Do you remember when Panda took a large bite out of Ezine Articles (EZA)? When Google introduced the Panda update in 2011, EZA lost a whopping 93% of their search visibility. Losing that much exposure is devastating, and EZA’s been tumbling ever since. Take a look at their traffic since 2012.
It’s recovered a bit recently, but don’t call it a comeback. Do you see EZA organically rank in the search engine results pages (SERP) these days? It’s pretty rare. Here are some facts behind the decline of EZA. Alongside the history lesson, every point has a key takeaway you can apply to your digital marketing strategy.
Article Spinning Was Common on EZA
For those of you who don’t know, spinning articles involves three steps.
- Find a good article within your niche.
- Replace large parts of the article with synonyms. This is typically done via software, but it’s occasionally done manually too.
- Try to rank for keywords the original doesn’t.
Article spinning produces low quality writing. Yet, it’s fast and cheap. For many marketers, the point of EZA was to drive traffic back to their own website. That’s why marketers would upload low quality articles on EZA they would never put on their own site. Look at this quote from Niche Pursuits.
I would NEVER advise using a spun article on your own site. A spun article usually is not as well written as an original. I personally only use spun articles to get links back to my own site.
As you might imagine, users uploaded a bunch of drivel on EZA, and Google took notice.
Lesson: Article spinning doesn’t work, and it may get you a Google penalty. Focus on providing value for your users instead.
Writers Used EZA for DoFollow Links
DoFollow links give SEO link juice, boosting up the authority of the website that receives them. NoFollow links don’t give any link juice. Most sites offer No Follow links when in doubt, because Google punishes sites that post contrived DoFollow links. EZA offered DoFollow links in their resource box and their reputation took a hit. This blog post on their website says it all.
“In the past, we allowed Members to place up to 1-2 links in their Resource Box and these did not include the NOFOLLOW attribute. This meant they instructed the search engines to infer that these links should bleed value from our site, brand and reputation.”
For EZA, it was a catch 22. They’re an article directory, and they don’t pay writers. One of the main ways EZA lured writers was to offer DoFollow Links. Once they replaced the DoFollow links with NoFollow links, lots of users stopped posting. There was no reason to anymore.
Lesson: Don’t abuse DoFollow Links
Google is Getting Smarter
There are millions of websites on the internet, and it’s a seemingly impossible task to check their quality. The thing is, Google is getting better at it. Websites like Moz say that’s bad news for article directories.
“Google is just getting so much smarter about content analysis, and they’re able to determine what matters in a block of text and what actual people like. They use user and usage data to do this now. Trying to game that system with low quality junk is not going to get you very far.”
Not only is Google’s algorithm getting better, Google is beefing up their human touch too. Google hires scores of real people to work remotely as Search Engine Evaluators to improve the SERP’s. They also have thousands of people working in their office in Mountain View, California. It’s getting tougher every year for websites that deliver low quality articles.
Lesson: Content is King.
EZA and Website Penalties
Penalty. It’s the one word that makes webmasters shudder. Google knows that EZA was the source of thousands of contrived backlinks. As a result, they started giving manual penalties to websites with backlinks from EZA. Take a look at this email between an internet marketer from the Warrior Forum and a Google employee.
Google is secretive about their algorithm and how they rank websites. Still, a Google employee named John Mu points out that EZA contributed to this manual penalty. As you can imagine, there was a mad scramble to remove backlinks from EZA as fast as possible.
Lesson: Google is on the lookout for contrived backlinks.
EZA Had an Unsound Business Model
As their name implies, Ezine is an online magazine publisher. Like most publishers, they make money from ad revenue. Once their traffic fell off, their revenue did as well.
For a while, they had a lucrative system going on. Unlike traditional publishers, they didn’t need to pay writers. That gave them a lower overhead than a traditional magazine. However, it was a double-edged sword, because they weren’t able to procure high quality content. Many content marketers didn’t try too hard, because they were only there for backlinks. Once EZA couldn’t provide DoFollow Links, many marketers left, taking their content with them.
Lesson: Secure high-quality content for your site by developing it in-house or by hiring a freelance writer.
Article Syndication Isn’t For Beginners
One of the original tenets of EZA was article syndication. The idea is that a webmaster will publish your article on their site, leaving you an author bio at the end. The website gets fresh content, and you get more exposure.
The problem is Google doesn’t like duplicate content. As a result, a lot of authority websites only publish unique articles. If a website will play ball, there are workarounds. The best solution is for the publisher to implement a rel=canonical tag, which tells Google they aren’t the original authors. That means your version will rank above their version. Some webmasters don’t know how, or don’t like doing it though.
On the whole article syndication takes some research. You don’t want to syndicate willy-nilly, especially if you aren’t sure the rel=canonical tag is being used. This quote from Search Engine Land shows the delicacy of article syndication.
There are definitely times when syndication makes sense. There is no one formula here, and you will need to apply your own critical thinking to make decisions as to how this might fit into your longer-term strategy.
Additionally, the downside of article syndication is having your website pushed down in the SERP. Article syndication isn’t a home run, and that’s another thing that works against EZA.
Lesson: Article syndication can work, but you need to do your homework.
EZA and other article directories have become synonymous with low-quality content. There are some useful articles on there, but on the whole it’s not a quality publication. That’s because EZA and other directories have two major issues.
- They let almost anyone post.
- They don’t properly compensate writers. Either through money, website traffic, or prestige.
Writing is often seen as a commodity. The decline of article directories proves otherwise. There’s no free lunch when it comes to quality content.
Zachary Moore is a freelance writer who writes about digital marketing. You can find him at his website and on LinkedIn.