April 11 – Mark the Date

An important date in the history of the World Web has come and gone and almost no one noticed. How did it get missed?

On February 24th, Google rolled out the Panda update. Amidst great howls of pain and gnashing of teeth, a significant number of websites learned the hard way that having a good website mattered. The Panda update was designed to identify “thin” content…, content that may be “unique”, but really doesn’t add very much to the human experience. I like to call this content the “plastic water bottles” of the Internet. It takes up space, it’s useless, and it won’t go away.

The other thing Panda did was to incorporate an algorithm based on human factors. The algorithm attempted to quantify the results of questioning Internet users about such things as:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?

It can not be emphasized enough that the simple fact that your content is “unique” does not make it worthwhile. “nsdnf sdfn iisdf isdifu sudifu” is unique. It’s also useless.

The update impacted on 12% of U.S. search results.

Google has a number of powerful tools at their disposal. Their access to Google Analytics provides detailed comparisons of successful and unsuccessful page views and visitor experiences on a website. We’re not suggesting that Google is currently adjusting your search results based on your Google Analytics results. We are stating that the data available tells Google how often an unsatisfactory search result will put a user back on Google after visiting a bad website. It also tells Google what behavior it should note from Google Toolbar users. The rapid adoption of Google Chrome and Google Toolbars has given them statistically significant data on user behavior. And finally, the introduction of a user’s ability to block a website from their search results allows for direct feedback from users as to the value of a site.

Google went to great pains to explain that the February 24th update did not incorporate data on sites blocked by Google users. However, they did announce that they were pleased to see that the correlation between blocked sites and the sites which fared poorly in the Feb. 24 update was extremely high, and “validated” their approach.

On April 11th a second shoe dropped. This update was a refinement of the original update, and also (read it carefully!):

“In some high-confidence situations, we are beginning to incorporate data about the sites that users block into our algorithms. In addition, this change also goes deeper into the “long tail” of low-quality websites to return higher-quality results where the algorithm might not have been able to make an assessment before.”

If your website was one of the 2% of queries that suffered in the April 11th update, you can consider it to be a high probability that your site has been measured by viewers and found wanting.

Why is April 11th such an important date? It marks the proof of a conceptual move from using the web to measure a site’s relevance (inbound links and on-page content), to measuring a site’s relevance based on human perception factors. It’s 1996 all over again, except this time it isn’t the quality reviewer at Yahoo looking at your site, it’s the algorithmic intelligence of many humans combined.