Panda 2.5...and Youtube Wins Again

On September 28th, Google rolled out Panda 2.5. Yet again Youtube is the #1 site on the leader board, while even some branded sites like MotorTrend were clipped, and sites that had past recovered from Panda (like Daniweb) were hit once more. In the zero sum game of search, Google's Android.com joins YouTube on the leader board.

It doesn't matter what "signals" Google chooses to use when Google also gets to score themselves however they like. And even if Google were not trying to bias the promotion of their own content then any signals they do collect on Google properties will be over-represented by regular Google users.

Google can put out something fairly average, promote it, then iterate to improve it as they collect end user data. Publishers as big as MotorTrend can't have that business model though. And smaller publishers simply get effectively removed from the web when something like Panda or a hand penalty hits them. Worse yet, upon "review" search engineers may choose to review an older version of the site rather than the current site!

With that level of uncertainty, how do you aggressively invest in improving your website?

Over a half-year after Panda launched there are few case studies of recoveries & worse yet, some of the few sites that recovered just relapsed!

If you look at search using a pragmatic & holistic view, then this year the only thing that really changed with "content" farms is you can now insert the word video for content & almost all that video is hosted on Youtube.

To highlight the absurdity, I created another XtraNormal video. :)

References for the above video:

Published: October 2, 2011

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Comments

October 2, 2011 - 9:21am

>> With that level of uncertainty, how do you aggressively invest in improving your website?

Which is why I intend to move on and make more MFA and grey hat sites. Frankly, when any of my more white hat sites can go bust at any time for any spurious reason, their longevity becomes no better than that of black hat sites. I see no point in putting my full effort behind them. On the contrary, it is more logical to diversify in the opposite direction to the grey and black hat end of the spectrum. Time to start looking for places where I can learn black hat techniques, I guess.

October 2, 2011 - 9:34am

...but also with the gray/black sites that people create, even if they don't rank directly they have a low holding cost & even if they are hit by automated filters they can still sell text links to funnel link juice into the sites that the algorithms are tilted toward ranking.

It has been over a half-year since the first Panda update hit. And now that some of the recoveries are hit again it is creating a lot of perverse incentives.

I have no idea how much spam is being uploaded to Youtube right now, but the more Google leans into Youtube the more spammers will as well.

October 3, 2011 - 1:00am

...which is why we've seen Youtube rolling out the same types of bans Google is known for across all their properties- arbitrary, erroneous and ultimately irreversible.

I can't tell you how many "Youtube just banned me and I have no idea why" complaints I've heard over the last month. Many of these people were only uploading personal or small business stuff to Youtube that wasn't even borderline spammy/scammy. It apparently just tripped a spam algo somehow. And of course, no one has even been able to talk to anyone about getting their accounts back.

When Google controls the web and you are banned from Youtube, Adsense and Adwords you are in the modern version of a debtor's prison for small business. It's either blackhat or no hat at that point.

Where's my lobbyists?

October 3, 2011 - 3:09am

Go to google.com, click on "Videos" in the top black bar. Do a search. It's basically a search engine for youtube.

October 3, 2011 - 8:47am

1400 pages of content (read years of hard-work) gone!!!

Google love for “brands” will kill them.

Google engineers are engineers not experts of content/businesses, they cannot decide between good content and bad one. They need to save their jobs so what they do is ban small business owner websites and continue ranking the brands well. They are sure by doing this their job is secured.

Example (a guess but I think exactly this is what is happening) – Google algorithms flag a website for spam. Google engineers have a look. They are undecided. Now they do some research and find if this site is linked from some big brands or big named websites or not. If yes they assume that it’s a brand and there is no penalty. If no – (wow this is a small-business owner website – kill his business – this basta** is making money out of us and not paying us a penny) – and a penalty is thrown upon. And I guess this is the reason why Google don’t tell exactly what caused the penalty. They can’t say we hate you because you are a small-business owner.

