It seems the mainstream media has finally caught up – not everyone who gets screwed by Google is a spammer getting his just deserts.
MetaFilter has apparently been dying a slow and painful death as a result of the Google Panda updates. And, I'm sad to say a little part of me smiled.
Am I happy to see any small business suffer? Hell. No.
Do I want MetaFilter to suffer? Again. Hell. No.
But, with MetaFilter's decline comes the mainstream media's attention on Panda. The mainstream media who – until now – had their head in the sand, happily lapping up the Google Propaganda. Believing hook, line, and sinker that any business hit by a Google penalty is a spammer – someone caught up in that scammy SEO – and deserves whatever they get.
I feel like someone who has been fighting a war everyone outside of our proverbial “country of SEO” has been oblivious to until now. But with MetaFilter's hit, everyone is beginning to take notice that there are innocent casualties of that war. And that war is called Panda.
But as the posts continued publishing, I noticed something disturbing.
Some publications were almost treating MetaFilter as an oddity.
Some bloggers were reporting on the situation as if a quality site being hit was an unusual situation.
And they were calling for justice.
MetaFilter is no different than tens of thousands of other good, worthy small businesses who are also laying off employees – some even closing their doors – as a result of Google's Panda filter serving as judge, jury, and executioner. They've been as blindly and unfairly cast away to an island, and no one can hear their pleas for help.
The only difference between MetaFilter and tons of other small businesses on the web is that MetaFilter has friends in higher places.
@ElliotJH MattH and I have been discussing it over the last week or so.
— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) May 21, 2014
Mainstream media shouldn't be asking for a pardon for MetaFilter without also calling for a change and at the very least some transparency to all of the other business owners left in its wake. We shouldn't be ignoring a large population of small business owners who have received the same fate – but without the ability to have the same recourse.
The special treatment and the biased justice for the “brands and celebrities of the web” while the common folk continue to endure needs to stop.
What the Mainstream Media Misses When it Comes to Panda
Some Google penalties are fairly easy to understand (and find guilt for in the receiving website).
A lot of manual link penalties and Penguin penalties result from shady (former or current) link building tactics that were employed by the website owner or their hires (no matter how many wrongfully attempt to claim negative SEO as the cause). Though Penguin also can generate false positives – and there is such a thing as negative SEO – with Penguin there is at least a clear cause (bad links – however they got there) as to why you were hit.
An article in The Washington Post attempted to dive a little deeper into MetaFilter's own part in their mess:
As much as Google is to blame for MetaFilter’s downfall, however, MetaFilter may be responsible, too: It simply hasn’t evolved to keep up with the rest of the Web. Meanwhile, MetaFilter hasn’t moved any eggs outside the Google basket, even as that basket got smaller. The site has no presence on Facebook or Twitter; it has not, by all accounts, really tried to scale beyond its core audience.
And that's true to an extent. Website owners are responsible for keeping up with their audience – and if they want its traffic – Google. If MetaFilter had focused on building other traffic streams, the loss of their Google rankings might not have put them in danger of closing their doors.
The article mentions in another section:
The site’s wonky, old-school navigation — not to mention its throwback interface — requires a FAQ section several dozen questions long. MetaFilter’s most interesting core functions, like its discussion boards and Q&A feature, have since been cannibalized by more usable sites like Reddit and Quora.
However true that statement may be, it's not behind their traffic loss from Google.
A site dropping in rankings because it is becoming less popular because it refuses to evolve its development and marketing strategies to today's web (that they can overcome with a redesign or a new interface) is one thing – it's the natural order of the web.
But that wasn't the case here. They fell because they provided a “false positive” for the spam the Panda filter is trying to catch and they are screwed in Google until they escape that filter (or until Google whitelists them out of the filter to avoid the resulting media coverage). And no “updated look” or “new interface” or Twitter following is going to fix that.
And what did they do to get caught in up in Panda? That's the question tons of small businesses owners have been asking themselves since they launched it in 2011.
Panda is a different kind of penalty
It's vague and subjective. There's no true definition of the filter aside from duplicate and “thin” content. Duplicate content is easy to understand. But, the “thin” content has caused tons of unintended victims.
In 2011, Google's Amit Singhal blatantly stated that they couldn't tell webmasters specifically why they were caught in Panda (to protect Google's algorithm from spammers, natch). Instead, he gave us a list of 23 questions we could ask ourselves if we saw our site obliterated in a Panda update. The questions are generic and boilerplate in nature – and based on all the Panda penalties I've seen, are about as helpful as a heater in a desert in regards to pinpointing the actual problem.
In fact, in nearly every SERP, you'll see a site that breaks almost every guideline ranking and then come across another hit by Panda that conforms to nearly all of them. And only three questions “to ask yourself” (#4, #15 and #18) even remotely apply to e-commerce sites – which, in my experience, are one of the types of sites that seem to struggle with Panda the most.
Look – there is only so much unique and insightful content you can create for a pair of black socks in size 3-11. E-commerce stores separate themselves from their competitors with things like pricing, shipping speed and cost, customer service, selection, return policies and convenience. And none of those are things Google is currently factoring into their algorithm.
Panda Amounts to a Court System with No Appeals
Panda judges a site based on a mathematical computation and decides if it's guilty or innocent and levies your sentence. But, you have no idea what crime you committed. You also never got to take the stand. And you have no ability to file an appeal. (Mainstream media note: Reconsideration requests apply to manual penalties only.)
But why would Google do that?
BREAKING: Google Doesn't Give a Shit if YOU are Penalized
Google makes money by serving up ads next to search results. To have searchers to serve those ads to, they need to provide good results.
Who or where those results come from doesn't matter ONE DAMN BIT to Google.
It's why they tell us to “create good content.” If we all create good content, then their results are full of good content. Whether or not “creating good content” means you'll magically and always rank better (it doesn't), the more people Google can convince to do so, the higher their odds of their SERPs being full of good content.
Whether it's your good content, his good content, her good content or their good content is not their concern.
If a filter means they'll eliminate some spam in their SERPs – but it means they'll also eliminate tons of small businesses who might get wrongly caught in that filter – then so be it. Eliminating spam improves their bottom line – the focus is on their results when they institute a filter, not yours.
Because in the graves of those spammers and unfortunate small businesses, other small businesses and equal quality websites “creating good content” will sit.
Sites like MetaFilter however, cause mainstream media attention. The louder the squeak, the more likely it is to get oil. Because pacifying the mainstream means they can continue to operate the dictatorship and keep their image of “awesome results” versus “greedy corporation without a conscience” to Ma and Pa searcher intact.
We Need the Spotlight on the Problem & Not on a Single Victim
This post isn't meant to bash mainstream media – it's meant to educate them.
MetaFilter is not an anomaly. They aren't even a rarity. They are simply a small business with a larger voice and reach than most.
So if you're going to grab onto the MetaFilter story, and you're going to expose their “search injustice”, remember that there are tons of other business owners out there who would love to see you bring attention to the Panda plights of *small businesses* versus the Panda plight of *ONE* small business.