Did Penguin Make Google’s Search Results Better Or Worse?

Google’s latest search algorithm change designed to fight spam and improve its search results went live yesterday. Plenty of people are seeing its impact already. Better or worse? It’s easy to find some examples of things being bad; it’s hard to say overall if there’s been a net improvement or not.

Judging Relevancy Is Tricky

I’ll go through some examples, but let me start with some caveats. If you dive into some forums, you’ll find plenty of people screaming. People tend to scream after any update that things have gotten worse because they’ve lost rankings. Few scream about how things have improved, much less provide examples. In short, relying just on forums can give you a skewed view.

That doesn’t mean you ignore what you might discover through forums, however. Few know the quality of any search engine’s search results as well as SEOs. They might not be happy if something outranks them, but good ones know if something better or worse has moved up. The same is true even for some of the “good” black hat people out there. They might deliberately violate Google’s guidelines, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know search quality.

Time for examples. To get these results, I was used “Incognito Mode” in Google Chrome to help eliminate personalization other than geographic targeting. That can’t be prevented.

Viagra: Missing Official Site & Many Other Problems

One of the first queries I did to check on the new algorithm’s impact was for “viagra,” because that search is a natural magnet for the type of spam that Google seeks to wipeout with this update. If that was the goal, Google had a big miss here:

Most glaringly, Google fails to list the official Viagra site in the top results, something that Bing gets right.

Postscript: John Andrews pointed out after this was posted that the official site has apparently been gone for 10 days or more, so this particular change seems unrelated to the new spam-fighting algorithm. I had asked Google about oddities with this particular search before posting my article but never heard back.

It’s also a good reminder to add that there’s no guarantee that any of the problems I’ll cover with these examples are due to the algorithm change. There’s no easy way to do a “before-and-after” for these searches to know what’s changed. However, you can look at the current state to assess whether they seem to be of good quality overall, which is part of what Google aims for with this current and all algorithm updates.

Almost as alarming, the four sites I’ve pointed at with red arrows have been hacked so that those visiting them get redirected to some place selling Viagra online. Three of these, Google even knows they’ve been hacked, because it shows a warning to searchers. Why it allows things to rank with those type of warnings makes no sense.

The two blue arrows point to two university web sites that have nothing to do with Viagra but which rank. Chances are, they were also hacked recently and fixed their problems. But if so, they’re still not relevant for Viagra and shouldn’t rank.

Bing: Better For Viagra

Here’s Bing for viagra, for comparison’s sake:

As mentioned, Bing gets the official Viagra site listed tops as you’d expect good search results to do. Bing also lists several informational sites, such as Drugs.com, How Stuff Works and Wikipedia. But all of these are also listed by Google, so there’s no big difference there.

Where Bing really pulls ahead is that instead of all those hacked sites, it lists a lot of online stores and affiliate sites. That’s certainly better than rewarding companies that have hacked other web sites, so it had the edge over Google. But whether these are legit online stores that require prescriptions is another matter.

Postscript: As noted in the comments below, one of these sites Bing lists seems likely to have been hacked.

Make Money Online: Google Has Very Slight Edge

One query I’ve seen go around in discussions, and which was tipped to us through email and in a comment, is for “make money online.” Is Google falling down here?

Honestly, it’s pretty tough to know what should rank well for that type of query, given that it’s so broad and so heavily filled with various schemes that purport on how you can earn money online (the answer, of course, is to create an online sharing service that makes pictures look old and has no income, then sell for 1 billion).

Still, let’s make the attempt. In this case, I’m going to put Google and Bing side-by-side, Google on the left, Bing on the right. I’ve removed the related searches from Bing’s listings and slightly spaced out the listings to even them up with Google, but the order is exactly as originally appeared:

The damning thing some point to with Google is a site on Blogger that has no content at all ranking tops. Yes, that’s terrible. It’s also exactly the same thing that happens on Bing, though Bing ranks it lower on the page (sometimes, Google also ranks it lower). Certainly it would be better for Google if its ranking algorithm wasn’t returning a useless site. But pick any search, on either search engine with any update you care to name. There’s always some weird outlier.

I’ve also seen some call out Google for having two older articles ranking. The same thing happens with Bing, for one of these. It’s easier to notice on Google because it lists dates for these articles. Bing has some outdated information but doesn’t show dates.

Google is heavier on listing blogs about making money, though many of these really just seem to be blogs about blogging. Bing is heavier on places that overtly pitch some “make money” type of courses. If I had to choose what’s better, I’d go with listing the blog sites over the course sites.

In the end, I’d give Google the slight edge here over Bing. None of the results are really that great, of course. But I guess that’s what I expect for that type of search, knowing the flood of “get rich online” content that’s out there.

Overdose Advice? Bing Beats Google

Another example from a comment on our original story was about “how many pills does it take to overdose,” where Google is taken to task for featuring Q&A sites, places like Yahoo Answers, where anyone rather than an actual expert can give advice.

Here’s the side-by-side, Google on the left, Bing on the right. Again, I spaced things out a bit, but the ranking order is the same:

As you can see, both Google and Bing favor Q&A sites. I’d agree, that’s not optimal for this type of search. You’d rather get information from respected medical web sites, and not information on how to commit an overdose but what to do if you suspect you’ve accidentally done that. Neither deliver.

One of the biggest reasons for this failure is probably that the medical web sites simple don’t have content written in this type of plain language. If there’s nothing but garbage out there, garbage is what you’re going to get back.

Still, Bing gets the edge because Google has three completely irrelevant answers coming up, pages with nothing to do with the search topic. It was also disappointing not to see Google kick in the special suicide prevention information that it does offer for some searches.

