Google Gave Up
By Steve Gillman - April 30, 2012
Google has given up trying to deliver the most relevant and
highest quality results for searchers, at least for now. I can
say this with some confidence from the evidence I have gathered.
Like many others, my own sites saw a severe drop in traffic on
April 25 (most lost over 50%), from which they have not recovered.
This is thanks to the "Penguin" update. Thousands of
website owners like myself have lost most of their income overnight,
and it is especially discouraging to see obviously spammy websites
and non-relevant results get higher placement in SERPs (search
engine result pages) now.
But this is not just about our loss of website visibility
and income. Once you understand what is happening, you will conclude
like I have, that Google is giving up on their goal to provide
the most relevant results for searchers. Instead they are offering
up "good enough" results from among the sites which
they favor for various reasons. Let me explain...
It used to be that incoming links could not hurt a website
in the SERPs. This was always considered the only ethical way
to have a search algorithm work, since as an owner of a site
you cannot possibly stop spammy sites from linking to you, particularly
if you do not have the budget to hire a team of lawyers. It wouldn't
be fair to set the system up in a way that enabled competitors
(or enemies) to destroy your ranking in the search engines. For
this reason (in part), Google used to have a policy (as far as
we know) that if they identified spammy links, whether the owner
of the site bought them or just got linked to for reasons beyond
his control, they would take away any weight these links might
have in their search algorithm, but they would not actively penalize
a site for them.
More than being a matter of fairness, though, if you stop
to think about it for only a moment, you realize that if a website
is actively penalized for anything off-site, the search results
must suffer. Consider, for example, if you have the best website
online for golf tips. Now imagine a golfer searching "golf
tips" in Google, and he sees other less-relevant websites
covering the first two pages of results (few people look further
than that), because Google has penalized your site for incoming
links it doesn't like. They would have consciously delivered
non-ideal results (that's their term) because they wanted to
punish you for what they think you did wrong. After all, the
ideal result would be the best site, and links which happened
to point to it could not in any way affect the searchers experience
negatively. When was the last time you were visiting a site and
you thought "I hate all the links out there that point to
this site!" In case you missed the point, you can't see
links that come TO a site, but only ones that are ON a site!
Well, guess what? The policy of forgoing the best results
in order to control the internet is exactly what Google has right
now. They are actively penalizing sites for the links that point
to them. And it didn't take long for the bad guys to start taking
advantage of the power Google has given them. You can now pay
a "negative SEO" company to destroy your competitors'
website ranking in Google. I hesitate to even mention an example,
since it makes it too clear how to do it, but this needs to be
exposed, so here is a link to a forum where one of these criminals
posted his secrets:
There are even software programs that are used to wreck people's
online businesses. One example is the "XRumer" program.
You can look it up on Wikipedia to read more about it. It was
originally used for search engine optimization. It automatically
creates thousands of forum accounts with a link in the "signature
file" of each, even though the user has no plans to participate
in these forums. A spammy technique? You bet. But there are two
important points here. First, even the owner of one of the best
websites on a given topic might resort to tricks to get better
placement in SERPs, but this does not directly affect the content
on his website, so it makes no sense to deny it to searchers
in favor of less useful content. Second, if you understand what
this software does, and that Google now penalizes for links like
these, you can very quickly understand how criminals out there
are destroying website-based businesses by manipulating their
placement in SERPs. Google gave them this power to do evil, and
they are certainly using it.
Now, before I go any further we need to look at the evidence
for my claim that Google is, in fact, penalizing for incoming
links. There had been hints of it for quite a while now, and
some web marketers who are more technically advanced than myself
had done some research which indicated penalties. But now Google
has effectively announced that they are penalizing. I'll explain
how we know this.
If you read any internet forum posts on the subject of "reinclusion
requests" or "reconsideration requests" you'll
note that Google has been contacting website owners about "unnatural
links" and telling them they need to get them removed. They
are not polite enough to mention which links they consider "unnatural,"
or how you might get owners of other sites to remove links to
your site if you do not have a team of lawyers on staff. But
they do offer you a chance for "reinclusion" or "reconsideration"
in the results once you have done whatever you can to fix the
problems that they will not identify for you.
