I will never forget the year I quit my stable full-time job to work from home. I had been working towards my dream of running a successful online business for years, but less than a month after I quit my job, my website completely disappeared from Google’s index. I was in complete shock, and soon realized that it had been a casualty of Google’s latest algorithm update.
It was one of Google’s first updates, back in 2005. Google algorithm updates have changed a lot over the years, and the company has also changed the way it rolls out updates. In those days, updates were sudden and sometimes completely life-altering. This one — known as Big Daddy — was the second-largest algorithm update Google had rolled out since it was founded in 1998.
Google Arrives on the Scene
According to one case study, in 1990, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided to “position the popularity of the vast amount of content available on the web.” The company name soon became a verb. People began to “Google for information” like they would drink a glass of water.
When I started my home and garden content-related site in 1996, I wasn’t even aware of Google’s existence until it first indexed my site. I couldn’t believe the traffic my site was suddenly getting. I quickly set up a way to track analytics to see what people were searching for.
It turns out that they were searching for all kinds of things, and my site ranked at the top of the results for many searches. I began to earn money through a variety of affiliate programs, and as my commissions increased, I paid more attention to this new search engine. When Google loved a site, it loved it big.
Search terms like“teen room decorating ideas” brought a lot of traffic, which turned into thousands of dollars in revenue for several years until “blogging” became a thing and suddenly I had thousands of other bloggers and large corporations who were discovering search engine optimization (SEO) competing with me for lucrative search terms. Over time, I learned to find and research new keywords to target to ensure that my site’s income remained relatively stable.
History of Google Algorithm Updates
Up until 2005, I had been creating content for my website for almost 10 years, and learning everything I could about SEO. I didn’t even notice Google’s first algorithm update in 2003.
Although the Florida Update update affected a lot of sites, it didn’t affect mine. It changed how links were calculated and tackled spammy tactics by trying to penalize sites that used keyword stuffing, invisible text, and hidden links. Many web sites lost their rankings, including non-spam sites. These sites were referred to as “false positives.”
False positives were accidental casualties of an algorithm that was designed to remove spam sites from Google’s index. My site was one of these false positives in the update of 2005, and there was nothing I could do about it except wait for the next update.
This first large index update was rolled out right before the holidays in 2003. It had such a devastating effect on so many business owners that Google vowed to never release another update so close to the holidays, although it reneged on that promise at the end of 2011 with the Penguin algorithm updates.
Ghost in the Machine
During the Big Daddy algorithm update of 2005 when my website vanished from Google’s index, I spent three months trying to figure out what I needed to change to appease the Google gods. I wasn’t alone. Webmasters spent hours every day combing through threads on the Webmasterworld website hoping that someone had worked out how to get their site back in Google’s index. A lot of webmasters quit and walked away in frustration.
Big Daddy included big changes to Google’s infrastructure aimed at improving the overall quality of search engine results. It was rolled out gradually and took four months to complete.
My site was eventually re-indexed during the next major update. When it came back, it really came back. My traffic and my income more than doubled overnight, and all the hard work that I had put into my site finally paid off.
Those big updates kept webmasters like myself from becoming lazy. It kept us on our toes. When revenue suddenly dropped, it was time to get to work. Online income can become very passive over time and it was tempting to slow content creation when times were good. In the end, however, it was always necessary to expand, to grow, and to adapt as Google made further changes.
Playing the Long Game
Instead of updating its index only once or twice a year, Google now makes small updates thousands of times a year. Most of Google’s updates are now unnoticeable, but at least once a year it does roll out a significant update that changes the way websites rank and appear in Google’s search results.
Many webmasters lived in fear of Google’s updates for years. In 2015, an update named Mobilegeddon decreased the ranking of non-mobile-friendly sites, and even high-profile businesses like Dell and Ticketmaster lost a lot of traffic overnight. Bigger companies were able to recover after they updated their sites to be more mobile friendly, but those with less resources were not as fortunate.
The Panda update of early 2011 devastated many website owners, forcing many of them to change business models and fire employees. This update cracked down on what was perceived as “low-quality content” and content farms. Google was trying to purge the web of duplicate content, and sites such as Suite 101 and Ezinearticles, which were providing legitimate content services to webmasters, were put out of business almost overnight. I wrote and contributed hundreds of articles to both of these sites, and a lot of my work was de-indexed, removed, and — again — vanished overnight.
MORE FOR YOU
When someone starts a website or blog, they often don’t realize they need to know about SEO. Many small business owners are leaving money on the table. I have learned that Google sees websites as authorities on certain subjects, and that you won’t always discover what that is unless you publish more and more content. Google has rewarded some topics on my site and penalized others. Over time, I have stopped publishing certain types of content and concentrated more on the topics that Google deems are relevant. The ones that make me money.
Reaping the Rewards
Website owners who have either mastered or outsourced the art of SEO have reaped the benefits. I have had good years and bad years, but as the content on a website grows, so do the number of pages that Google indexes. The more pages indexed, the better, especially if they have been optimized to rank higher and higher in Google’s search results.
Thankfully, appeasing Google isn’t as time-consuming as it once was, but it still pays to keep up with the latest updates and to have an idea of what’s going on in Google’s world. I have made a full-time income from my website for more than 15 years, and I don’t plan to stop publishing any time soon. Some website owners give up when times get hard and some don’t. I succeeded because I didn’t quit.