Payday Loans: A Toss-Up

Another example of Google failure that was suggested is for payday loans, with Check N Go — which I gather is a major known provider — not ranking in the top two pages of results. Let’s do the side-by-side. As I said before, I did some spacing to help make it easier to compare, but no order was changed:

Bing detected my location as being in El Segundo, California — actually about 40 miles from where I live, plus it tossed in a bunch of San Diego listings. That’s a strike against it right off the mark, but I decided to manually set my location to Costa Mesa, California for both search engines, to better even the comparison.

Both lead off with the same major provider of PayDay One. Bing does have Check N Go, while Google lacks that. But Google has many local providers, places I could walk in to, displayed. Bing buries these plus gives me lots of irrelevant local providers, including one in the UK.

It’s so bad with Bing that I kind of want to call this test in Google’s favor. But not knowing this space well, I get the impression that Check N Go probably is a provider it should be listing. Plus, listing what appears to be an affiliate site that probably has fake user reviews also was a knock against Google. So, I left the two tied.

Treadmill Reviews: Bing Gets The Edge

Earlier, I said that SEOs are often subject experts in their own areas. Daniel Deceuster, who commented on the changes, seems to be an example of this. He runs a site about treadmill reviews. The comment he left was full of the type of detail that a non-expert might not pick-up:

I monitor these rankings everyday, have for over a year. They have never been as bad as they are. #4 is an article reviewing just 8 machines from 2008, none of which are available for purchase any longer. Good luck finding anything through #3. Then #5 and #6 both link to each other and are obvious members of a huge internal link scheme. #7 doesn’t even have any reviews, just “discount codes” that aren’t codes but affiliate links that don’t get any discounts. #9 is a massive chart of numbers and ratings of random machines, some of which are no longer available. No reviews and their link to more reviews returns a 404 error.

I decided to take a closer look myself. The side-by-side:

I’m not an expert on treadmill reviews, so there are things Deceuster will see that I’m probably missing. But some of the sites he dislikes that Google is listing? Bing’s listing them, too. He focuses on an outdated article. That is annoying, and it doesn’t happen in this case with Bing. But it might happen in other searches with Bing.

Overall, I’d say that Bing does seem to do a better job of getting more sites that seem to offer fairly nice reviews of treadmills to the top. The one I liked the most, with my non-expert eye, was the one that Bing listed tops and that Google didn’t have at all.

Google Sucks For New Shoes? Not So Fast….

Another popular query I’ve been seeing going around for Google’s results apparently having gotten worse is a search for new shoes. The side-by-side is below, Google on the left, Bing on the right. Related searches and the news box from Bing have been removed, but the ranking order is the same:

The criticism is really about the second listing, which looks like some odd simulation thing that is totally irrelevant. It is relevant. It’s a marketing course called “NewShoes.”

Is it the most relevant thing for Google to list? I’d say not. I’d say most people who are searching for “new shoes” probably aren’t thinking about that course but rather actual shoes. Then again, a lot of people might be searching for a song called “New Shoes,” especially given that the official video has over 5 million views on YouTube. Google lists this, as well as how to buy it on Amazon. Bing doesn’t.

Both list a variety of major name-brand online retailers. Google doesn’t have Shoe Buy; Bing doesn’t have Foot Locker. Both have Zappos (which I’d have expected tops at both). Bing’s got some really specialized retailer that feels odd to reward. Then again, it also found what seems to be a gem of a site, one that lists new shoe release dates. Who knew!

I’d just barely hand this one to Bing, mainly because that marketing course, while relevant, does feel out of place to rank so highly. But on the whole, I don’t think you can look at this set of results and condemn Google’s entire algorithm change as flawed. As I said before, it’s easy to find outliers on any set of results with either Google or Bing.

Who Serves Results for “Autism Resources” Better?

Aunesty Reikofski commented about concerns she had with as search for “autism resources.” That resonated with me. Who wouldn’t want the best results coming up for a search on that?

Reikofski wrote:

Coming at this as a ‘mom’ and not an SEO professional….

Try searching for  “autism resources” #1 position is a hyphenated site that hasn’t been changed since 2006.  A total link directory, and all the national organizations rank below

Let’s do the side-by-side, Google on the left, Bing on the right. Bing has been spaced out to make comparing easier, but there’s no change in the order:

As it turns out, what Reikofski is most upset about, that top ranked site that’s apparently years out of date, it ranks exactly the same as Bing — the search engine she also commented that she would switch to. In fact, Bing lists two pages from the site, whereas Google only lists one. More correctly, Google give it one listing and some smaller “sitelinks,” but that doesn’t deprive some other page for the chance to be in the top results, as happens with Bing. Google also ranks the main national society, as best I can tell, higher than Bing does.

Postscript: Reikofski explains more about her reasoning for switching to Bing below in the comments; it’s less about Bing being more relevant than Google and more about Google being less relevant than she expects.

Google has one page that seems last updated in 2010, but Bing also has a page that seems outdated and kind of AdSense-heavy. Google lists two local organizations that might not be useful to many general searches; Bing lists one like this. Google has two decent-looking info sites that Bing lacks; Bing has a non-profit support group and a Wikipedia page that Google doesn’t have.

I don’t know that Google is really that much better or worse than Bing in this case.

For SEO, Google Edges Out Bing

How about an area that I’m a subject expert in, such as SEO? I’ve written before about how disappointing the results for that search can be, when it seems like getting a bunch of client links or inserting some links into a blog template could rank you well. Nor am I the only one. If that’s all it takes to rank for such a competitive area, those talking about doing white hat SEO best practices can be made to seem stupid by Google allowing this.

Let’s do the side-by-side, Google on the left, Bing on the right. Same as before, I’ve spaced things out on the Bing side, removed related links and a newsbox, so you can compare more easily. The order is untouched:

Several sites I’d consider offering good SEO information are listed in both places. For the first time, Search Engine Land finally even ranks for the term. I think we’re a good site, so that’s an improvement in my books.

