Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

Summary: Google's search for quality content has harmed huge numbers of quality web sites. But it's been great for Google's surging revenues... What's going on?

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I've been writing about Google's Panda algorithm change and the huge amount of pain that it's caused for content websites since it was introduced in late February.

Before the launch of Panda Google spent months bad-mouthing "content farms" and how the new algorithm would weed out the bad content. The first version was called "Farmer" as a reference to "content farms" — sites that scrape or produce low quality content just to game search rankings.

Who could argue with such a noble goal?

Yet when the Panda "Farmer" algorithm hit the Internet, it failed to highlight "quality" content. Quality sites, such as my friends at Ubergizmo, lost rank and their scrapers ranked higher than them. That's an #epicfail.

[Please see: More On Panda Pandaemonium.... - SVW}

There have been lots of sites that have suffered tremendous losses. Some of the stories are heartbreaking. Here are some quotes from a Google blogpost asking for examples of good quality web sites that have been hurt by Panda: 5,835 replies.

...we are interested in hearing feedback from site owners and the community as we continue to refine our algorithms. If you know of a high quality site that has been negatively affected by this change, please bring it to our attention in this thread. Note that as this is an algorithmic change we are unable to make manual exceptions, but in cases of high quality content we can pass the examples along to the engineers who will look at them as they work on future iterations and improvements to the algorithm.

Here's some of the replies illustrating the enormous hurt that Panda has caused many legitimate, high quality content sites:

I am so devastated. My main site and my life's work, cure-back-pain.org was drastically affected. I am not a learned webmaster, I am a back pain patient and someone who writes to help others recover. My site is 5 years old and has often led in the rankings for my topic, back pain and back pain treatment.

I was let go from my "dayjob" in the economic decline of 2008 and found a savior in the fact that I could make a living helping those who needed it most, so I turned to my site full time and found it very rewarding. I write all my own content and work my site 80 hours a week+. I do everything myself.

... with the terrible downturn in rankings, I am most likely going to lose my house. This is not an exaggeration. My wife and I are in free fall now, as we are both casualties of this economy. This is a very sad to me, but I am not here to cry about money. Just as important is the fact that I spent 5 years building a safe haven for back pain sufferers to find honest info and help without feeling like they have to spend all their money doing it.

There's lots more stories in a similar vein here.

Lots of losers due to "bad quality" of content. But one massive winner: Google.

Since Google launched Panda it has beaten Wall Street estimates twice. It's revenues have surged tremendously, yet for much of the past year and more, Google's revenues to its own sites (AdWords) barely could keep pace with revenue to its partner sites (AdSense).

Here's an example for 2010 revenues:

- In Q1 Google sites grew 20% and partner sites grew 24%.
- In Q2 Google sites grew 23% and partner sites grew 23%.
- In Q3 Google sites grew 22% and partner sites grew 22%.
- In Q4 Google sites grew 22% and partner sites grew 24%.

At no point did Google manage to exceed growth in revenues from its partner sites.

Yet suddenly in 2011, under new CEO Larry Page, everything changed:

In Q1 Google sites grew 32% and partner sites grew 19%.

In Q2 Google sites grew 39% and partner sites grew 20%.

Yet for the past year and more, Google couldn't keep up with partner sites and all of a sudden it is surging ahead.

What caused this sudden reversal in fortunes? It looks like it's due to Panda.

Google is taking away traffic from its partner sites and that means it doesn't have to split the revenues, about 68%, with partners -- it keeps all the money.

Some have been waiting for Google to flip a switch and grab AdSense traffic and revenues. It is something which Google has the means and the motive... Larry Page, the new CEO, now looks fabulous.

With all the high quality web sites being hit with tremendous traffic losses, 50% and more, and with Google sites surging in traffic and revenues, it is evident that Google's push for quality content was a red herring, a ruse to divert revenues from its AdSense partners to its own coffers.

This kind of behavior will most definitely attract government regulatory scrutiny. What Google does or doesn't do affects millions of businesses globally, it affects hundreds of millions of people's salaries -- it affects entire economies.

GOOG's CEO Larry Page is likely betting that Google can move faster than regulatory bodies can crack down. And he's right. But is it right?

---

Please see:

HubPages CEO On Google's Panda: SEO Doesn't Work - SVW

Scary Google: Larry Page Wants To Change The World - SVW


Topics: Enterprise Software, Banking, Browser, Google

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25 comments
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  • RE: Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

    Too bad for those sites who depend on Google to market them. I dont Google to reach nyt.com or wsj.com or amazon.com. They are destinations. Small sites need to create this kind of brand equity with their readers to survive. If the only way they could survive was by Google directing users to their site, then they were just living on borrowed time.
    mm71
    • re:

      @mm71
      I couldn't agree more. These sites aren't paying Google for search placement. If they want low cost advertising and marketing, they can pay Google, or someone else, for that. But to blame Google for their lack of business acumen is wrong.

      And no offence to the guy with the back pain site, but IMHO the current search results are more relevant than someones home grown site. I'd rather see the Mayo clinic and NIH in the top 5 search results than an opinion site, regardless of how much the creator is looking to help people. Now I can't compare results of the 'back pain' search to 8 months ago, but I'm very happy with what they are now. And as someone who suffered a back injury 11 years ago while working as a NYC paramedic, I deal with back pain all the time, so I know of where I speak.
      mschauber
    • RE: Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

      @mm71

      This is true. If your revenue model was reliant upon search traffic only and you weren't able to build "brand equity" while the algorithms favored your ranking, there was always the chance of you dropping in the rankings. Your business model was certainly "living on borrowed time" and the value of your content, or at least your ability to market it, is questionable.

