Jenyns from MelbourneSEO to take a look at my blog to see if he could spot anything. His team recently ran a preliminary report into my analytics and website data, but they haven’t found anything conclusive yet.
The initial findings are that my external SEO (organic link building) is fine, and that it is unlikely a Panda or Penguin penalty directly applied to my site, although they could be affecting the sites that link to me, potentially reducing my authority.
There are things I can do internally to better optimise my content for search results, but we don’t know for sure if this will have much of an impact.
David does have a plan of action on some things we can work on that may potentially improve things, for example better keyword optimising on each of my content pages, but that’s not a small job. There’s more research they can do too, so this is an ongoing process.
My conclusion for now is that my organic traffic is down and I don’t know for sure why. I will work on it with people who know more about these things and see if we can bring it back up. There may be structural and content strategy changes to make to bring organic traffic back, and perhaps we will try playing the game and test the publication date theory to see how that goes.
What I can say is that this downward shift in traffic has motivated me to become even less dependent on Google…
For years I have been preaching about not relying on any one source of traffic, especially Google. If you have one master and they play around with how things work, things can change overnight in not good ways.
I’ve always preached the importance of building a list. If my site was just about delivering page impressions to sell ads on, I’d be pretty upset right now because I have half the monthly pageviews I did a year ago. However because I have my email newsletter I can still communicate with my audience.
The downside is that I don’t attract as many new people to my newsletter, which over time will make a difference.
Of course Google is not my only source of traffic, but it is the largest source of new people.
My traffic here on EJ is still good enough to run a business. If anything, this downturn has done one thing: It has forced me to look at new channels for audience growth.
Thankfully the timing is good on a personal level as my motivation is strong to build up my teaching business.
I’ve been planning how to diversify and increase my traffic for a year or so already. This wasn’t necessarily to combat Google changes, it’s about reaching entirely new audiences and growing a bigger business. I want to do what I should have done years ago – tap into new sources of audience and refine my sales funnel along the way.
My plan involves things like paid traffic on the content network, PPC ads on Facebook and direct ad buys on niche content sites. That’s a start anyway, and where my focus will turn to next year once all my products are released.
There is one other new channel I am eager to test, which is what I mentioned right at the very start of this newsletter – the Apple Magazine stand.
For years I have attracted an audience thanks to my podcast, which at least partially survives regardless of what Google does, because people subscribe via iTunes.
Independent Traffic Sources And The Big Four Online Giants
Apple runs a completely separate ecosystem to Google. This is especially true when it comes to mobile.
If people subscribe to my content on the IOS platform, the only thing that matters is what Apple does.
Google controls the organic search landscape and also has a major player in the PPC world with AdWords. YouTube matters too, but I tend to lump it in with Google since they control what happens there.
Facebook is a separate ecosystem and thus if you use Facebook for social marketing or paid ads, you have another independent source of traffic.
Then there is also Amazon, with in particular the Kindle, presents another separate audience.
There are of course other platforms, but my thinking right now revolves around these big four players (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) and making sure I use them all, but not depend on any one so much that my business lives and dies by them.
That means I need my products on Kindle, my ads running on Facebook (and me using the tool socially as I already do), my blog delivering my content and podcast on the Apple platform.
I’m also very keen to tap into the move to mobile and tablets, hence any content and product I can deliver specifically on to these platforms is exciting, and that is why I have just started working on… a magazine.
Diversifying Into Digital Magazines
As I wrote about in my last newsletter, I am a huge fan of magazines from way back in my pre-teen years.
The opportunity to have a digital magazine in the Apple Newsstand represents the chance to be one of the first on this platform and tap into a mobile audience with your existing content and products.
It’s another place I can deliver value, offer education and build relationships with you – my reader.
If I can attract a solid subscriber base to my magazine, it’s like having another email newsletter – another communication channel that doesn’t change if Google plays with the algorithm.
Of course Apple can play with their ranking system and platform too, so nothing can be relied upon to be predictable. The Newsstand is only going to get more crowded, which is why I have decided to investigate this opportunity now and get in early.
This article is already long enough so I won’t go into more specifics about how the magazine system works and how bloggers can use it. I will save that for another article, after I gain more experience with digital magazines.
If you are already feeling excited about having your own magazine in the newsstand, Ed Dale has a series of training videos he is releasing for free right now that you can watch that explain how the Apple Newsstand works.
He also details why it’s such a great opportunity today while the platform is new, and how you can use your magazine to not only sell advertising and subscriptions, but also sell your products from directly inside the mag.
You can watch the first free video here after you optin with your email address -
Ed’s doing a product launch right now, hence the free videos. There are three in total I believe, but I have only seen the first one above so far.
There’s also some software called MagCast, which is the tool you use to take the PDF version of your magazine and put it into the Apple Newsstand.
Watch the video and you will have a better understanding of this new medium.
That’s it from me,