Read this:

If I want to buy something I already know a few brands, but I am not interested in them because most probably I can get those items in a nearby shop, therefore I Google to know some “cheap but quality” dealers from whom I can buy the same quality stuff but at lesser price. But in return Google shows me the same sites I already know.

Then, in frustration I search again with some long term keywords – this time the results are 80% the same – because Google has already killed small business websites – they are either out of index or suffering from a -50 penalty. Google doesn’t have enough sites to rank well, so how on earth they will show?

Other part of the story:

Brands now know of this situation and are damn sure they can get on with virtually anything.

They can increase their prices, sell absurd stuff, outsource cheap content and still rank well.

People buy their low quality stuff at a higher price and curse themselves and Google for their decision.

What happens after 2 years?

Virtually ALL small business gone from the web. Brands exploiting the situation. Internet filled with bogus/rehashed content stolen from small-business websites. Brands become a “cesspool” which can never ever be cleaned. People start getting bored of Google and move to better search engines like MSN/Yahoo etc.

NOTE: Probably this has already started:

http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/bing-increases-search-share-at-googl...

What goes up has to come down. This is no-exception rule of business and Google is no-exception.

Google made billions of dollars from affiliates now they are killing them. Its now time the brands use and kill Google.

Off-topic but something that needs a thought: Curses do play a role in life/businesses. Google has to deal with thousands and thousands of curses of small-business owners and their families who have lost a livelihood, will to work hard and an uncertain future.

I am one of them. I am sure we will survive but Google will not.

October 3, 2011 - 10:08pm

Google love for “brands” will kill them.

Brands are already engaging in "algorithmic journalism" and hiring a lot of the same authors that the "evil content farms" were employing.

Google engineers are engineers not experts of content/businesses, they cannot decide between good content and bad one. They need to save their jobs so what they do is ban small business owner websites and continue ranking the brands well. They are sure by doing this their job is secured.

I don't think the engineers view it that way. They just think they are doing their job.

However, that almost none of them have ran a small business & had to make payroll while juggling inventory is certainly well reflected in the wild gyrations in their search algorithms.

I also think that they view it as "if over x% of your business comes from search you are a parasite on our ecosystem & we want to destroy you." Which, when combined with inventory issues, algorithmic issues, ranking stability & so on, is part of the reason why brand building is so crucial.

Example (a guess but I think exactly this is what is happening) – Google algorithms flag a website for spam. Google engineers have a look. They are undecided. Now they do some research and find if this site is linked from some big brands or big named websites or not. If yes they assume that it’s a brand and there is no penalty. If no – (wow this is a small-business owner website – kill his business – this basta** is making money out of us and not paying us a penny) – and a penalty is thrown upon. And I guess this is the reason why Google don’t tell exactly what caused the penalty. They can’t say we hate you because you are a small-business owner.

They will claim this is false of course, but how their AdWords coupon offer says "no affiliates" while Google turns itself into an affiliate & still maintains a "get rich quick" ad category says a lot about their business.

If I want to buy something I already know a few brands, but I am not interested in them because most probably I can get those items in a nearby shop, therefore I Google to know some “cheap but quality” dealers from whom I can buy the same quality stuff but at lesser price. But in return Google shows me the same sites I already know.

I think they feel that if you are already aware of it you are more likely to trust it & thus are also more likely to convert.

Then, in frustration I search again with some long term keywords – this time the results are 80% the same – because Google has already killed small business websites – they are either out of index or suffering from a -50 penalty. Google doesn’t have enough sites to rank well, so how on earth they will show?

Anywhere where there is value & profit Google will have enough sites to show. But I certainly agree with you that as they push more and more big box stores they are making results # 1 through 10 too similar & driving out a lot of the innovative differentiation strategies that consumers appreciate, but are only done by small businesses because they don't cheaply scale the way the big box store selling a million of the same widget does.

Brands now know of this situation and are damn sure they can get on with virtually anything.

Absolutely. Many of them are becoming content farms.

They can increase their prices, sell absurd stuff, outsource cheap content and still rank well.