      For the Google haters below, I doubt that Google diverted money from their partners to their own coffers and destroyed the value of their own search results driving people to Bing and Yahoo deliberately. Its one thing to accuse them of being evil and yet another to say that they're stupid.
      techadmin.cc@...
    • RE: Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

      @mm71
      i'm going to use these thanks a lot! <a href="http://www.replica-hermes.org">hermes bags</a> :)
      yantangseo
  • &quot;attract government regulatory scrutiny&quot;

    There might be some moral issues here in Google tweaking results for own best interest but calling for government to regulate it? Again? Come on, Google does not owe you a rank.. It's none of regulatory business to dictate how Google search should rank anything.
    LBiege
    • The difference comes in...

      @LBiege
      ...when you <b>say</b> that you are rating people fairly and honestly, but actually not doing that in order to benefit your own pocketbooks.
      Zorched
  • This was obvious from the start

    The 'Panda' update has hurt the quality of Google's search results. I find myself using Bing and the new upstart, DuckDuckGo, more often when I'm researching programming questions or searching for product reviews. I got tired of seeing results that were stuffed with Google properties and a few big sites that I knew didn't have the best quality information.

    Ultimately, I think this move will seriously hurt Google and their reputation but, in the short term, a lot of small time site owners are being hurt.
    ancientprogrammer
  • RE: Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

    One day everything may come crashing down on google. Its very evident that google is doing dirty business.
    owlnet
  • Blaming the wrong people

    First, it's stupid for the community as a whole to rely on one source as the "roadmap" for the Web. Especially one that is easily gamed by bad guys (and I include all SEOs in this category).<br><br>Second, Web advertising is so dominated by scammers and deceivers that it just isn't funny. Supposedly reputable companies churn out ads and "advertorials" that they would be ashamed to put on TV shopping channels at 3am in the morning. The fact that anybody clicks on these ads makes me doubt the future of the human race.<br><br>Finally, the Web ad market itself is completely screwed up and ripe for all sorts of inequities and outright fraud. Whether or not Google itself benefited from changing the ranking system is irrelevant, since nobody can prove there is some "equitable" system of doing things.<br><br>Regulatory or anti-trust intervention? Keep dreaming. First you would have to get Google declared as a monopoly, which is a huge hurdle all by itself. I have no doubt somebody will try it, and a bunch of lawyers will get even richer in the process. But it won't help.
    terry flores
    • RE: Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

      @terry flores "Supposedly reputable companies churn out ads and "advertorials" that they would be ashamed to put on TV shopping channels at 3am in the morning."<br><br>Indeed. Just look at ZDNet blogs like this one. I suspect that the back pain site referenced in the article lost ranking due to poor English grammar, one of the metrics Google mentioned in trying to weed out content farms.

      EDIT: One sure way to have back pain is to work at your computer 80+ hours a week.
      daengbo
  • RE: Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

    LOL at that back pain guy. You're an amateur running a website called "cure-back-pain.org" (which sounds like a shady nigerian scheme in and of itself) and you're complaining when your site is failing?

    Get a real job.
    Droid101
    • RE: Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

      @Droid101 I had a look at the Ubergizmo site the author touted and it didn't seem to be a "quality" site either. All it is is a bunch of authors giving three-paragraph summaries of other stories already reported on other sites with links to the original sites at the end of the articles. This is EXACTLY what Google is TRYING to punish in rankings... sites that merely aggregate content from other places. The original sites are the ones that should be higher in the search rankings.
      jgm@...
    • Not that easy..

      @Droid101
      I was with you until your last comment. It isn't that easy to just get a real job. Our economy has yet to recover and all signs are that the US and world economy will get much worse before it gets better. When you have regulators giving the US AAA bond rating up in favor of politics, you know nothing is going to improve soon. Without a REAL stimulus package, like that of the depression era, we are in for a LONG haul. I commend people for doing what they can to make ends meat. Unfortunately relying on Google search traffic is a recipe for disaster now matter how you look at it.
      mschauber
  • RE: Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

    Interesting question to ask. But I've got a question:

    It?s revenues have surged tremendously, yet for much of the past year and more, Google?s revenues to its own sites (AdWords) barely could keep pace with revenue to its partner sites (AdSense).

    "It's own sites?" Don't AdWord placements take visitors back to ADVERTISER sites, Tom?
    teknofin
    • re re:

      @teknofin
      I think they were referring to Google owned sites, like blogger... Personally, I almost never get blogger sites in search results, but I rarely go past the first 5 or 6. I think panda is doing a great job, from a consumer's point of view.
      mschauber
  • RE: Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

    Did Tom even look at cure-back-pain.org before citing it as a "quality" site? I spent way too long reading it today...it contains very limited useful information. Maybe Panda is actually working as it should....
    scottmelnick
  • ROFLOLMAO

    Way to pick a winner example.

    "This really shitty site isn't getting traffic anymore, so clearly the new algorithm is shit." From every example CNet has put out about this, so far, it appears that Panda is working perfectly. Shitty sites are getting shat on and are running down the tubes.

    I only wish that meant I could hope the Internet improves in quality. Sadly, it does not.
    Shmeg
  • RE: Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

    this was all a clever plot to get people to visit his friends back pain website.
    mrefuman
  • RE: Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

    What happened to, "Don't be evil?"

    If the analysis in this article is correct, it might be very good business practice, possibly subject to regulatory scrutiny- that's all open to opinion- but it definitely does not pass the evil test.
    steven.rozick
  • RE: Is Google's search for quality content a ruse for a massive diversion of cash to its own sites?

    Maybe Google's fiscal strategy is to gather intelligence and personal emails from all over the world, host it all on USA soil and then sell the data to the USA government as part of a massive "Patriot-ic" act :-) Seriously, I think anyone outside of the USA should be extremely cautious about using any cloud services from a major USA service company.
    rob.sherratt@...