Feeds

Google leaves sites in dark over October demotions

Is that a bug or an algorithm?

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Google reserves the right to update its search algorithms whenever it likes. As it should. The trouble is that outsiders have little to no insight into why Google makes a change — or even if a change was made at all. To an outsider, a change looks no different than a bug,

On October 22, some sort of flaw in Google's search infrastructure meant it was unable to properly index certain sites for multiple days, including big-name sites such as CNN.com. This was reported by the likes of Search Engine Land, and Google acknowledged the snafu.

At the same time, a number of webmasters began to complain that their sites had suddenly been demoted on Google's search pages. One webmaster tells The Reg that his site — a site that could be classified as a Google competitor —– lost 90 per cent of its typical traffic, and others tell similar stories on Google's webmaster forums and on third-party forums.

"We have had the same problem with our website," said one poster. "We were ranking really good for our target keywords and all of a sudden we do not appear any more. This is a great hit on our business as google was our main source of traffic."

"I have experienced exactly the same problem at exactly the same time. Lots of our popular keyphrases have disappeared when they'd been well ranked for years," said another.

Reading the Google runes

With Google largely silent on the matter, many wondered it the demotions were tied to the indexing problems or with an algorithm update.

"Our theory leads us to believe that what might have happened is that Google's indexers failed (this we know), however not only for new content but also for existing pages being reindexed (this we can't confirm)," wrote one SEO type in a blog post.

"The other theory, of course, is there's been a large-scale algorithm update," the post continued. "At this stage, there doesn't seem to be a pattern that would back this up. We might be wrong of course, and if we are time will tell."

Speaking with The Reg, one webmaster is so upset with his inability to know what's what, he's threatening to file a complaint with the European Union.

Asked if the site demotions are related to the indexing bug, Google said they were not — but declined to discuss the demotions specifically. "Back in October, there was a minor technical issue that impacted indexing for a number of sites for a couple of days," a company spokesman told us. "The issue was promptly resolved and was not related in any way to ranking. Search relies on more than 200 signals to rank websites, and these are changing on a continual basis."

It's unclear how many sites were demoted in late October or for what reasons. But this is par for the course. In May, Google made a major algorithm change, and über Googler Matt Cutts, the Delphic Oracle of the SEO world, publicly acknowledged the change. But with apparent October changes, as with so many other changes, webmasters are left to guess. Google likes to say that it provides limited information about its algorithms because it doesn't want black hats gaming the system.

We can't find Foundem

With Google controlling an estimated 85 per cent of the search market, this sort of uncertainty has already sparked complaints in the EU. Along with others, a complaint from UK vertical-search outfit Foundem is still under review by the European Commission.

Foundem claims that because Google "white lists" certain sites out of certain algorithms, it applies discriminatory penalties to other sites. "Foundem’s [EU] complaint...addresses Google’s increasing use of arbitrary and discriminatory penalties, which, through error or design, exclude legitimate sites from search results, irrespective of their relevance," Foundem has said.

Foundem has called on Google to provide more information about its use of white lists, and to offer a standard way for web masters to appeal when their site has been demoted by Google's engineers.

In 2006, an algorithmic change effectively removed Foundem from Google's search engine, and all but prevented the company from buying placement by way of Google AdWords. It took years for Foundem to resolve those issues. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Hey, Scots. Microsoft's Bing thinks you'll vote NO to independence
World's top Google-finding website calls it for the UK
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
OECD lashes out at tax avoiding globocorps' location-flipping antics
You hear that, Amazon, Google, Microsoft et al?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.