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Google Updates and SERP Changes - February 2011



11:19 pm on Feb 2, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

< continued from: [webmasterworld.com...] >
< active thread: [webmasterworld.com...] >

Related AdSense Farm Update < continued from [webmasterworld.com...] >

It's a new month and our regular SERP watching thread has been neglected a bit lately. Most of the posting right now is on dedicated threads focused on specific changes - especially the Scraping algo change [webmasterworld.com] and the promised (but not yet active) campaign against Content Farms [webmasterworld.com].

But Google's perpetual update machine keeps on turning. I'm particularly wondering about sites that publish a lot of legitimately syndicated content rather than a lot of original content. Did your rankings and traffic wobble with the "dupe content update"? If they dropped, did they rebound?

I'm watching one such website and though they are mostly republished content, nothing seemed to change.

[edited by: tedster at 6:00 pm (utc) on Feb 4, 2011]

[edited by: tedster at 8:38 pm (utc) on Feb 26, 2011]


6:15 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Here's another oddity to consider (and maybe others saw something similar).

On Sunday and Monday traffic to my site shot up substantially, to page view and visitor numbers that I haven't seen in over a year. There was no outside influence I could think of that would suddenly drive traffic.

The traffic tapered off just a little on Tuesday and Wednesday, which is normal, but stayed above the levels from previous weeks.

The boost came from Google. Then the drop.


6:19 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

@My_Media, I almost lost 40% yesterday. I am trying to see if there is a correlation here with your site health hype. We also have answers in my website. Some times, we show snippets from articles in Answers and similar titles in answers (based on question), not sure Google is considering it as "low quality" duplicate content.

Anyway, I've decided to modify my site, url structure, title tag, remove nofollow urls etc this weekend and see if traffic improves in the coming weeks.


6:22 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

@dickbaker, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were the best days for my site too. We were also ranked top 8 on a specific keyword(300 million results from google), I've never imagined we would be on top page one day for that keyword. Everything changed on Wednesday night :(


6:24 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

@dickbaker and @browsee The exact same thing happened for my site. Monday was the best day in traffic in a year then thursday changed everything


6:25 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

I feel like for the longest time we grew accustomed to a falsified index. When Google started adsense it paved the way for spam in the form of mfa and content farms which I'm sure compiles a majority of the index. Ever since adsense the index has been jaded.

Now all of the sudden they decided, "hey we do search let's focus on search again" as stated by MC recently, and decide to devalue all of the spam we've been seeing for years in one giant swipe. I think for Google it's a big strike in taking their index back however seeing as these pages and the links within them made a majority of the index we're seeing a monumental shift in results. These devalued pages affect every site for whom's content they scraped.

In my case I have really great content which as a not-so-sincere form of flattery has been scraped by thousands of websites. I had achieved pretty good rankings until this update thanks to the thousands of links that spam created.

The other day I lost 35% of my traffic all at once. Can't wait to see the full impact is once the change is international. I'm all for Google dealing with the scrapers and content farms, but I feel they fell asleep at the wheel. This change could have been done in bits and pieces or something that wasn't so drastic.

The path I chose and have always chosen for 10 years is Brett's old post about ranking in Google in 30 days or whatever it was. Great post I guess as long as your content didn't get scraped along the way...


6:36 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

@Browsee - our answers platform is on a subdomain so going to remove the link from the primary domain to it to see if anything helps. Will keep you posted.

It is however worth noting that some sites that we have been tracking over the past few months outranked us. These sites came to our attention for scraping our content and duplicating our titles. We contacted the owners and got to know a little more about their operation. All were from India with writers (non-medical writers) rewriting our content. We could verify this because our doctors were putting in some unique content that was based on their years of clinical experience. This too was "stolen".

Today, these sites are ranking higher than us with their scraped content, "stolen" pictures and Youtube videos within the content. None of the media is original.

So Google is now serving inferior foreign content to it's US readers

Hope somebody at Google is listening.


6:37 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

@dickbaker , I experienced exactly the same, and also 2 weeks ago when Monday was extremely wrong (even less than at Saturday) then big jump at Tuesday. Can you check it ?


6:39 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Saw the same Sunday, Monday, Tuesday jump this week here, too.


