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Google Search Changes: A Gift that Keeps Giving -- and Taking

It's been a little over a week since Google (GOOG) adjusted its algorithms to improve search results quality. The common take was that the company wanted to de-emphasize content mills or farms, the operations that grind out enormous amounts of material at a low price and, too often, with little to offer consumers. A fresh look at the results shows that at least one mill, Demand Media's (DMD) eHow, which surprisingly had seemed to benefit from the change, didn't. The apparently improvement was actually a misreading of data. For many others, bad has gone to worse.

At the time, there were a number of immediate analyses of how the content mills fared, with Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand providing a roundup. Unfortunately, the initial patterns could have been misleading with only a few days of data available. But it's been a week now, so BNET again worked with, which estimates Web traffic in the U.S., for another look at the impact Google's changes may have had.

The data looks at daily metrics for a number of Demand Media's (DMD) sites as well as and Graphs from Compete show two different measurements:

  • Reach measures what percentage of all U.S. Internet users visit is given web site.
  • Attention measures what percentage of all the time U.S. Internet users collectively spend online and was spent on a given site.
As of last week, eHow seemed to have benefited from the changes. And yet, those who pointed to the site as a winner didn't look at the cyclical nature of its traffic. Here's a view of eHow's results before and after the Google changes (click to enlarge):

What threw many observers was the bounce upward on February 26th, right after Google put its changes into place on the 24th or 25th. But the view of eHow over a longer period of time showed a general traffic pattern. Looking at the dark blue line, notice that the site's reach dropped further than usual after its high point. Now things are back about to where they were before the change. So, at the moment, eHow seems largely unaffected by the algorithm tweaks. That may be because it focuses on more obscure or specific how-to search queries, and so comes into search results. But the site doesn't seem to have benefited, either.

Livestrong, Answerbag, and Trails maintained their steep drop (click to enlarge):

Demand's typeF, a site associated with supermodel Tyra Banks,, struggled separately from Google's changes after its launch in mid-February. But now it seems to be improving (click to enlarge):

Traffic on Demand's humor site also seems independent of the algorithm changes. (I can only guess that the huge spike has something to do with Charlie Sheen jokes.) Golflink is the one Demand site that actually seems to have benefited from the changes (click to enlarge):

With this longer view, non-Demand property seems to have had a problem back in mid-February that has continued. That sounds like a Google algorithm change, although not the content farm one (click to enlarge):

Finally, the changes walloped and have continued to do so (click to enlarge):


Image: morgueFile user phaewilk, site standard license.
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