Panda, Googlebombs and Google Doublespeak
June 14, 2011
Posted in Ken's Blog
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This past week, Google let it be known that Panda 2.2 would be released soon. Some particular "Google doublespeak" reminded me of the same code words used when Googlebombs "detonate" publicly...
In case you don't know, a "Googlebomb" is characterized by many web pages linking to one particular page (let's call it the "target" page). Those pages each place the same keyword (or closely related terms) in the text of the links to the target page. The goal? To push the target to the top of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for that keyword.
It only works for less competitive search terms because its success depends on "overwhelming" one part of Google's search ranking algorithm... inbound links. This makes it possible to manufacture a Googlebomb for a term like "site build it scam" relatively easily. But not for the word "website," which is too competitive to exploit any factor (or narrow range of factors) in a ranking algorithm.
Important reminder: Google wants you to report webspam. It claims to be serious... "At Google, we strive to provide the highest quality, most relevant search results, so we take your webspam reports very seriously." Take them at their word! Tell Google to fix Googlebombs. Click here to read the reporting instructions in "Proof That Google Has No True Googlebomb Algorithm."
Google has a 10-year history of misleading the press, and by extension the public, when Googlebombs make the news. When an "H-bomb" drops (a "Hydrogen Googlebomb" is one that breaks out of "Net marketing blogs" and into the mass media), Google makes manual changes. It also does everything in its power to cover them up or spin them.
We have seen Google reactions to public bombs evolve from "what bomb?" to "coincidence" to "trivialization" to my favorite... "the infrequent algorithmic update."
Google also gives the impression that the publicity-generating bombs are the only ones that exist. It also wants us to believe that, if there are others (they claim they are very rare), they are handled the same way. Not true.
If you are unfairly impacted by a Googlebomb (or by a Panda mistake) and if you are not in the public eye, you know this all too well. You are ignored by Google. At best, you get a form letter.
There is a clear double standard.
Why do they defuse publicity-generating Googlebombs? It is not because of the issue that generates the publicity. Whatever it is (racial, political, business), it's sensational. That's why it's public.
It's definitely not the issue that motivates Google. It's the publicity itself. They dismantle the bomb because public perception of Google's search quality is at stake. When that happens, red alerts fly around the Googleplex...
"Fix this fast!"
Why? Because Google Search depends on public perception that Google delivers the best search results. It's as simple as that. It drives how they handle public Googlebombs.
And it drives how they manage Panda, which has generated way more negative PR than they had counted on, although it is thankfully (for Google) not yet the lead story on CNN. ;-)
What About Panda?
Overall, Panda did a good job of neutralizing pap ("regurgitated content"). "Content farms" were slammed. Good sites rose (overall, SBI! sites rose in traffic by 8% after Panda was released, meaning "pappy" competitors were taken out).
In case you don't know much about Panda, here is my commentary on it. The first 4 articles discuss the problem...
The above were written before "Panda" was released, before "Panda" even had a name. The following 2 article were written after...
Panda had/has one problem... an unacceptably high false-positive rate, doing damage to many thousands of high-quality blogs and sites. The collective pain of thousands of webmasters wrongly hit by Panda (skip past the "best answers" that have been inserted to deflect your attention from the pain) makes Panda the release that has hurt more good sites than any other release in Google's history.
It's been a PR "bad dream" for Google, at the webmaster level. Luckily (for Google), this story is too geeky for the mass media, or it would be a publicity "nightmare." Still, if Panda is not controlled soon, the negative vibrations could start to shake Google's foundations.
Hence the need to "fix" this ongoing mess (presumably, Panda 2.2).
For many of us, Google still has a "good guy" image... "It's not like other companies."
Those are impressions from an earlier time, well earned. Early impressions, however, are often hard to break.
Let's review two events to remind us that today's Google is not the one we cherish from way back...
"Do you remember this aborted heist of our traffic?" Many of us have forgotten the "Go to Google" attempted traffic theft, so brilliantly thwarted by the blogging community. It was our wake-up call.
And remember this, too... Google dropped its "Don't be evil" corporate motto two years ago.
Google is not the friendly, happy-colored-logo company that we all remember. It is, sadly, just another big company. Sorry to remove the rose-colored classes, but we need the correct lenses if we are ever going to learn how to interpret Google's pronouncements correctly.
How To Cleanup Public Fallout
Here's the formula for "how to clean up publicity fallout from a Google-H-bomb"...
1) Fix it manually (if reflex defenses do not suffice).
2) Claim not to have run a manual fix, that it was an algorithmic fix.
3) Watch horrendous publicity evaporate.
4) Enjoy ongoing perception of Google as "best search engine in the land."
5) Feel good about Google stock price.
Think I'm cynical? Hold that thought until we have completed something never before done...
Let's review the 10-year history of the Googlebomb-with-communications to fully understand what I call "evolving opaque transparency." This communications style is one that appears to be unusually transparent (for search engines, which are usually secretive). In fact, they reveal less than nothing...
