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.
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:
- It’s a bunch of computer science nerds with lack of real world understanding
- 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.
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.