A Tale of a Tornado…and a Penguin

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This is yet another one of my posts that will start out with something that seems totally unrelated to the topics I normally talk about.  But, if you hang in there with me you will (hopefully) see my connection and why I choose to tell this story.

Once upon a time, way back in 1994, I lived with my (then) husband and my 2 small children in the little town of Grayson, Georgia.  One night on June 27, 1994 there were storms in the area.  Weather alerts warning of tornadoes were all over the local news and radio stations.  We stayed up that night until all the stations took all the warnings and watches away and told us it was safe – the bad weather was gone and no longer a threat.

Then, about 3:30 am, as I was half asleep in my bed, I opened my eyes because things just felt weird.  I looked out the window and saw that it was oddly calm out, the night sky had a really odd greenish tint to it, and lightning was popping quietly as if there were hundreds of photographers outside my window flashing pictures.

Now, let me give a bit of a disclaimer here – I am originally from the Atlantic City, New Jersey area – we didn’t DO tornadoes and I hadn’t had any experience with them in the 10 years I had lived in the South at that time either.  I didn’t think “tornado coming” as I was lying there….. until the wind picked up and made a sound I will never forget.  They say it sounds like a train, but to me, it sounded like a 747 just landed outside my house.

Whatever was happening was not right – that much I did know – and instinct jumped me up and out the room to the other side of the house to where my kid’s bedrooms were with their dad running behind me.  We each grabbed a kid and ran straight back to the master bedroom closet (previously deemed ‘safest place in the house’) and there I sat with my son (then 6) and my daughter (then 2) huddled in my lap as I did the best I could to wrap myself around them to protect them from whatever it was that was happening.

Then, the roof disappeared over our heads and it started raining on us in the closet.  We had a huge gable/attic area over that part of the house (operative word: had) so for rain to come in, something major just happened.

And just like that, it was over.

We opened the closet door and looked up – we could see the entire sky above us where the ceiling and roof used to be.

Being that it was still the middle of the night and there was no electricity anywhere, we couldn’t see anything.  Our only thoughts were to get out of there….get in the car and drive away.  But , we couldn’t…. a tree was on the car and the one road into our little neighborhood was blocked.

No one could get out from that street…and no one could get IN either.

We were stuck until daybreak at least when we could at least SEE what was going on and emergency folks could get back to us.  In the meantime, our neighbors house was basically untouched (weird how that happens, isn’t it?) so the kids stayed there in their basement while we did the best we could to check on other neighbors and make sure everyone was accounted for (thankfully, everyone was and no one was hurt at all in our neighborhood, which, as you will see, is a miracle).

Then, daylight came…and we all wandered out to see.

This is what it looked like from my front yard looking down my street.


Notice the red arrow in the picture above.  That is pointing to one of those solid steel poles that are cemented in to the ground to hold up a basketball goal.  It is snapped in half.

Notice the orange arrow….Yes, that ENTIRE house is sitting in the street!

Look at the red arrow in the picture below… That is their Jeep that is still sitting in the driveway of their house…well, where their house USED to be.

View from my front yard after tornado

What’s amazing is that the dad and one of their teenage sons were home IN that house when the tornado hit.  They were in a downstairs half-bath holding on for dear life to the pedestal of the sink as the whole entire house was picked up and moved.  It is a miracle that they weren’t hurt!

Can you even imagine what it would be like to be in a house that was flying through the air?!?!

One of our neighbors had a small private plane and a few days later he went up and took some pictures of our little neighborhood.

This is what the birds-eye view looked like:

What’s so crazy is that the houses on the left-side of mine in that picture are all fine….but to the right, total disaster.  If you see a blue tarp, that means there was still something left to protect.  The driveways that don’t have blue tarps….or a house – well, total destruction there.

It was all surreal.  Even though you were seeing this destruction with your own eyes right in front of you, it’s like your brain refused to believe it was REAL.

But it was real…. very, very real.


So, why am I bringing this up today?

I’m not doing this to take a trip down memory lane (tho I did have a nice trip as I was rummaging through all my old pictures for the ones I’ve shared.  We all remember pictures, right?  You know, you put film in a camera, take the pictures, and then go have the film developed.  My how times have changed!)

I’m telling you this story because as I look through the current state of Google’s search results, ALL I can think is, “Man, it’s like a tornado came through here!!!!”

The destruction makes no sense…. sites left untouched that perhaps aren’t a great result.  Sites totally demolished….it’s messy – really, really messy.

Now, please understand that I am not saying that a life-threatening tornado has ANY comparison to whatever the heck Google is up to at any given moment, ok?  I’m just telling you how it feels to me as I realize I’ve felt this way before.

A tornado has come through….. and left massive destruction in its wake.