6:39 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member ken_b is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month


Well in true Google fashion, IF (note the IF) AdSense has anything to do with this....

Yesterday my site lost what looks like 40% or so of my traffic from Google organic serps, ...

and they sent me a nice note suggesting I load my pages with more AdSense ads.

Gotta love that kind of thinking :)


6:59 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

great algo update google!
websites that copy my feed and post it rank higher than my original articles.
their pages have just a title and a link to my original article, and that's all their content!
good job at finding better content G! keep up the good work ;)

I remeber this happening about two or three years ago, with the same scraper websites too... somehow G managed to solve his issues then, only to bring them back again this week...


6:59 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

My_Media, I checked your site and the one article I googled seemed unique so I am surprised. I, too, and waiting for this to calm down. Expect Mahalo all other other farms are up and even doing better.


7:00 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

I hear you @my_media. We've very strict guidelines. We check each and every article. Our editors Copyscape, fool proof reading etc before they submit it. Only difference is, we wrote our own publishing software, I saw that some word press sites are not affected with this update.


7:02 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

@zerillos same goes for us. Our original content which is in google news is outranked by sites that syndicate our content. Going to stop the syndication for now. You would think that if your approved for google news they would know who the owner was?


7:11 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

I was wondering if any one else saw those mini-surges. No surge this week but happened last weekend late Tuesday afteroon and petered out late Wedensday morning. I've seen those mini-surges a few time over the last 3 to 4 months - usually lasting 4 to 6 hours - they are pretty obvious when they happen during peak hours.


7:27 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

For whatever my 2 cents will buy me, those of you considering all kinds of on-site changes -- I think that's the worst possible reaction when it is not really clear yet as how this will settle. Slow down, breath.

A theme I'm seeing here based on what members have been posting is; scraped and blackhat content is in many instances gaining in SERP. Work from there and go backward. Obviously Google knows that is the stuff that they want to suppress. And if so, why would it be rising rather than falling?

For those who are in a panic have you considered that a major algorithm change of nature cannot sort itself out in days, weeks maybe in some instances, but more likely months.

I'm sure google does in-lab quality control testing of these types of program changes before releasing them in the wild. But, regardless of how thoroughly they may test it -- the acid test is in the wild.

I have no doubt MC and company are following this thread to gauge reactions as they are being observed and reported throughout this hysterical thread. I have a feeling they have developed a reasonably good (short term) patch to address the stuff they are trying to tackle. In order for them to know for sure if they have nailed something reasonably well they would hope to single out those sites. What better way to get feedback (cost-free) than allow those sites to float to the top and then put an ear to the ground here in webmaster world. That would help them analyze their changes for accuracy and effectiveness. If the consensus is worldwide webmasters having a panic attack then they're probably sitting around their cubicles chuckling (I would be).

Once they know that they have built an effective pattern parsing patch they will then probably flip another switch to then corral those sites and push them down in SERP's because they then know they have probably effectively identified them.

Making obsessive compulsive changes to counter this algorithm change is probably not a good idea at this time because you may then have to start chasing it back the in other direction after it settles. Rule of 70 can apply to almost everything in day to day activities. 30 percent of webmasters who know they have built their sites with users in mind will patiently ride out the storm and probably settle back on an even keel. 70 percent who have MFA sites strictly for the sake of income with little thought given to the end user will be chasing their tails and whaling about spilled milk.

And for Google staff reading this -- if my observations are wrong then you are failing miserably.

Either way, relax, slow down, smell the flowers.

Your results may vary, happy weekend everyone :)


7:28 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

here's a better one... for something that happened today, i get results in Russian... on the first page... before my english content


7:35 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

Someone checked some data and
Assoc Content
have been hit with 1-100+ downgrade. Too bad I can;t post a link, he had specific searches.


7:38 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Wow, I did a search on "whey protein side effects" (no quotes), and checked the 1st result. That #1 result is not even readable english. Quite obvious that it's either written by some foreigner or spun using some kinda program shuffling and replace words here and there...

Let's see what happens when things settle.


7:39 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

One thing that seems clear to me as far as my site is concerned is that this is not a site-wide penalty, it effects only specific pages.

Is this what you see?


