As many of you know, DaniWeb was hit by a Google algorithm update back in November 2012 and we lost about 50% of our search traffic. In investigating the issue, I discovered that DaniWeb, in addition to most other programming forums out there, all lost their google traffic to StackOverflow.
For those who don't know, StackOverflow is a Q&A-based wiki-forum hybrid that was born a few years ago and subsequently received a lot of venture capital. Hands down, it deserves really high listings in Google results: it is fast-loading, lots of people link to it, it has almost exclusively high quality content, and their unique Q&A platform ensures that the best answers are always shown immediately below the question, optimized for those Google searches where you just need to find a quick answer without having to wade through discussions. All in all, no complaints. It deserves to rank high in many cases.
However, back on November 20th 2012, DaniWeb, and many other programming forums, all lost 50% or more of our traffic literally overnight. We were happily receiving about 300,000 pageviews per day for quite some time until we received 330,000 pageviews on Monday, November 19th. We then instantly took a hit down to 230,000 the next day. By Friday the 23rd, we were at 182,000 pageviews. It's been slowly going downhill ever since, and today we're down to averaging a mere 130,000 pageviews daily. I have heard very similar stories from many other programming forums. For example, the programming forum DreamInCode was hit at the exact same time as us by a similar percentage of traffic, as told by their Quantcast report.
Here's a graph of our organic traffic that shows the sudden decrease and subsequent decline:
What makes this story interesting is that at the exact same moment as every other programming community on the web lost their traffic, StackOverflow increased its own traffic proportionally. Within the month, at least according to Quantcast, they went from averaging 2 million uniques per day in October 2012 to 2.7 million in January 2013 and 3.2 million in March 2013.
It gets even more interesting, however, when you compare the traffic decrease that we received from Google organic SERPS to the traffic increase that we received from referrals from StackOverflow! The following graph shows that at the exact same time as traffic from Google to DaniWeb decreased, traffic from StackOverflow to DaniWeb increased by proportional percentages. In other words, we lost half of our traffic from Google, but we doubled the amount of traffic we were receiving from StackOverflow at the exact same time, practically down to the day.
Upon close investigation, it seems that Google is replacing StackOverflow with DaniWeb for most of what we used to rank for. However, it's actually DaniWeb that has the better answers in certain circumstances, and so StackOverflow is actually linking to DaniWeb. What this means is that instead of just linking to the answer on DaniWeb, Google is now linking to StackOverflow who is linking to the answer on DaniWeb. How is this good for Google end-users exactly??
Here are some specific examples:
- Example 1: A blatant link to DaniWeb that directly answers the specific question posed on StackOverflow is the most voted-up answer of all the answers provided. A Google search for the question has StackOverflow in three of the top results, and yet none of the three results even have a direct answer to the question. In fact, the second result was a closed and down-voted question with no answers at all. In Google's defense, DaniWeb did make it to the SERPS here as well, but it's clearly in StackOverflow's favor.
- Example 2: Just like in the previous example, the most upvoted answer is a link to where the question was answered on DaniWeb. A Google search gives the StackOverflow page that points to DaniWeb for the answer #1 in the SERPS while that exact DaniWeb page containing the answer directly is #9 in the SERPS.
- Example 3: This example couldn't be any more cut and dry. DaniWeb is linked to in the most upvoted answer provided, and a Google search gives StackOverflow the top three SERPS results (with the #1 result being a link to find the answer on DaniWeb!) with DaniWeb itself no where to be found in the SERPS.
- Example 4 is just a blatant link to DaniWeb for the answer with DaniWeb no where to be found in StackOverflow-ruled Google SERPS
- Example 5 is just a blatant link to DaniWeb for the answer with DaniWeb no where to be found in StackOverflow-ruled Google SERPS
And that's just the very tip of the iceberg.
C'mon Google, really? If I were into conspiracy theories, I might just think that because so many Google employees use StackOverflow themselves, they've tipped the algorithm to work in StackOverflow's favor in nearly all circumstances.
Want proof? DaniWeb used to host one of the most active C++ communities on the web, bar none. Today, most of our top members are seasoned C++ professionals and even published authors. If I do a simple google search just for the broad keyword "C++" and filter the results to only include Discussions, StackOverflow owns nine out of the ten results on the page! They own the top five results for the broad keyword php and the same for java.
Don't get me wrong, StackOverflow is a great site and deserves to rank well. But they don't deserve to be the only site that deserves to rank well. Not everyone in this world is a StackOverflow junkie, and a single domain serving nine out of ten of the SERPS results is more than a tad biased IMHO.
On a slightly unrelated note, it was brought to my attention at some point in history that people felt like StackOverflow has a higher caliber audience than DaniWeb does, which is the reason it ranks so much better. Judge for yourself: DaniWeb's demographics vs StackOverflow's demographics
Google has created a monopoly here, and on top of StackOverflow receiving millions in venture capital, every other programming community is being slowly squeezed out of existence. StackOverflow deserves to rank, but so do so many other programming communities on the web. There's solid proof here that Google is pushing quality forum pages out of the SERPs in favor of StackOverflow pages that do little more than link to the pages they've replaced.