Answers.com Loses Significant Google Traffic Despite Google Definition Links
Pretty amazing — Answers.com has
press release to warn that its search traffic is down 28 percent due to "a
search engine algorithmic adjustment by Google." It raises lots of issues — how
dependent should you be on search traffic; how the "definitions" links that
Answers.com has from Google don’t seem to generate that much traffic and whether
it is really Answers.com that’s on the outs with Google, rather than a general
Press releases or any type of official guidance from companies warning of
search traffic losses are fairly rare. I just haven’t seen much of them over the
years. To me, the most famous example until now was when FTD
sales were down in 2005 because it failed to pay enough attention to SEO. The
head of marketing was replaced as part of that.
Stepping forward to today, Answers.com assures investors that it’s trying to
address the situation:
"We are working diligently to analyze and address the recent algorithm
change," said Bob Rosenschein, CEO. "We will update investors on the financial
impact of this development during our upcoming Q2 earnings conference call on
August 13." "The major search engines modify their algorithms all the time,"
added Mr. Rosenschein.
Indeed, algorithms do change all the time. That’s why it has never been a
good idea for any business to be so heavily dependent on search traffic, in case
they lose listings driving visitors. Many site owners learned this painful
lesson during the Google "Florida" update of 2003 — but even then, many of them
should have already known better. Answers.com belatedly understanding it needs
to diversify is almost inexcusable.
Belatedly? Sure — because as the release says:
"This change only demonstrates the sound business rationale behind our
agreement to purchase Dictionary.com, because it underscores a primary
motivation for the deal: to secure a steady source of direct traffic and
mitigate our current dependence on search engine algorithms. On a pro forma
basis, we expect at least 70% of our total traffic to come from people
navigating directly to our Web properties or typing the term ‘dictionary’ in a
search engine. We remain optimistic and look forward to completing this
transformative acquisition. As we work to restore normal traffic levels to
Answers.com, we are confident that our efforts will result in a stronger and
more valuable company."
Answers.com shouldn’t have been dependent on search engine traffic this much
back in 1997, much less 2007.
What’s even more amazing is that Answers.com has key positioning on Google
that you think would be sending tons of traffic to it. Back in January 2005,
Google dumped the long-standing relationship it had with Dictionary.com to
provide the "definition" links that often appear when you search on Google. For
example, search for traffic,
and you’ll see this in the blue reverse bar at the upper right-hand side of the
Results 1 – 10 of about 232,000,000 for
Click on the link, and you get to
this definition of traffic on
FYI, neither company ever formally announced the switch. In March 2005, a
deal for Answers.com
to carry AdSense was announced. I believe eventually Google made a statement
that Answers.com was picked as a definition partner because of the quality its
content, not because of AdSense — but I can’t find a reference to that right
now. [NOTE: See postscript below. This was NOT a paid deal].
Anyway, as it turns out, the links doesn’t seem to drive that much traffic.
Go back to that quote — 70 percent of Answers.com traffic comes from people
going to it directly or typing in the word "dictionary." OK, so the remain 30
percent includes the Google direct links, search-related terms, general link
traffic to Answers.com and so on. Those definition links are probably a healthy
chunk of that, but they’re not the monster source you’d think.
Now how about that algorithm shift? Well, there isn’t one going on. I mean, I
checked with Barry Schwartz, who as readers here knows constantly monitors
various search forums for news he covers through
Search Engine Roundtable. If a big
shift is happening, people scream loudly on the forums. No one is screaming.
Instead, it sounds more like Answers.com has been hit in Google. Recall that
in July, Squidoo found it had suffered a loss in traffic (Search
Spam Fight – Mahalo: 1; Squidoo: 0 covers this more). That seemed related to
spam concerns being voiced about Squidoo. So is Answers.com spamming too? Well,
Against Letting Your Search Results Get Indexed from me back in March
covered how Google warned that people should block search results from being
listed in Google, lest the company view those as spam. Answers.com might find
its pages are now being viewed in this way — search results that Google doesn’t
want to list. Or not. I’ll come back to some checking that I’m doing below. But
regardless the exact reason for the change, the traffic loss Answers.com is
having seems more likely related to its own site than to something Google has
done across the board.
In my mind, the biggest problem with Answers.com’s pages is they’ve gotten so
"heavy" over the years. I used to use the definitions feature at Google a lot.
More recently, I’ve found it less convenient as the Answers.com pages have
grown. You don’t just get definitions. You get an entire Wikipedia entry coming
up, a "Best of the Web" section, shopping links (in case you wanted to buy a
traffic signal controller) and more. Geez — I just wanted to know the quick
meaning of the word.
I’m getting some questions out to Answers.com, in particular:
- How much traffic do those definition links send on a percentage basis?
- When’s that deal end?
- What percentage of traffic comes to the site for search terms other than
- What are the top five terms aside from "dictionary" sending Answers.com
traffic from Google?
