Since MetaFilter’s creation in 1999, the company has experienced around 50% drop in in traffic in Google search engine. It has not yet recovered, and Danny Sullivan from SearchEngineLand refers MetaFilter as the poster child of problems with Google’s penalties due to the updates. While Google has made tremendous advances, it is still an imperfect system that may not incentivize quality accurately and consistently. It is no longer surprising when Google hits small or large businesses. Google updates have penalized small and large businesses for years, and the sites that aren’t penalized do not generate much empathy from the masses.
Some small businesses do buy services or things that many might consider a gray area or unsavory. Some sites have layers and layers of garbage which may seem innocent at face value. Some sites are pure content farms that satisfy Google’s Panda update. Demand Media Studios was hit significantly by Google’s Panda update. Many commentators have contested that Google’s updates were seemingly too powerful or monopolistic. Apparently Google considered content from Demand Media properties a nuisance to give priority on their search engine.
MetaFilter has been around for a while. Old-timers have been using MetaFilter before sites like Twitter, Facebook, BuzzFeed, and Reddit came along. For a while no one understood why MetaFilter suffered. Many individuals and businesses agree that when Google penalizes a site, it can be difficult to find out what is causing the penalties. The updates can be caused by both automatic and manual penalties.
A manual penalty is when an actual live person at Google decides there is something wrong with your page or several pages, and decides that the page or pages should no longer rank on the search engine results. Google says that it sends notices and reports all manual actions through Google Webmaster Tools to the websites affected. A few years ago, a website administrator would not even notice when a penalty is given.
The most challenging aspect of manual penalties is correcting them when they are given. Google does not deliver enough information about why a site is penalized. The causal factors of the penalty are so ambiguous that it seems as though Google does not care if the webmasters can rectify the issues. Some sites have compared Google’s penalties to when a police officer pulls someone over, and asks the driver, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Google leaves you guessing on why your site was penalized. Google has promised to improve their penalty notifications, but they still have a lot to do and improve upon in this area. For now, Google calls the penalties "adjustments", especially when the algorithms automatically change a site's ranking in the search engine.
The current search engine climate portrays a dictatorial regime, where webmasters are constantly in fear of what the Big G would do next. It is not clear what the “penal code” is, and those who are convicted are often not aware of what their crimes are. This is what Google must work on moving forward.