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I've been watching some strange stats in Google Webmaster Tools for a particular page on our site, which has been getting some periods of very high impressions but little or no clicks, and then just this morning I checked and see a huge spike in our aggregate impressions for the most recent day available, July 18th, with 14,600 impressions and no clicks. I set the date range to just July 18th and I see very obviously the spike is due to impressions for one specific search query (that matches up with the page I've been watching).

See the graphs in the attached images. The spike is so ridiculous, it must be bot impression spam. I suppose this craters our click-through rate, and that might be a motive for the spammer?

Webmaster Tools, overall site stats Webmaster Tools, overall site stats Webmaster Tools, specific search query stats Webmaster Tools, specific search query stats

Questions?

What should/can I do? I attempted to report this to Google from this page https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreport however none of the options fit this situation, and one took me in a circle back to this same page. I ended up just reporting it using the "Paid links" option and filling in "see-details-textfield.com" for the two URLs above the textarea box.

Is Google doing something about this? What can Google do about it? This question is about Impressions showing in Webmaster Tools, but I've already found bot interference with spammed Referral and Direct traffic in Google Analytics with the big jump we're seeing there (only in Direct traffic now that I've added filters for Referred spam). These show nothing strange in Geo-location, but extremely short time-on-site and extremely high bounce rate. So I've read up on that and lots of people are aware. I wonder if Google will do something about that soon. What will they be able to do about spammed impressions for a specific search term?

What does someone gain from spamming impressions for a specific search term? Do they do it to reduce click-through rate of results sites on the first page or two of results so that websites further back benefit? Do they benefit somehow by making Google stats (Webmaster Tools or Analytics) much less useful?

Thanks for any insight!

EDIT
Here's another, more recent graph of the one search query in question over 90 days. enter image description here

EDIT2
Our position on this specific query has massively changed a few days after the two impression spikes. Terrible. New graph below. Our position dropped from 6.x to 50! It had been really steady before that. If this is indeed bot spam, it seems like it has been really successful in gaming the system and killing at least our ranking, probably some others as well. Hopefully it recovers, but some damage was definitely done. enter image description here

  • Good question!! I have seen this too about a week ago- not sure what it is. I just think it is an anomaly in the data somehow. Even with a cr@p l0@d of impressions, no bot can make your total clicks take a dive. I would understand CTR taking a nose dive, but not clicks. This makes me think it is a Google error. – closetnoc Jul 20 '15 at 20:57
  • @closetnoc Yeah I would expect more clicks definitely with a 6.5 average position. I thought that might be a separate problem but it would be great to know that as well. I actually just saw your answer on another post when checking for possible duplicates so glad to see you posted here. Hopefully we (or Google) figure something out. – mikato Jul 20 '15 at 21:06
  • It is odd for sure. Perhaps Google is not even aware of the problem yet. We do have Google checking these pages as well as other influential site(s) personnel and they do make changes as a result. Much of the time however, Google will not comment but quietly fix the problem. – closetnoc Jul 20 '15 at 21:09
  • Yesterday, the impressions were back to normal, but today, I see the impressions for that particular search term spiked again with 13,000 and no clicks. – mikato Jul 22 '15 at 15:01
  • Odd. I have not had that experience yet... ;-) It now really seems like a data anomaly. – closetnoc Jul 22 '15 at 16:47
2

Mystery possibly solved?

Google pushed out Panda 4.2 on July 18 2015, however, prior to that there was a Quality Update (also called Phantom 2) that some say is related to the Panda roll-out. Clues to hits are fluctuations as some call them tremors and spikes.

Here is a quote from: http://www.thesempost.com/google-panda-update-everything-we-know-about-panda-4-2/

We know that Google has run tests on algo changes previously, whether unleashing for a couple of hours, rolling it out on a small set of datacenters or running it on a country specific version of Google to test it before rolling it back. And there is speculation that recent fluctuations that were previously attributed to Quality/Phantom might have actually been a dry run for the Panda release.

