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Tech News Review - March 2011: Google's New Algorithm


Google has been quite busy this past month, giving me enough material to devote an entire entry to the SEARCH GIANT’s updates, controversies, and soap operas.  Plus, these fall right into Wpromote’s backyard… or are we in Google’s backyard?  I forget sometimes.Google search of "algorithm changes 2011?" typed in search fieldAnyway, the first and most important story of the month is Google’s recent update to its search algorithm.  While the company is always improving upon its secret formula, this is the first time I can remember such a public announcement of an overhaul, and it will aim 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” and “provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on”.  The impact will be far-reaching, and the changes so far have been met with mixed reviews.  This is an obvious, and necessary, move against the content farms, and the effects are already being felt by some like Mahalo, which laid off 10% of its workforce as a result.

The public nature of these events is also probably related to the two recent controversies involving major corporations trying to game the system.  The first of these was J.C. Penney, which the New York Times exposed several weeks ago for a series of black-hat SEO techniques that inflated the retailer’s organic rankings for dozens of key search terms.Black top hat with the word SEO on itIn short, someone bought or leased thousands of inbound links, which are significant factors in Google’s algorithm, to J.C. Penney’s site from a network of loosely related or completely unrelated pages and artificially boosted the company’s search results into the top spots.  While J.C. Penney deferred the blame to its SEO firm, I find it hard to believe that the company was not complicit.  Someone at J.C. Penney was surely paying this bill every month, so that person would be guilty of at least gross negligence.  Regardless, when this behavior was brought to Google’s attention, the search engine took manual action to penalize J.C. Penney in the rankings, knocking the company well off the front page for most of the terms in question.

The other culprit was, which faced similar penalties, though interestingly, Overstock was simply encouraging consumers to post links to the company’s site in exchange for discounts rather than paying people for that directly as in the case of J.C. Penney.  That strikes me as a much lesser offense, so I wonder if this isn’t a sign of Google getting more and more aggressive against people trying to game their system?

the word spam circled and crossed out in redWhat these stories really bring to light, however, is the underbelly of the search engines that seems to be very quickly gaining notoriety.  Entire industries have formed around gaming the system, and while most of these activities are perfectly legal, they are Google’s bane and hurt the user experience.  To some degree, Google and its competitors would prefer that sites around the Web acted as if the search engines didn’t exist.  Their algorithms are designed to work with natural human behavior and informational organization, so when a company acts purely to improve its standing in the search engines, it compromises the process.  As more and more companies start to follow suit, results pages across the board become littered with what amounts to spam, not what the users would actually find the most relevant, and of course, this is Google’s eternal struggle.  As sites change their SEO techniques to keep up with the search engine’s changing algorithm, Google must again change its algorithm to adjust for the sites’ changing behavior.  Like the lambada, it is a forbidden dance.

There is a delicate balance to strike here, and that is why it is so important to use the right techniques and choose the right partner for your site’s SEO.  We publish a lot of advice and counsel on this very blog, but feel free to contact us today and learn some more.  We won’t bite.

Next month: the iPad 2!

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