Here is the exact message I recently received about my site on Ultralight Backpacking:
Dear site owner or webmaster of http://www.the-ultralight-site.com/,
We've detected that some of your site's pages may be using
techniques that are outside Google's Webmaster Guidelines.
Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural
links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate
PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying
links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.
We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it
meets our quality guidelines. Once you've made these changes,
please submit your site for reconsideration in Google's search
If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable
to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration
If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue,
please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.
Google Search Quality Team"
Here is my response to them:
I just received this message: 'Google Webmaster Tools notice
of detected unnatural links to http://www.the-ultralight-site.com/'
Since I have no idea what you mean so there is little I
can do about it. I don't buy links, and whatever else might be
a problem I can hardly correct it if I have no idea what it is.
Furthermore, if there is a SERPs ranking penalty for whatever
links you don't like, it seems unethical at best for Google to
pretend to deliver the best results and then, when a searcher
enters "ultralight backpacking" to exclude or downgrade
a relevant, quality site with hundreds of pages of original and
unique content, just because of something off-site that Google
doesn't like (which, whatever it is, has no affect at all on
the visitor's experience). Please give the searchers what they
are looking for and return my site to its proper position in
I wish we could just put quality content up for searchers
without the necessity to jump through Google's hoops to be found.
Feel free to tell me where there are links you don't like, but
keep in mind that us smaller operators do not have the budget
to hire lawyers to get links removed, so there probably isn't
much more that I can do.
I imagine that my response did not help my case, but what
could I have done? By the way, Google also says (in an automated
response) that they cannot personally respond to any reconsideration
request, so I will never know if they adjust my ranking as a
result, or if any changes for the better or worse are simply
due to more algorithm juggling.
But the important point here is that to even have a "reconsideration
request" means they are penalizing for incoming links. What
else could it mean? Actually it could be an attempt to bully
people into making changes even though there is no penalty for
the links, but given the time and expense some webmasters are
going to, in order to get links to their sites removed, lying
in this way would be a pretty awful way to do business for a
company that claims to want to "do no evil." Furthermore
the case studies of negative SEO operations and the existence
of that evil industry provide enough other evidence that Google
is indeed penalizing for off-site factors.
That the notices like the one above come from the "Google
Search Quality Team" is ironic, because they are essentially
stating outright that the quality of websites is going to be
ignored if there are "other factors" that they don't
like. Now, we might hope that their motives are good, that by
ignoring quality in favor of controlling webmaster practices
they plan to eventually clean up the internet, but searchers
probably want the best results right now (I certainly do). Any
way you cut it, Google has given up on just aiming for the most
relevant highest quality results.
Many people are reporting worse SERPs for many search terms.
Go read the hundreds of comments following Matt Cutts' update announcement. Internet marketer
Chris Rempel, who has been saying for a while now that it is
just too risky to trust Google and use only "white hat"
SEO strategies, says in a post about the update on thelazymarketer.com;
Strangely, basically all of my grayhat properties saw a
great big jump in traffic recently. Which sites of mine have
lost? Well, only the ones with a nearly-poster-perfect whitehat
backlink profile, and where the sites themselves contain top-shelf,
totally unique content. Yep.
I consider all of my dozens of sites to be "white hat,"
since I've never had the budget for buying many links. I've used
directory submission services and paid for a few blog links to
some, which is in line with this direct Google quality suggestion;
"Would I do this if search engines didnt exist?"
Yes, I would. I would have to do something to get exposure. And
wherever some of the links ended up, they in no way changed anything
about the websites themselves, where I aim to have the highest
quality content I can produce.
Google provided a form to complain about how a site was affected
by the update. It reads: "If your site was affected by the
"Penguin" webspam algorithm update on April 24th, 2012,
and you don't think it should have been affected, please give
us more details below:" This is something they haven't done
before as far as I know, and it indicates that they know they
messed up. Among other reports, I sent them this one about my
My site is all original unique content produced by myself,
and was severely impacted by the Penguin update on 4/25/12. Many
of the results now showing for the search term "new ideas"
are questionable. To begin with it seems that single articles
on ideas should be of less relevance than entire sites devoted
to ideas, but I understand the desire to have recent news. Here
are some of the most obvious examples of "non-ideal"
results when searching "new ideas":
#3 http://bignewideas.com/ - This is a business consulting
firm; not what a searcher for "new ideas" is probably
#4 http://newideas.net/ - This is an Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder Information Library; certainly not what
a searcher of "new ideas" is looking for.
