Tyranny of a Google vote

Image by Hajo de Reijger, politicallyillustrated.com

For the past year I’ve been seeing headline blogs analyzing the effect of Google’s last algorithm update, dubbed the Panda. There was much talk of unfair relegation from the first page of Google search results, and general indignance by the SEO community.

As with any subject in which I only have cursory knowledge I didn’t think much of it. I thought that as long as I didn’t engage in link-buying and whatever is known as “black hat” tactics, the search engines would be fair. What I didn’t realise with Google was how subjective it has become in ranking websites. I was particularly tripped up in the area of duplicate content.

Some of my articles are syndicated to DZone.com, a hub for tech bloggers. They’d approached me about a year ago asking if I’d like them to carry our content. It seemed like a good way to gain visibility so I agreed.

Recently, I ran a Google search on the actual content that was syndicated and found the following results:

Title Dzone rank iheavy rank
Zero Downtime – What is it? #21 (not in first 5 pages)
Deploying MySQL on EC2 #1 (not in first 5 pages)
Cloud Computing Use Cases #5 (not in first 5 pages)

Now DZone.com’s pagerank is a 6 while iheavy.com is a 3. Google’s algorithm is probably weighing the pagerank of Dzone higher, and serving up those results at the expense of the original. It could be that the algorithms can’t determine which is original but Google’s bots know full well when content is published, so it knows the iheavy.com content was created before.

More likely it cannot supersede the ranking algorithm. It is one based on popularity.

What’s Original Content?

All of this raises the question of the value of original content. In this case we’ve given this site permission to carry our content, not knowing whether that would be good or bad for us. Nevertheless, it does seem to go against common sense, and perhaps what Internet users intuition might tell them, that they were not clicking through to the original creator of some content.

Can Google’s Algorithm Discern Original Work? Is there an incentive to do so?

The update brings up interesting questions about Google’s ranking algorithm. In a world where the popularity indicator is given the highest weight, will we find what we are looking for? In my case, I write articles related to my area of expertise, which is on web architecture, scalability and general tech consulting matters. Of course I want people to find my site when they’re looking for solutions to problems relevant to them. Yet in Google’s calculations, popularity trumps provenance.

Many bigger sites are experiencing the same thing and at an even larger scale. According to SEO Moz, Panda is forcing a change onto the role of SEOs, turning them into that of web strategists. While traditional SEO methods of optimizing for keywords, and putting out quality content still count, design and user experience, shareability, likeability; what’s known as “signals” that could predict the site’s popularity, are influencing the overall results of your site.

As an independent business owner with limited resources my time off hours is invested in writing better articles that appeal to people searching for MySQL or scalability consulting and less about putting in the bells and whistles to raise site popularity. But if that’s what Google favors then I’ll probably have to rethink my approach.

As much as I can squeeze out of a busy schedule, there’s not a high chance that this website can surpass a giant such as Dzone in popularity.

The Internet is meant to be a place where the pint-sized can have a fair chance at making an impression. With the way search algorithms have evolved, things are looking more like a reality TV talent contest where skill alone without good looks and a nice smile are just not enough to win the popular vote.

  • William Newton

    Google only cares about finding results that are going to be useful to the searcher. That is all you can depend upon. 

    The internet is not meant to be anything other than a large connection of smaller networks. Any meaning you thrust upon it, reveals much more about yourself than the internet.

  • Jonathan Levin

    My site is hosted on blogger and I am not experiencing any of this. In fact, I think my page ranking has improved on certain search results

  • http://twitter.com/gkodinov Georgi Kodinov

    I’m sorry to say it, but don’t let these aggregator sites aggregate all of your article. Always write summaries, as that’s what in the RSS by default.

  • Sean Hull

    I can live with Google raising their standards and that’s probably good for everyone but seeing your original content not ranking at all even though it’s clearly quite popular, almost feels like you’re not getting any credit as the author

  • http://www.songbookdb.com/ Shaun Thomson

    As long as the site hosting your content allows you to have your website address contact at the end of the article, I don’t see downside to it.

    If you look at each article as it’s own entity with a business purpose to serve (eventually generate sales leads for, or increase the industry status of the owner), then it doesn’t really matter WHERE it is on the net or how people find it – what counts is how often people come across it, and that they can eventually you through it.

    If a blog refuses to publish your contact URL with the article, maybe the owner should refuse the syndication.  Then again, if the article is good, people will choose to find you – just make sure the blog mentions your name.