According to Alexa, a lot of the sites I checked that were negatively impacted by Panda and Penguin had very high Alexa Regional Rankings in non English speaking countries. This raises a red flag for me that there might be something fishy happening. You know, cause these sites are written in English and all.
It made me wonder if the recent Panda and Penguin (and even earlier) changes to Google's Search Ranking algorithms might only be effecting English speaking or maybe first-world countries in general. Or maybe there was something else entirely different going on?
I don't have a lot of answers but I sure do have some serious questions after looking at this data. More sites are listed at the end of this article but here's an example of what I saw for Mahalo.com
Here's a look at the same data for CNN.com. This looks a little more like what I'd expect to see
Understanding Alexa Regional RankSo there's no confusion, here's a quick summary explaining what Alexa Rank means.
Alexa Rank is a number Alexa.com assigns to a website based on it's estimation of traffic to that site. The site which gets the most traffic is ranked 1, the site with the second most traffic has an Alexa Rank of 2, etc.
Alexa's Regional Rank works the same way except they break down the traffic based on the visitor's location. The website that people residing in The Philippines visit the most will have an Alexa Regional Rank of 1 for The Philippines.
It is not an indication of the proportion of traffic across countries. For example: If a site has a better (lower) Regional Traffic Rank for Monaco than it does for Canada, it doesn't mean that more people from Monaco visit the site than Canadians do. It just means compared to all the sites visited by people in Monaco it is more popular while compared to all the sites visited by people in Canada, it is relatively less popular. Since Canada has a much larger population than Monaco, more Canadians probably visit the site even thought it's less popular.
Some Plausible Explanations
Here are some valid reasons this could be the case, but it sure looks awfully consistent to me.
- Google may test changes in certain markets or find certain algorithms serve certain markets better than others
- It takes a long time for changes to be rolled out across the entire network of Google servers.
- Tastes vary by country
- There are fewer computers per capita in less developed countries and people with computers may be more likely to speak English?
Is This A Sign Of Who Writes The Content?
Could it be something fairly benign like that's the country where the people who write for the site are in? Since Alexa doesn't know what exactly you're doing on the site you would be tracked if you did a search and read a page just like you would if you were someone contributing content to the site.
That's somewhat reasonable except that you would expect a site, especially a popular one, to have considerably more traffic from readers than writers.
Is This An SEO Trick?
This was my first thought. Google loves to record data. They use that data to help make their products better.
When you do a search on Google.com and click on a subsequent link in the search result pages, that click is recorded. Over the years they changed how they used to track the click.
I'm not privy to any of Google's secrets regarding search but I would think they might do things like if a lot of users click a link in the SERPs, two seconds later come back and click another link and then never return to the SERP, then that second link might wind up ranking higher than the first over time.
What does this have to do with the visitors' country? Google has some pretty smart people working for them and they can probably block a large percentage of the automated clickbots that might be engaging in this behavior. Using real life people can be more believable in the eyes of Google's automated tools.
Hiring people to perform searches is only feasible in less developed countries where labor rates are very low. That's why if you're ever stupid (err maybe smart?) enough to sign up with one of those companies that offer you a ton of traffic cheap you'll see that these types of countries are where your traffic is coming from (or so I'm led to believe). Whenever I've seen references to Paid to search it's been aimed at people from these types of countries.
Is This About Advertiser Fraud?
Some advertisers pay by impression, some others like AdSense pay per click For the same reasons as above, where people in some countries are more likely to be paid to search, they could also be paid to click. In fact it kind of goes hand in hand.
What Do You Think Is Going On?
I grabbed screenshots of Alexa data for various sites that just happened to be on my mind. I'm not claiming all of these are doing something shady, in fact I include sites that I consider to be on the up and up. The are listed in alphabetical order.
After you view the data leave a comment telling me what you think is going on here.