Google Selective Page Filtering & Web Spam – Payola $180 Gift

When a page on your site totally tanks in Google’s search results, normally there is one of several things that have gone wrong to have caused it.

  • You have messed up – maybe blocked the page by accident in robots.txt
  • Google have made a major algorithm change
  • You have some kind of general penalty or your site has been hacked

It could also be argued that it can be caused by duplicate content, and enter the supplemental results through lack of pagerank. Honest duplicate content could be on your own site, or due to poor syndication (lack of links back to the original document).

There are however other very real scenarios that could cause a web page to drop in rankings overnight.

A Major Bug in Google Algorithms

Google have stated, officially, that if you are syndicating content, you should ensure that in the syndicated content, there is a link back to the original. I achieve this by requesting sites like WebProNews.com to include a link back to my original article rather than just a link back to my domain.
If splogs pick up my full content, they normally also grab the link in my author box at the bottom of each article.

For a number of weeks Google link attribution has been, to put it bluntly, royally screwed.

Google’s Adam Lasnik stated on the Webmaster Central Blog:-

Syndicate carefully: If you syndicate your content on other sites, make sure they include a link back to the original article on each syndicated article. Even with that, note that we’ll always show the (unblocked) version we think is most appropriate for users in each given search, which may or may not be the version you’d prefer.

Google… it isn’t working

For a couple of months my list of dofollow plugins was ranking 3rd for the fairly innocent uncompetitive search phrase “dofollow”. With more blogs talking about dofollow, it does become more competitive, but a large number are linking through to the page, in fact Google’s main index reports 58 links, Google Blogsearch reports 185 individual blogs have linked through.
All of those links were topically relevant, but a fair number were from various lists of supporters, thus maybe given a low weighting.

For over 1 month the syndicated copy of the story on WebProNews which linked back to the original, replaced it in the SERPs at #5 – by replaced, I mean Google decided that was the original article, and the original disappeared

Yahoo site explorer reports that the syndicated copy only has 6 links pointing to it from other pages, and my original has over 1000.

In the last couple of days, even the syndicated copy has disappeared from Google results.

There is no “Google Bombing” activity on the page, all the links were editorial, relevant, and in fact a huge number (for the lists circulated) of the links used my name as anchor text.

Google doesn’t get it wrong all the time

In fact this scenario is the exception rather than the rule. A good example (though slightly contrived) is the charity link meme that so many SEOs are taking part in. I have seen great improvement in search position for my selected listings that have now appeared on a few SEO sites.

A search in Google for the term also is a fairly good demonstration that my “trust” with Google isn’t doing too badly (no global penalty), because I outrank Andy Beal for the term, though there are lots of factors such as additional internal linking.

Maybe there is a penalty for too many editorial links to good content?

My dofollow plugins list isn’t gaining as many new links per day as it was, but the number and quality of many of the links shouldn’t give a penalty.

Google is meant to support high quality content that encourages people to link to it

Selective Page Filtering & Web Spam

Google want you to report paid links.

When Matt Cutts most recently caused an uproar it was actually a different form. The instructions were clear, include “paidlink”.

So what did I do?

I reported myself to Google for Paid Links

It should be noted that the intent of the report to the web spam team was intended to provide them with data to test their algorithms.

I provided them with details of 3 reviews I had written that I regarded at the time as good paid reviews. The reviews were not being written for search engine benefit.
The amount of time I could afford to spend on each review was commensurate with how much I was earning, but still exceeded what would be regarded as a good hourly rate for the time invested.

The reviews were

Search Engine Glossary
Volusion Shopping Cart
Sponsored Reviews

I am biased certainly, but it is my belief that none of those reviews, whether I was compensated or not, should be classed as web spam.

They are consultation generally for sites that don’t even need the links. All the links were editorial, though as I am SEO aware, I give SEO friendly links to things.

As I chose to link to the site, and I was linking to highly related content, I didn’t use nofollow – I wasn’t being paid for links, though I am not sure how an algorithm is meant to determine that.