#7 http://au.lifestyle.yahoo.com/new-idea/ - This is an
online magazine called "New Idea" which is not really
about new ideas, but has news and lifestyle articles.
#8 http://www.alumnaetheatre.com/ideas.html - This is an
announcement for a festival that already happened (with no update
for the next, if there is one).
#11 - http://www.newideas.co.ke/ - There is nothing here;
it is under construction.
#16 http://www.newideas.org.uk/ - This is an advocacy organization
for people with learning disabilities in a town in England.
#17 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Idea - This is a Wikipedia
entry for an Australian magazine called "New Idea;"
again, not what a searcher is probably looking for.
Not that my site deserves the #1 spot (Ted.com deserves
that, and they are #18), but certainly there are many less relevant
and lower-quality sites which are higher than my #20 placement
in the SERPs.
Apart from the penalizing of high-quality websites, there
are other problems with the new algorithm. Myself and others
have found that it's giving too much weight to direct matches
of names in sites and in URLs. Notice that most of the examples
above of completely irrelevant results happen to have "new
ideas" in their domain names. I found the same problem when
searching "brainpower" to see where my site on brain power ranked. Apparently despite
having the keyword in the name I was penalized for something
(no idea what), but look at some of the examples I pointed out
I Lost half of my traffic overnight (4/24 to 4/25). One
example of why is the search term "brainpower," for
which I was usually on the first page in the past. Now it is
result number 35. Here are my comments on the results of a search
- Result #1 is a Wikipedia entry about a bi-lingual rapper
known as Brainpower, which some people might be looking for (never
heard of him myself), but it seems likely that most people searching
that term want a site about brainpower enhancement or brain-related
- #4 was a video that is not actually available, which
apparently had "brainpower" in the name.
- #5 is a music video some searchers may want because it
is named "Freezepop-Brainpower," although they could
always add "video" to their search to find that.
- #7 is a British chemical supply company that happens
to be called "Brainpower Incorporated"--not likely
what searchers of "brainpower" are looking for.
- #8 is another company (a consulting firm) that has nothing
to do with the brain other than having the name "Brainpower."
- #9 is an online dictionary entry for "brainpower"--relevant
perhaps, but why clog up searches with these when the small minority
of searchers who actually want a definition can always add "definition"
to any words searched?
- #10 is one short article on tips for brainpower, which
does not seem nearly as relevant as an entire website (mine)
devoted to the subject, with hundreds of pages.
I could go on and on. Many results are single short articles--again,
not as relevant as a whole site. Quality of my writing can't
be the issue, since at least one of the results which is far
ahead of my own site is my own article someone borrowed.
Taking my own site out of the equation, it seems that results
are getting worse for this and many of the searches I have done.
I am probably not making friends at Google. I suspect like
any humans the people there are a bit defensive and do not want
to admit they made a mistake. But they did.
Furthermore, there is one more area where Google has truly
fallen down on the job, and it is affecting the quality of results.
They have had the opportunity to create a registry for new pages
for all the years they've been operating, and many people have
suggested that they do so. The reason for this is that without
it your content is not safe. Negative SEO operators laugh about
how easy it is to steal content as soon as it is posted online,
and so get credited as the originator by Google because it is
first found by the search bots on their site. Then, your own
articles on your websites are seen as "duplicate content"
by the Google algorithm, as though you stole or borrowed or bought
the content. Google penalizes for having too much duplicate content
(this they have acknowledged more openly for a long time), so
this little trick is a primary tool used by negative SEO criminals
for destroying website rankings.
Now, you might argue that the same quality content is out
there, even if the original owners get screwed, but this isn't
quite true. The places which steal content are usually spammy
sites that do not rank well, and the site where the content originates
is downgraded for duplicate content, so searchers are unlikely
to find what was published, even if it happens to be the most
relevant and highest-quality thing written on a subject.
