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Good job spotting this!
I can confirm that meta keywords are now ignored - my site no longer comes up for several
commonly-misspelled search terms and synonyms that I had included in the keywords.
I haven't watched AV closely enough to confirm the other changes, but I'll take your word
What I am seeing is a lot of shopping spam on third level domains (ie: shop.DOMAIN.com) that is not in any way relevent for my query. With one or two exceptions all the relevent results have gotten moved back to page 4 or 5 or the SERPs.
It is as if they are doing two things:
1. putting more weight on half my query;
2. using a different DB where 5 out of 6 listings are spam.
A week ago AV's SERPS were darn good -- best in years -- for the same 4 and 3 word test searches.
I am told they have done this before.
They wouldn't tell me - but the first thing he tried to tell me was they were using PageRank :) After I pointed out that was patented, and that they couldn't be using it unless they probably had permission from the patent holder, his explanation didn't make sense. Then he said, "we're using link popularity" oh, wow, how high tech.
However, what I got from him was that essentially, they are trying to pitch it as different, but it's not really different from anything they've done before.
The fluctuations you see might be the result of them having a few new customers in their PPC or PFI programs. I still don't entirely understand the point of having much of an algo, when you can get authorized XML spam in on a PPC campaign.