I don’t know what moved out. I do know there’s still a lot of irrelevant garbage. An SEO firm near my home is listed. So what? Who buys SEO locally? I get some national SEO firm I’ve never heard of. Some Australian SEO firm that few, if anyone doing this search, is going to use. Another national firm that ranks primarily on the strength of its domain name — but hey, that happens for the same company at Bing, too.

I actually give Google the edge here, and not because we did better. It’s mainly because Bing lists some local SEO company from out of my area, as well as a “secrets” site with no information nor any active form to learn more. The latter is the type of thing some are mocking Google’s latest change as rewarding, as in the case of the “make money online” search. Bing deserves the same criticism, but being Bing, no one notices.

Being As “Bad” As Bing Isn’t Good

Of course, this isn’t really about whether Google is as good as Bing, or if Bing also has the same problems. I’m using Bing as a comparison because you need something to compare the Google results to, otherwise you lose all perspective. But ideally, you’d want the perfect set of results to compare with. Someone let me know where those are!

Really, this is about Google being as best as it says it wants to be. Some of the problems such as lacking the official site for Viagra? That’s pretty embarrassing. A site with no content ranking tops for “make money online?” Even if it happens to Bing, it still hits hard against Google that’s supposed by many to be the search leader.

Also remember that our results are increasingly personalized at both Google and Bing these days. The results above don’t show this, but when I’m logged in, some of the results can be radically different. Of course, some of the glaring problems pointed out above may still be reflected.

Some Perspective

I’ll conclude by trying to clear up some misconceptions and give a little more perspective.

As I said at the beginning, we really have no idea if the change has made Google’s results better or worse. There is no lack of people commenting on how terrible things are now, but like I said, that’s what always tends to dominate forums after any change.

Anyone who is an educated, veteran SEO in the space knows this. Susanna Miles, who commented on my original post, seems to be one of these people:

You know what I wish… I wish that people who weren’t hit or who saw positive change would post in these forums. It ends up looking really hopeless and horrible because it’s only the people who’ve been hurt that bother to do this.

Some people are happy, seeing a positive benefit. For anyone complaining, there’s someone who did better with no incentive to speak up.

I also saw this comment from Sean Paul that I thought was noteworthy:

As usual big corps wins, SMB’s lose out

Looking through the examples above, I don’t see that playing out. I see plenty of small sites doing perfectly fine, and I see some big sites who clearly aren’t. This update seems to have hit businesses of all types.

Over this past week, there’s also been a giant rise in the belief that “negative SEO” is somehow the lurking threat that people must run in panic over, and that this latest update makes it even worse. I’ll be coming back to a future article about that, but if you can’t wait, I’d suggest diving in first with this SEO Book post.

The short answer is this. Yes, there are things that people can do to hurt other people’s rankings, something Google has acknowledged for years, such as in this video last year. No, most people don’t have to worry about it, even with the unatural link warnings that went out recently. Again, I promise to come back to this more.

Recently, Rand Fiskin dared people to prove negative SEO doesn’t work by trying it against his personal website. Separately, someone did get his company web site at SEOmoz to rank for “snuggie dog bed.” I’ve seen this confused as proof negative SEO works.

No, the latter test proves you can still Googlebomb pages for a short period of time. We knew that. Or it proves you can redirect one site to another site to help it inherit rankings. We knew that, too. It doesn’t prove negative SEO can work, but we don’t need that proven. As I said, we already knew that could happen in some specific cases.

I think the most important thing for those who are worried about the latest changes to remember is this. Forget the rankings. Look at your traffic. Give it a day or two or three. Is your overall traffic from Google Search much better than it was before yesterday? You’ve probably gained. No change? The update had no net impact on you. A severe drop? Then yes, you got dinged.

What to do if you were dinged? I’ll be coming back with more about that, on whether a reconsideration request will really help or if there are other things you should try. Obviously, if you’ve been knowingly spamming Google, stop and try to correct that. If you haven’t, and you’re seeing really bad stuff showing up in the search results, it never hurts to do a good blog post illustrating why Google’s results aren’t helping users as well as they could.

That’s always the key. Google’s job is providing great results for searchers. Publishers complaining they’ve been hurt, that doesn’t carry much weight. Someone always does get hurt, as I said. Publishers showing that searchers aren’t getting the best stuff, that’s effective pushback.

I do suspect that Google’s twin goals of greatly increasing relevancy and not rewarding spam haven’t been met with this update. There’s just too much weirdness that I’ve been seeing, which does make me suspect that we’ll see the algorithm changed quickly again in the near future. But that’s really just speculation. I’ll try to get an official reaction from Google on this and other matters soon.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: Algorithm Updates | Google: Penguin Update | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | Stats: Relevancy | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    The easy answer on Duck Duck Go is that he didn’t. He built it on top of other search engines, namely Bing. Do that search there, then look at the results on Bing. Similar, because DDG pulls from Bing.

    Of course, you’d still think Google would get the core relevancy better. And actually, sometimes it does. Google is obviously not as bad as so many who comment think, not to the people who actually use it daily. Otherwise, they wouldn’t. We know this from the AltaVista experience — they will indeed flee from a search engine when it gets bad.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    There is no over-optimization algorithm. Originally, Google said that this was coming. But it later clarified that what it meant was to go after spam, not some type of “over-optimization.” My original story explains this more: http://searchengineland.com/google-launches-update-targeting-webspam-in-search-results-119295

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    No, I don’t think it’s the end of SEO at all. Believe me, if SEO best practices really had suddenly failed, there would be thousands of comments here from a huge range of people from all types of sites. Instead, honestly, the type of reactions I’m seeing are the same type of reactions I’ve seen after things like the Panda Update, the Florida Update years ago or even when Excite did an algorithm change years before that. I’m not taking away from the fact that a bunch of people are clearly feeling pain from the latest change. But a bunch of people are also gaining, and plenty of them are gaining from having done SEO, too.