I think competition amongst the big ecommerce players will generally be deflationary as we are in the middle of a depression & suppliers do not have that much pricing power over consumers. There was a recent article in the WSJ about how P&G is promoting cheaper products, betting that the economy will stay crappy for a long time.

That said, I totally agree with them compensating for lower prices with lower quality ingredients, smaller packaging sizes, and so on.

People buy their low quality stuff at a higher price and curse themselves and Google for their decision.

As stated above, I am betting on lower quality rather than higher prices. However, Google is great at public relations and will not take any of the blame. Look at how Google crowned itself a hero of the people with the Panda update, and lost in the luddite pablum spewed by the mainstream media was the FACT the Google AdSense was the primary cause of the mess.

What happens after 2 years?

Virtually ALL small business gone from the web. Brands exploiting the situation. Internet filled with bogus/rehashed content stolen from small-business websites. Brands become a “cesspool” which can never ever be cleaned. People start getting bored of Google and move to better search engines like MSN/Yahoo etc.

I think you are underestimating the innovation of small businesses & their will to survive. Absolutely the herd will be thinned for a while, but many will push onto marketing via other channels and/or platforms.

While I love to see Bing's marketshare growing, they too have some similar biases to Google. See this on "search as a verb" - they are trying to put more action items in the search results. That too biases them toward partnerships with big brands. However the one big difference between Bing and Google is that Bing is willing to partner with market leaders, whereas Google wants to own the ecosystem by themselves.

Google made billions of dollars from affiliates now they are killing them. Its now time the brands use and kill Google.

At some point as Google, Apple, Amazon & Facebook compete on more and more fronts I expect a Google biz dev person to say "why are we subsidizing the competition?"

At which point Google will move away from "brand" and onto promoting identity & other signals. They will also run their own shopping mall and funnel traffic to small businesses through it, with pricing set by something like (market rate for that business * average user satisfaction ratings). The key for small businesses to succeed in the long run is to build their business around pieces that are hard to categorize & disintermediate, so that they don't get cut out of the whole of the ecosystem by larger merchants with greater influence over the supply chain.

Off-topic but something that needs a thought: Curses do play a role in life/businesses. Google has to deal with thousands and thousands of curses of small-business owners and their families who have lost a livelihood, will to work hard and an uncertain future.

I am one of them. I am sure we will survive but Google will not.

Google will survive just fine. So will many of the small businesses. Many of those small business owners will be forced to fire employees, work side jobs, move to smaller homes & eat Ramen noodles for a while. Googlers will eat steak and lobster.

October 3, 2011 - 11:27am

Luckily enough, our only website that recovered from Google Panda a while ago hasn't been affected again as Daniweb. Wrote about it on http://www.dopdf.com/forum/topic/dopdf-a-google-panda-recovery-case-study and some months later it still stands strong, which I cannot say about the other websites in our portfolio that are still punished even if these are product websites and all content is unique.

October 3, 2011 - 1:19pm

I think to rank well in Panda your sites needs to not be greedy. It has to focus every page on 2 related keywords and keep the rest of the content directly related as well.
Also, I wonder if Motor Trend and Daniweb bought a lot of adword ads relative to other sites with similar traffic. What if Google added to it's algorithm that for a site with x% of traffic worldwide, they should be spending the same percentage for ads. And if not, then they must not be serious about helping their visitors. Or some other rationalization for lowering a quality site like MotorTrend.
They control most of all sites traffic but then they take this "we are just another search engine. Don't like it, move to another." They simply have too much control and no equal recourse for all sites.

October 3, 2011 - 9:33pm

What if Google added to it's algorithm that for a site with x% of traffic worldwide, they should be spending the same percentage for ads. And if not, then they must not be serious about helping their visitors.

However, they have been working aggressive to blend ad metrics into signals of quality. (Youtube ad views count as video views for ranking purposes, Google said +1 button clicks count as a relevancy signal & Google is putting it on some display ads, Google put weight on some brand-like search signals then started running display ads about how using the Google display ad network increases brand searches, etc. etc. etc.)

