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Google: "Judge and Jury"

Last week, Google rolled out a search ranking algorithm update aimed towards “low quality sites.” While we’re all for efforts to improve the quality of search results, what’s happened since is a foreboding signal to online travel sites and consumers of what can happen when Google tightens its grip.

Since the announcement, it is clear that innocent sites are suffering serious consequences, “providing evidence that Google simply cannot distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ content.” Among the 11.8% affected by this update, are several well known sites: the British Medical Journal (a highly respected and long standing medical resource), the Cult of Mac (a busy and very popular Apple news site), DaniWeb (an IT based support and discussion community) and The Well (which pretty much invented online social networking more than 20 years ago).

Dani Horowitz, CEO and Publisher of DaniWeb, reported an overnight loss of 70% as a result of the Google Farmer Update. Davey Winder, a freelance technology journalist, described the “massive change to the way that search works” as a result of Google’s new algorithm.

“Google is not only judge and jury when it comes to deciding what you really want to search for, it’s also just become the executioner for those sites it deems unworthy. Unfortunately, things get worse when you appreciate that Google is more akin to a secret military court than anything else: not only is the definition of low quality content unknown, but the evidence (in the form of that search algorithm) is a secret. Not only does this mean that innocents get caught in the crossfire, but those sites which are so impacted have no real idea of what they have done wrong or how to put it right…One thing cannot be denied, and that is with this algorithm update Google is seriously hurting genuine of useful original content while at the same time giving third party content publishers a ranking boost. How that is meant to improve the quality of search is, frankly, beyond me.”

Chris Knight, CEO EzineArticles.com, has instituted several changes to get back in Google’s graces, such as rejecting more articles, reducing the number of ads per page, and raising the minimum word count. “Traffic was down 11.5% on Thursday and over 35% on Friday,” Knight wrote. “In our life-to-date, this is the single most significant reduction in market trust we’ve experienced from Google.”

It is clear that his algorithm update has site owners worried. “You’re not on the web if you’re not on Google,” Cult of Mac’s editor Leander Kahney said. “Google is the web — who uses anything else to find stuff?”

At FairSearch.org, we’ve always said consumers – not search engines – should choose winners and losers in the marketplace. That’s why we’re urging the DOJ to protect competition and innovation in online travel search by challenging Google’s takeover of ITA Software.