  • Raul Horja

    I have 4 e-commerce sites, 3 of them are on the same ip. There are reciprocal links between all 4 sites in footer (nofollow links – i am only interested in showing visitors that we also have this other sites)
    Yesterday 3 of my sites dropped in ranking on page results, the ones on the same ip. The other one is doing fine, got up a few places
    Site1 #2 before – #7 now on main keyword
    Site2 #11 before – now not on first 50 pages
    Site3 #23 before – now not on first 50 pages  
    Site4 #18 before – #12 now
    All sites are legitimate business, unique products and content, no link spam or over optimization. We don’t do link building at all, we grow only by good products and services and word of mouth.
    I have checked all possible problems but find nothing.

    My theory is: Google penalized the three sites that had reciprocal links on the same IP. even if the links are nofollow

    Is my theory plausible ?

    I just removed all links, i’ll come back if i get any results.

  • http://twitter.com/WesleyLeFebvre Wesley LeFebvre

    Just and FYI, My comment of “yeah that’s pretty bad” was about the ‘payday loans online’ keyword search and not regarding whether or not duckduckgo is better than Google or not.

    Also, I hate to throw people under the bus, so I won’t mention the domain names here – but nearly all of the exact match domain names listed in the sidebar nav of the URL i listed above are now ranking in the top 10 search results for their intended keywords.

    Most of them have 3 full-sized google display ads before any text too.  Just search what is intervention, and you’ll quickly see one of the domains I’m referring to. Check the sidebar nave to view all of the rest.

  • John Davis

    My site is very much like yours. Good unique content with images. Nothing spun nor keyword stuffing or anything. Followed the rules 100%. Now moved 6 pages down for most keywords. Here is why I know Google cannot do anything right at the moment.

    1) All my competitor who has not updated their site for more than 1 and sometimes 2 years are still on page 1

    2) Competitor who has white text on white background are still on page 1 and no navigation menu.

    3) Competitor with only 10 post, no update for 1 year and 600 backlinks from an irrelevant (which happens to be a SEO site) site is still on page 1

    4) Competitor with lots of BAD backlinks and only 4 pages with less than 300 words on each page but still has 3 Adsense ads on are on page 1

    5) Competitor using “dirty” redirect is still on page 1

    6) Number on page one has a metadescription with only keywords

    Hmmm So lets see. I get pushed down 6 pages with more than 100 quality pages/post which you do not only need to take my word for as my bounce rate is less than 6% and page visits is 5.44 and 45% is returning visitors.

    I am been angry that these outdated competitor using all kind of dirty tricks has been above me. I was hoping Google would fix it but no. They pushed me down instead. I honestly mean it when I say this. The visitor/searcher is not getting a good experience with the current Google algo or even the old one. I want change but this actually made it worse. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-Goff/100003745805608 Adam Goff

    my classmate’s sister-in-law makes $84 hourly on the laptop. She has been fired for 7 months but last month her income was $9078 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Go to this site N u t t y R i c h dot cöm

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Rempel/725440457 Chris Rempel

    Re: DDG – well, in contrast to the monolithic Google Corp, it might as well be a guy in a basement. And yes, I realize it pulls some data from Bing.

    (Although – remember the time Google was caught pilfering Bing’s SERPs a while back? I seem to remember this happening shortly after they’d accused Bing of doing the same to them…)

    Re: Average Joe Searcher perspective…

    Well, whatever the argument may be – bottom line – we’re seeing a LOT of crap across almost every competitive vertical.

    Yes, I’m sure that all the grandmas out there searching for quilting techniques are still just as thrilled as ever with Google’s results pages.

    But as for the people searching for payday loans, pharm drugs, online colleges, equity refinancing, car insurance – anything hotly competitive – well I guess they’re just SOL.

    Nobody in their right mind would call this update an “improvement”

    And in my opinion, what happens in hyper-comp verticals is of supreme importance, since it will accurately reflect G’s capability to filter out spam.

    Which in this case is a giant step backwards.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremie.calvin Jeremie Calvin

    I feel the listing have become worse. I’m not running any website. I’m just a user of Google, and of yesterday it seems everything I’m searching for comes up with the most ridiculous results. That’s when it dawned on me that something “feels” like it changed. And not for the better. I actually started to use Bing as of yesterday, and wouldn’t you know it, the answers I was seeking I found. I’m not sure what they did, but if getting blank pages, or one page sites as the number one search result is Google’s answer to something I feel they are about to lose many people to Bing. Before they did this, almost everything I searched for I found. Very Bad move for Google. Hello Bing. Put it back Google! Who cares if someone was using spammy links before, at the least the answers were there. 

  • John Davis

    I strongly disagree. All the bad sites above me are still there while I got pushed down. Still don’t get I got pushed down but lets leave that for now. How come all the bad ones are still there? No updates for years, white text on white background, no navigation menu, redirects, blog commenting, etc.

  • Rajesh Dhawan

    ok, let us have a look at some of the results after this update.

    Term = ‘latest seo news’

    Leaving the top-3 sites that are more or less reputed in the SEO world, let us have a look at the sites that are ranking on position numbers below:

    Position 4: http://www.webrankingconsultants.com/seo-info/seo-latest-news.html – the latest news on the site was created in 2007

    Position 5: http://www.free-seo-news.com

    Position 6: seolatestnews.blogspot.com/ – this site was last updated on 09/01/2010 – that’s nearly 18 months back. 

