David Darling (British astronomer and Science writer.)
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David Darling, an astronomer, science writer, and musician, contacted me to discuss certain issues he was having with his websites. Both websites, "The Worlds of David Darling" and "Songs of the Cosmos", were built and are maintained by himself. I was contacted to come on board and help improve some aspects of the sites' performance - in particular, suggest ways of recovering traffic lost because of events outside David Darling's control. Originally hired as a consultant, I helped devise strategies to address the problems with the websites; then, as time progressed, I became involved in design and development of some areas. Below is a little information on both sites followed by the an explanation of the problems involved and the solution strategy I put forward.
Worlds of David Darling:
The Worlds of David Darling is a large on-line collection of information on all aspects of science, technology, mathematics, philosophy, history, and science fiction. It has been developed, and is updated daily, by David Darling. Other components of the site include a home page with regularly updated news, a number of separate news sections on topics such as health, the living world, palaeontology, archaeology, robotics, and technology, an extensive collection of news archives, an encyclopaedia of history, and a children's encyclopaedia of science. The site first went online in 1999 and has now grown to more than 16,000 pages and approximately three million words. Growth in traffic and income was steady and satisfactory up until February 2011, when the problem over which I was eventually consulted first arose.
Songs of the Cosmos:
Songs of the Cosmos is David Darling's music website, and deals with his own music and contemporary music in general. The bulk of the site consists of an encyclopaedia on all aspects of modern music, including music theory, instruments, singing and playing techniques, and acoustics and sound engineering. Songs of the Cosmos is relatively new,and was not affected by the traffic-loss issue of the other site. However, the strategy I evolved to remedy the situation with The Worlds of David Darling should positively impact the music site as well.
David Darling monitors his websites using Google Analytics. In mid-February 2011, he noticed a sudden sharp decrease in traffic, and, consequently, in advertising revenue from the Google Adsense links he runs and across his main site. It soon became apparent that this was connected with an algorithm update on the part of Google which affected many websites worldwide and was known as Panda. More than a year later his visitor count, allowing for seasonal variations, had still not recovered from this major hit. What's more, it was clear that other factors were at work causing a more steady decrease over time. In June 2012 he approached me to investigate the problem and recommend methods of recouping his lost traffic.*Image represents traffic for Worlds of David Darling from early 2010 up to August 2012.
Traffic was slowing down and not rising as expected or compared with previous years, advertising revenue was dropping.
Explanation for the loss of traffic:
It was noted that a change in algorithms occurred around the same time in which these statistics dramatically dropped and slowly ever since decreased even more.
Google panda - February 2011
- Change in Google's search result ranking algorithm
- Change aimed to lower the rank of "low-quality sites" and return higher quality sites near the top of the search result.
- Panda affects entire sites rankings and no longer just individual pages.
Panda is a content quality filter.
Google Penguin - April 24th 2012
- Decrease search engine rankings of websites that violate Google's webmaster guidelines by using black-hat SEO (inappropriate uses of SEO) techniques such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, participating in link schemes, deliberate creation of duplicate content and others.
- Google changes their search ranking algorithms to cut down on spam, penalise duplicate content and generally eliminate weak websites from the first page.
Google is a superpower of the search engine world - the most used search engine - and so websites must stick to their rules in order to gain high ranking. Other search engines are not so quick to join in with Google's example and so the consensus is that if you are Google-proof then you are effectively search-engine-proofed.
Another explanation for decrease in advertising revenue is that new home computers tend to come with pre-installed versions of anti-virus protection which includes ad-blocking capabilities.
A further factor influencing David Darling's traffic is competition from other sites. At the time his website was launched and gaining popularity it was one of very few science encyclopaedias online and so it obviously gained a lot of attention. Gradually, however, as the Internet itself become more popular and easer to access and use, more and more sites began competing for attention. I feel that this may have also been in part why the traffic was slowly decreasing.
So, one major blow, Panda, and a number of other downward-trending factors were, it seems, probably involved in the site's decline.