As for Google, I’ll follow up on if they did anything in particular to
Answers.com plus get some clarification of how Answers.com got to be the
definition link partner. However, Google
did tell MediaPost:
"We’re always working to improve search–making it more relevant, more
comprehensive, and faster," noted a spokesperson. "Many of the changes we make,
including regular updates to our algorithms, are focused on improving the
experience for users."
That’s a non-answer. It doesn’t tell you if there was a big shift now or if
something hit Answers.com in particular, both of which Google knows, if it wants
Finally, I had to chuckle over this
I was once in about Answers.com back in 2005, where some searchers were
wondering if Answers.com posed a threat to Google. Said one:
If Google "demotes" Answers from the definitions spot we will know if the
majors consider them a threat. Lack of relevancy will not serve as an excuse.
If they are dropped it will be because Answers results are so complete the
searcher ends their search without returning to the G SERPs. I would love to
see Googles study on this.
But here lies the conundrum for the majors. Will they work with someone who
can stop a search dead with one page relevancy or turn their backs to such a
My response was:
Well, Google dumped Dictionary.com in favor of Answers.com but never said
why. From my perspective, Answers.com probably provides a better experience. In
both cases, the fact that both carry Google AdSense links — which help Google
earn revenue — also had to be a factor. In short, Answers a threat to Google?
How — if they send you there, you may hit AdSense and make them money. Go there
direct, you may again hit AdSense and make them money. Less money than if you
went to them directly, but they’re still earning.
Over two years later, I guess I still don’t see Answers.com as a
Google-killer that Google wants to wipe out. But certainly it does compete with
Google, the traffic loss is going to make some people question motives anew.
Postscript: I’ve now spoken with Answers.com CEO Bob Rosenschein and
chief strategic officer Bruce Smith, who’ve provided some helpful additional
First, Rosenschein stressed that there’s no "deal" between Google and
Answers.com for the definition links. As I had thought was the case, Google
picked Answers.com because it thought Answers.com was a good resource, not
because the two companies had negotiated any placement. "They just happened to
point to us at the time because we had a lot of rich content in a nice format,"
Next, some clarification of that 70% percent figure. That’s the amount of
traffic that Answers.com expects to get from people directly navigating to both
Answers.com and Dictionary.com, if
the deal for
Answers.com to buy Dictionary.com goes through. The current traffic breakdown is
more like this:
- Answers.com gets about 20-25 percent of its traffic from the Google
- Answers.com gets about 55-60 percent of its traffic from SEO — keyword
driven traffic that it doesn’t have to pay for. Most of this traffic comes
- Answers.com gets about 20 of its traffic from non-search sources.
- Dictionary.com gets about 85 percent of its traffic from people either
typing in the domain name directly (which is generally called direct
navigation) or those searching for its domain name or just the word
"dictionary" on search engines. The "overwhelming majority" of this traffic is
from direct navigation.
Those figures really underscore the importance of Dictionary.com to
Answers.com — in terms of traffic, they’re complementary. Answers.com receives
tons of search traffic; Dictionary.com gets lots of direct navigation — having
them both will be more balanced.
As for the ranking drop, Answers.com stressed that they didn’t feel there was
any intentional act by Google to hurt the site. Instead, they do feel there was
an algorithm change that happened. As for why there aren’t more sites seeing
this, that might be down to it hitting a particular class of sites that
That page features content that is pulled from
here at Who2,
here at Wikipedia and
several other sources, all of which Answers.com has agreements with. Possibly
Google has done a tweak to try and drop sites that it doesn’t consider original
sources more out of the results.
"Maybe they’re saying something like you can list 7 original sources on a
page and 3 duplicates," said Smith, speculating on one of just many
possibilities. "It’s hard to figure out."
The company hopes that when Google reviews results, the algorithm might shift
back in a way that doesn’t hurt Answers.com and perhaps other sites like it so
much. But in the meantime, it was compelled to say something.
"Maybe when they review the results, they’ll think they were overly harsh on
that factor. But because we’re a public company, we had no choice to share what
we thought was a significant downturn," Rosenschein said.
We have had tweaks happen that have impacted only certain classes of sites.
Of Disappearing Sex
Blogs & Google Updates from me in December covers how several well know and
highly regarded sex blogs saw themselves out in the cold at Google.
And the issue of whether Google might view Answers.com’s page as "search
results" that shouldn’t be listed? The company said its material isn’t just a
collection of search result, nor is it simply a Wikipedia clone, given the 200
or so sources it taps into. Referring to that missing Muhammad Ali page, Smith
"You’ll never find a better page."
Answers.com also said that they are reviewing ways to make pages less heavy
for those who simply want a more pure dictionary view.
Postscript 2: Google sent the general public statement:
We’re always working to improve search – making it more relevant, more comprehensive, and faster. Many of the changes we make, including regular updates to our algorithms, are focused on improving the experience for users.
And also said the definition link is not through a paid deal (as Answers.com also confirmed) and that “We have the option of changing the provider whenever we see fit.”