Google’s Panda Update Cripples Open Publishing Competition

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by HubPages CEO Paul Edmondson. Prior to founding HubPages, Edmondson was part of the executive team at MongoMusic, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2000, and held group management positions at MSN Entertainment over product management, quality management, operations, and business management.

Search engines are a critical part of the democratization of the Web and none is more important than Google. They provide the critical gateway to information in a meritocratic way that has traditionally rewarded usefulness and quality over name recognition of the content creator, valuing the utility to the searcher over all else.

In parallel, open publishing platforms have provided free tools for creating and sharing information with topical expertise and a voice to anyone on the Web. These platforms feed the search engines and, in return, the search engines have delivered steady audiences. This ecosystem has been lucrative for the search engines, an essential outlet for the information sharers, and a great way for the world to have access to a broad swathe of information, from the full range of political opinions to thousands of ways to barbecue a chicken.

Google’s recent “Panda” update intentionally upends this ecosystem; it doesn’t just lower the rankings of individual pages that the algorithm deems “low quality” (however that may be defined by Google) but, as Google has said publicly, “low-quality [page] content [on the domain] can impact an entire domain.” This means that high-quality content hosted on open publishing platforms like HubPages and YouTube can be negatively impacted in their search rankings simply by hosting contributions of various quality on a single site.

HubPages has seen a negative impact from this change, but so far YouTube has not (Search Metrics Winners). One presumes Google isn’t treating its own affiliated sites differently than any other site, but YouTube’s open publishing environment makes low-quality content as prevalent as on any other moderated open publishing platform. Google shows over 13 million indexed videos on YouTube for lose weight (known spammy area) and over 10 million for forex (another spammy area). Apparently, Google’s Panda update has been punitive only to platforms other than Google’s.

We certainly support and encourage changes to algorithms to provide the public with access to the best search results. We appreciate that open publishing platforms with a wide range of content quality also have a responsibility to moderate their content appropriately. While we understand the need for ordering search results, we also think it is a mistake to broadly impact an entire domain negatively where the content has been contributed by individual people. Bear in mind that a lot of the content on open
publishing platforms like HubPages and YouTube is great, and it is exactly what people are searching for on the Web.

We have reached out to Google seeking feedback and guidance about what elements of an open platform are being penalized by Panda. There has been little response to our inquiries, from questions about site architecture posted on the official Google forums, to personal emails sent to Matt Cutts, the head of web spam at Google.

We, as well as many other operators, are happy to engage in a dialogue with Google on what quality means and how to educate information sharers. It seems that publishing platforms that
are not operated by Google are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to guidance on how to adjust to this latest search algorithm update, as is exemplified by YouTube’s apparent immunity.

Before Panda, Google gave open platforms of all sizes many ways to separate high quality content from poor content without chilling an entire domain. In this respect, HubPages most closely resembles YouTube’s site structure. We send Google signals by how we program the site. For example, we let Google know what we think is the best content by giving that content more internal links from related pages. We also follow the sitemap protocol and give content a crawling priority. It seems these efforts are severely discounted after the Panda update since, despite their application, there is still a domain-wide devaluing being applied.

We are concerned that Google is targeting platforms other than its own and stifling competition by reducing viable platform choices simply by diminishing platforms’ ability to rank pages. Google is not being transparent about their new standards, which prevents platforms like ours from having access to a level playing field with Google’s own services. We want to comply with and exceed Google’s standards. Google has my contact information. Hope to hear from them soon.