Here is a no-Duh(!) quote from: http://searchengineland.com/google-panda-4-2-faqs-we-interviewed-google-on-the-latest-panda-update-227065

The best way to see if you escaped is to watch your analytics, isolate your Google organic traffic and note any large swings. Then check the community to hear if Google confirmed any updates.

If you see a tremor or a spike, it does not necessarily mean a penalty (in my view), but rather a fluctuation in the metrics for your site as Panda does it's thing.

Here is a quote from: http://www.thesempost.com/new-google-panda-algorithm-rolling-ranks-small-medium-sites-higher/

Pierre Far from Google states that many high quality small and medium sized sites are ranking higher after this update, which is good news for smaller sites that tend to struggle against larger sites.

"Based on user (and webmaster!) feedback, we’ve been able to discover a few more signals to help Panda identify low-quality content more precisely. This results in a greater diversity of high-quality small- and medium-sized sites ranking higher, which is nice."

What else to look for?

  • A recent spike in fetches from Google.

One article, too cross-eyed to find it right now, mentions a period of heavier indexing of your site which makes sense given the following.

Here is a quote from: http://searchengineland.com/google-panda-4-2-is-rolling-out-slowly-for-technical-reasons-226664

So, it is not that we are crawling slowly. We are crawling and indexing normal, and we are using that content as well to recognize higher quality and lower quality sites. But we are rolling out this information in a little bit more slower way. Mostly for technical reasons.

Some possible other things I have noticed that may be clues:

  • Fluctuations including longer periods of the About count when doing a site: search.
  • A flushing and re-audit of the pages indexed from your sitemap within Google's Search Console.

Your site seems to have been hit beginning exactly on the first day of Panda 4.2. However, my spike was on July 12th. Sometimes, Google actually rolls out an algorithm change prior to the announcement, however, Google did say that Panda 4.2 began July 18th. I rather suspect that my spike was a result if the so-called Phantom 2 update which began earlier.

For what it is worth, my site stats have been low because of tests I performed which slowly eroded my performance though still gave me good results such as improved CTR (click-through rate) and other metrics. I terminated the test simply because impressions have dropped to a level where the pay-off in CTR could no longer compensate for the lower impressions. Over the following period of time, impressions have improved slowly, CTR returned to acceptable previous levels, and position has been relatively stable. Within the past week, impressions have made a pleasingly sharper increase while the other stats remained as they have with smaller fluctuations day-to-day.

The up-shot of why I tell you this is because while I have seen the same behavior, the over-all effect has been very minimal while my stats have, in-part, improved.

  • Organic search traffic hasn't really been affected (from Analytics), and that's based on people viewing our site anyway, not impressions. The stats in my question above have zero clicks for this query before and after. You posted great info. I have heard that the new Panda update was rolling out. July 18 was the first of the two spikes in impressions. Panda might explain the position drop; massive impressions spikes too? Does Google cause a ton of impressions when they do testing, or teaching? Maybe actual humans were making those 14,000 impressions? I really appreciate the responses! – mikato Aug 7 '15 at 20:44
  • Does Google cause a ton of impressions when they do testing, or teaching? I would say no. However, I too had spikes in accesses though mine are spread out whereas yours was focused. I did forget about that point... got excited putting two and two together and finally getting a single digit number. Part of the Panda roll-out requires indexing so perhaps there was a failure somewhere. It would not surprise me. It is very difficult to run a system of that scale without errors or Oh 5h17(!)s. – closetnoc Aug 7 '15 at 22:22
  • I couldn't find where it said July 18, but did see mid-July. It's too much of a coincidence I guess. – mikato Aug 7 '15 at 22:29
  • @mikato I am a lazy typist... I actually cut and pasted the July 18 from one of the linked pages. ;-) I love cntl-C and cntl-V!! Worum out! – closetnoc Aug 7 '15 at 22:44

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