They lead us down the wrong road. They change their story over the years even though the underlying basics of a Googlebomb remain the same. And they get away with it all as "the good guy" of search.
Understanding this style will help you interpret Google blurbs during "Panda 2.2 Week." Personally, although SBIers have collectively done well, I believe it's time to put Panda to bed and just return to the fact that Google is constantly and quietly evolving.
Let's just ignore it and move on. That's the best way to handle constant change. Focus on the fundamentals of C T P M, as we've been saying for 10 years.
Unfortunately, Google needs Panda to be seen as "fixed." So instead of its usual practice of quietly making its releases, we are actually going to have a named and numbered Google Search feature release!
And expect to see the pinnacle of 10 years of Google communications repeated...
"We Run It Infrequently"
That is a devastatingly effective line. It allows an engine to cover all manner of sins. It is the ultimate way to deny manual changes and other manual bandaids like whitelists and blacklists (the existence of which Google was forced to admit recently).
It is the end stage of 10 years of "evolving opaque transparency."
Need out of a tight spot? Don't want to admit that you made a manual change. Simply say that you ran the "anti-googlebomb algorithm" and presto!...
The PR nightmare disappears.
And now... Google can use it for Panda, too!
"Why don't we run it more frequently? It takes up a lot of resources!"
Google is not accustomed to taking up resources? A company with multi-billion dollar quarterly profits can't afford to run important algorithms (content and links!) more often than "infrequently"?
When I read that Panda now had been given an actual version number (with a decimal point!), I had to chuckle. It's enough, already.
When I read Matt Cutts saying that the Panda algorithm is run "infrequently," I had to cry...
This is going to be Public Relations 2.2 for Panda, taking pages straight out of the Googlebomb playbook.
Like the Googlebomb, pap ("regurgitated content") has not changed.
Pap and bombs both exploit part of Google's algorithm to rank highly for relatively easy-to-win keywords.
Interestingly, while the "bomb detector" remains woefully inadequate, the "pap-detector" (Panda) went too far and hurt way too many fine sites.
One important unanswered question is...
"How Can Google Be So Bad at the Fundamentals?"
Few question how Google can still be vulnerable to such exploits, because of Google's effectively distracting style of communicating...
Although I was a big supporter of Panda (before and after its release), I became upset at how Google communicates. Since then, substantial research has filled in the blanks and led me to disheartening conclusions.
Finally, Google admitted the existence of whitelisting and blacklisting (when Google had little choice -- it had simply become too obvious to keep denying)...
I criticized how Google handles plagiarizing of "the little guy's" site...
My criticism of how ehow.com escaped Panda continued, as did the survival of copycat sites...
Well, Panda 2 wiped out ehow.com's pappy pages.
And Panda 2.2, says Google, is supposed to be going after copycat pages.
My hope is that "the real algorithm" is getting smarter at telling good from bad, at differentiating original from paraphrased. That is "core."
But if Google tells us that they're "merely running an algorithm periodically," interpret that to mean that they're just managing complaints according to the amount of public heat.
There is actually nothing wrong with that. (If I were Google, I'd publicize the manual management of abuses that cannot (yet) be managed algorithmically). But it is code for...
"We don't have control of these fundamentals."
Rather than interpreting Google code, I'm sure we'd all prefer that they...
Just Tell Us
I hope I can skip Panda 2.2. I hope it helps good sites that were wrongly penalized. Because it's time to move on.
All the best.
P.S. Earlier, I talked about Google's 10-year history of the Googlebomb and how Google has altered its messaging over time, leading us down the garden path of "no manual changes" so effectively.
When viewed in a sweep, historical patterns emerge that were hidden "in the moment." We'll start a thorough 10-year review of the Googlebomb, and Google's skilfully evolving responses to it, in the next post.
"The History of the Googlebomb and Reponses" is fascinating. Watch "evolving opaque transparency" unfold before your eyes.
P.P.S. This last P.P.S. is being written on July 3, well after the release of Panda 2.2. Not only is Panda 2.2 indeed being run "infrequently," it has been elevated to the status of a "factor" in the master algorithm, much like Google's PR (which they constantly tell us to ignore). Truth? Half-truth? Fiction? Who knows?
All we really know is... this is the first we've heard of it being a "factor." Why? Wasn't it relevant to say so way back in February (Panda 1)??
Whatever Panda is, the explanation is convenient. Read the 10-year history of the Googlebomb (in the 3-Part series that follows this post). It's fascinating to watch how Google's message about an unchanging set of "bomb facts" evolves to meet realities that expose their prior messages.
It will, at a minimum, provide the first thorough understanding of the Googlebomb, as well as how Google has responded to it when publicly embarrassed. One can only assume that Google reacts similarly to other "tight spots" (such as Panda), "fixing" the public embarrassments (which calls search quality into question) while ignoring private complaints until it all fades away through the sands of time.