Penguin? Bovvered?

My site just lost over a third of its traffic, following Google’s last update. So why am I celebrating??

Google started to roll out its Penguin 3 release on Friday October 17th.

Over the following week, the traffic to this site dropped by 37%!

You might think I would start worrying. But I’m not. Let me explain why.

Here are the numbers of daily visits to Web Design from Scratch since my redesign (re-theme) a few weeks ago.


You can see the slide start on the Friday of the fourth week (where the comment is on the 17th). By the final week the traffic had settled to its present level of about 2000 visits per day compared to the previous ~3200 (a drop of about 37%).

Of course the unique visitor numbers tell the same story.


Is This Bad News??

It would be easy for me to look at the top-line numbers and fly into a panic, thinking that Google has suddenly downgraded my site, and to set about trying to identify which links they don’t like.

But that would be short-sighted. (Google has actually done nothing of the sort.)

Here’s the thing. It’s easy to get distracted by the wrong numbers. And raw traffic numbers have to be among the most misunderstood of all.

All traffic is not created equal.

Check out what else I’ve noticed. Here’s what has happened to the average pages viewed per session over the same period (now shown weekly for clarity).

In the third week below, average Pages / Session was 1.37. This week, it’s 1.44. That’s a 5 percent increase.

Pages per Visit


Predictably, bounce rate has also decreased from 84.41% in week 3 to 82.77% this week.

bounce rate

What about session length? 54 seconds in week 3. Now up to 61 seconds. That’s up 13 percent.

time on site

 What Does This Mean?

The most important lesson here is, traffic comes in many different types. The value of a visitor to this site may vary widely.

There will be people arriving on this site for searches that are not related to my focus today.

For example, some of my most popular evergreen content is technical CSS and HTML tutorials. But I don’t teach HTML and CSS any more. (In fact, I argue that web designers shouldn’t get their hands dirty with markup and code unless there’s no alternative.)

I have NO offering for people interested in technical web page production these days. I have moved on.

So, if my visitors are now browsing more pages and spending longer on the site than they were a couple of weeks ago, maybe the traffic I’ve lost is the traffic that didn’t like my site so much!

Let’s compare some of my core content to some more “legacy” technical content.

Here’s what has happened to my “CSS Block and Inline” post, which has historically delivered large visitor numbers (up to 500 per day). It actually took a week after Penguin 3 started to roll out, but 50% of the traffic has been wiped out.

css block inline


Similar story with my page that lists HTML tags with their semantic usage (although that one hit on day two).


semantic html tags


Compare my page “10 Best Designed Websites”. No change whatsoever.

10 best designed websites

What this means to me is NOTHING. Zippidy doo-dah!

I may not have lost any of my worthwhile traffic. Those people are now being directed to other sites that may be able to serve them better. And that’s great.

In fact, far from being a punishment from Google, this could actually be a benefit to my site and to my business!

How? Because if it means Google has figured out a way to identify the most relevant search terms for my site, it may even be sending me MORE of the RIGHT kind of visitors. (I don’t have the data to know whether that’s the case today.)

What’s more, we know that usage signals are now ranking factors. It stands to reason. If a lot of people bounce (quickly) off your site, they probably aren’t finding what they want. But if they spend time browsing a few pages, that could be a sign that they like what they’ve found.

Google can tell how quickly users bounce back to the search results pages, and if you run Google Analytics, they know a LOT about how people are using your site.

So… my usability stats are getting better! And that could actually mean I start ranking better on subjects that are more relevant to my brand and my business.

To conclude, there is no reason to panic at all. I’ll trust Google to keep doing what it does best, and I’ll stick to creating the content I love to create. All is well in the world.

Don't panic

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