Why Google’s Panda is Not Cute and Cuddly

Google’s latest search engine algorithm updates (otherwise known as Panda) are just like real pandas. They appear to be cute and cuddly, until you get mauled by one. The Investor Junkie web site has been bitch slapped and wrestled to the ground by Google’s latest Panda update. According to Google’s Matt Cutts the anti-spam king, this was supposed to be a minor update. If Google considers 50% less search engine traffic minor, then I can assume major is a 100% loss. The various Panda updates by Google in the past year was supposed to help increase relevancy in their search results.

Normally I don’t want to talk about the inner workings of what it takes to make a web site successful. I don’t want to turn this blog into another Internet marketing blog. Ironically most of their income is from telling others how to make money on the Internet. It’s a suckers game, and regardless of what Google thinks of my site, I want to add real value to my readers. I’ll promise to keep this rant on topic, and related to one of my primary purposes of the blog – small business owners.

What is SEO?

Many readers will not have a clue what this techno mumbo jumbo means, but other fellow personal finance bloggers might. If you have any sort of online business (who doesn’t in this day and age), it’s critical you understand how SEO (Search Engine Optimization) works.

Let me start off with a little back story. For many bloggers, and most online presences for that matter, search engine traffic is the primary method to monetize your efforts. Without going into details that will bore most, it’s because search engine vistors are very action orientated. They are looking to satisfy a specific need.

Repeat visitors, on the other hand, while they add value via comments or though other means, typically do not monetize well. It’s just the nature of the beast. No different than traditional off-line services. They buy from your store once, and you usually don’t hear from them again. They’ll visit you again only if they think of your brand while having a similar need. So it also makes sense to make your site memorable, and somehow maintain that relationship.

All of this is in alignment with the “Google gods”, and what’s considered “good” content by them. Creating good unique content has been always Google’s mantra. Something I thought I was doing at Investor Junkie, until the latest Google update reflected otherwise.

In the past year, Google has been trying to improve their search results. Their search results have always been riddled with spammers, and black hat SEO techniques to “game” the system. Many people who use Google’s Search don’t realize how rigged the system is.

Previous Panda updates were actually good for this site. Every time my site would increase in ranking comparative to other blogs. For the search terms I followed, the search results overall seemed to get better in quality. However, Google’s updates were far from perfect. I still saw many other blogs buying back links to their site and using link farms to help. All of this was supposed to be resolved with the Panda updates, yet I didn’t see this happening with every update they performed.

Google considers black hat SEO techniques bad, and you would think their updates would catch these sites. So far it hasn’t but caught all but the obvious offenders. In the process Google’s created collateral damage with sites such as mine. Mind you, I don’t use any of these techniques they consider “bad”, at least not anything mentioned publicly by Google. The problem is, of course, what is considered good content by Google is a complex computer algorithm that is as secret as Coke Cola’s formula. So instead you have to reverse engineer their process, and for the most part it’s a guessing game.

Issues with Google

My beef with Google is twofold:

  1. It’s a bunch of computer science nerds with lack of real world understanding
  2. Communication is poor at best

Computer Science Nerds

Being a reformed computer scientist, I understand the path they are taking. Google is primarily a technology based company with very little other skills. Sales and marketing? Almost none. Typical with most computer scientists, Google lacks in the “social interaction” skills area. If Google were a child in school, it would get a report card stating it doesn’t play well with others.

Their search engine is perhaps the biggest, and most complex computer technology deployment ever done. They use over 200 variables to determine how each site should rank. In less than two hours an update to this very site shows up in their search results. They have hundred of thousands of servers in their data centers around the world. It’s pretty amazing how they accomplish these engineering feats.

The problem with Google’s search is it’s mostly computer algorithm driven. They believe their search engine results should be primarily driven by an automated system. Google’s bots scan your content to determine relevancy and how your content should be weighted against other web sites. It’s a very complex process that I won’t go into detail here. Then, as a last resort if needed, Google uses humans to help sort out the edge cases.

As shown by this very web site, an algorithm works until it doesn’t. Same applies to the quants that blew up on Wall Street in 2008 and 2009. Software is only as good as the programmer modeling the problem. Miss an exception or edge case, and things blow up. Sometimes the effects can be dramatic.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard “well we didn’t test for that use case” I’d be richer than Google.

Unfortunately, with most computer scientists, most feel a computer algorithm can replace the human element. When in fact a human should always be in the loop in some fashion.

Communication is Poor

For a technology company that is all about social media, it certainly has a piss poor methods to contact them. Sure they are great at broadcasting a message out to millions, but to communicate back to them in many cases is non existant.

If it does exist, it’s parsed through (again) computer algorithms to see if it can automatically answer your question. So related to my decrease in traffic, you can contact Google via their Webmaster site. Here is Google’s response to my submission with my emphasis in bold.

We’ve received a request from a site owner to reconsider how we index the following site: http://investorjunkie.com/
We’ll review the site. If we find that it’s no longer in violation of our Webmaster Guidelines, we’ll reconsider our indexing of the site. Please allow several weeks for the reconsideration request. We do review all requests, but unfortunately we can’t reply individually to each request.

