Google pushed out their biggest ever algorithm change last Thursday in an attempt to prevent low quality web pages from ranking high in their search results. They managed to greatly reduce the profile of article farms and some questionable community content sites, but they also trashed original mom-n-pop sites and boosted the search profile of eHow, the biggest content farm of them all. Fortunately, I’ve discovered a silver lining in Google’s breaking of the Internet and crowning eHow as the new gold-standard of search.
Internet users will give up on finding useful how-to information online and return to buying instructional books.
According to SeoClarity, eHow’s top ten rankings on Google have actually gained 20% . I did a quick search on some phrases where my laptop troubleshooting material from fonerbooks.com and daileyint.com dropped appreciably in search rankings Thursday to illustrate the results. I’m using the laptop hardware subject because I publish the bestselling book on Amazon and my site was featured in the New York Times as a resource, so my credentials are pretty solid. Let’s look at the phrase “toshiba troubleshooting” where my page dropped 5 positions. The new #1 is, drum roll, eHow, with a page that lists three generic problems (not how to troubleshoot them) and no actionable information for effecting repairs. So I took a look at the last ten articles by this troubleshooting expert, which were:
How to Take Crease Marks Out of Posters
Drinks With Parrot Bay Coconut Rum
UTV Safety Rules
Treatment Programs for Juvenile Delinquents
Fitness Requirements for the Army Reserves
How to Get a Loyalty Rx Card
French Driving License Types
How to Get Under Armour White Again
How to Kill Fibrosarcoma
How Do Genital Herpes Spread?
Another example would be “laptop inverter test”, which I looked at because I originated the test in question, one of the few times I’ve been able to put my graduate school education in radio frequency engineering to work. Ranking above me now in third place is, drum roll, eHow. Since the author in question who did an abbreviated rewrite of my test procedure didn’t fully understand what he was reading, a person following his instructions will likely reach the wrong conclusion and throw money away on a new LCD screen. My heavily illustrated procedure, which was previously the #1 result, has dropped to #4 behind the eHow page, another page that cites my test, and a new #1 that suggests swapping parts.
The other big winner in the SeoClarity report was Amazon. In fact, I now see Amazon as the first result in Google for searches on title variations of The Laptop Repair Workbook. Unfortunately, the #2 result is now a piracy directory, Filestube, which lists 25 file sharing sites where you can download my book for free.
So Google’s top two choices for searchers are:
#1 Buy it from Amazon
#2 Steal this book
Google never used to put piracy sites on the first page of results for my books, this is a new feature on their part, and I think it goes a long way to show that their problem is cultural rather than technical. Google seems to have reached the conclusion that since many of their users are looking for pirated eBooks, quality search results means providing them with the best directory of copyright infringements available. And since Google streamlined their DMCA process with online forms, I couldn’t discover a method of telling them to remove a result like this from their search results, though I tried anyway.
But the silver lining remains in place. The worse Google search becomes, the more likely readers will return to bookstores in search of reliable information that they can actually use. Time is a valuable commodity for most adults. Spending hours looking for answers with Google and frequently ending up with instructions that will lead to wrong conclusions if not outright damage is not an efficient use of time. A generation has grown up believing the reliable answers are only a search engine away, now a new generation may be forced to return to the bookstores and libraries.
And I, for one, am glad I don’t own any stock in Google.