The recent update from Google to their search algorithm seems to have hit a few sites rather severely. I can't say for sure that this change is responsible, but the traffic graph from Skeptics looks rather convincing:

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Traffic dropped by 40% around the time Panda 4.0 rolled out.

Gaming SE (Arqade) also got hit by the update:

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Web Apps got hit really hard, traffic is almost halved:

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The reason I post this here is to figure out why certain sites were punished by the change, and if possible find a way to avoid the penalties Google seems to be applying.

Some sites like Server Fault profited substantially from the change, so this is not an SE-wide adjustment.

Does anyone have some data on why these sites specifically might be downrated and how this could be avoided?

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    Noticed a decline on CogSci too...Assumed it was just seasonal though. – Nick Stauner May 29 '14 at 22:00
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    Isn't it same reason as this one here, just the other way around? – Shadow The Vaccinated Wizard May 29 '14 at 22:01
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    @ShadowWizard I'm interested in more specific reasons why Google penalized those sites, and whether there is anything we can do to avoid this. – Mad Scientist May 29 '14 at 22:03
  • And you are positive that this is not a result of schools getting out and summer starting? – Travis J May 29 '14 at 23:25
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    Upon further inspection, I think I agree with you. This is the lowest traffic has been to that site in over a year and previous seasonal changes did not seem to be during summer (mostly during december/january). – Travis J May 29 '14 at 23:35
  • Pure speculation: google altered the weight of domain name age. – Travis J May 30 '14 at 0:03
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    Here's a list of all network sites and their percentage change in traffic since May 20th: goo.gl/tSnc7l – Eric May 30 '14 at 13:07
  • @TravisJ Can't be that simple, otherwise SO would be hit the hardest by far. – badp Jun 8 '14 at 20:52
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    It's really obvious on Seasoned Advice - the traffic dropped about 25% and never recovered. There's some evidence that the March update hurt too, although not as dramatically - perhaps a 10% hit. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that Google got wise to SE's shady SEO tactic of putting a bunch of different, independent, sites all under the same domain name, and is now treating each of the subdomains as its own site, thus only ranking high the ones that actually have high traffic and a lot of content. Some new/small sites may have appeared to benefit, but the trend is too noisy to be sure. – Aarobot Jun 14 '14 at 5:27
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    "shady SEO tactic"? You know better than that @aarobot. – Jeff Atwood Jun 18 '14 at 7:47
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    @JeffAtwood: To the contrary, having worked directly with so-called SEO experts for some time now, I know precisely how much sway SEO can have over dot-coms - frequently to the extent of overruling long-term architecture and usability concerns to effect very short-term gains in traffic. I'm not saying that there weren't other valid arguments against vanity domains, but I find it hard to believe that SEO wasn't the trump card. We can debate it 'til the cows come home, or we can just agree to disagree. – Aarobot Jun 20 '14 at 23:19
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    @Aarobot speaking as a co-founder of the company, SEO had utterly zero to do with our decision making. An explosion of incomprehensibly hard naming decisions, and utter confusion resulting from 100+ different random disconnected domain names, however, absolutely did. – Jeff Atwood Jun 24 '14 at 6:36

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