Something Has Happened To Google!

Sometime in mid to late November, many web sites no longer appeared in the search engine rankings when their owners used the search terms that they considered most important, or had most commonly found them under. There were some cries that the sites targeted were almost exclusively English language, or e-commerce, because Google wanted to drive the e-commerce sites to buy Adwords, boosting their revenues, and making their IPO more attractive. Quite honestly, if reports of Google’s existing revenues are even close to accurate, they are not too worried. That doesn’t mean I would buy the stock, just that there is no way Google would sacrifice integrity of results for a short term financial windfall. Search engines whose results decline in quality quickly fade from popularity. Altavista went through 3 bad months, and they never recovered.

It’s estimated that there are over 100 million searches per day run through Google, directly or through its partners. Thus, Google has become the main source of referrers for most businesses online. Naturally, many people have seen this as an opportunity, and have become professionals at finding ways to abuse Google’s algorithms, and thereby generating undeserved high search engine rankings for web sites that are largely irrelevant to a query.

Webmasters and SEO experts have been making statements for a long time that Google was packed with irrelevant results as a result of ‘Google Bombing’ and assorted techniques designed to drive the link popularity of a web site through the roof, and thus get sites to the top of the search engines; regardless of the quality of the site. The people at Google actually listened to all the complaints, and did something about it: They made some algorithmic updates to the search engine. A new filter was put in place to try and target the most heavily spammed areas of the Internet. The filter was not without flaws. People quickly set out to test the new filters, and found that it could be defeated by entering what is called an exclusionary term. Exclusionary terms are when you search for something that is more specific. For example, if you wanted to search for only vegetables that were not green, you would type “vegetables -green” into the search box. To defeat the algorithm, you had to use a term like -abczxy2wyfjs in other words, something nobody would ever include on a web page. When you used a garbage term, you received search results, unfiltered; in other words, search results that may contain your missing web site, but also all the spam sites. From a practical point of view, this discovery was meaningless. How many members of the general public will actually search this way? It doesn’t really matter anyhow, Google fixed the glitch in December.

The reality is the new filter may have hurt a lot of web site’s search engine position, and in attempting to improve overall search results, the filter eliminated a lot of good, decent quality web sites at the worst possible time of year; the Christmas shopping season.

It may have been bad timing, and that may have been a mistake, but the rationalization behind the update is logical. Resulting search results have been mixed. On topic web sites that feature particular terms, like “software”, “drugs”, and other similar terms which are often spammed have been hurt, but only for a search query that includes that key term; overall they continue to perform well. Obviously the filter on these commonly spammed words is deliberate: the people at Google are trying to improve the quality of its results. Unfortunately, the a byproduct of this is that Google is making itself less relevant as a resource on the Internet. This at a time when not only is a contemplated IPO arriving quickly, but their competition is heating up considerably; On one side, Yahoo! is soon to replace Google with the results of combining and improving on the collective resources of Inktomi, FAST (, and Altavista. If you take the best elements of all three engines, there’s no question which will have more accurate results. On the other side, Microsoft will unleash its new monster search engine (MSE) on MSN later this year. The people in Redmond have been hard at it for a while now; It should be interesting.

Therefore, the question for Google becomes what to do about it? It’s a real mess. Google’s integrity is on the line. Google doesn’t want to become another footnote in Internet History. They want to help power the web.

What about you? What should you be doing to your web site to help compensate for these changes. There’s strength in good solid content, and proper optimization. The proper use of your key terms within your entire web site will get noticed, just like it always has. However, overuse (spam), or misuse, (inadvertent or not), will also be picked up. Word density and the text on internal links may also play a role. Only on images that link will the alt tags be analyzed; don’t stuff these with repetitive terms.

One search trick that is of interest relates to geographical terms. If you enter a place name, and then a keyword; ie. Sonoma Winery you get web sites discussing about a subject, However, if you search for a keyword, followed by a place name; i.e. Florist Victoria, you get florists in Victoria. This change may herald the start of Google’s experiments with geo-locational search abilities.

Naturally, people are very suspicious of the latest Google update. This is the way it is in life with any major change. This is just Google’s way of policing the web, and trying to ensure relevant search results. But like many new policing schemes, things often go too far at first.

The best thing we can recommend is: honesty. Don’t try and spam the search engines, because they are constantly searching for spammers. Focus on good content, and the proper optimization of your site. Occasionally, an algorithm update will have adverse side effects. The search engines don’t want that any more than you do. If you were not spamming, and you were affected, you can bet that lots of other people were too. The search engines know this and are constantly working to fix it.