Did Google’s algorithm change misfire? Mahalo fires 10% of staff

Did Google’s algorithm change misfire? Mahalo fires 10% of staff

2nd March 2011

There have been written many stories about Google’s most recent algorithm update. The update, which was named “Farmer update” by Searchengineland was supposedly aimed at content farms, websites which deliver low quality content based on ‘copied’ pages.

Many sites in the US were ‘hit’ by this update. It was supposedly cleaning up the SERPS, but it seems as if Google has been cleaning up a little bit too much in some cases. An article in Wired shows that there are many sites which feel that they deliver quality content did get hit by Google big time, maybe even unfairly.

A Sistrix post looking at who lost most in the update showed the sites which were hit by the update. According to Google itself 11.8% of their queries saw changes. Sistrix made a list of the losers and the winners:

The update seems to have winners and losers and the losers are hit big time. It again shows the ‘power’ of Google, or maybe better the dependence a lot of companies have when it comes to Google.

Take Mahalo for example. What was once Jason Calacanis’ ‘answer’ to Google now has turned into a sort of affiliate for Google. They were hit by the update with a -84% change in rankings according to the Sistrix numbers. These changes show the dependence from Mahalo towards Google. Less than a week after the first changes were made they announced they had to cut 10% of their staff because they lost that much traffic.

In an e-mail (that is how Calacanis communicates these days) he stated:

“Despite those efforts, unfortunately, the Google changes have led to a significant dip in our traffic and revenue. It’s hard not to be disappointed since we’ve been spending millions of dollars on producing highly professional content.

Today we have eliminated a handful of positions in the company (about 10%), and we’ve cut a number of non-essential services we provide internally. In addition, we are re-evaluating our freelance content production, pausing it in the near term and determining how to best produce the high-quality educational material we aspire to in the long run. We are not, however, diminishing our video production efforts.”

Mahalo therefore is one example of a website which suffers hugely.

The question however is: were they hit rightfully? The Wired article shows that not all the sites which were hit might have been hit falsely.

Googler Amit Singhal tells Wired:

“no algorithm is 100 percent accurate … Any time a good site gets a lower ranking or falsely gets caught by our algorithm — and that does happen once in a while even though all of our testing shows this change was very accurate — we make a note of it and go back the next day to work harder to bring it closer to 100 percent.

That’s exactly what we are going to do, and our engineers are working as we speak building a new layer on top of this algorithm to make it even more accurate than it is,”

This indicates that Google knows something is wrong and that they are working on getting things right. Wired also stated that some of the people they interviewed who saw their sites drop “miraculously” saw their sites popping up again.

Did Google do a mishit here? Were there actually sites hit which shouldn’t have been hit? And what are the consequences of that? If companies start firing people like Mahalo and it then turns out that Google made the mistake, should Google be compensating them?

The issue is that it cannot be proven. We don’t know what Google did and what site has quality content or not. We certainly can’t judge on the Mahalo issue. What is does prove however is that we need to do something about the dependency some companies have on Google.


Written By
Bas van den Beld is an award winning Digital Marketing consultant, trainer and speaker. He is the founder of State of Digital and helps companies develop solid marketing strategies.
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