My Volusion Review Has Been Kicked Out Of Google

It might well have been manually removed by a monkey who wasn’t trained enough to determine the quality and value of the content he/she was looking at.

The monkey was probably programmed a little like this…

  • Receive web spam report
  • Check for word “paidlink”

Now at this stage there is either going to be an AND or an OR operator in the logic, and that might be where some kind of error took place with individual URLs, although I submitted 3 at once.

Before writing this article, I have waited a fair amount of time observing what was happening.

Google had a mess with their toolbar pagerank export April 30th. Toolbar pagerank is even more inaccurate these days because a grey bar can mean multiple things.

  1. The page is new
  2. The page is regarded as duplicate content – even if a page is PR3 or PR4, enough to keep it out of the supplemental index normally, if it is detected as being duplicate it will have a grey bar – this is both a good and a bad thing – it might mean that such pages are also not draining Google Juice from your original content for those that aren’t careful about external links on such pages.
  3. The page is banned or deindexed – what might be looked on as a bad neighbourhood

Fairly confusing for the average webmaster to know what is going on

The Volusion review was giving a grey bar, as were the tag pages leading from it because they were duplicate content.

This didn’t concern me, the page was still ranking high for the single term “volusion”, and first for “volusion review” (without quotes), despite having a little competition from other blogs who reviewed Volusion at the same time, under similar terms.
I was still seeing traffic to the review.

Syndication of the Volusion Review

One website requested permission to syndicate my review for their new shopping cart review site. I publish my content under GPL, but look on correct attribution as a link back to my original content.
They complied completely with my wishes, and their CMS pinged me. I did think about deleting the trackback, but my review had already been published and index for over 1 month, had already received some links, and was featured prominently in my linking structure 2 clicks from the front page on a page that eventually will receive lots of links, even if it is just from me.

In addition, they didn’t have the comments on their review that made my own permalink page unique from the syndicated copy.

The website owner requested syndicating the content because it was a high quality review.

My ultimate decision to leave the trackback was that he asked permission for syndication. I get splogged a fair amount, and I wanted to give Google a signal that that content was legitimate.
As I use a dofollow plugin, my trackback links hopefully give a little bit of juice after my editorial decision to leave the link on the page.

His syndicated copy has also been kicked out of Google SERPS.

Just that one specific article, that is linked from his sidebar on a PR3 site – possibly the page would be looked at as having some purpose.

That site isn’t the only one that syndicates my content, some of my best articles are also picked up by WebProNews.

On WebProNews I have 2 author profiles

Andy Beard – Static Profile – yes that is a nice PR5 backlink, sometimes it is worth being syndicated on high profile sites.
Andy Beard – Articles – As far as I can see, WPN intend this to be indexed, but it has been kicked out of Google.
The page might be looked on as a search result, but on the domain there aren’t any similar, the page is very much unique compared to what is on my site, and I would suggest it is useful content.

Lets look at individual entries:-

I have 30 articles syndicated on WebProNews
26 of those articles are in Google’s index
4 of those articles are not indexed

The 4 articles not indexed is because they haven’t got any links, and they haven’t got any links because the search engines are not indexing the “category like” search pages.

It should be noted I don’t have to give Google a positive indication of any kind to have my articles indexed on their site.

Conclusion:- In normal situations Google Indexes and ranks syndicated content.

The syndicated copy of my Volusion Review (with permission) should be in Google’s index even if it is in some ways duplicate content – it isn’t 100% duplicate content because it doesn’t have the comments, just like WebProNews.

Duplicate Tag Content

My Volusion review was given 4 tags that were on topic

VolusionIndexed in Google
Volusion Review – Not Indexed / Banned
Volusion Shopping Cart – Not Indexed / Banned
Shopping Cart Review – Not Indexed / Banned

At this time I haven’t gone to a lot of effort to make those pages unique, and until today those pages had links from a single article so would be quite low on pagerank.
In the future I intend to use some of those tags multiple times, for instance I will probably tag this post with “volusion”, but not with the other tags. I would also like to spend some time looking at other shopping carts because it is relevant to my niche, and I find most of the reviews on the internet quite poor, or overlook many things.

