So, we all knew that Squidoo had to do some major damage control to rescue itself, since Google’s downranked it for… well, we’re all making educated guesses, but Google’s webmaster guidelines provide us with a list of likely culprits (links are to the specific part of Google guidelines detailing each big no-no):
- Spam, thin, and duplicate content that’s not useful to visitors (Panda algorithm, starting in Jan 2011. Squidoo took modest hits from Panda, offset by other Panda update boosts, until Panda 22 update in November 2012 killed 60% of Squidoo visibility.)
- Affiliate links that sell without giving users something that helps them. Google’s quality rater guidelines show that it has evaluated affiliate-link pages critically long before Panda, but I think Panda has raised the bar.
- Mass backlinking to boost a site (Part of Penguin “webspam” algorithm, starting at the beginning of 2012. Squidoo has actually been treated kindly Penguin, for reasons I’ll explain below.)
- keyword stuffing (Part of Penguin “webspam” algorithm).
- Overly aggressive advertising (especially “above the fold”) (Page Layout algorithm, starting Jan 2012. Squidoo has taken mild hits from this one.)
- Link schemes like traffic exchanges and paid links (was already in Google algorithm before Panda and Penguin, but Penguin has emphasized it more)
Most of these are content-related problems which are the responsibility of Squidoo members. Some are in the hands of HQ. Let’s take a closer look at each of these problems and how it’s playing out on Squidoo:
Thin/Duplicate/low-value affiliate content: I raised concerns about this on the now-deleted official Squidoo forums in early 2011, a few weeks before Panda first launched, and I’m still sore about the “you’re being chicken little” response I got at the time. In fact, my dire predictions didn’t come true until late November 2012; until then Panda was just dinging Squidoo with small paper cuts.
Squidoo has now instituted aggressive filters to catch spam, thin, and duplicate content, a move that was initially cheered by many lensmasters tired of seeing garbage outranking good content on Squidoo. Unfortunately, the filters are a work in progress, and the growing pains have been dismal: we’ve had or heard of lenses that passed filters with flying colors on one day being inexplicably flagged, locked, or deleted on the next without warning. I fear that a lot of excellent content that meets Google’s criteria for “useful to visitor” has been deleted and lost.
Meanwhile HQ’s massive campaign to add personal stories to content is missing the fact that Google does not reward personal content; its algorithm is designed to reward usefulness and relevance. Personal content can be useful, or it can be non-vital padding that impedes the reader from getting to what she really wants to know.
Spammy Backlinking: What Penguin is mostly targeting is aggressive, large-scale backlinking campaigns and other sophisticated SERPs manipulation schemes by major black hatters. Penguin was instituted after JCPenny embarrassed Google by boosting itself with a massive fake backlink campaign and got caught not by Google, but by a very public shaming in the NYT. Google’s Webmaster guidelines now specifically forbid “automated programs or services to create links to your site.” This is backlinking on a scale that lensmasters can’t do unless they’re buying massive linkspam packages on Fivrr. Most Squidoo users are just small-time incompetent backlinkers, focusing on links that Google simply ignores, like forum signatures. These links don’t help, but I believe that they don’t hurt either. It saddens me to see good lenses getting locked without recourse for something that does not seem to be much of a factor in Squidoo’s current woes.
Keyword stuffing: Again, Penguin comes down like a load of bricks on this, but I find it telling that Squidoo’s search visibility seems pretty much untouched by Penguin. Mind you, keyword stuffing is not a good idea, and Squidoo might get hurt on it at some point in the future. Plus, it repels human visitors, so why do it? But I think HQ is barking up the wrong tree by focusing too much on keyword density and flagging/locking successful content that’s still getting traffic and sales.
Page Layout Problems: I’ve sounded the alarm since 2011 that Squidoo’s aggressive use of “above the fold” advertising would eventually incur a Google downranking. I also argued last December that several recent changes in Squidoo’s layout were really begging for a Google downranking. To be fair, it appears that Squidoo has only taken a mild downranking from its layout issues, as opposed to the body blows from Panda updates.
Linking schemes: Ironically, Squidoo itself is doing more of this than lensmasters are. I and many lensmasters have expressed concerns to HQ that the CrowdIgnite links they started replacing the Discovery Box with are a traffic exchange expressly discouraged by Google webmaster guidelines (“Excessive link exchanging“). Other lensmasters have been sounding the alert on the TotallyHer / Momtastic link (which looks like a paid link, though I can’t tell) on every lens, even where it’s not at all relevant.
So Now What?
If you have been worn out by jumping through hoops and dealing with changes constantly breaking your content — Squidoo updates that lose your original content from poll modules, Amazon modules, “My Lenses” modules, photo galleries, video modules and so on — or if you have been badly burned by the filters locking and deleting successful lenses, or if you just want to protect yourself by diversifying, Paula has a good guide to alternative platforms for publishing your content.
Or, if you’re sick of digital sharecropping, the yuku forums set up by lensmasters to support one another after the old official SquidU forums were shut down also has a Webmaster Way sub-forum where lensmasters are discussing tips, strategies, plugins and tools for building blogs and websites. Please join and add your ideas and questions!
In declaring which algorithm changes did or didn’t hurt Squidoo, I’m following Sistrix, which I have found to be the most reliable site in the SEO industry for monitoring specific impact of Google algorithm changes. Jeffreyv’s chart of “effects of Google updates on Squidoo” seems to match Sistrix’s assessment pretty closely, based on a different site’s testing. Another ballpark way of measuring the effect of Google updates is to look at traffic stats for yourself (on Google analytics) or sitewide (on Quantcast.com) and compare them to the Moz Timeline of Google algorithm changes. That’s mostly what I’ve been doing, even though I know it’s a sloppy shortcut (see “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” logical fallacy). Sistrix, instead, measures how much each site has increased or decreased visibility in Google search results, which is more likely to be caused by Google algorithm changes.