The main focus of this project was to increase awareness of the site, help attract more traffic, and bring back those lost numbers. We know that Google is the no.1 search engine and that their new secret algorithm, which affects "low-quality sites", will reduce their ranking and affect the site's traffic. Fortunately the good folks at Google have supplied the public with a guide on how to increase their Google ranking with the latest updates to their service. So with this in mind a strategy for David Darling was devised.
Google Webmaster Guidelines - Best practices to help Google find, crawl, and index your site.
Basic Design and content guidelines:
- Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links.
- Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site
- Keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number.
- Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.
- Think about the words users would type to find your pages.
- Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links. The Google crawler doesn't recognize text contained in images. If you must use images for textual content, consider using the "ALT" attribute.
- Make sure that your title elements and ALT attributes are descriptive and accurate.
- Check for broken links and correct HTML - WEB SEMANTICS!.
Basic Video Best Practices:
Of the billions of Google searches done every day, many are looking for video content. Google Video search is the largest video search property on the Web and one of Google's fastest growing search properties worldwide.
Youtube and Google are best of friends, so if it's an option, create a Youtube channel, connect it with your site, and gather followers through it and other social connections. Upload videos which relate to your site and this will gradually help traffic grow.
Basic Image Best Practices:
With image search, just as with web search, Google's goal is to provide the best and most relevant search results to our users.
The filename can give Google clues about the subject matter of the image. Try to make your filename a good description of the subject matter of the image. For example, my-new-black-kitten.jpg is a lot more informative than IMG00023.JPG.
If there is no description Google will index the file name as its title.
The alt attribute is used to describe the contents of an image file. It's important for several reasons:
- It provides Google with useful information about the subject matter of the image. We use this information to help determine the best image to return for a user's query.
- Many people-for example, users with visual impairments, or people using screen readers or who have low-bandwidth connections-may not be able to see images on web pages. Descriptive alt text provides these users with important information.
Create a great user experience
Great image content is an excellent way to build traffic to your site.
- Good-quality photos appeal to users more than blurry, unclear images. In addition, other webmasters are much more likely to link to a good-quality image, which can increase visits to your site. Crisp, sharp images will also appear better in the thumbnail versions we display in our search results, and may therefore be more likely to be clicked on by users.
- Not all users scroll to the bottom of a page, so consider putting your images high up on the page where it can be immediately seen.
- Specify a width and height for all images. A web browser can begin to render a page even before images are downloaded, provided that it knows the dimensions to wrap non-replaceable elements around.
The information below is a brief bullet pointed strategy written for David Darling which encompasses all the research and information displayed above, with the intention of increasing traffic and helping the websites revenue.
- Stop using duplicate or low quality content, but instead make content 100% unique. Duplicated content on multiple pages affects indexing of the entire site.
- Establish your site as the authority. Build high quality incoming links, from website sources i.e. social media connections, other websites like NASA (which would be the ultimate incoming link).
- Increase the time visitors spend on your site. Enhance quality to hold users and keep them engaged. Provide rich information content and quality images.
- Increase social media engagements on your site. Increase mentions on social sites, get connected with Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Have Twitter share buttons, talk about your site on tweets that link to your site, get connected with more followers on Twitter, and add Facebook recommend and like buttons to your content. If a user likes what they read, they click like, pops up on their page where there friends can look and like to, causing a chain reaction - a viral spread increasing awareness of your site.
- Email newsletters, create a list of users, and include brief bits of information on the site within the newsletter including connections to social media.
- Build higher quality incoming links. Other sites talking about you, advertising you, this includes social media links.
- Make sure best practises from Google's webmaster guidelines are in place.
- Semantically correct documents.
- Alt tags.
- Descriptive image file names and high quality images to help with Google image search.
Only a few of the instructions given to David Darling, but even this amount is a lot of work to take on, as remember there is 16,000 html pages to edit.
As mentioned in the beginning all these changes will be slow to show any results, but by going after each of them one at a time, in the long run, when the academic year starts up and David Darling has followers on twitter, you tube and likes on Facebook, a larger email newsletter audience and Google awareness, it will then show its true colours. Expectations are high, statistics will show in the coming months whether or not all these small changes through the website and connections will have paid off.