Riddle me this, Batman. Why has SpreadingSantorum.com done a slippety slide down Google’s search results? Better yet, why was the even filthier Urban Dictionary listing No. 1 until sometime overnight, when it seems to have fallen out of the top spot?
Despite Google’s repeated refusals to give him a hand getting it off, Santorum’s sticky little problem since 2003 wasn’t going anywhere... until earlier this week. It seems whatever magical Google juice Spreading Santorum had going for it has started a slow leak, leaving the result that turned us off frothy-anything forevermore somewhere on the second page.
A Change in the Way Links Are Evaluated?
First, we thought it might have had something to do with Google’s 40 changes for February, particularly this one:
Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.
I went far enough down that road to have considered Dave Naylor’s post on how Google evaluates links, but it just doesn’t seem to make sense in this case. Surely if it were a difference in a link characteristic, the effects would have been wider-ranging than knocking the spreading site down a notch. But hey, I would love to be wrong if it means someone can prove otherwise.
Did Google Pull Santorum Out?
The thought that Google might have done Santorum a manual favor can’t be entertained long, as SpreadingRomney.com doesn’t seem to have moved.
A Google spokesperson said in a statement to press:
“We make more than 500 changes to our algorithms in a typical year. With each of those changes, sites will shuffle to different positions in our search results. We have not manually taken action to change the ranking of the site."
Oddly, Spreading Santorum seems to have been replaced as the top related result in the SERPs by spreadingsantorum.com/index2.html; the landing page is still indexed but has taken a dive down South.
Possibly Panda or an Official Page Change?
Search Engine Land entertained quite a few possibilities for SpreadingSantorum’s descent, including the most recent Panda update and another of Google’s 40 February algorithm tweaks, a change in the way they detect “official” pages. He also pointed out an anomaly in the expanded sitelinks for blog.spreadingsantorum.com, where sitelinks are for the blog, but the link for more results is for spreadingsantorum.com:
Google told SEL “...this is related to its improved SafeSearch algorithm, one of the other changes that was just announced.” But this didn’t explain why Spreading Santorum got hit while the Urban Dictionary page didn’t.
Indexing Issues and Poor SEO?
We asked a couple of SEOs what they thought might be happening here. Rishi Lakhani noted that while it would take quite a while to test out the different possibilities, a cursory look showed a number of potential contributing factors:
- No unique homepage content.
- The indexing of variations not only of blog.spreadingsantorum.com and spreadingsantorum.com (with and without www), but also www.spreadingsantorum.com/index2.html.
- Thin content on the homepage and fresher, more unique content on the blog.
- Decent links to the blog as well as to the homepage.
- The same title tag and meta description on the homepage and blog. Changes made to the site as recently as last July.
- Link juice from the homepage flowing completely to the blog.
With the caveat that it would take much longer to test any of the theories, Lakhani said, “I am not surprised that this has happened, just that it hasn’t happened earlier. There is nothing sinister here at ALL I can spot in a cursory analysis.”
He agreed that the theory on Google’s “official” page change could be correct. Lakhani seems to think a few algo changes could have caused this.
“In general, it looks like a result of poor SEO and not a manual intervention,” he said. “Google muddied the water by blaming safe search, but that appears totally untrue. They don’t want people to have a potentially strong example of their new ‘official page detection’ (OPD) algorithm shift.”
Query Deserves Freshness?
Ryan Jones briefly thought that with all the primaries and current news, the results could have changed to be fresher.
“The fact that Urban Dictionary is No. 1 pretty much rules that out, though,” he said. “It's got to be either something technical, something safe search related, or something that happened to their link graph. They do have some dupe content and link structure issues. But it’s not QDF. My guess is it’s their own technical issues and recent Google algorithm changes.”
Interestingly, neither Spreading Santorum nor the Urban Dictionary’s particularly cringe-worthy listings are anywhere to be found on the front pages of other search engines, namely DuckDuckGo, Ask.com, AOL.com, or Blekko.
SpreadingSantorum.com still ranks No. 1 on Bing and Yahoo (Bing powers Yahoo's organic search results) on a search for "Santorum", though the Urban Dictionary is nowhere to be seen. On Bing and Yahoo, blog.spreadingsantorum.com also comes in 10th.
Oddly, the Urban Dictionary listing seems to have fallen from the top organic spot to No. 4 sometime since yesterday. Can anyone think of a reason that might have happened? Daily flux? It seems like a big change, but with all of the current results around Santorum, it could be normal.
So... a Google algorithm change, or combination of changes, seems to have given the blog a boost, knocked off the original landing page, and also may have helped Urban Dictionary climb a bit higher, until something took it down a peg. Google blames Safe Search for the original switcheroo, though Urban Dictionary’s definition is nastier than Spreading Santorum’s. Search engines outside of the Big 3 don’t seem to be a problem for Santorum whatsoever.
There seem to be a few mysteries surrounding Santorum’s results. What say you, SEOs? Take your best shots in the comments.
Optimising Digital Marketing Campaigns with Search, Social and Analytics
At SES London (9-11 Feb) you'll get an overview of the latest tools, tips, and tactics in Paid, Owned, Earned, Integrated Media and Business Intelligence to streamline your marketing campaigns in 2015. Register by 5 December to take advantage of Early Bird Rates.