Following yesterday’s Helpdesk Hangout I thought it appropriate to address some of the points raised during the course of the discussion, since misconceptions still abound on a great many fronts.
An open letter to Josh Bachynski
Thank you for joining this afternoon’s hangout and for the lively debate that ensued. As I said, I had not at that stage read your article. Now, however, I have done so twice and I have come to understand the core of the problem. Let me therefore take this opportunity to demystify some of the points you raised within your commentary.
- The Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines have remained unchanged since 2001
From the very beginning it has been Google’s intent to provide its users with the most relevant results possible for any given query by building an index of the world’s information. However, since a noticeable portion of webmasters/site owners were more interested in gaining rankings and obtaining visitors by any means necessary, rather than through providing genuinely useful content, Google eventually decided to introduce its Webmaster Guidelines. These were designed to provide webmasters with a set of signposts pointing the way towards creating higher-quality websites.
During the intervening years Google has been accused, by certain segments of the SEO community, of changing its requirements and of moving the goalposts. The simple fact is, however, that these quality guidelines have not changed a single time since their introduction thirteen years ago; they have merely become more specific as Google has identified new black-hat (read spam) techniques and developed the ability to combat these. The guidelines are designed to provide better quality to Google’s users, the very people who are, in actuality, Google’s main concern. This is worth remembering, because without keeping its users happy Google is nothing.
- The Panda Algorithm
Panda hits black hat tactics onsite by identifying weak content, unnatural and/or machine-generated text, keyword-stuffing, and a plethora of other factors that identify a given page/site as breaking or of being low-quality vis-a-vis Google’s very clear Quality Guidelines.
Having thoroughly studied these Webmaster Quality Guidelines any real critical thinker can read between the lines and see where to look for Panda-vulnerable elements, because Google actually provides the necessary information. Of course there can be no clear, step-by-step road map, because that would encourage black hats looking for loopholes instead of fostering an increasing trend towards correction and repair. I’ll get back to this shortly.
- The Penguin Algorithm
While Panda covers onsite elements, Penguin tackles low-quality links, paid links, over-optimized links, keyword-stuffed links, etc. The main reason why Penguin is much bewailed by certain SEOs stems from the fact that buying links and artificially building keyword-targeted links has been a staple of the SEO sector for a great many years, and that it is exactly this kind of link that’s in the Penguin’s crosshairs. Unlike the Panda algorithm, which was rolled into Google’s main set of automated algorithms some time ago, Penguin is only run periodically, with several months between iterations. Again, while there is no clear roadmap, astute professionals will find all the information necessary to clean their $500-per-month link profiles within Google’s webmaster quality guidelines. Once again, I shall get back to this shortly.
- Manual Actions
Contrary to the opinion of many SEOs, Google’s manual actions are not an insurmountable obstacle. In fact, most of them are almost ridiculously easy to deal with, if one has studied Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (Note that I use the word guidelines almost as much as you use disenfranchise). This is what I do; I am contracted to lift manual actions and I have extensive experience and success in this field.
There’s no mystery here. Getting a manual action lifted requires systematic guideline adherence. Once again, as always, all the information is available to the astute, analytical professional. Additionally, what you may or may not know, is that in order to file a reconsideration request one needs to tick a box to declare that one’s site is no longer in breach of Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines. You might want to think about that for awhile.
- The Knowledge Graph
In presenting data in its knowledge graph Google is acting under the fair use clause of US copyright law. This is the same clause that allows ordinary users, like you or I, to post excerpts of copyrighted materials without specific license from the copyright holder. What’s more, Google’s knowledge graph is giving attribution to the information’s source via a direct link.
As the true academic knows, any thesis or dissertation is well grounded in reference and filled with direct quotes and their sources. Google is doing nothing more than this. Further, Google is primarily citing sources which are subject to the creative commons license It should be noted that pages which feature knowledge graph information do not normally carry advertising. One specific exception to this can be found where the knowledge graph quotes information which is already in the public domain, such as the query ADHD, for example.
- B. F. Skinner
I suppose I could have cited the Knowledge Graph data on Skinner, but instead I chose to phone a very good friend of mine who’s a behavioral psychologist at Harvard, Skinner’s old stomping ground. As it turns out you’re partially right about his results showing that positive reinforcement affects behavior more than negative reinforcement (punishment). However, the binary-lateral nature of Skinner’s operant conditioning experiments fails to get a mention. In short, Skinner’s lab animals/subjects were not competing against each other in a league table of results.
A single, competitive search index, on the other hand, does not have the luxury of taking a binary approach, because all the pigeons are in the same cage. And while you may choose to emphasize the punishment aspect of Google’s methodology, you are deliberately or unwittingly choosing to ignore the very simple fact that Google is rewarding good behavior, i.e. adherence to its quality guidelines, through higher rankings. For every pigeon punished, another is rewarded.
Through its continuing actions Google is fostering the aforementioned culture of correction and repair. Site owners are encouraged to take positive action in order to improve their websites’ performance. Each month reams of information are published to this end. The problem is that very few people can be bothered to read them. What’s more, each week the amount of video and hangout material available to webmasters is growing. It’s too bad so many SEOs cannot put aside their inflated egos, and consequently miss the point entirely.
In your protracted commentary you used the metaphor of the lake and the tribes. Perhaps a better metaphor would be a classroom full of students taking a final exam, and one caught using a cheat-sheet. This student would be failed. He/she would never be head of the class as a result of contriving to break the rules. However, what right has the teacher to disenfranchise this student? What right does the school system have to demand that the student retake the course? Who has the right to decide the criteria by which the student earns his/her diploma?
When did it become such a bad thing to play by the rules and to reward excellence?
Then again, maybe the lake isn’t such a bad metaphor after all. So, once more, we have the multinational corporation building a dam, we have the new ecosystem, and we have the tribes settling on the lake’s shores. Then, however, we see the lake itself become the hub of a massive trading network, distributing the wares produced by all the people living around its shores.
After some time, the multinational corporation notices that some people who occupy prime real estate along the shoreline are producing and selling substandard goods that break the moment they are used. Worse still, because these shoddy producers are filling the cargo ships with their wares first, the overall quality of exported goods steadily decreases. This of course makes end users unhappy, and so they complain to the corporation. In turn, the corporation identifies the producers of these substandard goods, evicts them away from the shores of its lake, and gives their space to creators of high-demand, quality products. That analogy is somewhat closer to what’s happening at Google.
Let me leave you with one last thought. Why do you suppose Google’s two high-profile algorithms are named after black and white animals? The answer is crystal clear when you think about it. What’s more, if I had to guess I’d say there’s another black and white animal coming. Orca might very well be underway.