    Position 7: http://www.jimwestergren.com/latest-seo-news/ – this post was last updated on 15th October 2006

    Position 8: http://www.searchenginegenie.com/news-seo/category/latest-seo-news/ – the latest news on this site is dated 17th May 2011

    Pos 9: http://www.bigseotechniques.com/blog/ – the last update took place on 27th Feb 2012

    Pos 10: http://www.expertentity.com/news/seo_news.htm – a bunch of generic articles with the latest dated 24th April 2012

    Now, as an end user I was looking for more information on latest news in the SEO world to read more about the recent issues after the latest update. However, none of the results returned by Google point me to any site that could serve that information to me in realtime. However, what I see is that 5/10 sites actually have been updated in the past. There are quality issues with other sites as well. However, if 50% of my results take me back in the history, then something is terribly wrong here. Or may be Google wants us to try the SEO as it existed in 2006-07.

    Should I call this a carnage of SEO? It does appear that Google has suddenly worked out an algorithm from a test lab. And, hopefully, it would find its place back in the test lab. Or else, Bing should be preferred choice going forward.

  • Will Spencer

    Organizations which “pay big bucks” for links should be safe during this update, if they bought links with varied anchor text.  This wasn’t an anti-paid-link update.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=515876432 Simon Dalley

    Generally people always talk about the negative, it’s much easier to say something negative than it is to put a bit more thought into how to put a positive spin on things. In the realms of SEO often I think people are just so thankful they’ve not been hit or can’t quite believe they’ve been lucky enough to benefit from a ranking update the last thing they want to do is put their head above the parapet and they so for fear they might be the next one to get a penalty of drop down due to an algo update.

  • http://twitter.com/WesleyLeFebvre Wesley LeFebvre

    #10 actually has all of the same articles/content as #5, and basically just feeds link juice to #5.

    Those results are REALLY REALLY Bad.

  • Rajesh Dhawan

    Let us dig deeper. I believe the last Panda update was 3.3. So, leaving aside the webspam-update that was invoked yesterday, let us see the results related to the following:


    If you look at the search results returned by Google, then you will be as surprised as I am. While we are past Panda 3.3 with this latest update, Google continues to show results from 2011. Was it Panda 2.3 or 2.4 or 2.5? Anyways, 5/10 listings on page one of Google for this term belong to 2011. Are they relevant today? No, not for sure. 

    Does this mean that Google likes Danny’s old post of 2011 rather than the current post that talks of the latest updates happening across the SEO world? No clues.

    But, the point over here is that the search experience for an end user was supposed to improve after a spate of updates? Has it improved? No, not for sure.

    Then, what has improved?

    Google’s bottom-line. 

    Yes, Google knows that businesses need traffic and they will pay for it. So, PPC revenues will continue to grow exponentially if the SEO updates make SEO irrelevant and the results absolutely nonsensical. Is this the gameplan that has been disguised as an ‘over-optimization’ penalty? It could be. But, then would we have ever thought that Google could be so short-sighted when it comes to running its business that is jeopardizes its own search experience for the sake of fattening the already burgeoning bottom-line?

    Trust Google to deny all this.

  • http://twitter.com/antwakefield Ant Wakefield

    I’ve got a bunch of sites, most of which have been hit. Some of these sites have been linked up with guest posts and the like, quality link building and promotional methods.

    This update has so many false positives it’s not funny. One great example is my own personal website. It’s myname.com. Ranked for my name for years.

    Until now. It’s on page 2. Ahead are my linkedin profile, my youtube profile, my facebook profile, and so on…

    I’ve never done any link building to my own site. So what’s with the downgrading?

    Absoutely bizarre. If google leave this as it is, it’s a major fail that’ll be the nail in the coffin. It would seem they’ve lost control of their own system, and it’s patched up to the point that they can’t actually make it work properly anymore. 

  • Rajesh Dhawan

    Hehe, you seem to have just come to the party to poke fun at SEO guys? It seems like you will get quite a wee bit higher site traffic today, before your comment goes off-air.

  • Dale Simpson

    Spammed sites rank better, I recently did a xrumer blast to one of sites and this morning, I heard the ranking news, I thought it would go no where. I checked it. its ranking has gone up. Its great nothing to worry guys, use more xrumer :)

  • http://paulwidegren.com/ Paul Widegren

    I Love you Gooogle

  • Ryan Friedrich

    Here’s the Irony and bullshit rolled together folks :

    The image of “Spun content” that they displayed has a link for “Pay Day Loan”

    The article in that screenshot can be found below:

    If you FOLLOW the link in that “Spun Content” you’ll find the site.

    The IRONY and BULLSHIT is that if you SEARCH for “Pay Day Loan” they are also the top ranked site according to Google.

    So what did they do? Screwed the rankings up and didn’t even manage to accomplish what they claimed they accomplished. Hats off Google. I haven’t seen something this bad since… Well I think this is probably the worst. 

  • http://twitter.com/leecolbran Lee Colbran

    The “something” result has been like that for ages; Google was broken long before they really changed things.

  • http://twitter.com/HomeCurriculum Homeschool

    This site is currently ranking #3 for homeschool curriculum:

    It has not been updated since 2009!   How is that an improvement over all the other sites out there for that topic?

  • http://www.surveyreport.com/ Survey Report

    how r u ? i need to create 2 versions of my website…means 2 sub
    pages, for single domain, one sub page optimized for google guidelines
    and second page optimized for bing guidelines, and i want to restrict
    bots on both pages, i.e first page belongs to google bot and second page
    belongs to bing bot and so bing page wont index and crawled by google
    and google page wont index and crawl by bing, long store short: i want
    to create different version of pages for google and bing….

    and its not cloaking, for example, if visitor will come from google.com,
    then page shown same as crawled and indexed by google and same for

    whats your suggestions? its good practice to create pages for google and
    bing? as google and bing guidlines are totally collide each other! 

