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10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings

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10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Book Reviewer 6/11/11 2:39 PM
I have read the FAQs and checked for similar issues: YES
My site's URL (web address) is: http://dannyreviews.com/
Description (including timeline of any changes made): none in last few years (other than 4 to 8 reviews added every month)

Evidence that something has changed with the search results.
* A search such as http://www.google.com/search?q=history+of+the+countryside+danny+yee should bring up my review on my web site, but instead brings up an (unauthorised) duplicate copy on another site
* It's not always the same site, see e.g. http://www.google.com/search?q=meet+me+at+infinity+danny+yee (where my review is at least indexed, but ranks second)
* This is affecting nearly all my reviews.

* My web site has dropped from about 10th to about 60th in a search on "book reviews"  http://www.google.com/search?q=book+reviews&sa=Google&num=100 (reading suggests this is some kind of "-50" penalty)

* Google referrals to my reviews have dropped by well over 50%.  (After being relatively stable, or at leas slowly-changing for a decade.)

A Webmaster tools "reconsideration request" response confirms that there's no manual penalty, so this is the result of an algorithm change.  Whether these results are "correct" or not is obviously debatable, but my own reviews should surely rank above duplicate copies on other sites!

My web site has had a very stable structure for the ten years it's been at this domain (and it goes back to 1994 at an earlier location, which I think is still 301 redirecting).

I've written a brief account of this problem at http://wanderingdanny.com/oxford/2011/06/google-update/
My best guess (as explained in a comment to that blog post) is that I have too many index pages (350) for 1200 reviews.  But those do serve a purpose and I don't want to start removing pages unless I have more than a hunch that that is the problem.

Any advice or suggestions would be appreciated.
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Wow_Just_Wow 6/11/11 3:02 PM
Hi Danny. First, let me say that I am a fan of your reviews and have found them informative and helpful in the past. So, I am very interested in seeing your site rank highly in Google. The information is the type of information I want to see when I search for reviews on books that I am considering reading.

My best guess, aside from the index problem, is that you are running into a nebulous user-experience issue. Your site has been around for so long that the design is now out of date. It looks like a legacy site that is just running on the laurels it received 10 years ago. I'd suggest updating the design to a more modern look and adding in some web 2.0 stuff. Let people comment on your reviews--moderate the spam out, of course. Add some social networking functions to drive visitors that way too.

Basically, I suggest making it look more "modern." You also need to file DMCA notices against those people who are stealing your content. The other issue is that a lot of book reviewers cross-post their reviews on Amazon. I don't know if you are doing that, but stop it, if you are.

Good luck.
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings seo101 6/11/11 3:23 PM
The recent changes in Googles algorithm is designed to lower the rankings of lower quality sites, generally based on this criteria:
http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html
They asked a large group of human testers to rate sites based on the questions there. They tried to use that info into the computer ranking algorithm.

So if your site was affected by the recent algorithm changes, then it means one of two things:
1. Your site really is low quality; or
2. Your site is not low quality, but is giving signals that the algorithm is interpreting as low quality (it does not matter if they are or not, its what the algorithm detects that counts)

If its (2), then you need to change the signals that you sending to the ranking algorithm. No one from Google is going to look at your (or anyone's sites) and change its ranking manually.

"Review" sites have been hit hard in the recent update, so the barrier/hurdle for a "review" site to rank well is harder. This is probably just based on feedback that Google was getting about the number of crap thin affiliate review sites in the resarch results.

Start by doing what wow said and file some DMCA's and update to a more user friendly modern design.
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Danny Yee 6/11/11 3:26 PM
Thanks!  It's encouraging to get such a rapid response, especially from someone who knows the site already.

There's certainly something to be said for updating from Web 0.5 (as I call it) to Web 2.0.  It would be quite nice to build a reader community, in particular.  But the amount of work involved in doing this properly - moderating spam is just one problem - is a little off-putting, and I don't want to do it unless I can do it properly.

I find it hard to believe that Google cares about how modern the look and feel of sites is when ranking them, though, even if they've managed to develop algorithms for parsing CSS and analysing the resulting page appearance.

I'm not cross-posting to Amazon (I once found someone posting my reviews there and claiming them as their own, but got them removed) and I did DMCA the top level page of the most prominent duplicate site.  But Google only allows DMCA complaints against individual pages, not sites, so I'd have to lodge 1500+ DMCA requests if I go that route!  I've tried contacting the hosting service (GoDaddy, I think) without success, but I will give that another go.
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Lysis 6/11/11 3:39 PM
Danny, you can also get a DMCA letter from a lawyer sent to the host. I've known companies that do it and it is effective. I can't imagine a letter would cost much, but I'm just a computer nerd. :D  I do think, though, that if it is one site with that many scraped pages of yours, a DMCA to the host might be the best route. 
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings wejonk 6/11/11 3:43 PM
But Google only allows DMCA complaints against individual pages

Remember that that isn't Google. DMCA is a legal procedure outside Google. That is (normally) you first contact the webmaster, when they do not reply the web hosting company and then you fill in an official DMCA request.
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Danny Yee 6/11/11 3:44 PM
Well, I'm biased, obviously, but feedback over the years suggests many people find the site useful.  And looking through the quality criteria at http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html, it's hard not to think most of my reviews would pass on most of those, for most people.

So I think seo101's 2) is right, and that the problem is that my site is giving the wrong signals and Google's algorithm has mistaken it for some kind of "content farm" or other spam.  I don't expect any kind of manual review of this, but would like it to reach someone at Google who can use it as an example of a "false positive" and use that to improve the next (or some future) iteration of the algorithm.  There are probably other similar sites suffering the same way.

