I have now been running macintoshhowto.com for 10 years. Here is a graph of visitors over the last 10 years:
You will notice that there are some turning points on the curve. Most of these changes correspond to Google changing their Page Rank algorithms. For example macintoshhowto.com was slowly and steadily growing in popularity until April 2012, when there was a slight drop. This corresponds to when Google released ‘Penguin’ which was a change in the way they show their search results.Most of the other changes in the graph also correlate to some kind of a Google update.
Google is trying to tweak its search results to encourage good sites and get rid of spam sites. But I have discovered two ways in which these Google rankings algorithms negatively impact the way people create websites.
Problem # 1 – Google encourage ‘click to continue’ buttons.
It annoys me when I’m reading a website that has several ‘click to continue’ buttons though the article. But Google reward you if you do this. Google measures something called ‘bounce rate.’ If someone reads an article then leaves your site, that is called a ‘bounce.’ Google thinks this means the person doesn’t like your site. If, after reading an article, they hang around on your site and click on some links Google like that.
Macintoshhowto.com has a very high bounce rate (approx 80%). This could mean people don’t like my site, but it could also mean someone has read an article and found the solution they were after. The only way to tell is to put a ‘click to continue reading’ button. (Or ‘click if you liked this article’).
Have a look at this experiment I tried below. This is a graph of visits to one of my articles on macintoshhowto.com. On the 20th February I split this article in half and added a link saying ‘click to continue.’ This means that in order to finish reading the article the reader had to click.
As expected the bounce rate of that page dropped from 80% to 50%. You can see this in the light blue line on the graph above – it drops around February 20th.
What you will also notice is that a week later the hits to that page spiked. The increased by approx 25%. Google now sent me more traffic. I did not change anything else about this article. All I did was added a ‘click to continue’ button. In other words, Google rewarded me for making the article harder to read. They think that a click means that the reader likes my site more.
What’s the problem? The problem is that this encourages publishers like myself to put a ‘click to continue’ button in the middle of every article. Which is worse for the reader!
Google’s ranking algorithm can tempt web page developers to add too many ‘read more’ buttons to their sites
2. Problem #2 – Google only encourages ‘regular’ content.
The other thing that I have discovered over the 10 years of macintoshhowto.com is that Google rewards websites that have ‘regular’ content. When I regularly write articles (e.g. an article a week or more) the rankings of macintoshhowto.com tend to go up. In the other direction, if I have a break for two or three months when I don’t write an article, Google seems to notice this and sends less people to the site.
I’m not talking about the fact that when I write a new article new people visit that article. When I write more articles, Google sends more traffic to my entire site. When I stop writing new articles, Google starts reducing the amount of traffic it sends to my existing articles. Google rewards a publisher simply for writing regular content to a blog. That may sound good to you. What’s wrong with regular content?
Regular content is great, but not every site needs regular content.
Here’s the problem. Regular content is great, but not every site needs regular content. I have noticed for example that some of my favourite mac websites like ‘cultofmac’ and ‘macroumers’ are spewing out all kinds of articles, essentially about nothing at all, multiple times a day. It means that I have ‘unsubscribed’ from their content because it inundates my mailbox with multiple posts every day.
There is a place for blogs that are going to write three or four posts a day. If you are a news website that people are checking every day for the latest news, of course you want new content every day. But there is a place for blogs that might only write one post every month. If you run a business, like a coffee shop, what is more important is that your content is up to date. You may only need to update your content occasionally – like once every few months.
Everyone want’s more visitors to their website, and you can play along with Google to get more visitors. But it’s responsibile as a website publisher and say ‘no’ to Google if it makes you website better.
Don’t be a slave to Google analytics results.
For sure, it helps increase your stats to have ‘click to continue’ on all your articles, but think of what your current readers want, not Google. It also helps to have regular content for your site even if you have nothing new to say. But don’t blog about nothing just to increase your ratings. It may bring more visitors but it won’t improve their experience.
I confess, this is hard because it’s a great measurable reward to see your Google stats increase!