Let me show you some of this destruction, ok?

I’ve mentioned many times before that I follow query spaces.  In other words, I pick a keyword and then take the Top 20 or so web pages that are ranking in Google and put them into my (oh so awesome) rank tracking tool.

It might be a keyword I am invested in, or, as in many cases, a keyword space I have NO investment in.  Only watching your own stuff doesn’t teach you or show you anything.

Then, I watch.  If Google does something, I can usually tell before the news hits because I can SEE it.  I may not know exactly what happened, but I know something happened.

Most importantly, like the photo above from the plane, I can get a birds-eye view of things…. I can see the big picture and you can not get that if all you watch is your own rankings.

So, let’s take a look at what I’ve been seeing.

This next image is me keeping an eye on the Top 20 or so ranking urls in Google for the keyword discount auto insurance.  I have made it so you can’t see the various urls in the left column (because I don’t want to do all that – outing people or exposing their business is not my intent nor is it my style), but you can see their current ranking in Google by looking down the column with the little Google-looking icon at the top.  If you see a “0”, that means they can’t be found in the Top 300 results.

In other words, a ‘0’ ranking means they have been blown away.

At the end of February, ALL of these urls ranked 20 or better in Google….. now, only 4 still rank in the Top 20.


Here’s another one for the keyword fat loss 4 idiots (strong affiliate space so I chose that one to keep an eye on as well since people think Google hates affiliate sites).

At the end of February 2012 , ALL of these urls also ranked in the Top 20 for the keyword fat loss 4 idiots – now, only 5 remain.

And then there’s the infamous make money online query space…..  At the end of February 2012, ALL of these urls ranked in the Top 20 of Google for make money online (yes, there are 21 urls because I added in that empty blogspot blog I talked about in this post that finally got removed from the top-ranking sites).


Only 8 remain now…the others have been blown away.

Now, this destruction I am showing is not just from Google’s Penguin update… this is results of LOTS of things that have been going on like Google’s Panda updates and the blog networks getting nailed, etc etc.

But all of this happened in what…. 2 1/2 months?!?!?  In like 10 weeks time, the SERPs are all WHACKED and look totally different.  Ok, they look WORSE…. much, much worse.

Now, my examples up there are just THREE of millions….trillions…of possible query spaces.  I’m not proving anything here… I am simply giving you a birds-eye view of what is happening.

After Penguin hit, I had to start tracking these query spaces all over again since there are virtually all new players ranking now.  It’s nuts!

Oh, and here’s a Fun Fact… there is a site/url now ranking for make money online (not in the Top 10 anymore…but back a page or 2).  That site has P0RN on it!  Yes, seriously!  The site loads with a nice banner of a “Golden Years” couple on it…but when you scroll down…. wow.  It’s EXACTLY the type of ‘make money online’ stuff this article should have brought to light.

Regardless of all that, when I track spaces like I do, I get to SEE which sites did NOT get hit when there was destruction all around them.

Why did a few urls still rank and come through the storm when others were being blown away?

Is it because they were big brands?  Some, yes…but not all.  In fact, I’ve seen a few brands get nailed.  Being a popular brand name is not going to protect you.

What’s odd is that while I can SEE what they might have been caught doing, I can also see other sites in that same query space doing the same thing and NOT getting dinged in their ranking.

Sites in query spaces that have absolutely been affected (like the 3 examples I’ve shown above) have very little that even kind of stands out between those hit and those not hit.

The sites that have survived (so far) are not all “squeaky clean” or “awesome content” or “big brands” or “AdWords advertisers”….they also do NOT have an “un-optimized” back link profile.

The sites that have surprisingly popped UP in the rankings to fill the spaces of those blown away don’t all have all those awesome qualities either.

By the way, I use this amazing tool to check back link profiles, anchor text, and what other sites rank for.  If you’re serious about all this, you get a tool like this – all there is to it.

I can find “bad” in sites that are still doing well…and I can find “bad” in sites that got hit.  I can see anchor text manipulation in both as well.

Thing is, there have been so many Google storms coming through in the last few months, that I’ve had to sit and see which site looks like it got it hit by which Google storm… and then take it from there.

That part is exhausting….and not very rewarding at all.  Just like how the tornado hit, it all just doesn’t make sense with these Google storms.

But what HAS been awesome is looking at the urls that still rank well – that have survived ALL the storms Google has thrown at us lately.  That has been eye-opening.

Even tho I broke up with Google, I still can’t resist being a storm chaser…lol!

So, what have I figured out?

I’ve learned that *I* learn more by looking closely at the sites/urls that have survived all this as opposed to trying to identify why the other sites/urls got blown away.