I'm not convinced that making it look shinier is going to influence Google, but I've been thinking about a front page redesign for a while anyway and that can't hurt.  My feeling is that Google doesn't care that much about visuals, and that link structure and other more quantifiable features still matter a lot more, so I'll think about removing some of the less useful index pages (the boring publisher pages, and maybe the alphabetic author and title pages).  And I'll get busy with the DMCA requests tomorrow.

Thanks for the advice.
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Danny Yee 6/11/11 3:47 PM
Lysis and wejonk - yes, DMCAing the hosting service makes more sense.  I'll do that first thing tomorrow morning.
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Lysis 6/11/11 3:52 PM
Well, I think you should take Wow's and seo101's advice and implement a bit of an upgrade in visual aesthetics. I wander the halls of this place practically every day, and there's been quite a few old sites (I'm talking 10-15 years old) that have posted here. Something I've noticed about them is outdated HTML/layout. A lot of them have that one issue, albeit it isn't the only issue sometimes.  I think you should consider it as a viable reason for some (maybe most) of your drop.
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Wow_Just_Wow 6/11/11 3:53 PM
Unfortunately, Google does care about the design. The problem is that a lot of sites were thrown up in the old days of the web and got a lot of links. They just stayed in the search results forever and ever without adding anything valuable today because they had a ton of backlinks. One way Google got rid of them was to target sites with old designs. It looks like you have a separate html page for every review, so it's easy for the googlebot to flag that.

Basically, your site got caught in the crossfire from other older sites sucking. It's fixable. And, definitely get those DMCAs out.
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings LarGibbon 6/11/11 3:54 PM
Hi Danny,

do you have any relation to donbooks.net ? If so you are shooting yourself in the foot - it's a complete duplicate of your site.
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Danny Yee 6/11/11 4:07 PM
The site structure hasn't changed, but I've done a fair bit of tweaking of the look and feel over the years, and I've put quite a lot of thought into the review layout -- attempting to get the optimal line width and line spacing for on-screen reading, for example -- so it's not as unplanned as it looks!  Do you guys have any tips on approaches to visual aesthetics -- or even specific design ideas?  I never got past reading Jakob Nielsen on usability, and I really don't like clutter, so I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to approach a redesign.  (I'm also reluctant to change the structure much, since I'd rather not change the existing URLs and have to do redirection all over the place.)

The "downgrade of old sites with links" theory seems to fit, but doesn't really explain ranking my site behind a duplicate site with exactly the same content (at least when it was copied) and (presumably) no or few backlinks.

(I'm confused.  Isn't a separate html page for each review how almost all review sites, new or old, work?  I can't see that it would make sense to aggregate multiple reviews onto single pages.)
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Danny Yee 6/11/11 4:15 PM
Ok, a DMCA notice regarding donbooks.net has been send to GoDaddy (by email, if that's not accepted I'll send a fax on Monday).
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Durant Imboden 6/11/11 6:16 PM
>.>Isn't a separate html page for each review how almost all review sites, new or old, work?  I can't see that it would make sense to aggregate multiple reviews onto single pages.)<<

You're absolutely right. Every review SHOULD be on its own page. That works best for the reader, and it should also work best for Google.

As for the site looking "old-fashioned," I'd take suggestions to modernize its look and feel for SEO reasons with a grain of salt. If you want to hire a graphic artist and make the site look 21st Century, that's great, but I can't believe that Google or its quality evaluators would look at your review pages and think "junk site" or "content farm."

My guess is that your site is a Panda "false positive," and while it can't hurt to look for things that might improve the site's usability (on general principle, not specifically because of Panda), the problem lies with the current iteration of Google's algorithm or filters, not with your site.
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Danny Yee 6/12/11 4:23 AM
Thanks, Durant and lockedout-noreason.

Looking at threads at WebmasterWorld such as http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4323314.htm, a lot of the advice is to sit tight and wait - there's clearly a fair number of people suffering similar problems, and some kind of recognition from Google that there is a "false positive" problem.

So I'll follow the recommendations here that don't involve major changes - getting the DMCA notices out, redesigning the front page - but will hold off on removing some of my index pages or doing anything else drastic.

I have always expected a slow decline over time in my rankings and/or traffic, since my site has been growing linearly (6 reviews a month on average) while the rest of the Web grows exponentially (at least for a while) and I knew my "early mover" advantage would never last (for quite some time I was the #1 search result for "book reviews", ahead of the NYT, and at one point my top page had Page Rank 8). I never thought I was in any danger of being mistaken for a "content farm", though!
Re: 10 (or 15) year old personal site, 1200+ book reviews, hammered in rankings Danny Yee 6/12/11 7:32 AM
I've made one easy "link structure" change.  The pages http://dannyreviews.com/titles.html and http://dannyreviews.com/authors.html used to have full lists of all my reviews, but now they just have links to the individual letter index pages.

This will cut the number of internal links to each review from five plus subject category links down to three plus subject category links.  (More or less: reviews with multiple authors, or reviews of multiple titles, may have more).

The only unwieldy "thousand plus link" page left on the site is the full chronological index http://dannyreviews.com/schron.html  I'm not sure what to do with that.  I know people occasionally do want to go back and look at the earliest reviews I wrote, so just deleting it seems wrong.  I could split it up into separate pages for each year, but that means creating another twenty pages or so, which I'm reluctant to do.