  • Jenksy

    I love your stuff, Danny, but you really seem to be toeing the line, here. I just don’t see how this update and people’s reactions to it are analogous to the first iteration of Panda. Nor do I understand the rationale put forward that if gobs of people were dinged, there would be a lot more posts floating around about it… really? Most SEOs pay some attention to forums but don’t actively participate, largely because the life-blood of forums is rank speculation: Most people dinged are likely to be spending their time objectively deciphering data sets. And then there’s the clueless throngs that comprise most of the people who own a website.

    If I remember correctly (it’s now a pretty long thread) you want examples of how things got worse; frankly, I’d like to see far more specific examples of where stuff got better: by-and-large, these are going to be subjective evaluations short of the whoppers everyone is pointing out (the list growing by the minute). Having said that, I’m willing to trust that my peers, experts in their respective niches, know what they are talking about – I know I do, and everything (and I mean that) is far, far worse. 

    In my primary niche I’m seeing no movement in the page 1 position 1 spot for a particular webpage and keyword that absolutely should have been zapped off the Internet. This site’s link profile is comprised entirely of spammy, irrelevant blog comments, forum profile links and unintelligible spam Web 2.0s. Further, they have the spammiest title tag in the niche, and their meta-description is keyword stuffed to the point that it’s embarrassing for my niche as a whole.

    Then there’s my site, position 2.

    Then in position 3 is a site that buys links/PR – this comprises 76% of their profile.

    In positions 4 and 5 are sites that came from the 100′s to page one. 

    Position 6 should be #1; and,

    The next 30 sites listed are ones I’ve never SEEN before, 3 of which have no content, just a sales page…

    lol, come on. This is the worst update I’ve seen in 7 years online. 

    An aside about Hostile/Negative SEO: I never have understood the reasoning employed by those that claim this to be the slightest bit difficult, when logic itself dictates it is as doable as ranking a site well. – Looked at from another perspective: if I am capable of spamming my site into oblivion, than so is anyone else. 

    To be frank, I’m not sure Google has done a single thing to make hostile/negative SEO any easier at all; what they have done is talk about things that now clearer implicate negative SEO as a true-blue danger. The argument some put forward, “ohhhh, well, it just wouldn’t pay off in the long run for the spammer” suffer first and foremost from believing that negative SEO involves nothing other than anchor text bombing someone using xRummer and Scrapebox (even though that does indeed work, if only momentarily). These same people often assume because they don’t understand the protracted and intricate nature of the most effective negative SEO campaign’s, that negative SEO is really easy for Google to catch. Third, these same people often assume so-called ‘Black Hatters’ to be, for lack of a better word, idiots – punk kids with no discipline who tend to fall back-asswards into pulling things off when they actually do. Fourth, and finally, there’s the “where’s the case studies!” set: Until now, ‘Black Hatters’ have had very little reason to come forward with blatant examples, let alone flow charts and infographics; moreover, every time an actual case pops up, people want to “yeah, but, yeah, but” it to death.

    Anyway, my fingers hurt.

    I hope everyone is going to pay attention over the next few months. I’m pretty sure we’re all in for quite a show.

  • http://twitter.com/rjbeech12 crazihos

    A lot of this seems anchor related – sites with very few links or lots of brand signals seem to have climbed and sites who did at least some anchor targeting have dropped.

    I got canned and my site douesnt have many plain url www.sitename.co.uk anchor links which it should have if they were really natural.

    The sites above me now have loads more brand signal links as a % than I do even if they have far fewer links over all.

    Can anyone else see a similar patern in their sectors?

  • Joe Walker

    My traffic is down by 35%. I only build quality sites but I do backlink them wrongly. Do you have any advice.

  • mackben

    You need to review the term “payday loans online.”  This one is ridiculous, with someone named Rebecca Carmack having 6 forum profile pages (with spun content) on page 1 and 9 on page 2 (15 of top 20 listings)… and the top site has a fake review snippet.  Add in a PR web page press release and Wikiepedia and you can only get a payday loan online at 3 of the top 20 results.

  • http://twitter.com/armondhammer Steve Hammer

    “Payday Loans Online” is one of the most spammed searches I know of.  The results have been terrible there for a long time, but again, they’ve gotten even worse.  ”Cheap car insurance” is another one.  Had to go 4 pages deep to find a national brand. 

  • http://twitter.com/armondhammer Steve Hammer

    I continue to think that they put a (plus) where they should have put a (minus).  The sectors that seem to be the most complained about are EXACTLY the sectors that they were targeting.  Numerous people have found examples that the polar opposite of the expected behavior, and they are well outlined in this article.  

  • http://www.shoutmeloud.com/ Harsh Agrawal

    Here’s another one: Search for “Panda recovery” and the first result coming out to be.. (Pandora file recovery) :0

  • Don Marks

    If this was only an algo adjustment, why did so many first page sites get wiped out of the 1st 200 results, wouldnt this be better reflected in those sites simply losing their rankings, my assumption is that sites that were impacted have now been tagged behind the scenes as “spammers” or “over optimizers” and there will be a lot of reinclusion requests bottlenecking the customer support que.

    this is what I would like to see some clarification from google on

  • Remus Cretu

    I’m one of the site marked as “nice” in the above images.  My rankings are gone and so far traffic is down 75%. My question is – what to do next ? :(

  • http://twitter.com/carter_brad Brad Carter

    Take a look at ‘payday loans online’ to see the real garbage 

  • Don Marks

     @ brad carter – some mans garbage is another mans gold, they will probably do a manual adjust to these just like the make money online find from yesterday