7:43 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

One thing that seems clear to me as far as my site is concerned is that this is not a site-wide penalty, it effects only specific pages

Same here


7:47 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 5+ Year Member

Right there with ya 7^3 - I just can't shake the idea that, just like with the Mayday algo change, the dials were turned too sharply (or in the opposite direction) to monitor the outcome. They'll be tweaked back.

webmasters who know they have built their sites with users in mind will patiently ride out the storm and probably settle back on an even keel

+1 on that


7:58 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

SevenCubed, your advice is good and very rational... but not easy to deal with. Many site owners pay employees or contractors who work with them, or at a minimum take care of their families with money they earn from ad or affiliate revenue. I am one of these site owners.

Our genre is home improvement. We (a team of 4 owners) write about projects we perform (in great detail, with pictures, how-tos, and we answer questions on these projects). We have 1000 articles developed over 4 years. We are friends with other small publishers who also write about home improvement and frequently highlight each other's content. We have more than 20,000 incoming links to our site (many are home improvement blogs, but none that we have ever "asked for" are spammy - these are all real blogs with real authors writing real home improvement content).

Our rankings generally dropped 5-20 positions across the board. What has replaced us is larger sites with general information, rather than the niche, detailed information we provide. For example, we have an article on hardwood flooring that used to rank #3 for a series of terms. That article and its related articles took 40 hours to write after working the job for two weeks and taking numerous pictures. We marketed this article to several web masters who incorporated it into related content. It made sense to rank #3 (#1 and #2 were comparable, but very different articles). Numbers 4-7 aren't nearly as good as ours.

We follow Google's content and link development policies. We don't buy or sell links. However, we are small. We do not have big marketing budgets and until recently this was a second job/hobby for us. I relied on other smaller web masters to share our work with their readers and thereby build links that are signals to Google.

I want to stress this here. Every link we've EVER built has been from a REAL, well-spoke site with REAL content, not spam content, from REAL players actually doing home improvement in their homes or businesses. We never BOUGHT any links. I feel like because our site is small and not on the cover of the New York Times that Google is treating us like we are just spam. This is 100% not true to their goal.

This algo. update has decimated our business and has elevated other, seemingly large and irrelevant sites, into the rankings. It seems like google now favors large "general" articles over smaller "niche" articles in our domain. Presumably the logic is that the niche articles are less valuable. I have found this universally false in the niche we operate in.

I get the need to cull the spam - especially from the loser no-content sites that just pay a bunch of people who barely speak english to string together words. That's not us. And this is very hard to swallow.


7:59 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

One thing that seems clear to me as far as my site is concerned is that this is not a site-wide penalty, it effects only specific pages.

Same here. Especially pages that have a lot links coming from forum posts ( I have no forum signature links )


8:09 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

Here's my analysis.

1. This is a sitewide penalty. If you Google deems your site as "bad" it applies a discount to each of your page's "score"

2. It's not a direct -X in the SERPs. Instead it affects the page's score, so the end result of the SERP depends on how competitive the listings are and how clustered the scores are

3. Certain sites/segments that "should" have been hit weren't. And sites/segments that "shouldn't" have been hit, were. The classic example is eHow, everybody wanted them hit, and they're still doing fine. You also have the spam sites that appear to be doing well. Reasons for the spam sites to be doing well is that they're probably too small to trigger the "content farm" flag and score discount

4. It doesn't seem like any sites are getting "boosted" but are simply being rewarded by not being discounted, and therefore relatively they have a better score.

5. The score discount seems to be tiered. That is some are affected slightly, while others are affected a lot.

6. A drop of 40-60% in Google US traffic seems to be the common number. So whatever the score discount they apply is chosen to result in that level of traffic loss. It seems too specific to not be a deliberate choice.

So overall what happens for a particular search before and after is that a certain group of sites are flagged and then drop down the rankings. All the relative ordering between the non-flagged sites stay the same, and the relative ordering with the flagged sites stays the same for the most part. It's simply the shift that the flagged sites have relative to the non-flagged sites that sees the flagged sites lose traffic, and the non-flagged gain traffic.

Now the problems arise in that the sites that are being flagged seem really out of whack. A lot of sites are being flagged that you could easily argue shouldn't be, and there are sites that aren't being flagged that you could argue should be. This is causing for some pretty nasty looking search results in certain vertical (shopping/products definitely comes to mind).