I’m sorry, but give me virtually any url and I can find some reason that they might have been hit by Panda or Penguin or whatever the critter of the week is.  For me, it’s easier and more rewarding to look at the sites that did NOT get hit when they were absolutely in the eye of the storm.

I know most everyone else is telling you what sites/urls got hit have in common, but that doesn’t help me.

Also, like most everyone else, I haven’t figured anything out for sure.  If someone claims they KNOW what Penguin is hitting (or not hitting) or claims they know how to “fix it”, well, at this moment, they don’t.  One of the best posts covering that “no one knows for sure” topic is from Ryan Jones and you can read it here.

Bottom line is this –

No one knows ANYTHING until the Penguin Filter is run again and we get to SEE which urls are “released”, who gets hit this round, etc etc.  And with so MANY storms blowing from Google, it can be pretty tough to know WHICH storm hit you…or even which stormS hit you.

It’s all a guessing game right now, please don’t let anyone tell you otherwise (or SELL you otherwise).  I know what’s out there… I know what’s going on – Do NOT fall for it. Please.

Like with Panda, the more times Penguin is run, the more we learn.  One more run of Penguin will certainly help, but with each future run after that, we learn more and more.

I am on to a strong hunch that is backed by trends I see – and I absolutely do plan on exploring it and putting it to test.  But I won’t know anything either until Penguin comes pecking again…and all we can do is wait for the Google folks to push the Penguin Button (and hopefully tell us they did).

What I Don’t Think It Is

I don’t believe it is purely back link anchor text manipulation…. Sorry, I just don’t.  If that was true, based on what *I* see, it wouldn’t be hit or miss like it is in the query spaces I watch (like the 3 I shared above).  Yes, I am testing that tho because I do realize you can get ‘slapped’ for being too “top-heavy” with your back link anchor text, but usually a simple round of dilution can clear that up.

And as I said above, I don’t think it is Big Brand favoritism either…tho at this moment with Google, the Big Brands are a safer choice to rank well.  General consumers know and trust the Big Brands so that, in turn, should help them trust Google.  Also, the really Big Brands just might actually have the resources to sue the pants off of Google, so there’s that too <grin>.

I also don’t think it is as much on-page stuff as is led to believe… I’ve seen PLENTY of “junk” ranking well now AND surviving the storms so far.

I also don’t think it’s to do with social signals either.

Sure, some of the hit urls might have had hidden links, or keyword stuffing, or duplicate content issues, or any of the things against Google’s Quality Guidelines…but they don’t ALL have that.

And I really, REALLY don’t think it’s the whole “create awesome content and let the links come naturally” that is allowing these urls to survive the storms.

For me, my hunch goes something like this….

You are either the one people are talking to and talking about, or ___________________.

And it’s the part that fills in that blank that is my hunch.  That is the part of a backlink profile that I think it causing issues.  Sorry if it doesn’t make sense – I’ll talk more about it if/when I think there really is something to share.

Yep, I could be totally off my rocker with this one even though Duane Forrester from Bing says I’m not a total “nutter” (thanks, Duane!).

Regardless of whether I am a “nutter” or not… I’ll talk about my hunch another time.

Here’s what I DO want to talk about…

The After-Effects…and the Opportunities.

Things are nuts right now.  Webmasters and SEOs are scrambling to get links removed.  What’s worse is that they are threatening action if a webmaster linking TO them does not comply.


(sorry, but that’s really how I feel about it)

So now we are going to have to worry about some sort of legal action if we link to other sources on the internet?  Really?  If I like your site and put you on my blogroll – meaning you get a site-wide link from me (ie, from every page on my site) – I’m gonna have to worry if you’re gonna take legal action against me?


I’ll tell you what…. If you decide you like my site and want to add PotPieGirl.com to YOUR blogroll so you can share my site with your readers, I’ll have nothing to say but THANK YOU!  I could care less what GOOGLE thinks about it! I don’t care if it’s a follow or no-follow link – just THANK YOU!

It’s a compliment, isn’t it?  I sure think so!

The more and more I watched as people talked about and went into a frenzy to get links removed and file reconsideration requests in HOPE that Google will forgive them for either placing those links on their own or :::gasp!:::: someone voluntarily linking to them, the more worried I became.

This is NUTS!

The internet is connected by links…without links, how would we find things??  (and yes, that means I see Google as one really HUGE link directory).  What happens if/when people get scared to link?  Then what???

Ironically, just as all those thoughts are running through my head, Chris Crum over at WebProNews came out with an article that is totally worth a read….and worth some thought.

Read:  What If The Google Penguin Update Inadvertently Killed The Web As We Know It?

Let that settle in and then think about what is happening right now…. kinda scary.

Fact is, you can NOT help how others link to you.  Ya just can’t.

