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Really Google? Penalizing Good Sites To Get Some Bad Ones

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The results are in and more than the handful of "low-quality sites" have been swept from Google's search rankings. Many innocent sites that may have a few flaws -- the ones a natural site would have if not worked over hard by an SEO -- have fallen through the cracks.

The cries are coming from everywhere -- industry insiders finding problems, small very niched sites whose content you would be hard to find in too many places, e-commerce sites with good unique content but copied by competitors or whose navigation takes up too much of the total content on a given page... the list grows every day as site owners start to feel the impact of lost revenue. Mahalo, one of the hardest hit, is reducing staff by 10 percent.

Obscure Niched Content

Take for example the literary review site Complete Review, which is two sites - one Literary Saloon and Complete Quarterly Review. The site reviews obscure literature that content farmers or other regular book review sites would not bother with (except maybe Amazon). But for whatever reason, Google dropped on them like a Kansas house on a witch.

As the site notes:

"I would figure that the complete review's review-pages -- providing not only original content (my reviews, however dubious their value ...) but also links to and quotes from other reviews, as well as links to any and all other information about the books that I can find would be among the most useful pages for any given book-search. But I suppose that can also be interpreted as "low-value add for users", as linking to and summarizing other reviews is algorithmically deemed a major negative. (Google's page-rank system rewards sites that get lots of in-bound links; few complete review review get many (or, indeed, any), and now, apparently, are heavily penalized for aggregating links outward -- go figure.) In any case, most complete review reviews now show up far, far down on even the most targeted Google-searches.
[Just to get a bit self-righteous: surely my review-page for Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 is among the most useful non-Japanese ones currently available (certainly better than what Wikipedia has on offer), yet it barely breaks the top fifty results in a search for 1Q84 murakami; surely the review-page for The Yacoubian Building is a useful starting point for anyone interested in the title -- but a search for yacoubian building alaa al aswany doesn't even find it in the top hundred (add the 'the' and it comes in as about the 70th result ..... Etc., etc.]
Obviously I'm not even remotely objective in judging where the complete review's reviews should appear in search results, but I do note that in collecting links for forthcoming reviews Google's new search results have proven considerably less useful than previously. Maybe this algorithm works for the big search-picture; for the small book-information picture it seems to have fallen pretty flat -- frustrating all around (well, all around what I do, i.e. both in finding links, and then making it easy for interested readers to find the reviews of the books they're looking for).
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Tech Space Not Safe

The Tech Developers Forums also took a beating. Dani Horowitz CEO and Publisher of DaniWeb - a leading programmers forum with a wealth of specific unique content - true User Generated Content in many cases - but the information is detailed and valuable sources for education.

Dani saw a loss of 50% of their daily US traffic from Google. Does the site have a long tail? Yes, but of endless problems with solutions and tutorials - unique and valuable. She said one of the other sites in the developer area had hundreds of tutorials dropped from the results - tutorials that were unique and the best in the space and whose replacements are poor imitations.

dani web numbers.JPG

So curious, Horowitz started to reach out to the numerous people at Google she had worked with -- AdSense, where their partnership with Google had made both companies a good deal of money -- their niched specific site has a great online audience; to Google Search Appliance contacts from the days when she used the $15,000 a year search box to organize her content for search; to Matt Cutts himself, the Google Spam Czar, who's department integrated the change to the algorithm.

And then went on a conference tour -- stepping away from Twitter and other forms of communication both social and otherwise. You need to be at the events to be able to get a response and then he doesn't have to answer. Am monitoring the tweets to see what transpires.

"The problem is that the algorithm update has only been rolled out to the US so far, hence my drops only in the US," Horowitz explained. "However, Matt Cutts has already said that the algorithm update will be applied to the rest of the world very soon. I'm afraid that the clock is ticking before ALL my traffic gets hit as much as US has been."

"If that happens, I'll end up with all my traffic cut by more than half," Horowitz stated. "The other problem is that AdSense is a small fraction of my total revenue these days. I do a lot of in-house agency sales which are US geotargeted only. THAT is what hurts."

At first Horowitz thought there may be a tie to some of the bad English some of here overseas members contribute. There are a lot of people from India who enjoy the community and get to use their second language - but could be seen as machine writing or poor content. But the content that was dropped included well written reviews.

Prior to the changes, DaniWeb ranked number one for "Android tablets" with this page of very persoanlized insights in to the Google products. If you look at the page it is filled with "personal experiences with each of the products, not just spitting out manufacturing specs".

And there are thousands of such examples of DaniWeb pages dropped in the SERPs. That search term had 6500 SERP impressions/day resulting in 500 clicks/day for her site, Horowitz explained. "Now we are on page 2 of the SERPS and lucky to get a few clicks."

