eHow Finally Feels Wrath of Google Panda Algo Update

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farmvilleADOTAS – Hey, you know who we haven’t kicked around for a while? Demand Media! Hold on while I put on my favorite journalist’s tool — steel-toed boots.

As Google’s Panda (a.k.a., Farmer) algorithm update finally rolled out internationally to a lot of global grumbling, Big G also made some tweaks on its U.S. filters. With these changes, SEO consultant Sistrix claims that Demand’s eHow witnessed a 66% decline in traffic. Traffic winners included recognizable names such as wiktionary.org, Yelp and Huffington Post.

As Demand’s shares took a hit (panicking shareholders must be the biggest  joy of being a public operation), EVP Larry Fitzgibbon took to the blog to shore up confidence in the Demand playbook. He called a certain third-party site’s figures pretty out there (and Sistrix responded that Demand holds the true numbers) before noting the direct traffic uptick since eHow’s redesign and introduction of new video series. Oh, did you know Demand’s Cracked.com is the most-visited humor site on the Internet, and most of its traffic is direct? I bet you didn’t!

Demand also issued a press release reaffirming its financial outlook for fiscal 2012, which were first released on Feb. 22. According to the release:

“Recent search engine algorithm changes have negatively impacted search driven traffic to some of our websites, including eHow.com, resulting in moderately lower year-to-date page view growth for the Company’s owned and operated Content & Media properties compared to page view growth rates before the algorithm changes. Nevertheless, the Company currently expects that its year-over-year page view growth across its owned and operated Content & Media properties in the second quarter of 2011 will be comparable to, or greater than, the year-over-year page view growth achieved in the second quarter of 2010.”

OK, that sounds nice and all, but I thought investors bought into Demand based on its ability to bring in high traffic from high Google search results, and thus bring home large swaths of ad revenue. Direct traffic? Please. Still, we’re going to have to wait till Demand’s conference call on May 5 to find out the true extent of damage from Panda clawing up eHow.

Though it’s fun to gang up on Demand and its cynical business strategy, the company is a symptom of an illness — the seemingly easy ability to manipulate Google’s search algorithm. Also, by being a major AdSense partner, it displays the conflict of interest between Google’s search and ad products — lower eHow’s rankings and Google brings in less display revenue.

But Google seemingly did kick down eHow a notch. Frank Reed of Marketing Pilgrim donated a quite humorous post on the incident, making fun of the overuse of the term disruptive (my eyes automatically roll whenever I see that word).

“In the end, many say it’s just a matter of writing the best content at all times,” he wrote. “While in theory that sounds beautiful and utopian the reality of the SERPs often tells a grittier and more realistic view which is that oftentimes content that is rank still ranks well.”

Something subjective like quality cannot be determined by an algorithm — unless that algorithm is powered by social information, something Google has acknowledged through the introduction of social signal +1.

On a related SEO note, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s antispam team, released a video last week in which he answered a variation on the question, “Dammit, Google, I did everything on my site to please you — why won’t you rank me higher?” His response is interesting — baby, sometimes optimization just ain’t enough.

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