It is not even reasonable to assume that Google has no way
to prevent this. When I post on one of my blogs, my feed on my
Yahoo page is usually updated within seconds. I don't know what
the technology involved is, but if Yahoo can quickly acknowledge
new content, Google can. At the very least they could allow a
submission of new pages (they ask that you submit only the homepage
to their index, and will probably penalize you if you try submitting
others), so you could establish yourself as the originator of
content. This would not be too much of a challenge for them to
administer if they want to actually deliver the best results
To return to the most recent update though, Google said this
in their announcement: "Avoid tricks intended to improve
search engine rankings."
Okay, what does that mean? In other places they say you should
try to put the words on your page that searchers are looking
for, calling this "white hat SEO." I guess that's not
a "trick," but what is? If you buy Facebook announcements
to boost traffic to your website (traffic count is thought to
be one of Google's algorithm measures), is that a trick or just
Google also said: "Dont participate in link schemes
designed to increase your sites ranking or PageRank."
Really? Is it a "link scheme" to trade links with relevant
websites? This used to be a common practice before people even
thought about SEO, but is it okay still? No answer from Google.
It seems that if quality was the issue, and they have some
idea that certain practices diminish quality for visitors to
sites (although I cannot imagine how off-site factors could do
that), they would want to clarify these things, so webmasters
could clean up their practices. Even when they directly notify
us that we "may be using techniques that are outside Google's
Webmaster Guidelines," they do not specify. Why not? They
mention "unnatural links," which means they actually
identified some links they don't like, so why not tell us which
ones so we can try to remove them?
There is no way for a search engine algorithm to perfectly
deliver the highest-quality most-relevant results. No program
can think like a human. Consider the following, which is the
first paragraph of a site that was a hundred results higher than
my website http://www.everywaytomakemoney.com
for "ways to make money:"
Ideal way to earn a living is much like whatever else that
may be greatest Everthing depends on
(you add the clean)
What could be employed by an individual wont be employed
by another individual. There isnt a cookie cutter best
for every person.
Algorithms apparently still can't tell that this is a horribly
spammy site, with what is called "spun" content, which
a human can recognize in less than five seconds by looking over
the homepage. These kinds of mistakes will always happen, but
my site, with over 400 pages of original content (half written
by myself) is below at least 50 sites that are of low-quality
like this or are just not relevant. Way to go Google.
One more story: Google is trying to target those who have
incoming links they don't like, but their results are inconsistent
to say the least, seeming to hit us small-time sites more than
the big ones. As Chris Rempel pointed out, the post announcing
the new update had a big embarrassment in it. There is a screenshot
of a spammy site as an example, and Matt Cutts says;
Notice that if you try to read the text aloud youll
discover that the outgoing links are completely unrelated to
the actual content, and in fact the page text has been spun
The image is in fact readable, so it is possible to pluck
out a sentence fragment and do an exact-phrase search to locate
the actual site he took it from (I used: "If you agree you
are too active to get time and energy"). When you get there
and scroll down to find the post he used, follow the irrelevant
link (as far as we can tell from the mangled English the post
is about exercising) to "pay day loans" and click on
it. It will take you to checkintocash.com. Almost certainly the
site has bought many such links from these spammy sites. Now
search "pay day loans" and you'll see that checkintocash.com
is the second result (as of 4/30/12). Apparently, buying those
links works, and playing by the rules doesn't.
I should mention that when I tried doing that exact-phrase
search in Google, it didn't work--no results. Bing, on the other
hand, had no problem finding the site. Is Google trying to hide
something, is their index less-complete than we think, or did
they exclude the site from their index altogether because it
is such garbage? If it is the latter that presents its own problems.
After all, what if someone wanted to find that site for whatever
purpose, as I did for the purpose of making this example? I couldn't
get the most relevant result for my search, so I had to go to
It seems that Google is more concerned about controlling the
internet than about quality. They may think this is the route
to better SERPs in the future, but at the moment it means worse
SERPs. Google has given up on providing the highest quality and
most relevant results for now.