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On MetaFilter Being Penalized By Google 108

Paul Fernhout (109597) writes "MetaFilter recently announced layoffs due to a decline in ad revenue that started with a mysterious 40% drop in traffic from Google on November 17, 2012, and which never recovered. Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand explores in detail how MetaFilter 'serves as a poster child of problems with Google's penalty process, despite all the advances Google has made over the years.' Caitlin Dewey at the Washington Post puts it more bluntly: 'That may be the most striking, prescient takeaway from the whole MetaFilter episode: the extent to which the modern Web does not incentivize quality.'"
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On MetaFilter Being Penalized By Google

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  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @07:47PM (#47080059) Homepage

    We lost our ad account when Google accused us of hosting porn. The "porn" they pointed out were links to fairly vanilla pictures posted by some of our long-time forum members. We weren't even hosting it. I appealed, they pointed out two more links like that one. Links.

    I refused to remove content that really wasn't that offensive, posted by members and complied with our forum rules. It did open my eyes to how Google could be a giant, inflexible jackass.

  • by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @07:50PM (#47080077)

    no need for Q&A sites on the internet once google starts one up

  • by MTO_B. ( 814477 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @07:56PM (#47080119) Homepage
    This happened to me for articles about breast cancer. Removed them all and never again talk about breast cancer prevention as I don't want to lose my ad account.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:19PM (#47080241)

    This reminds me of all those letsplayers on youtube. Totalbiscuit in particular who started bitching and moaning about how his livelihood was threatened by changed in Youtube policy.

    That was when I stopped watching the pretentious fuckwit. When you use a free service to make a name for yourself and even manage to profit in the millions on it, you only have yourself to blame if you are vulnerable to changes in their policy. They don't owe you shit.

    The entitlement some people and some companies feel when they've been doing something for a time, never really considering where the money came from, is astounding.

  • by twilight30 ( 84644 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:26PM (#47080287) Homepage

    That's interesting. The case could be made that MetaFilter is to liberal/progressive politics what Slashdot is to tech -- it fosters lively, informed discussions on any number of topics. I tend to lurk on both sites these days, but I will say that the active moderation over there has generally made a _much_ more civilised site than anything Slashdot could claim nowadays.

    Note: I am specifically not really talking about MeTa's cash cow, the Ask MeFi section, but rather the main site itself.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 23, 2014 @08:36PM (#47080349)

    "Everyone On Wall Street Is A Dick."
    Hello My Sweaty Pink Parts
    Ronald McDonald gets reincarnated
    You are disgusting.

    I've never had a particularly strong desire to browse metafilter and my visit today has confirmed that no mistakes were made. These are actually just a few of the titles listed today, but probably some of the better ones for demonstration purposes. It just strikes me that the tone that is set with these types of choices just doesn't represent the articles. In particular, the shawshank piece was a very light fluffy piece of writing with no real substance. However, I was expecting something a bit more impressive or even just a biased opinion piece. These types of choices coupled with a site design that makes slashdot look damn near futurisitic don't feel like a winnin combination. My first thought was, "Wow, someone was actually get paid to work on this?"

    I can definiately see their depdendence on google as a huge factor. I don't want to go back!

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @10:14PM (#47080863)

    For various (often stupid) reasons most brands don't want to be associated with "porn" even in a very passing way. So advertisers will pull their ads if you have what they deem to be porn.

    Fark had this problem. They used to run stories now and again with a "boobies" or "wieners" tag to denote photos/videos of either women or men respectively that others might find attractive and want to look at. They were always clearly marked, and flagged NSFW if that was an issue. It wasn't a large part of the content

    However advertisers kept complaining and pulling ads, and so Fark spun that content off in to a separate site. It was that, or watch ad revenue dry up.

    This sort of thing is also why ads on places like the Pirate Bay and such tend to be so scummy: Most brands aren't willing to associate with those sites so they have to take whatever they can get.

  • Re:Google monopoly (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DarwinSurvivor ( 1752106 ) on Friday May 23, 2014 @11:46PM (#47081221)
    Ah yes, the "good old days" when we had a thousand crappy search engines. Now all we have is a thousand crappy search engines, a few half-decent ones and a good one. Maybe you should write the second good search engine and give Google some competition.
  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Saturday May 24, 2014 @12:58AM (#47081461)

    One common scenario leading to delisting is that you hire an SEO, or an SEO decides to "gift" you their "service", or one of your competitors decides to "gift" you an SEO's "service". It's very hard, as an ordinary business, to know that this is the cause of your problem.

    Complicating this is that the #1 "Wordpress" exploit, for the longest time, was to present the ordinary site *unless* the request was coming from the IP address of a search engine bot. If it was coming from a search engine bot, then you present the regular content of the site, interspersed with link farm data. The Wordpress site doesn't know that it's being link-farmed, since they come in from non-bot IP addresses.

    One of the things Google does internally is make all web traffic from employees desktops originate from the bot IP address; that way if there is variant content based on it recognizing the bot IP, you end up getting the link-farm version of the page, if you, as an employee, visit the site. One of my coworkers discovered that his daughter's school site had been compromised and turned into this type of link farm when he went on from his desk in order to give permission for a field trip, and ended up with a bizarro version of the site in his browser.

    So if you see a sudden drop in traffic, you should probably compare your current site contents to the site contents that are supposed to be there according to your CMS (and if you don't have a CMS - get one so you can make this kind of comparison).

    Another fairly recent phenomenon is that these "stealth" link farms are now being provided as forum postings. If you look at the forum posting link yourself, it's going to show up as whatever content is supposed to be there, but, again, if the bot goes there, it's going to see a link-farm. So if your site has a lot of links to link-farm sites, you're going to appear to be part of the problem (a fair assessment, since you *are* in fact a part of the problem).

    For secondary drive-by stealth link-farm postings, there's really no way to check that the link that you're publishing is a stealth link-farm link. The problem with exposing this information is that an exposed site recruited to this purpose is no longer valuable to the link-farmer, but an unexposed one remains valuable input to the filtering algorithm. So exposing just means that the link-farmer is going to sell the site on the open market to someone else, who will then use the same exploit that the link-farmer used to get it to be a stealth link-farm, only they are going to do other nasty stuff with it, from hosting malware, to actively recruiting the site for a botnet.

    So in reality, it turns out to be a net benefit to everyone for Google to say nothing, particularly if there's no way to understand what exploit was used to establish the stealth link-farm in the first place. Clearly, the site administrator at that site was not competent enough to not be p0wned in the first place, so they're unlikely to be competent enough to fix the problem. If they're using Wordpress in the first place, they probably don't understand the software well enough to understand the exploit in any case. So no programatic verification by Google that a given link might cause you to lose ranking because it links to a link-farm, since link-farmers would just use the service themselves to get the list of their link-farms they need to "recycle" by selling to other people.

    It's a pain in the ass all around, but eventually people will have to start taking their site security a bit more seriously, or find themselves swept into the corner.

May all your PUSHes be POPped.