October 3, 2011 - 1:51pm

There's no reason to invest in quality content anymore since Google will penalize you sooner or later. The reason is that you're not making them money. I would never use Analytics, Adsense, webmaster tools or any other Google tool since they can use that information for their purposes and lie about it when they have to.

As for creating a lot of grey hat sites, this is something that a lot of people already begun doing, which is why panda is increasing spam, not decreasing it. With the way google is behaving, there is simply no need to respect them any longer and since quality doesn't matter, I can't invest in it. Sorry, I have to eat.

I have also stopped clicking any adwords or adsense ads. I'm not giving them any money. I will never buy anything that they release. They have truly become evil. I am also asking my friends and family to never click ads and I explain to them that google have simply become a company that is creating misery for blatant greed.

October 4, 2011 - 12:46pm

I was not hit by the earlier Panda updates and I assumed that it was fair as I was trying to follow Google TOS, creating original content and doing whitehat link building. I was, however, surprised to note that with the recent Panda 2.5 update, many of my websites with good, original content that were getting a decent traffic from long tail keywords, suffered... losing all long tail keyword traffic and thus, a sizable revenue. And, I was surprised to see some of my sites where I had barely 5 pages of text, have started ranking on Google's first page for the main keywords .... These sites had very few backlinks too.. so I am just wondering if the recent Panda update was really done by people who know their job well?

Google has to remember that word of mouth publicity was primarily responsible for its success. With so many disappointed marketers and business owners, a new wave of publicity against Google can take away its no.1 spot.

October 4, 2011 - 10:27pm

I was not hit by the earlier Panda updates and I assumed that it was fair as I was trying to follow Google TOS, creating original content and doing whitehat link building. I was, however, surprised to note that with the recent Panda 2.5 update, many of my websites with good, original content that were getting a decent traffic from long tail keywords, suffered... losing all long tail keyword traffic and thus, a sizable revenue.

The whole point of Panda was not to hit sites that were violating Google's TOS, but rather to add opportunity cost to those who were trying to operate in a scalable way & work just above whatever threshold Google sets.

Google made getting clipped such an expensive opportunity cost that they are hoping people won't try to just barely clear the bar.

And, I was surprised to see some of my sites where I had barely 5 pages of text, have started ranking on Google's first page for the main keywords .... These sites had very few backlinks too.. so I am just wondering if the recent Panda update was really done by people who know their job well?

Something has to rank. Google put in something akin to brand bias to help some of the largest brands help fill in the gap. They also aggressively promoted Youtube content, Google Product Search & Google Places to help fill in the gaps. That said, there are some keywords where there were opportunities for some smaller sites to fit into the ecosystem.

Google has to remember that word of mouth publicity was primarily responsible for its success. With so many disappointed marketers and business owners, a new wave of publicity against Google can take away its no.1 spot.

In the past Google needed word of mouth from the independent webmasters to gain marketshare & influence. But Google has so much momentum now that they can basically live off of momentum, cross-promotion across their properties & buying marketshare with their paid install bundling programs.

October 4, 2011 - 2:32pm

Hi,

we in Germany are some months later than you at google.com.

Have you noticed any change regarding the backlink profile since Panda?

Could it be that a slower increase of backlinks and a bigger amount of deep linking is a good action to avoid to be hit by Panda if you were a normal e-commerce site?

A website from the competition, which have unique content like we, but a much more stronger backlink profile regarding the amount of link rooting domains, drop down from for a main keyword from position#1 to #12 since the Panda release in Germany.

Our link profile is more broad, but the reason could be also the link boxes the website have on some pages to exchange 3-Way links are a penalty signal, because maybe Google interpretate these boxes as selling links?

Is there a changed relation in the link factors since Panda?

October 4, 2011 - 10:12pm

...some people say "do everything" and that ends up so broad that it is hard to pick a starting point. However I would say generally that pruning some of the worst content & fixing structural site issues should certainly be the first step. Beyond that it is hard to say "do x & get y."