True story…

I wrote a post that talks about Google and their Quality Raters (I had found a copy of their guidelines).  Barry Schwartz then wrote a post over at Search Engine Land and linked to MY post as a source.

Awesome, right?  You bet it is!

But let me tell you, from my own first-hand experience, what happened next.

That post at SearchEngineLand.com got scraped in ways that would make your toes curl as well as many other industry sites and SEO bloggers etc linking to Barry’s post AND my post.  And then there’s the sites that uh, “syndicated” that content all over the web.

Links, links, links coming from every direction.

To me, that was all fine and dandy… pretty darn cool, even.

But what if suddenly Google decided that those links were BAD and put some sort of penalty on MY site for it?

Do you think for a minute that I would run around and try and get them removed?  That I’d threaten other webmasters over it?  No way.

I don’t care what Google thinks… those links have just made my site more connected to the rest of the web.  If Google decides it’s not cool, so be it.  I did what they said – “create great content and people will link to it”.

That IS what they say, right?  But they don’t tell you what happens next after some really good sites do, in fact, link to you.

You get scraped, copied, syndicated, spammed, and so on and so on.  Those really good sites that linked to the original article and your post also get scraped, copied, syndicated, and spammed as well.

It doesn’t make sense that ANY of that can be held against you.  Like it or not, it’s how the internet works.

Sure, you might get caught actively BUYING links and some news article might force Google to take action upon you. But all in all, the nature of the web is LINKS and we can’t help how those links are worded. or where they are placed.

And those links that are all over the internet because YOU put them there because they USED to help you rank better…. do you think you’re ranking worse now because you got caught placing those links….. or because those links don’t give any ranking power anymore?

Think about it.  Seriously, THINK ABOUT IT.

I know Matt Cutts and the folks at Google want to make this all a “level playing field“, but that is SO unrealistic.

As long as Google massively controls the majority of traffic coming through the ‘front door’ of the internet, and as long as there are only 10(-ish) places on that coveted first page of a search result in Google, there will never EVER be anything level and fair about it.

You can be as compelling and awesome as you possibly can be, but if you don’t get out there and fight the good fight to get found and build your reputation, you’ll be blown away – just like the contents of my attic from that tornado.

I am really tired of reading all this “advice” as if we are ALL these big companies with conversion specialists and SEO teams and social managers and PR people.

So many of us hit by these Google Storms are one-man/one-woman shows that are working their way through the trenches….or are small one-man/one-woman small local business owners that don’t have the time or the resources to have a team work on their online presence all the time – and Google is wiping these folks out.  Heck, even the Wall Street Journal is talking about it!

Yes – I will admit that when you are working your way through the trenches doing everything you can figure out to get found online, what you do today that works may very well bite you in the butt tomorrow.

Hasn’t it ALWAYS been that way?

Totally depressed yet?  It DOES feel depressing when it all seems so gloomy.  When you look from your front yard and see all the destruction the tornado left behind it’s hard to NOT feel as if all hope is lost, isn’t it?

Where IS the hope now?

Here’s a thought…

Enter: The Opportunities

Ladies and gentlemen, right now there is a big, fat, glaringly obvious, major void in the Google search results.

Just for giggles, let’s call that void “quality results”.

Google is wiping out query spaces of the urls that USED to be the best answer, and still MIGHT be the best answer, but Google won’t rank them that way now…and possibly never again.

From my viewpoint, Google is STARVING for good, quality results to now rank well…. urls that have not manipulated their way to the top.

Their search results really bite right now so here’s an idea…

Next time you search for something and find a large chunk of junk on Page 1, why not PUT something GOOD there?

If you USED to rank well there AND made money from that ranking, what the heck are you waiting on?  Waiting for someone else to do it?  Waiting for Google to forgive you and give your ranking back? (please tell me you’re not holding your breath).  Waiting on someone to give you The Answer?

We are one-man/one-woman shows…we are flexible… we can turn on a dime.  We don’t have to answer to a team or a board or stockholders – or a boss.  If we get a wild hair to do something or try something, we can just go DO IT.

So why not GO DO IT?

If you don’t want to, or really can’t, fork out the $10 or so for a nice clean domain name – go grab a free web page and at least TRY.

No one ever said you are only allowed ONE chance with ONE domain or url to rank well.  We work in the trenches so get out there and fight for it – don’t just sit there and watch as it all blows away hoping it might come back.

In the wake of all this destruction, there is opportunity out there for those who choose to seize the moment.

If you got nailed by these Google Storms lately, you might have a tarp on your site for now….or it could be total destruction.  No one knows that for sure right now.  But you don’t need anyone’s permission to keep moving forward.

Thanks for putting up with my long-winded post (pun intended).

Comments are open!



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