This was originally published Aug 13, and then retracted on Aug 15 when it started getting too much of the wrong kind attention. The dust has settled and so I’m re-posting it with a few edits. There is a plea for help at the end, which still stands.
On May 5, major misfortune struck PainScience.com for the third time in a decade for the same irritating reason: Google.
•shakes fist at sky•
I lost about 50% of my organic search traffic, an effectively random consequence of a Google algorithm update. That would hit my bottom line hard at the best of times. But this is not — you may have noticed — the best of times.
Never, ever tempt fate
I had been cruising along fairly nicely in the early stages of the pandemic, business more or less normal despite everything: not fantastic, but fine, much to my relief. I was celebrating what appeared to be at least partial immunity.
The day before everything went to hell, I boasted to an old friend about how the business was weathering the storm fairly well. But I boasted softly because, if there’s a superstitious bone in my body, it’s the one about “tempting fate.” I guess I didn’t boast softly enough, because the disaster was already underway, and I simply didn’t know it yet.
An hour later my hair was standing on end as I looked at the day’s traffic indicators.
The damage in detail
To be clear, this was definitely not a consequence of the pandemic. The damage was effectively instant and severe, completely “artificial,” perfectly correlated with a publicly announced update to how Google ranks websites, what they call a “core algorithm update.”
That update trashed my organic search rank overnight. I lost about 40% that first day, and another 5% the next day, and there’s have been many small erratic losses ever since: nothing big, 1% here, 2% there, but only ever down, down, down, and they add up. Currently the site is about 60% less busy than it was pre-crash.
The damage varies from page to page, though. A few have lost “only” about 30%. The worst? A whopping 80% … and that includes two of my book “teasers,” so sales for those titles have just tanked.
Not my first SEO rodeo
This is the third major incident like this since PainScience.com first acquired substantial traffic about 10-12 years ago. I was also slammed by Google’s “Panda” update in 2011, and again by an rare and bizarre ranking disaster with the move from SaveYourself.ca to PainScience.com in 2015. Those incidents seriously hurt my revenue. They were huge blows.
Panda recovery kicked in after about 14 months and the ordeal was completely in the rear view mirror by 18 months.
But the domain change disaster… I never truly recovered from that one.
And now this!
I am well aware that Google owes me nothing, and it’s dangerous to rely on their technology for my livelihood. My lack of income diversification is my own fault. But I can also be exasperated with Google’s capricious, janky black box, and I hoo boy am I ever.
I am fed up with being “collateral damage,” and being outranked by garbage content that looks like it was written by high school dropouts.example But “content is king,” amiright? 🙄 No, I’m not bitter at all, why do you ask?
The following is a genuine, fresh example of the kind of “high-quality content” that outranks PainScience.com for some Google searches, from a major direct competitor of mine:
These are other possible therapies written in literature. Note: not all of theme have strong scientifical evidence. A lot of the researches are not placebo-controlled and immediate effects after treatment may occur due to placebo-effects:
And I am exhausted with how impossible it is to troubleshoot these problems. There’s really very little any webmaster can do about this stuff. As long as you have taken care of a list of basics, you’re just at the mercy of processes so complex that even Google engineers literally cannot explain the fate of any given website.
So now what?
I’m aggressively reprioritizing and focusing on the work that will most directly help the bottom line. To some extent, that just means doubling down on content: ultimately, more and better content is the only way to compete. But it also means a bunch of experimenting with all kinds of ways of both increasing my audience and selling more books to the audience I have. A very great deal of work of my least-favourite sort.
But this is an existential threat, no doubt about it. PainScience.com is still viable. It still pays the rent, for now. But there’s no wiggle room left, no thriving, and no security.
At the worst, PainSci will probably become a back burner project while I scramble to secure a new revenue stream — an ignominious fate for this business, which used to look like it might be a nifty success story.
At best, PainSci it will be merely “de-emphasized,” but still a major on-going part of my career.
Help help, I need some help here!
When my nephew was about four, he lost a beach ball in rough ocean waves. He hollered from the edge, “Help help, I need some help here!” It was adorable, and my wife and I have been using it ever since.
What I need more than anything is high-quality, earnest links from highly ranked domains. Not many people can deliver that, but if you’re one of them, and you read this, and you want to help… please get in touch with me.
The next best thing is good quality links from less “powerful” websites and blogs. Unless you are absolutely clear on what a “good quality link” consists of, please review and/or just check in with me. A good understanding of that is mutually beneficial, very everyone-wins.
And then there’s social media shares, of course — valuable in aggregate. Please tell people about PainSci content you like.