Friday, July 16, 2010

Being Evil

So let's round off a week of ranting with another rant. Now, the question is: "Am I being paranoid?" No, I don't think I'm being followed by men in black, or spied on by the CIA. This has to do with an entity even more pervasive and secretive than the CIA - Google. I've ranted at length about Google's 'Mayday' algorithm changes which have all but destroyed the traffic to The Sleaze which I had spent years building up, observing Google's webmaster guidelines and avoiding black hat SEO techniques. Again and again this year I've seen traffic from Google suddenly decline for no apparent reason. I wouldn't mind if I was getting fewer, but better quality visitors. But the opposite has happened. Rather than people searching for terms such as 'political satire', virtually everything I'm getting from Google currently is 'trash traffic' - mainly poorly phrased porn searches. I'm not the only one seeing this sort of thing. On webmaster forum after webmaster forum, I'm seeing disgruntled site owners and developers telling the same tale of traffic being decimated and search results now being dominated by spammy mash-up sites with no original content, but lots of 'doorway' pages and, perhaps most significantly, Google ads.

Earlier this week, completely out of the blue, I got an e-mail from Google Adwords offering me £100 credit if I reactivated my account and started advertising with them again. Now, the reason I stopped using Adwords after a brief experimentation with the service, was that I found it utterly ineffective for publicising a site like The Sleaze. For the amount of money I was having to spend on ads, the amount of traffic generated was minuscule. A couple of clicks a day, if I was lucky. Of course, it didn't help that Google kept trying to tell me that I was wrong about my keywords, that 'satire' and 'sleaze', for instance, weren't closely enough tied to my content! Mind you, according to Google Webmaster Tools, my keywords should include things like 'say', 'new' and 'claims'. All of which indicates that the 'analysis' which underpins Adwords is hopelessly simplistic. If we're simply classifying as 'keywords' those words which appear most frequently in your text, then you might as well suggest 'the', 'and' and 'that'. Anyway, getting back to the point, the paranoid part of me can't help but ask whether the crash in traffic I experienced has anything to do with my dropping of Adwords? What will happen if I decline this latest offer - will my traffic vanish altogether? Isn't it just too much of a coincidence that this new offer comes at a time when traffic seems - as a direct result of Google's algo changes - to be hitting an all-time low?

But hey - this is Google, whose motto is 'Don't be Evil'. Surely they wouldn't do something like that, would they? Prior to the last couple of years, I wouldn't have harboured such suspicions. But I'm afraid the constant moving of the goal posts, culminating in 'Mayday' - which seems designed mainly to benefit Google's commercial interests by maximizing the exposure Google's own ad network via distorted search results - have made me very cynical. The inescapable fact is that Google is now putting it's own profits ahead of producing decent search results. The evidence is there for everyone to see: Google's search results seem to have regressed back to situation where you have to wade through acres of spam sites before you reach anything relevant. Sad to say, Bing is currently returning far more relevant results for most searches. All this would be fine if only Google would be open about of it, instead of continuing to perpetuate this image of being everyone's friend. Don't be evil - don't make me laugh!

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