Saturday, March 12, 2011


Google changed its algorithm last month in an effort to provide search results that are more useful. Generally the move has been reported as an effort to reduce the number of so-called "content farm" posts that you'll find in the first page of Google search results. Content farms are basically the sweat shops of the blogosphere, cranking out hundreds or thousands of articles per day to try to grab some search traffic -- often with pretty funny results.

I can't be too hard on content farms though, because they were the inspiration for one of the funniest parody sites on the net. And to be honest, some of the content on sites that are widely considered to be content farms isn't all that bad. You might not find the most in-depth tutorials at sites such as eHow or Mahalo, but you might find exactly what you're looking for -- a place to get started.

Unfortunately when Google changes its algorithm, there are often ripples felt throughout the internet and a number of web sites producing original, informative content experienced a dip in search engine traffic. My sites haven't been exempt.

Liliputing and Mobiputing both experienced a dip in traffic in February when the new algorithm took effect. It's extraordinarily hard to figure out exactly what kind of dip though, because traffic tends to go up and down throughout the year, and Mobiputing is just over a year old -- which means it's hard to compare historic data. I'd say Liliputing might have taken a 10-15% hit though, which makes sense, since around half of that site's visitors come from search engines, primarily Google.

It's a strange business we're in. I'd like to think that I'm writing for my loyal readers, not for random folks who happen to be searching Google for keywords such as "xoom tablet" or "x220," both of which were top sources of traffic for Liliputing this week. But the truth is that I'm doing both. I'm writing for people who keep coming back day after day for news about the latest mobile technology and for people who are researching new computers, smartphone apps, or other topics that I happen to write about -- and who may only make a single visit to one of my sites this year. And the dirty little secret of making money online is that those not-quite-random visitors pay most of the billls.

After all, if you're searching for Dell laptops and you happen to come across my web site and find a review of the Dell Inspiron M101z as well as an add promising 15% off of Dell laptops, the ad is just as relevant as the article -- why wouldn't you click it? But if you keep coming back every day, you'll probably get a sense of where the ads appear on the page and start tuning them out.

So it's Google's world, and those of us who make a living writing on the web are just living in it, and if Google changes its algorithm in a way that causes a serious dip in traffic, so be it.

Fortunately I haven't seen a huge dip in traffic from the latest algorithm, and in general I think Google does a pretty good job of bringing the best results to the top -- so if the company's engineers feel that web pages on other sites deserve to rank more highly than mine, so be it.

That said, Google is clearly not perfect. I've tried copying and pasting lines directly taken from my web sites into Google -- and I often find that web sites that scrape content from my page without permission now rank more highly. For instance, every week I run a roundup of top stories from Mobiputing on Liliputing. Because I'm too lazy to think up a clever name, the weekly post is called "This week in Mobiputing."

A few weeks ago, if you typed "this week in mobiputing" into Google you would get a page filled with links to posts from Liliputing. Now most of the top results are from sites that are scraping my content. In fact, you can tell they're taking articles directly from my RSS feed, because there's a line only included in my feed that says "This week in Mobiputing is a post from Liliputing," It doesn't show up on my web site, but it certainly shows up on scraper sites.

I used to ignore scrapers, because Google did a pretty good job of making sure that nobody really profited from stealing my content and sending cease and desist notices would be a full time job. But it's pretty frustrating to see other sites show up first in Google search results for articles that were copied and pasted from my web sites. I tried sending a few complaints to Google using the company's webmaster tools and AdSense tools, but nothing's happened so I figure it's not worth the effort.

Instead, I'll just continue to try to produce high quality content and hope that readers continue to notice, with or without Google's help.

Incidentally, while overall Google traffic to my web sites is down, traffic from Google News appears to be up a little bit. That could be a sign that Google is doing things right, since much of what I publish on Liliputing and Mobiputing is topical content which might be more relevant today than it is six months from now. 

I wouldn't be surprised to see a dip in traffic this time of year even if Google hadn't come out with a new search algorithm. While interest in mobile devices and apps continues to climb, traffic is always highest around the holidays, back to school shopping season, and around big tech events such as CES, Computex, or pretty much any major Apple announcement. I just wish Google weren't so obviously promoting content scrapers when the company's stated goal had been to penalize content farmers.

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