Does Google See Value In Bloggers?

It’s hard to believe that I’m coming up on five years here at Money Beagle.  I remember when I first pitched the idea to my wife, we were sitting at the beach (it’s nearby our house and at $25 for a seasonal pass, it was a great frugal value), and I pitched the idea of writing a money blog.  She was enthusiastic and it was there that it was decided that I’d move ahead.

I’ve loved all of my five years of blogging, and I’ve learned so much, but one of the trends I’m seeing is that Google seems to be placing less and less value on blogging.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPlatform

When I started blogging, I jumped right in and used WordPress, which is the most commonly used blogging platform.  After a year, for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into in this post, I actually switched to Blogger, which is owned by Google.  Bloggers is considered a step back from WordPress, and with good reason: Google hasn’t made any signficant updates in probably five years.  They’ve made a few cosmetic features, but in terms of things like allowing detailed customization, allowing compatibility with external developers, mobile support, and a modern interface, there’s been little to no progress.

It’s pretty apparent that even though they spent a ton of money on Blogger, they really don’t see the value of putting any type of significant investment.

Results

One of the things that bloggers learn over time is that good content can get picked up by Google.  I wrote a couple of articles over the years that actually ranked in the top five of pages for fairly significant search terms. This brought in some decent traffic to Money Beagle.  Nothing that was going to put me on the map with any well known blogs, but enough to keep my traffic numbers pretty steady.

I added a few articles to this ‘Google likes me’ list every now and then and traffic kept going up.

Until it didn’t.

I noticed that I fell off the first page for items where I’d ranked in the top five, or fell to the bottom of the first page.  Other bloggers noticed the same things.

Google rolls these things that they call Penguin and Panda in the name of algorithim changes that they claim are to provide better traffic, but I’ve noticed that for the searches where I used to appear higher, most of the ranked sites are commercial sites.  I’ve also started paying more attention to sites that I do for my own personal use, and I’ve found that blogs simply don’t show up as much as they used to.

Google Reader

A few months ago it was announced that Google was discontinuing their RSS reader, called Google Reader.  Most blogs, news sites, and other sites where content is updated regularly, allow you to subscribe to an RSS feed, which the Reader program centralized, allowing users to keep track of hundreds or thousands of their favorite sites all in one browsing tab.  I’ve used it for years, and I couldn’t believe when I saw that they were discontinuing it.   If you’re reading this article on Google Reader, you have less than a week to find a different solution (for the record, I switched to ‘The Old Reader‘, which is another site that basically re-created the Google Reader interface of 12-18 months ago).

One of the things I read is that Google couldn’t effectively monetize Reader.  Obviously they want to make money with their products, but what I couldn’t understand is why they couldn’t just stop development and allow users to continue using it.  The overhead was minimal, and I don’t think it was creating much, if any of a net loss, so pulling the plug altogether made little sense, until I looked at my feeds.

And realized that over 90% of what I subscribe to are….blogs.  The rest were deal of the day sites, some news sites, info from my library about new items, and a few other random tidbits, but most everything else was a blog.

It seems like Google is trying to push readers to read less blogs and more to commercial sites that they can partner with to make money, so if they have the opportunity to pull their own tool that made it easy to read blog content, well, why not?

Maybe I’m Paranoid

I don’t know, maybe I’m paranoid about the whole thing.  I participate in various forums and some bloggers have not seen a decrease in traffic.  Some remain steady, and some are still seeing more and more search traffic come their way.

That’s great and I’m truly happy for those bloggers, but the trend I notice is that for every person reporting that, there’s maybe two reporting that they are untouched, and 3-5 reporting that their traffic is decreasing.

Meaning, that overall, blogs are getting less search traffic come their way.

I also realize that I’m looking primarily in my niche, which is personal finance.  Though there are a lot of finance bloggers who also blog in other niches (cooking, travel, etc.) and I’ve seen some of those people report results that aren’t all that encouraging.

If It’s True

I really hope it’s not true.  Google is the powerhouse of search engines.  They get 80-90% of the world’s searches, so when they make a change, it pretty much changes your traffic, even if competing search engines don’t make a change.

I would hope that it’s not true because, by cutting down the number of blogs that appear high in search rankings (and let’s face it, the majority of clicks come from the search results in the first page, and probably high up on the first page), you’re eliminating the personal voice that bloggers bring to the table that aren’t found as much in corporate driven sites.

While I guess Google shareholders might be happy with the results, if Google really is lessining their value on blogs, I think it’s a big step back for the internet and for the digital age.

I’m going to keep blogging because I love to blog, I love my readers, and it’s still fun for me to do (when it stops being fun is when I’ll stop), but it feels like a little bit of a punch when you have a company that previously rewarded you for providing useful content coming out and effectively saying that it’s no longer as useful.