Certainly the importance of links as a sole driving factor has shifted (as some sites that had a strong link profile were hit). But it is hard to do too much analysis beyond that. I mean I have some theories, but the limited number of recoveries certainly makes it hard to back-test the theories against what has worked.

October 12, 2011 - 1:54am

I have heard that phrase waayy to many times in my career thusfar as an SEO. But to an extent it's true. The sky may be falling, but one of your best long term attempts to stay "in" with Google is to have unique and relevant content. I have a few more thoughts over at http://sem-group.net/search-engine-optimization-blog/panda-panda-panda/ - Aaron (or anyone), I welcome your thoughts and discussion. If you think what I'm saying is crap, I'd love to hear why over at the original article! The article is short and pretty basic - more of a rant than anything. I'd love your feedback, though.

October 5, 2011 - 6:34pm

I run a QA site that used to pull tons of traffic from very precise, detailed, long-tail queries. People ask specific questions and we give them a precise answer - nothing more nothing less.

Google neutered that model for all except a handful of players (Yahoo Answers, Askville)

Their new-found brand bias has them linking to the big brand sites for these type of queries - except that consumers often have to dig through an 800 word article to find the answer to the question they typed into the search box.

They knew the long-tail was an area of opportunity, and rather than develop a solution that leveraged the hard work many of us are doing (for the benefit of consumers and search portals), they decided to cut off the tail altogether.

Sorry for you. Sorry for me. No recovery in site (pun intended).

October 7, 2011 - 2:34am

Publishing relevant content can now be deemed an offence.

Google's "reconsideration" notifications appear to be nothing more than an auto-responder. There appears little evidence they review sites, let alone actively "reconsider" them. The message they send webmasters, in many cases, is generic.

Content strategies are dead when it comes to Google, unless you have a brand that, by omission, would make Google appear incomplete. It's now a high risk game for the non-branded site to invest in web content when that site can be arbitrarily taken out, and with no recourse offered.

October 7, 2011 - 4:43am

...as fast as Google made businesses. The thing is, Google was creating a new platform for a new idea (searching the web), and for a while we could all get in on it. But the money was actually much more than anyone every could have seen - so it had to change.

Once the money trails were clearly evident, the attention at the 'Plex (reflected by their SERPs, of course) seemed to move from anything altruistic to everything completely commercial, feeding their machine, and they looked for ways to stop paying out so much to little guys - or move it over, and start paying it out more deliberately to bigger guys. Bigger guys spend more at Google, of course.

Given it is their platform, I guess they can do as they see fit - but the monopolistic hypocrisy in the approach has become almost a joke if you have been watching the SERPs for more than a few years. They will claim all kinds of changes being based on all kinds of user-desired stuff...but simply follow the money, and match it to the visual and structural changes seen...the depth and relevance of a SERP. Then, go find me that user group: the one that seems to prefer Google properties so much.

They are not slick about it - the blatancy is what I find so disheartening really...people everywhere should be furious that Google is manipulating user data and dictating their web choices based on singular commercial interests, they should be screaming out in anger...but it is only search nerds, and late-to-the-party journalists. We're fucked. Or, more accurately, future generations are fucked, because this is an exponential snake that is already busy eating its tail. I don't even know how to draw that.

By the time the dust settles in a few years, Google's influence and focus on the ads is going to completely destroy the potential of anything else. The web is theirs by default - the money they made allowed them strengths and market positions that will now serve to protect and insulate them. This is creating the web of the future: cold, commercial, unreachable but ever-present - which is a shitty thought, but real. They have created a vacuum that is comprised of either forced or unknowing dependencies everywhere, and they alone stand on the switch, with a toll rate in mind. Sliding, of course.
Sigh.
Grab your ankles, either now or later - they're going in deep.
Like Will, you'll eventually have to kill your site, because they said so. They are not going to say so directly though - they will simply set auto-responders to your business needs (a practice that would likely get them booted from many other ad-serving channels). You won't be able to support your site from online traffic anymore, because the ecosystem is commercially biased, and served accordingly.

