The Irony of the Reporting on Google’s Recent Algorithm Change

In a surprisingly ironic way, MSNBC (a high quality website by Google’s standards), covered the impact of Google’s recent algorithm change with an error-filled article.

1) MSNBC captioned the thumbnail image of the wiseGEEK homepage with “The No.1 casualty of Google’s new algorithm”.

The chart from Sistrix was sorted by the “Sistrix Index Score” from before the change. The percentage drop listed on the chart for wiseGEEK is 77% which is actually tied for the lowest impact.

2) “, which felt the most immediate impact with the change, losing 94 percent of its traffic.”

The Sistrix chart is based on the “Sistrix Index” which has to do with search rankings and is not directly related to traffic. The index is based on rankings all the way to the 10th results page; dropping from 31st place to 42nd place may be of interest to Search Engine Optimizers, but since only a tiny percentage of searchers navigate past the first or second search results page, there is little impact on traffic. Based on the QuantCast graph, Suite101’s traffic dropped by nearly 50% but that is nowhere near the 94% reported by MSNBC. Similarly wiseGEEK’s traffic is not down 77% but rather 26%.

3) The article lists “” as one of the most affected by the change.

I presume that they were actually intending to mention, a site with over 57 million visitors in January 2011 and over 70+ full time employees.

4) “While Demand Media itself is not on the 25 biggest losers list compiled by search optimization company Sistrix, it still took body blows through and, which are both heavy with DM content.”

The author doesn’t seem to understand that Demand Media is the company that owns and operates and (they don’t just supply content to them).

5) “Because the number of keywords these domains are ranking has dropped so rapidly, they’re being relegated to the back of the class, pages away from the top search results rather than front and center.”

The speed of the drop is certainly of note, but it is not why the sites on the list have been “relegated to the back of the class.” Also, many of the sites are still ranking on the first page for many keywords and are not “pages away” from “front and center.”

Throwing out the baby with the bathwaterContent quality was originally handled with Google’s PageRank algorithm. The algorithm relies on links to surface high quality content and distinguish it from low quality content. Apparently, the efficacy of PageRank has started to break down.

Unfortunately, it appears that Google was unable to deal with the problem on a page-by-page basis, and instead had to resort to the very blunt approach of demoting entire domains. This blunt approach is susceptible to throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

I hope the substantive errors I outlined above help to show that “lousy” content can appear on domains as lofty as MSNBC. Similarly, great content can appear on domains that may happen to share a similar profile to low-quality sites.

I stand behind the quality of the content on our sites. Errors do slip through, but we have robust mechanisms to catch and correct them for our readers.