Thursday, September 08, 2011

Has Google's Panda damaged blogging?

I made a passing reference in a postscript to my last post, At home with Julia is bad TV, to my realisation about the impact of changing Google search algorithms. I also noted that this was something that I would write about a little later.

In writing the postscript to the last post I did extensive web searches using both the general Google search facility and Google blog search. Here I want to report on what I found in terms of the pattern of the searches themselves.

At its peak I used Google blog search very extensively.  I am interested in what my fellow bloggers say. I found this absolutely invaluable in providing an alternative point of view.

In recent months, I have noticed a progressive degradation in the value of Google blog search. I am not sure just when it began, but it is quite noticeable. The number of posts listed has dropped, the composition of posts listed has shifted from independent bloggers towards big outfits including the main stream media. 

In using Google blog search to try to find posts on At Home with Julie I found very little. I thought that was odd. Then I noticed something - my own post on the matter was not recorded. That led me to notice a broader trend.

I am used to my posts being picked up immediately by Google search and Google blog search. Yet when I looked I found that this was no longer so. No less than seven of my most immediate posts across three blogs had yet to register. They were now blind to all but my regular visitors or those who came in through platforms such as Twitter.

This is no small thing since 85% of my traffic comes through search engines.

The key seems to lie in the new Google search algorithm called Panda. Now here I have another gripe. I found a very good description of Panda, but it's vanished when I try to replicate the search!

Most of we independent bloggers cannot afford what is called SEO or search engine optimisation. We rely on our content and cross-links from other bloggers for our profile, leading to inclusion in Google search. It appears that we can no longer do so.

This is no small thing. It's not just my personal gripe about my own posts. but also and more importantly that I can no longer rely on Google blog search to bring me the material that I need.

Personally, I think that that's a bit of a disaster. Have you found the same thing?


A comment from kvd made me realise that I need to distinguish clearly between two things.

The first is the general impact of Panda. Checking around the web, there appear to have been five versions of Panda. As I indicated in an earlier post, the early releases of Panda had a dramatic impact on traffic on some popular sites. You will get a feel for this if you have a quick scan here.

According to an article by Tom Foremski in ZDNet, Panda does not apply to blogs. I don't think that's right.

The chart from Google stats shows page views on this blog. Ignore the start and end points. This stats collection started in May 2009, hence the sharp rise, while the September number is obviously part month only.

While many factors affect the stats, the rise in January and then again in April coincide, I think, with Panda release dates. While I did comment on the impact of Panda in general, I wasn't especially focused on it since I was doing okay. I did comment on the May rise in traffic because I didn't understand why.

Now look at the quite sharp decline in traffic from the end of May, bottoming in July. At first I thought that I had just become too boring! However, when I looked at the stats for page visits I found that one long-standing high traffic post had vanished from the stats. While my stats did not allow me to check properly, I had the impression that this post was not alone. The only explanation that I could come to was a change in search engine algorithms.

The second and possibly linked issue is the change in Google blog search. Here I have noticed two things.

Broadly, it seems to have become less representative both in it's recording of posts and of links. As I noted in the post, this was a problem for me in that I actually relied on it as a device for both keeping me in touch with the blogosphere and for information and comment on certain types of issues.

Then I realised that it appeared to be no longer recording some of my own posts. To be very precise, in general checking I search on "jm Belshaw". Up until recently, Blog Search brought up my latest posts almost instantaneously. As I write, the most recent post included is five days old.

I suspect, I am not sure, that this is partly linked to Panda. However, there may be other explanations.

As part of my tests this morning, I searched on "at home with Julia is bad TV", the title of last night's post. At the time, it was not picked up directly on either blog search or general search, although it did appear via a link from a fellow blogger.

In a search tonight, it is now picked up in general search. However, the references on blog search are still from a fellow blogger plus one Personal Reflections reference to it under a post heading that has nothing to do with it at all! Since it  was caught by the general robots if with an increased lag, this suggests to me that there has been a change on the blogger side as well.


Anonymous said...

Jim, regarding your query/complaint. I went to google(aus) and entered "panda damaged blogging" and got far more relevant results than by first restricting/directing the search to blogs.

Dunno what it means to you, but I never look to blogs first, probably because I'm usually after information, as opposed to comment or opinion.

Anyway, seems (with the general search) others agree with your concerns.


Jim Belshaw said...

I used to look at blogs first on current issues,KVD, because of my very particular interests.

There are two issues and I'm not absolutely sure that they are connected. One is the general impact of Panda, the second Google's blog indexing for the purposes of blog search.

The general search material is far more valuable on Panda.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere in the past 24 hours I read google quarterly net was 1.2 bn. I guess they are monetizing their all pervading asset. And I guess their indexing will more and more be directed to maintaining, increasing that. Sound economic strategy I suppose.


Jim Belshaw said...

I'm sure that's right, and maintaining their general search engine ranking is part of the process. I can understand their desire to clean up search results.

I did another search, by the way, on the title of the Julia Post. Google now has it, so does Bing and Yahoo.

Evan said...

Googling my name I got my latest post in general search (though stuff from an older site came first).

The result in blogsearch was my second latest post (3 days old - my latest was one day old).

Panda was meant to get rid of content farms and the same content on lots of sites. If it did this I'm all in favour.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Evan. I'm sorry for the very long delay in responding to your comment. I agree with you!