But the real crime is, the general public will never see any of this, because it is happening quickly, subtly, and with measured intentions. G can quell the response, they can spin in all of the best rooms.
Sigh.

If you Google Amazon, the first mention of the river is on on the bottom of page 2 because it is not nearly as relevant as a search on Amazon, the business. If you enter Panda though (which has been getting lots of blog and journal press), there is nothing in Google's results about their well-publicized update for over 40 pages. But hey - I am sure it is not because they are whitewashing, or putting hurdles before the bad press in their index. It is just like the Amazon river - they know kids of today don't care about that kind of stuff, so they are serving the user.
Sigh.

October 12, 2011 - 11:51pm

I remember about your Amazon River example again now. I think my site is OK, though because it's probably too hard to tell what it's about so then there's very little competition.

October 8, 2011 - 12:53am

I searched for panda and Amazon, and I see exactly what you mean.
This is interesting, however:
http://www.google.com/trends?q=panda+bear%2C+panda+google
It appears there is more interest of late in "Google's Panda" than "Panda bears".... I'd say this points clearly to whitewashing.

October 10, 2011 - 6:59am

I think to rank well in Panda your sites needs to not be greedy. It has to focus every page on 2 related keywords and keep the rest of the content directly related as well

October 13, 2011 - 11:00pm

Did some people here already read this one:
http://www.legalnewsline.com/news/234108-coalition-wants-ags-to-probe-go...

Executive Summary is here:
http://www.fairsearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Googles-Transformat...

I don't know about what FairSearch is because it just found me today.

October 14, 2011 - 11:37pm

I like these documents...clearly shows it is not just here, isolated.

October 14, 2011 - 11:40am

Hi

"this is an exponential snake that is already busy eating its tail. I don't even know how to draw that."

nice semantic. Maybe draw a Uroborus in space http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/71/Serpiente_alquimica.jpg

like a spiral in time.

I am not sure, if in ten years the people will use search engines like today looking to discover subjects, because nobody likes commercials if they want some true story. For e-commerce it will be fine, and for special services like news.google or books.google and so on.

Greetings from old europe,

February 7, 2012 - 5:01pm

Recently I asked Matt Cutts a question on his blog. I had noticed that on numerous occassions, several of my articles were ranking on the first page of the organic SERPs but right after I received visits from some big name companies, institutions those articles were no longer found even on the 10th page of the SERPs. This would happen within 30 minutes - a couple of hours following the big visits. So I asked Cutts if certain companies and individuals had a direct line to Google wherein they could request that competing websites receive lower placement in the search results.

Guess what? Matt Cutts wouldn't post the comment on his blog! I asked that question in December 2011 and he never posted it. His silence combined with all the news that I've been reading about that company's underhanded tactics only confirms my suspicions on that issue.

February 8, 2012 - 4:23pm

...if he does respond with a blanket "no" and there is 1 counter-point ever then it comes off sounding like a lie. But Google is a huge organization with 10s of thousands of employees. At some point surely some of the biz dev folks will cut corners to get ahead (we already saw it with the Mocality scraping, defacing Open Street Map, the illegal drug ads Google sold, etc.).

So at some points it *may* happen, however in most cases people get hit by automated algorithms rather than something like an advertiser dialing in and having Google torch competing websites.

February 10, 2012 - 2:35am

It's all conjecture since Google is not going to tell us preceisely how they rank articles, but wouldn't the algo prevent the post from getting to the top of the SERPs in the first place? In the cases that I've observed, the articles were on page one then dropped to deep pages (I'd stop looking after page 10). I have articles that consistently rank on the first page, but the sudden decline in placement for the articles in question is very strange (considering it was w/in minutes to a couple of hours after the big name visits).

February 12, 2012 - 4:50pm

Some filters aggressively lower rank if you go over them, but don't impact rank unless/until you go over them. If the filters shift over time (or a site's profile: size, user experience with with, link profile, etc. shift over time) then a site or page that was not filtered can go from unfiltered to filtered. In some cases a webmaster tweaking a page can also make a page go back and forth between states (after each subsequent crawl).

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