I quite expect pages like that to go into the Google Supplemental index until such time as as they have been made more unique, though I would look on it as a little harsh to have them totally removed from the index.

Google have stated in the past that when they have duplicate content, they will choose which one they think is most relevant to display. I have read nothing stating they will choose one copy, and de-index all the others.

Other sites use indexed tags, and even have such “orphan” single item tag pages, as an example Techcrunch on 1000tags

Google Pigeons

Google joked about their pigeon rank back in 2002 for April fools day

Google Pigeons

  • The category like pages on WebProWorld need to be indexed, or their content that doesn’t have other subject based links just drops out of the indexes of all search engines.
    The fact that most of it is indexed suggests that content that is duplicate isn’t meant to be kicked out.
  • There is something clearly wrong with their current handling of link attribution
  • It seems like the pigeons are kicking random pages that have been reported to contain paid links out of the index, contrary to what has previously been stated by Google (well actually Matt Cutts)

Here is what I have written in a fresh report to Google:-

Volusion were not buying links, they were buying reviews from experts, so does that mean consultants aren’t allowed to link to their clients, and shareholders can’t link to their stock holdings?

All the links were editorial.

If you can find a better review covering the same topics on the web for Volusion I would love to see it.
I was working to some time constraints, and didn’t have access to the full version of the software.

The review was also syndicated with permission on another site a month after it was originally published – that review has also been kicked out of the index.

Google need to fix their algorithms or we are going to see a lot of good content disappearing from the SERPs

$180 Payola – Isn’t The Standard Term Prize or Competition?

A little while ago Blogcatalog awarded a free “premium listing” for 6 months. I should note that Blogcatalog is a highly reputable directory and social network, and every member’s blog is vetted by a human before inclusion, yet they still have free listings, unlike Yahoo.
Matt Cuts has already stated in the same paid links thread that it is ok to purchase links in reputable directories, thus buying a premium listing at Blogcatalog in theory is ok, unless the job description for the pigeons changes at short notice.

I turned down the opportunity for the paid listing suggesting one of my readers would like it instead. I already have high listings in my selected categories.

Tony from Blogcatalog loved the idea so much that he doubled the prize

Win A 12 Month Premium Listing On Blogcatalog

I want to make this as educational as possible, both for some of my readers and Google’s algorithms.

I was thinking about closing the comments on this post so that it could only be responded to with a link and trackback, but I am a community blogger and thus switching off comments would be a little evil.

What I want people to do is to write a post on their blog discussing what I have talked about here. Speedlinking posts won’t count.

The premium listing will be awarded to a random reader and the number of tickets will be awarded based upon trackbacks.

  • One ticket will be awarded for linking through to this post from your article
  • One ticket will be awarded for linking through to my Volusion review
  • You can link through to both from the same post and receive 2 tickets

You can use rel=”nofollow” for one or both of the links should you choose, if you truly believe that my Volusion review is web spam (and state that in your review), or that my offering a prize for linking through and making your readers aware of the issues is web spam.

I am not offering the prize for links, I am offering it for real opinion, and I am going to count the number of links, and which ones were followed or nofollowed.

I know many readers are using Blogger and Blogger by default doesn’t provide trackbacks. Recently I wrote 2 tutorials on how to use trackback with blogger. The first uses Greasemonkey in Firebox, and is the best way to add trackback for blogger.
The second option is to use Haloscan but please read the instructions carefully, and don’t convert to using their commenting system. Haloscan as far as I am aware cannot be made Dofollow.