Have you noticed information from blogs (either your own or others) slowly slipping down the search results window?

Don’t Do Something If You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you may know that I used to run things on the Blogger platform.  Very early on, I actually started the blog on WordPress, but when I gave some thought of giving up blogging, I migrated over to Bloggers since that was free.

It didn’t take long for me to renew my interest in blogging, but I stuck with Blogger for a couple of years. I always had a mind to get off of it and over to WordPress, but it took a couple of years for me to do anything about it.

Finally, I found a new hosting company and got everything signed up.

The Grand Plan: Build In The Background

After I made the decision to switch, I wanted to make sure that I did things the right way.  I had what I thought was a decent amount of users, and so I didn’t want to switch the blog over and build it at the same time.  So, I came up with the grand idea to rebuild Money Beagle in the background.  I am savvy enough to know how to add a DNS record at my registrar, so I registered test dot moneybeagle dot com to point to my new host.  This, I figured, would let me set things up exactly as I wanted, then just flip the switch once I was ready.

Seemed pretty simple, right?

Well, not so much.

Problem 1: The Immediate Crash

I did get things built.  I got pretty much all the content transitioned over, I made sure everything worked since some of the URLs changed format, I got a theme I liked in place, and everything seemed ready to go.  So, I changed the setting that I thought would be needed in WordPress, I told Blogger that it was no longer the destination for Money Beagle, then I went over and redirected my site through my registrar.

And, I immediately got locked out.  I could not access the site, and certainly couldn’t access the administration tool.  I was dead in the water for over an hour.  Eventually, I figured out how to go in through my host providers control panel and modify the files using a text editor.

It seemed to work

Problem 2: Images and links were broken

I found out that although I switched stuff over, many of the internal links I had to images and other links within Money Beagle were still using the ‘test’ domain.  I spent many hours going through trying to cleanse things, but it took a long time and every time I looked, I found something new that was still using the old address.  Finally, I think I reached a day where I had cleansed it all, though I’m still not convinced I won’t find something.

Problem 3: One of the main links was broken

I was probably a couple of months into my ‘new’ site when someone let me know that if you just typed moneybeagle dot com (without the typical ‘www’) that it was re-directing to the test.  That means that I was basically splitting my site in half, and that sites that assign metrics (such as Google Page Rank, MozRank, or Domain Authority) could see it as two different sites.  Metrics like this are one of the keys to growth for a blog, and if the tools saw that I was splitting it in two, it could have been devastating to my blog.  Not only would it have basically cut my authority in half, it probably would have gone down further as they could have perceived that I was duplicating my content, which is a big no-no in the search engine world.

A few clicks and I had that fixed, but it was around this time that I was beginning to realize that I had probably bitten off way more than I could chew in terms of setting things up as a test site.

Problem 4: My Own Access

I use a dashboard in WordPress to run the blog.  Anytime I want to write a post, approve a comment, install a plugin, or other administrative functions, I need to log into my dashboard.  This typically works such that you log in, and you’re good for a while.

Every so often, I noted that I was having some minor issues, but mostly they were just annoying.  I found that if I was logged out, clicking the button that essentially logs you back in didn’t work.  It resulted in an error. This was annoying but not a big deal.  I also found that when I was logging in, it was taking me to a different sub-domain (not test, but it was the non-www domain).  This was causing some random issues that would lead to links within my own dashboard not working.  For awhile, they were troublesome but not a big enough deal.  Then, some WordPress update must have changed something because suddenly this became a big issue.  I started getting logged out of my own site after just a couple of minutes.

Troubleshooting this took a couple of hours, and the cause was likely due to the changes that I mentioned when I locked myself out after the first transition.  I had to go into the actual database tables to find some values, and also go into a couple of files that I had likely modified.  Finally, after finding the magical combo, the dashboard works perfectly.

I made this correction last week.  The blog moved over in December 2011.  That was fourteen months after I had made the move that I was still troubleshooting issues.

Problem 5: Who Knows?

I’m hoping that was the last of my issues related to my migration strategy of trying to get things set up beforehand.

The thing is, I’ve done some digging and there are plugins and tools that would have done exactly what I was hoping to do, and I could have easily accomplished this without any of the heartache that I’ve put myself through.

But, at the time, I was so focused on the Blogger to WordPress migration that I didn’t even consider any potential issues from essentially migrating from WordPress to WordPress, which if you think about it, was what I was doing.

I’m disappointed in myself because I’m a project manager by trade, so I completely ignored some of the very tenets which make me successful at my day job, namely to identify potential risk issues and come up with plans to mitigate risk.   I’m very risk averse in life and in my job.  This serves me pretty well in my job, because I spend a lot of time managing risk, which many other project managers tend to gloss over, but this generally leads to less issues arising throughout the course of the project.

I guess I need to apply more of my job principles into real life issues moving forward!