How this plays out over the next little while will obviously determine the fate of A LOT of people's livelihoods, so let's all hope that Google does what's Right.


8:15 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

This change has prompted me to sign up and join this thread although I am a long term lurker. Agree that SevenCube has some great words of wisdom. But it's hard not to cry over this situation. I've got a 6 year old site, with at least 1000 or more words per page. Have been cited by media sites, commercial sites, blogs, books, etc. Yet, I was hit with a 50% traffic drop. I built my business from the ground up, and now it's demolished. This change hurt me and my family. I've sacrificed hours upon hours, weekends, to do the right things. No links bought or sold, very white hat. I run a couple of "test" sites as well that are much less appealing -- much, much less. They don't have any link profile. Those did not get affected.

This algo change does not make sense. If this stands, it can only mean that Google prefers to punish good and reward mediocre and even bad sites. I say "bad" because I've noticed that many sites that have copied my content have been ranking ahead of me in so many terms and even on my own title! Too many to count. Some pages just are not ranked (by using my own title) despite the fact they are thorough, 2000 word treatises with lots of comments. This change has nothing but demoralized me and left me with not knowing what to do.


8:16 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

So to summarize, lots of reports of legitimate sites being trashed, and lots of talk about a rollback of this update.

The thing is, there has already been an official announcement of this update on the official Google blog.

Google is going to look pretty dumb if there is indeed a rollback, even if it's partial.

Also, the announcement specifically mentions that it is an "improvement" to the algo, not "we're testing an algo change" or anything of that sort.

Looks permanent to me.


8:18 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

walkman - easiest way to check is on Quantcast.

accociated content had 892k unique US visitors on 22/02/11 and 538k US uniques on 24/02/11 - a drop of 39.7%

hubpages went from 874k unique US hits on 21/02/11 to 467k unique US hits on 24/02/11 - a drop of 46.7%

squidoo went from 469k unique us hits on 21/02/11 to 400k unique us hits on 24/02/11 - a drop of 14.7%

ezinearticles and buzzle are not on quantcast, so they just show estimates (which probably don't take account of the algo change)

mahalo have opted to hide their figures.


8:19 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

If this is related to "no follow" links then is would KILL a certain wiki site as the whole site is no follow, as is FB and twitter..

PS first post hello :)


8:23 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

Copied from my own research of over 100,000 SERPs:

Article Directories Have Been Devalued Significantly

ezinearticles.com lost an average of 34 positions
hubpages.com lost an average of 31 positions
squidoo.com lost an average of 15 positions
articlesbase.com lost an average of 29 positions
buzzle.com lost an average of 30 positions
associatedcontent.com lost an average of 22 positions
suite101.com lost an average of 33 positions

This trend continues across all article directory type sites without exception. For any given keyword that a page on an article directory was ranking for, it moved down the list roughly 30 positions. This is bad news for the article directories and the people who rely on them.

Established ECommerce Sites Did Well

etsy.com gained an average of 29 positions
amazon.com gained an average of 20 positions
ebay.com gained an average of 20 positions
sears.com gained an average of 29 positions

ehow did get hit, but only an average loss of about 6 positions. That's still not pleasant. The sites that got it the absolute worst were article directories and sites like business.com, investopedia.com, answers.com, etc.


8:28 pm on Feb 25, 2011 (gmt 0)

5+ Year Member

Supercyberbob: Here's what I think. I think Google has been holding off on this update for a long time because they knew what the effects would be. Sure, they'll get rid of A LOT of content farms. But, by looking for "low quality" signals, there was definitely going to be some sites that were VERY seriously hit that it just didn't make sense to devalue. I think that's why they held off so long. Perhaps now they decided they just have to bite the bullet and see how things shake out.

I am hoping there is some way to re-establish site-wide credibility for small sites that are not spam. I'm sure this has to do with links, and from the sounds of others on here, it might have to do with a in-link-quality-to-total-page-count ratio.

We will press forward. We fortunately have some savings. But man, is this a bummer for so many small publishers across so many niches that just got pummeled today. Personally, every other blogger I know, save for two of them, got hit big time today. That is a huge hit. Huge.
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