On November 16th, Google did a major overhaul of its results. Many legitimate sites that were basking in the sun at the top of Google results plummeted down the rankings into a dark abyss of countless other results. Many webmasters and search engine optimizers went into shock, as they saw their Christmas sales sink like a stone in the water. Many people got angry. Many people wrote letters and participated in forums. Many people complained, and many people wept. Basically, anyone who wasn’t a multinational conglomerate or an educational institution felt the pangs of rejection. Google shook the Internet… again.
This Google update has been nicknamed the Florida update in honour of the Florida election fiasco in 2000.
On average, about 50% of all results in the top 100 have now fallen below the top 500. These changes only apply to certain terms, usually the terms that are related to commercial searches. You can see if your site has fallen at www.google-watch.org/scraper.html by typing in your keyword and looking for your site. This site compares the old Google results with the new results and counts how many sites are missing from the new top 100. Google is currently trying to block these results by blocking Google-watch.org’s IP address, but as of the writing of this newsletter the site is still in operation.
There are many theories about what Google did and why. One of them is that Google removed commercial sites from their free listings in order to get the merchants to buy more AdWords. I disagree with this theory. I don’t believe they did it to monetise. I think that Google’s intention was to diversify the types of sites in the top results in order to provide better results to users. I think the profit they will make from this change just happens to be a happy side effect for Google. One thing is for sure, there are much fewer commercial listings in the top results than ever before. Many have been replaced by educational, governmental, or directory listings. The top ten in many results are now a mix of informational, authoritative commercial, and directory listings. This gives searchers more of a choice in the kind of site they want. The commercial sites that survived tend to be the leaders in the industry.
Here are some of the theories about the changes at Google:
What to do
Since the big update, many sites that were dropped have been crawling their way back into the top results. It seems to be a slow and painful process. Google’s Senior Research Scientist Craig Nevill-Manning actually apologized for the update, saying: “I apologize for the roller coaster. We’re aware that changes in the algorithm affect people’s livelihoods. We don’t make changes lightly.” The good news is that if a site has a lot of good content, then Google seems to care. The more content you have, the better Google seems to like you.
Many search engine optimizers are frantically making changes, but until we understand more about what motivated the update, such a reaction becomes the equivalent of thrashing and flailing about in the water. Right now the best thing to do is to continue adding good quality content to your site, make sure you are not using spammy techniques, and continue getting links from quality sites and directories.
Hold the boat steady, and you will weather the storm.