  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    “I just don’t see how this update and people’s reactions to it are analogous to the first iteration of Panda.”
    Well, they’re actually less. When Panda hit, it went well beyond those who were deep in SEO who stepped out complaining about impacts. It was headline news all over the place. This update? Barely noticed versus the drawing of Google’s 2006 Android phone prototype. So far, outside the SEO space, no one cares. And they probably don’t care because they haven’t noticed it much. That’s the rationale for what I said. 
    It’s also coming off of having seen update after update for years, some big, some small. So far, this is a big update — yep — but the doom and gloom is literally sounding like what you heard off many other Google updates. SEO is dead. They’re killing small businesses. They’re doing this to pump up AdWords. It all could have come out of the Florida Update of 2003. If the plan was to kill small businesses, Google’s sure been taking their time trying to do it.
    I’m not trying to defend Google for making a change that clearly in some cases has made relevancy worse. I am trying to say that no one knows overall if things are better or worse. A bunch of anecdotes just doesn’t give that story.
    “Frankly, I’d like to see far more specific examples of where stuff got better: by-and-large, these are going to be subjective evaluations short of the whoppers everyone is pointing out (the list growing by the minute). Having said that, I’m willing to trust that my peers, experts in their respective niches, know what they are talking about – I know I do, and everything (and I mean that) is far, far worse.”
    I trust them the same. I said that in the opening of my post. I’ve repeatedly said to anyone who wants to dismiss SEO complaints that SEOs are subject experts in their areas, that they really know if things are wrong or right.
    But looking at forum complaints is a skew. Every SEO doesn’t use forums. In particular, there are plenty of small businesses listed on Google who don’t actively do SEO who won’t be there. There are large enterprises who do SEO but may not be participating. And as I said, those who do better in their space often don’t speak up. You have to understand that to have a more balanced view of what’s going on. 
    “Their meta-description is keyword stuffed to the point that it’s embarrassing for my niche as a whole.”
    Since Google doesn’t read this, that doesn’t really matter. But if they are spamming in the way you suggest, agreed, that’s what Google’s update is supposed to nab. But then you say your site is in position 2. That tells me while the update failed to do what was intended, it didn’t wipe you out.
    “lol, come on. This is the worst update I’ve seen in 7 years online.”
    So far, it’s produced some of the strangest things I’ve seen pointed out, too. So far, that seems to be happening more in really competitive spaces (rather than say, treadmill reivews, like above). 
    “An aside about Hostile/Negative SEO: I never have understood the reasoning employed by those that claim this to be the slightest bit difficult, when logic itself dictates it is as doable as ranking a site well. – Looked at from another perspective: if I am capable of spamming my site into oblivion, than so is anyone else.”
    It’s because it assumes that Google only looks at spam rather than other signals, and also because about the only negative SEO signals you can use are links.
    Let’s say you want to negative SEO the New York Times. You can’t alter their pages unless you find a way of hacking them. What’s left is that you can point bad links their way. You do that, but that doesn’t stop all the good links pointing at them, too. Or the authority that the domain has built up. So the bad links stand out as unusual, rather than normal. But do that to a smaller site with little authority, little backlink profile, and it’s more vulnerable. It can be done, and it has been raised for years as an issue. But for years, you’ve rarely heard people talking about it as a worry. That’s because it hasn’t been. But the SEO space likes to have trends. Google wipes out some link networks, sends out unnatural link messages in bulk for the first time, it’s a perfect storm for a lot of disgruntled people who were using those networks to scream warnings about negative SEO.
    “I hope everyone is going to pay attention over the next few months. I’m pretty sure we’re all in for quite a show.”
    I’m sure we are. And thanks for leaving the comment.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    My suggestions are that the guidelines aren’t that different, so build one version of your site for your human visitors, and that should work well for both Google and Bing.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Good point. The news boxes in both Google and Bing do have the news of the 3.5 update that just happened. Bing is also out of date generally, but at least they got the 3.4 update listed tops, which until yesterday was the latest.

  • http://twitter.com/AndyHunt1980 Andy Hunt

    I don’t track Google algo changes and their effect on our sites, mainly as the sites I work on and with have fairly consistent positions and traffic levels from Google organic and we don’t do much in the way of ongoing of site SEO (link building!) so there is not a lot of need to do so.

    But that said, I am pretty disappointed with the overall quality of Googles SERP’s in general and having looked about today in light of all the discussion on here and other sites about the recent changes. I have to agree because on far too many of my day to day information searches (i.e as opposed to shopping focused), I am skipping straight past the majority of the 1st page results and let down by many that I do click on – it’s only really Wikipedia results that consistently show up in the top positions and provide good info without trying to sell me something (or get me to click on a link to a site that will try and sell me something). As such, I am more and more inclined just go straight to Wikipedia for static info, or for current info to news sources I already know and trust (normally the BBC), or a specialist forum if it’s a specific piece of info or advice I’m after, rather than trawling through pages of unhelpful results in Google.

    And if I am actively shopping or even researching a purchase, I’m more likely to click a paid link or just go direct to Amazon/eBay etc or a retailer I already know and trust.

    I have to applaud Google for the basic principle they are working to in order to sort their index out, but I also have to say that IMO they are not keeping up with the efforts of the commercial side of the internet to game their results. They appear to be losing the race…

    In an ideal world I’d like to see Google focus on classification of websites/pages as being either informative or commercial, and allow me as the user to decide which focus, if any, to give it. Don’t know how possible that is or how effective it would be (or indeed how open to being gamed), but there must be patterns that are relatively easy to spot on a site that is selling something directly or which is packed full of affiliate links? I would like to think that if the user was specifying they are only interested in info, then people are *less* likely to try and manipulate the results (naive? possibly…)

    Whatever happens, surely there has to be an end to the heavy weighting that seems to be given to things that are so obviously open to abuse as links, titles and keyword stuffed domain names.

