Google released a massive search algorithm change yesterday in reaction to growing complaints about their search quality. The change leads to a blanket demotion of all pages on a site, in effect, Google admitting that they no longer trusted their algo and are trying a brute force repair. I’ve been complaining about content farms like DemandMedia with their tens of millions of pages for a long time, but I guess I should have been careful what I asked for. First, in Google’s own words:
Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
They also claimed that the new results correlated highly with what they have seen from the one week trial of the Chrome extension that allows users to block content farms, although that data wasn’t actually used to make the changes.
While the algo change has done a decent job depressing the results of some content farms (not all, and not eHow), it has also knocked the stuffing out of genuine content driven websites, like book publishers, if their content has been scraped and copied all over the place. Based on yesterday’s data, it looks to me like this website (FonerBooks) and my older Daileyint.com site have taken about 35% hit to Google traffic, and that is spread across every page and search result, not limited to a particular subject. So it’s a site wide penalty for having been the victim of years of scraping, plagiarism, and barely disguised rewrites. It’s particularly frustrating to see pages that link my site as the sole source of their information now appearing first in search results.
While I feel like the guy who was walking across the street when Google dropped a 1000 pound bomb to take out a cockroach, I’m sure that there will be less garbage in the search results now. It will also be harder for people to find true resources, because the endless stealing and reworking of those resources has apparently it impossible for Google to tell who is the original source. And unfortunately, it appears that Google didn’t even kill the cockroach as eHow is rising in some searches!
I believe that a site-wide variation of the duplicate content penalty is the issue because I’ve seen it before over the years, albeit on a page-by-page basis. It’s nothing Google would ever admit to, but it’s something for which I took an infringer to Federal Court, in the process, winning back the search position of what was then my most popular page when the duplicate content was removed. As Google modestly says:
We can’t make a major improvement without affecting rankings for many sites. It has to be that some sites will go up and some will go down
As long as it really is an improvement, I suppose I should be proud to take one for the team. In my case, it looks like the average drop in the rankings for any phrase is three or four slots. Of course, if they phased the change in through the course of Thursday, it could turn out to be worse. If you’ve got a legitimate website and you see the same thing happen, don’t worry that it’s something you did. It’s just a side effect of being too popular with the wrong sort of people, those who duplicated your content in various ways and didn’t link back to the source.
The ultimate irony is that eHow has more NOFOLLOWED links to my website than I have pages. So maybe it’s just guilt by one-way association.
Update: I understated the traffic loss because I was looking at all visitors, rather than just the U.S. where the algo change was rolled out. Looking at U.S. only, the loss is over 50%, and it’s clear that sites that get ripped-off are the ones taking it on the chin. So the duplicate content penalty, applied on a site-wide basis, really looks like the issue. Too bad Google can’t tell the creators from the thieves.