Our never-ending sparring with Google seems to be as problematic as ever. We mentioned on our Facebook page a week or so ago that we had noticed our web traffic at MalleusMaleficarum.org had suddenly plummeted. While none of our users reported any problems, you don’t just suddenly lose hundreds of daily visits without a reason. And since, to the best of our knowledge, we hadn’t done anything to particularly offend anyone (no more than usual, anyway), that left only one possibility – Google had throttled our web site.
These kinds of things are annoying. Firstly, Google has a virtual monopoly on the web search business. Sure, there are other alternatives. Some folk swear by Bing. Yahoo! is still out there. But for the moment, the only real game in town is Google. So if your web traffic suddenly dies, you can pretty much bet you’ve done something to annoy Google.
The thing is… Google won’t really tell you what that is.
There are a number of ways you can get into trouble with Google. The easiest way is to post too much duplicate content from other web sites. We don’t really do that here, but we do occasionally post excerpts from news stories about witch hunts or witchcraft with links to the original pages. Given that we don’t post a lot of original articles (we’re an archive site for a historical text, not a social networking site), it could perhaps appear to Google’s meat-headed bots and algorithms that we’re some kind of spam site.
Of course, we’ll never really know. Google’s not talking. Our statistics at Google Webmaster show clean. And when you search for the Malleus Maleficarum, we are still the second link like we have always been. But when Google throttles your web site, it’s the subsequent searches that don’t show up.
For example, one popular search is for the phrase “hardly clear of the ground”, which people remember because it refers to a suspected witch being suspended in mid-air by her thumbs. It is directly from the Malleus Maleficarum. And yet if you search for that phrase on Google, our web site doesn’t show up until the end of the second page of results. Even when you search for that phrase accompanied by the word “Malleus”, we are still far down the bottom of the second page.
So, you may ask?
What that means is that we’re being throttled by Google for some reason known only to them. The organic searches which should be bringing up many results from text queries and other Malleus related searches are simply not returning results. We’re not being seen. Who really makes it as far as the bottom of the second page of search results?
In the end, there’s not a whole hell of a lot we can do about it. We’ll do what we’ve always done and keep our web site free of malware, and hope that one day Google will let us back in the game. We’ve also start playing footsies more directly with Bing. So we’ll see. In the meantime, if you’ve had trouble finding parts of the web site through Google searches, now you know why.