Monday, July 4, 2011

Google News: Better Search Algorithm for All

CNet reported that Google is planning to make more changes to its search algorithm, the process which has started earlier this year, and already significantly affected multiple websites and blogs ability to be rated high in the Search Engine.

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According to Search Engine Land, which puts on the event, Google's Matt Cutts said that his company plans to launch Panda version 2.2 at some point in the near future. The update will reportedly deal with the issue of sites that republish content being placed higher in search results than the original source.

Google launched a Panda update earlier this year. At the time, the company's goal was to improve results on queries that had previously been dominated by content farms, like eHow and, which wrote SEO-friendly stories, contained little actual value to users. In a blog post announcing the change, Google said that it would affect 11.8 percent of all queries.

"This update is designed 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," the search giant wrote in a blog post in February. "At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites--sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis, and so on."

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In April, CNET examined the impact that update, along with the addition in April of more "user feedback signals" to Google's algorithm, had on results. Based on its research, CNET found that news sites took the most advantage from Google's changes, while sites like WikiHow and eHow were hit hard.

Demand Media, the company that operates eHow and Livestrong, among other sites, confirmed during an earnings call with investors last month that it was hit hard by the algorithm change.

"In February and April, we experienced two major algorithm changes," Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt said during his company's first-quarter earnings call. "For eHow, here is the impact: as compared to the levels before the first February change, we saw a net decline in search engine referrals of 20 percent."

In response, Demand Media promised more high-quality postings on popular topics.

A Google spokesman told PCMag that sites that believe they have been adversely impacted should "extensively evaluate their site quality."

"In particular, it's important to note that low quality pages on one part of a site can impact the overall ranking of that site," the Google spokesman said. "Publishers who believe they've been impacted can also post in our webmaster forums to let us know. We will consider feedback from publishers and the community as we continue to refine our algorithms."

Durant Imboden, editor of, tried just that. After experiencing a 35 percent drop in U.S. traffic last week, he added a "nofollow" attribute to affiliate links and cleaned out archived material to "help Google distinguish our site from content farms." But the expected results were not been received.

Although Google engineers use feedback in the forum to update its search algorithm, the Google spokesman noted that there was no whitelist or blacklist for sites affected by the algorithm. In other words, the search engine doesn't plan on making individual exceptions.

"Our recent changes to help people find high-quality sites are entirely algorithmic and we have not taken manual action, nor will we take manual action to address particular sites. Instead, we will consider feedback from publishers and the community as we continue to refine our algorithms to improve our search quality at scale."

Though Google's upcoming 2.2 update might not affect as many sites as its major update in February and the subsequent algorithm change in April, it signals that the company is constantly evaluating results, and will change things as necessary. In fact, Cutts reportedly said at the SMX Advanced Conference that the search giant will continue to tweak its algorithm as it sees fit.

In response to a request for confirmation that it's launching an algorithm change soon, Google has this to say: "We'll continue to iterate on returning high-quality sites to Google users as part of the roughly 500 changes we make to our ranking algorithms each year. We have nothing more specific to announce at this time."

To help webmaster distinguishing good from bad, Google posted some questions that one could use to assess the "quality" of a page or an article. These are the kinds of questions they claim to ask themselves as they write algorithms that attempt to assess site quality.

In their own words: Of course, we aren't disclosing the actual ranking signals used in our algorithms because we don't want folks to game our search results; but if you want to step into Google's mindset, the questions below provide some guidance on how we've been looking at the issue:
  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

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Bottom Line

While the change might be challenging for many website owners, for end user it should be positive with no obvious drawbacks. How many times you were discouraged by the top search result of being useless, decreasing your productivity? Hopefully, the new changes will hunt these annoying resources from the top of the search results pages. 

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