  • Entries will close on 7th July
  • One entry per blogger
  • No anonymous bloggers (so I can ensure only one entry per blogger)
  • No entries from multi-author blogs of which you are not the primary editor/owner

Also, if you want to combine it and are not a member of PayPerPost, you can combine this with their “Review My Post” offer and make $7.50 for your praise or criticism. See link in comments section for details.

You also might find this article on payola interesting if you missed it when first published.

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi, Andy!

    I just wanted to ask you if the deadline for post and trackback was in July and not June. I was all ready to write my post, but I read your post again and it says June.

    Let me know. I even installed the Greasemonkey script so I can trackback. I am so excited… LOL

  2. says

    My take on all of this:

    google wants to be the only game in town for “paid links” via Google Adwords and Adsense. And in the short to long run, this is not good!

  3. says

    Nice post Andy

    Just this morning, I noticed quite a few of my content pages on my blog have gone supp, whereas my tagged cat pages are ranking and non supplemental.

    Ive just removed the cat list from the internal pages to see if it makes any difference. I thought of nofollowing them, but its just as easy to remove the loop. Home page cat list remains.

    Maybe this will result in my cat pages going supp too, will be interesting to see.

    Its difficult to gauge whether for me, its an authority thing. I havent gotten too many back links to many of my internal pages and the sites pr isnt exactly huge either.

    I just thought it was interesting how their algo decided that my cat pages were worthier than my actual content pages. When I think that every page on the blog had a link to the various cats, then when viewed from a linkpop perspective its hardly surprising. I was effectively saying, “hey search bot, these are the pages I value the most, because i link to them more than any other”.

    I may well change it again and use a robots.txt file instead.

    • says

      Rob – I am juggling so many things currently it is hard to decide what to do next as SEO of this site, but more likely it will be the Sandcastles approach I talked about.

      That will be a much larger change than I have made in the past, but I am hoping for it to make a dramatic difference to write about.

  4. says

    Long post, but managed to finish reading it. On the terms of categorizing Volusion into different categories, I think it is correct for search engines to accept one copy and place the other categories into supplemental since it is exactly the same page with only one article.

    What’s more fascinating in regards to your study is if you think Google did a manual removal of your reviews after you had reported them as paid for reviews. If Google does not have a true algorithm in place to handle these paid link reports, they will take forever and spend too much unnecessary resources to fight paid links.

    • says

      I agree it was a long post, and it was also lacking in images to break up the flow. It is quite technical as well and it took a lot of words to explain my reasoning.

      Sometimes it can’t be helped if you want to portray the full arguments, and I also find that providing detailed posts makes the comments much more interesting as well.

      I would be quite happy if Google decided that a lot of my duplicate content pages should hit the supplemental results.
      If someone searched for “Volusion Shopping Cart Review” they might show the supplemental page rather than a “Volusion Review” page.
      Supplemental results are meant to be because of lack of pagerank, duplicate content typically has lower pagerank, because it doesn’t have links.

      I think it might have been a manual or semi-automated removal “sight unseen” – they didn’t really look at the value of the page.
      A real algorithm would have also picked up my volusion tag page which is still indexed.

      I can’t see a reason that the original page was kicked out, but the volusion tag remains other than a mistake in a manual review.

      Also of note, Google have said that they woouldn’t be penalising the content that has the links, but devaluing the links on the page. They are not meant to be kicking my content out of the serps.

      This is easpecially true because less than 1% of my original content is paid reviews. Hell I don’t even use text-link-ads, and my affiliate links are mainly nofollowed, though on some I have been a little careless.

Trackbacks

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  2. [...] If I may quote the Holy Bible, “as I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” So, Mark sent me an email with a link to Google Purges The Payola: “Search engine marketing consultant and blogger Rand Fishkin recently compiled a list of more than 70 sites with names like LinksFactory.net and DirectoryDump.com, which have been relegated in the past three weeks to the hardly seen back pages of Google’s (nasdaq: GOOG – news – people ) results, even when users search for them by name.” Via Forbes and Andy Beard [...]