  • http://twitter.com/AndyHunt1980 Andy Hunt

    SEO’s might be but I doubt that real internet users will, at least not quite so quickly. If Bing is better than Google (and I am not saying it is) then it ain’t by much. Those funky new TV ads will have more of an effect than these updates, and even then I just can’t see the impact being very significant

  • http://twitter.com/DanielDeceuster Daniel Deceuster

     Don’t bother trying to figure it out. That’s what I’ve been doing by going through contacts in the SEO industry as well as looking at my own sites. We do the same content building and link building strategies for every site we work on. Some of our sites got hit, some did not. The sites that were recognized brands in their industry are fine. Sites with keyword domains got hit. That’s the only way I can categorize those that got hit and those that didn’t right now. Everything else they have exactly in common.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HEGXFDMKPYKGU6MM5FEJQGQOUA Enrique M

    Search for this “python hosting”, and take a look at the first result: python-hosting.com

  • http://twitter.com/DanielDeceuster Daniel Deceuster

     Danny, I see a big difference between this update and any other update in the past. As with all updates, there are winners and losers. The losers will always complain. I had never been a loser until now. But the only reason I’m complaining is not because I lost, it’s because Google’s users lost.

    It’s not that my site being booted from the front page to nowhere means it was a bad update. It’s a bad update because unilaterally across every industry you can imagine, the results have gotten worse. You used my example of “treadmill reviews” in this post. I know everyone in this space. I know the ones who actually use the treadmills, I know the ones who copy others, I know the ones who are affiliates and who are not, etc. I know it inside and out.

    If my site got booted from the top spots, I would expect to see very specific ones take its place. I would expect to see the good sites move ahead of me. But what happened to me and what happened to many others is that they got nuked and absolute rubbish took their place. In “treadmill reviews” I’m seeing a bunch of sites that have never been on the front page.

    The point isn’t to say that Google is worse or better than Bing. The point is Google is now worse than Google. They used to be much better. With each update they always made their search results better. But this is the first time for me and many people that we have seen the search results at Google get worse. Not worse than Bing’s, worse than their own search results used to be.

    That is what is so concerning. This update was supposedly targeted at spam. Not only is spam dominating several competitive searches, but totally legitimate sites got hammered. It’s completely non-sensical. My default search bar in FireFox is now Bing. I don’t think Bing’s results are much better if at all, but I cannot support Google at this point by continuing to search there, not after they released this update.

    And if you ask me, now is the PERFECT time for Facebook to jump in the game. Zuck, it’s time to acquire Bing, time to make it better, time to add web search to Facebook.

  • http://www.brysonmeunier.com/ Bryson Meunier

    Danny, great post as always. It might be interesting to do your analysis of the SERPs today, just 24 hours later, as some of them seem to have changed significantly in this short time. The official site for Viagra is number one in Google for me for [viagra] in incognito today, and the site without content is no longer ranking in Google for [make money online]. Any comment from Google yet about whether they took manual action based on your analysis?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Tobias/100003688525111 Jeff Tobias

     Thanks for clearing that up Danny.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HEGXFDMKPYKGU6MM5FEJQGQOUA Enrique M

    Search for “python hosting” and you will get this site www. python-hosting.com at #1, is this a joke?

  • Jenksy

    Me: Their meta-description is keyword stuffed to the point that it’s embarrassing for my niche as a whole.
    Danny: Since Google doesn’t read this, that doesn’t really matter.

    Me: Point being it’s spam all around.

    Danny: But if they are spamming in the way you suggest, agreed, that’s what Google’s update is supposed to nab. 

    Me: This is the purported aim, yes.

    Danny: But then you say your site is in position 2. That tells me while the update failed to do what was intended, it didn’t wipe you out.

    Me: The point — To highlight exceptions proving rules in my niche, and the extrapolation applicable to other examples given. 

    Thanks for the response, looking forward to your next write-up, Danny.

  • mmonsen

    I’m working with a few websites and, honestly, I can’t find a definitive reason that one of them got penalized while my sites and a few others rose dramatically. Among the ones that rose was a dating site that was caught in an extremely spammy blogroll-type linkwheel a while back, yet their rankings increased.

    One of the sites that got penalized (out of the top 100 for its main keywords) had done no link building/SEO whatsoever in the past, and had even acquired a few natural .edu links in the past few weeks.

    I’m honestly baffled by this update. There appears to be no common logic between sites that got smacked or sites that got a boost.

  • medway808

    Sounds like all their other updates.  How is Panda letting all of these low quality sites through.

  • medway808

    I’m in a similar niche in the exercise equipment field.  Right now a site that cloned another site (but with poor rewritten content) and some completely unreadable garbage is ranking.  I used to rank along with another high quality review site but we both got hammered.

  • fredwaters

    Danny, thanks for the compliment on my treadmill review site.  I am the #1 listing you made reference to on bing (www.treadmill-ratings-reviews).  Meanwhile I have gotten beat up on Google. Lost about 2/3rds of my traffic.  It has been very bizarre.  On the term “Treadmill Reviews” I dropped from abouth 8th position to 15th.  Meanwhile, on “Treadmill Review” my home page does not show up at all.  I typically ranked about 5th.  For certain treadmill brand reviews I still rank #1, but for others my pages have been dropped.  All my content is unique and I pride myself on the quality of my content.  I am one of the few treadmill reviewers that actually worked in the industry (16 years).  I personally know many of the manufacturers and spend money traveling to their facilities to get first hand information on their products and the people behind them. 

    I’m trying to figure how I screwed up, if at all.  I have bought some links in the past, but did that in response to the first Panda update where I saw other sites that bought links jumping above me.  Although in general my link building has been based on articles, listings, guest blogging and recognition of my authority. In general the links were on fitness and health related sites.  For example, I have links pointing to me from trusted resource on sites like about.com and consumersearch.  Meanwhile, one of the sites that has jumped up to the first page has links on jibberish pages, that show up on the backlinks of Google pagerank.  Another site that is on the first page is 2 months old, while my site is almost 8 years. 

    I hope this straighten up, otherwise I may consider moving to Costa Rica and living in a cabana on the beach.  Who needs this, and kudos to Bing for recognizing excellence. 

    Fred Waters

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