Davey Winder, who wrote the review for DaniWeb followed it up with some interesting points about what he sees happening. "DaniWeb is about as far away from a content farm as you could imagine. We are a community discussion and support forum stuffed full of original, in-depth, helpful advice and editorial. DaniWeb itself employs no underhand black hat SEO techniques, it doesn't even meddle in the grey hat stuff. A team of volunteer moderators across continents works around the clock to ensure that any spam, and all forums and websites which allow user contributed content will attract spam, is deleted as soon as it is spotted. The same hard line applies to duplicate content for which we have a zero-tolerance policy. The trouble is that DaniWeb cannot stop others from copying our answers, editorial and claim that content as its own - yet as the original source of this material we would appear to be getting punished as hard as those who steal our words.

One thing cannot be denied, and that is with this algorithm update Google is seriously hurting genuine producers of useful original content while at the same time giving third party content publishers a ranking boost. How that is meant to improve the quality of search is, frankly, beyond me. So, Matt Cutts and Google, if you are reading this maybe you would like to comment as to why innocent providers of high quality original content are being treated so badly? Maybe you could let us know why sites that copy original content are now ranking higher than the sites from which they stole those posts?"

E-commerce Sites Get Product Pages Dropped

Alan Bleiweiss in his post over at Search Engine Journal saw a major drop in a serious e-commerce site.

"Verisign trusted site, SSL encrypted check-out, Shipping policies, privacy policies, return policies... So all around, they're just store owners who found a very popular niche, in a fairly competitive landscape. They set up the site, and took the job of SEO serious enough that they've been doing it in house from the beginning. Well, they've been doing SEO according to what they THOUGHT was the right thing to do.

Unlike most of their competitors, they don't buy links, though at one point they had a few "questionable" links on their own site that they got rid of when they found them to potentially be problematic last year. Since they offer some great products, over the years, they slowly built up over 43,000 inbound links. The hard way. And through community outreach and social media engagement," Alan reported.

Other Websites Victimized by Algorithm Change

Chris Knight, CEO EzineArticles.com, also discussed the algorithm changes. He's instituted several changes to get back in Google's graces, such as rejecting more articles, reducing the number of ads per page, and raising the minimum word count.

"Traffic was down 11.5% on Thursday and over 35% on Friday," Knight wrote. "In our life-to-date, this is the single most significant reduction in market trust we've experienced from Google."

Cult of Mac also reported they had "become a civilian casualty in the war against content farms." Leander Kahney didn't hide his frustration after losing about half of the site's usual traffic.

"I'm pissed because we've worked our asses off over the last two years to make this a successful site. Cult of Mac is an independently owned small business. We're a startup. We have a small but talented team, and I'm the only full timer. We're busting our chops to produce high-quality, original content on a shoestring budget. We were just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. After two years of uncertainty, the site finally looks like it will be able to stand on its two feet. But this is a major setback," Kahney wrote.

Kahney, speaking to Wired, said Cult of Mac may have been downgraded because lots of sites scrape and republish his content or because his site has published "how-to" content.

"You're not on the web if you're not on Google," Kahney said. "Google is the web -- who uses anything else to find stuff?"

Wired also spoke with Willy Franzen, who runs onedayonejob.com and onedayoneinternship.com ("The jobs site got hit hard, and the internships site is untouched. It's really inconsistent, and it's a big problem for my business.") and Chuck Criss, the editor of Olive Drab, a military-focused site ("Prior to the recent Google algorithm change, I had a consistent 25 to 28,000 page views per day, quite good for a site with no marketing budget. On Feb 25, the number was under 20,000 for the first time in a
long time. The next few days were very weak as well and today looks like the worst yet. The revenue hit was even greater than the loss of traffic, around 40-50% of prior levels.).

Is Google Listening To Users?

Matt I hope there is someone in the office keeping track of the cries. This is not a banning of smoking in businesses and people will get used to it. Many small and midsized online businesses are being destroyed. Google has a track record of killing off some innocents for the greater good. But they have also rolled a few changes back, when the change has impacted the results in the wrong way.

Even the comments on Matt's travel announcement page ask for help and reasons for their sites disappearance. Comments abound on many of the editorials about the impact of the algorithm. OK, there needs to be some tweaks and you will announce them at one of these conferences perhaps?

There needs to be some redress -- or is Google telling us "hey there will be another site there to replace those that are gone" and to move along. No sense hanging around the dead bodies.

Google Fellow Amit Singhal told Wired "no algorithm is 100 percent accurate. Therefore any time a good site gets a lower ranking or falsely gets caught by our algorithm -- and that does happen once in a while even though all of our testing shows this change was very accurate -- we make a note of it and go back the next day to work harder to bring it closer to 100 percent. That's exactly what we are going to do, and our engineers are working as we speak building a new layer on top of this algorithm to make it even more accurate than it is."

Update: Cult of Mac has been "reinstated" in Google's results, and Kahney said "Matt Cutts, tweeted me yesterday, saying Google had likely seen my post and would get it resolved. ...the changes were already in place early this morning, which makes me think Google is slowly tweaking its algorithm to get better results."

Danny Goodwin also contributed to this post.


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