The Shotgun Approach

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I don’t know whether to laugh or cry this morning about a situation one of my clients is having. They, like many other sites, get a fair amount of traffic from Google. In their case, because they’re a news site, Google News is a key traffic driver as well. A week ago, with no notice or changes to the site, their articles disappeared from Google News and their traffic dropped precipitously. What’s really weird is that the site is still fully indexed in regular Google – only News is affected.
Why am I telling you this? Because while the cause is still unknown we have an idea of what’s doing it and there are larger thoughts beyond our specific case that I want to share.
You may have read about Google changing their code a few months ago to get rid of “content farms” at the top of their listings. These are sites which aggregate a lot of content with the specific notion of ranking highly in search for a lot of specific terms. They display ads and make money on all the folks who click-through to their sites even though the content is usually recycled crap, uninformative, or both.  Google has the noble ideal of always presenting the searcher with the most informative, most relevant search result. Bravo! Getting the content farms pushed down or out of the rankings is a great idea, IMHO. However…

The same rules (and admittedly we’re all guessing about them) which the content farms use to rank in the search results are the same ones legitimate sites follow as well.  Since Google implemented the new code (Panda), many legitimate sites have suffered along with the content farms.  I’m sure Google is doing everything they can to make sure legitimate sites aren’t hurt, but many webmaster postings around the web indicate that they are despite those efforts.

Any time we use a shotgun (in this case an algorithm change) to solve a problem, there’s always the chance for collateral damage.  It’s a good reminder whether we’re dealing with search engines or employee issues or client service.  Taking the time to deal with problems individually, thoughtfully, and carefully seems to work better.  I’m not sure if Panda is the root of my client’s problem.  I do know that the shotgun approach to anything might be.

Now if anyone has a bright idea, you know where to find me, and comments are always welcome.

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