Why Google Blinked

Don’t believe the spin on why Google changed its algorithm. Google isn’t proactively helping users. In the on-going battle between Google and the geeks who game their system; the geeks won a round. Somewhere SEO guys are smirking.

The change, which affects 12 percent of searches in the United States only – that’s 1 out of every 6 – is a tacit admission that SEO masters beat the system; at least for a while. After staring down those relentlessly seeking ways to improve their rankings in this endless cat-and-mouse game, Google blinked. The significant change is both an offensive and defensive play from the Mountain View team.

Amit Singhai’s announcement blog post starts the spin. The obvious objective is stated; “to give most people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible.”   This suggests that they are improving the system to serve users better. What it doesn’t acknowledge is that Bing is hot on their heels in head to head comparisons of results relevancy so they are highly motivated to protect their 66% share of US searches. It also conveniently sidesteps the fact that SEO mavens have successfully manipulated their own rules against them in 1 out of every 6 searches.

The bad guys, in Google’s view, are content farms. “Low quality sites” that copy and aggregate content and in so doing artificially boost their Google rankings. These sites range from Demand Media’s eHow.com and Answerbag.com to Yahoo’s Associated Content and AOL’s Seed. The change will disenfranchise endless numbers of no-name sites that scrape content and repost it in Google optimized ways to draw traffic and sell ads.

Keep in mind that these qualitative judgments about sites are based on quantitative inputs. The algorithms count things like repeated words, sequences, content adjacencies, internal and external links and IP address. Google’s robots and spiders can’t make real quality judgments about the “usefulness” of content; which generally is in the eye of the human beholder.

Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand is calling the change “The Farmer Algorithm” to distinguish it from previous Google mathematical zigs and zags. He recounts a conversation with Google’s Matt Cutts who told him that 84% of the top 50 sites most reported for SPAM will have their results downgraded by this new change. So Google is also spinning punishment as progress.

One immediate negative implication of the new formula will impact online PR guys who count scrapers and aggregators to pick up online press releases giving them hundreds of feeder links which used to translate into Google mojo. Similarly, marketers using content syndication and aggregation as a cost-savings distribution strategy will have to rethink their tactics.

There’s a David and Goliath aspect to this story which will warm the hearts of SEO specialists and keep all of us watching and waiting for the next series of moves and counter moves.

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