Several weeks?!?! A decrease in search ranking is effectively cutting off most if not all traffic to a web site, which then affects the web site’s income stream.

This is equivalent to shutting down the server running the site or turning off the power to a store front. In my business if I did this to my customers, I would be out of business very quickly. For a company as large as Google, communication with them is worse than dealing with a government agency.

This is how Google is applying their “do no evil” mantra?

Google should be either communicating with me either before and/or after a major change in my ranking because of X reason. If not then there should be much quicker turn around time when you do contact them. Currently they only contact you when they outright block your site because of black hat SEO techniques.

Why does Google do this? Some may say it’s because they have an effective monopoly on search. That is somewhat true, but the real reason is to follow the money. Their income is from ad banners, not organic search results. Not that I can blame them for this, but once you realize organic search is mostly an annoyance to them, it makes perfect sense. In reality they don’t care they just knocked your site out of search results from a decent ranking previously.

In Summary

The Panda updates almost make a good case for going black hat with SEO techniques. After all, I played by what I thought were their rules, and still got punished for some unknown reason. Google decides with their automated algorithms I now have spammy non unique content. At least with black hat SEO if you get banned, you know exactly why. There are many examples of black hat SEO still beating out people who play fair in the eyes of Google. I have no problem playing by Google’s rules, but I don’t have the slightest clue what that is. If Google made the rules clear, perhaps black hat SEO will decease in the process.

Fortunately for me, this site is one of many revenue streams, and all income from this blog is not lost. I do plan on to keep updating this site, fighting the good fight against Google’s stupidity, and relying less on Google for visitors. For any online business it makes sense to do this because at anytime you could be deemed a spammer in the eyes of Google’s Skynet terminator. Your business can literally end overnight. I’ve unfortunately seen too many online businesses rely on search engine traffic only to get completely wiped out from an update.

For me to get around relying on Google, this includes ramping up other online businesses to diversify more. So if one takes a hit, I’m not completely at a loss. So instead of focusing on one great web site, Google is almost saying I should focus on many average quality content sites. It’s one of those unintended consequences that always seems to show up in new government rules and regulations also.

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Reader Comments

  1. David says

    I feel your pain. Some of my sites have been blacklisted at various times, and have lost top spots. For years my site has out ranked their own completive product in some very popular searches… And that it seems has now fallen. I’ve had the pleasure to visit google offices and hear from them personally about their updates and how to combat down ranking. They do use a LOT of feedback from people to improve the results.

    A quick check of your site shows it’s coming up fine for me in search results. Key phases from your site list you on top, with no black hats screen scraping you. You have lots of quality content. As always, I recommend quality link building from high PR sites.

    • says

      Hi David.

      The site isn’t completely blacklisted. Many results are in a -50 penalty box. Some aren’t affected as much. None went up and all went down.

      At least on the fronts you mention I am good for now, so there is no explanation of why my site was specifically affected. While others (which purchased back links to boot in some cases) were not affected.

      Most of the competing sites didn’t budge in ranking on bit. I’ve been investigating what could have made them changed. One possible avenue is in direct disagreement with the Google’s Ad division and placement of ad banners and the amount of banners. If this is one of the primary factors, then that a sad state within Google.

      Something specifically in this Panda update Google did not like my site. I have some ideas of what that might be but damned if I know the exact cause.

  2. says

    Hey, are you using the rel=”author” attribute yet? Not sure how important that is to ranking, but it certainly plays a role in authenticating the original source of content.

    If your posts are getting syndicated elsewhere they could be getting dropped from the index because Google sees it as duplicate content. I’ve heard avoiding duplicate content is even more important with the Panda update.

    Sounds like you’re pretty informed on SEO stuff – but just thought I’d mention it.

    • says

      Hi Maggie,

      I got a response from Google. The good news is they manually did not penalize me. The bad news it’s their stupid algorithm that’s not liking me. No idea why and Google won’t tell you.

      • says

        That’s great to hear they responded at least and your traffic is coming back! I wish they were more responsive. Goodness knows they have enough money to set up a call center of 100 people helping people out who’ve been hurt!

  3. says

    The very same thing happened to me – but I lost 75% of my Google traffic overnight with the most recent Panda update. From what I know I follow all their rules except for maybe a little foray into private advertising recently.

    From the sounds of your post here you don’t even take part in private advertising at all?

    • says

      Hi SavingMentor.

      When you say private advertising.. what do you mean by that? I do some advertising via Facebook currently, and will do some adwords again. It is also dependent upon any affiliate relationship too. Some affiliates do not allow buying of their keywords.

  4. says

    I understand how you feel. Back before I started my blog (I was already dabbling in the internet industry for a year), I hesitated to start it. I knew that Google would have a lot of power over my blog, because they can kill my se traffic at any moment for any reason.

  5. Dave says

    Another thing I noticed is that the switch to secure https searching is cutting off refer counting. I’ve noticed a large drop in google referrers and no drop in traffic or earnings!