Foner Books – Another Victim of the Google Update

Was Site Design A Factor?

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We’re hearing a lot of interesting stories regarding the fallout of Google’s recent search algorithm update, which was aimed at reducing the rankings of lower quality content. We noticed Morris Rosenthal,owner of Foner Books had some grievances, expressed on his blog. We reached out to hear more of his story, and he was happy to share quite a bit.

Got a story about the algorithm update’s impact? Share in the comments.

For context, it helps to understand a little of the background of Foner Books and its website, as a quick glance at the site doesn’t scream “quality” from the design perspective.

“Foner Books started a little over ten years ago when I finished translating all of my great-grandmother’s books from Hebrew (Sarah Foner, she was the first woman to publish a Hebrew novel) and wanted the translations online,” Rosenthal, a former McGraw Hill author, tells WebProNews. “From there, I slowly added my newer writing to the Foner Books site, and left the older daileyint.com site to my business partner who published military history for some years. The daileyint.com site had the original work that McGraw-Hill eventually published for me.”

Morris Rosenthal of Foner Books Talks Google Update Fallout“In the course of 10 years, the subject scope of Foner Books has expanded as I grew interested in writing about different things, maybe I take on one new subject a year and write a dozen pages,” he continues. “It’s essentially just the authoring process moved online, something I advise all authors to do. This way I get feedback even while I’m writing, and if the work attracts a lot of visitors, I know it’s a good gamble to print the book. If it doesn’t become popular, I don’t rush to do a paper book, go through hiring editors,etc.”

“What Foner Books is best known for is my writing on publishing,” says Rosenthal. “Until the recent algo change, I was the #1 result for phrases like ‘book contract’ or ‘book contracts’, many queries related to book sales (I maintain an annually updated study of industry sales), and my page about Amazon Sales ranks, which was pretty famous back in the day, and through which I was able to help Chris Anderson out with some research for his book, ‘The Long Tail.’ And I was always [in the top] 10 in Google for “Self Publishing”, usually around #5. Now I’m maybe #30.”

It’s worth noting that as I checked on the terms mentioned, Foner Books does have results in the top five for “book contract” and “book contracts”. Rosenthal later told us, “I was the solid #1 for both for the last five years, if not longer. In fact, I just checked Bing and I’m still #1 there…In the case of these phrases, I don’t feel so bad because at least the pages now beating me aren’t crap, it’s just a new order. But the reason I was #1 is because people have been coming to my site for publishing related information for ten years, so it’s built up great incoming links over time. That part hasn’t changed, Google just decided they hate the whole site.”

But even still, Rosenthal has lost half of his US traffic. We asked him if he’d seen any recovery since the update took the traffic away (as Google has reportedly been making tweaks – see Cult of Mac). “Not as of this morning,” he said. “I only check once a day.”

Reading Rosenthal’s blog posts, it’s easy to tell that he has a bit of contempt for Demand Media’s eHow, which seems to have come out ahead in all of this. When asked to expand upon his relationship with the site, he told us, “The relationship is they’ve been eating into my traffic slowly for two years, and now they are getting a giant bite.”

“They have a computer algorithm pick phrases that people are using in search engines that they believe will monetize well,” Rosenthal continued. “Then they have their hordes of contract writers (not all of whom are evil) write a page around that key phrase using a simple, Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 formula. Some of the results are not awful, but most are a complete waste of time, and some provide advice that simply won’t work because the writer, who is rewriting what they found on a website like mine, doesn’t understand enough about the subject to even do a 1,2,3 summary. I used to just ignore eHow in the results and never gave it a thought, but around a year ago, a couple friends started complaining to me that Google kept sending them to this eHow place that just wasted their time.”

“I haven’t counted lately, but ignoring posts to my self publishing blog, I only have a couple hundred pages on the entire site,” he added. “eHow has hundreds, or thousands, or tens of thousands of pages on subjects like ‘how to change a hard drive’ because they phrase it every possible way…it’s just a joke. Maybe Google has decided my pages are low quality for those searches because I’m not ‘specific’ enough. If they believe that, they’ve been badly fooled. If somebody wanted to learn how to cross the street safely, eHow would have an article written for every street in the country to catch all the search phrases. I would cover the subject on one page, but I’d do a better job than all of their pages put together.”

Glancing through the Foner Books content, it was not immediately apparent to me that it was an AdSense site. When asked about advertising, Rosenthal said, “There are ads (Adsense) on maybe 20% of the page views. I generally want to sell my books so I’ve never been that interested in advertising. There are no ads on my daileyint.com domain, used to have on a single page about used laptops, but that was it. I have a different philosophy about Adsense than most publishers. I try to use it on pages where it works well, because I figure that means that some people who arrived on those pages from search really weren’t looking for an answer, they were looking for a product or a service. Google’s great insight into the web was that some people are always shopping.”

When asked what his best guess is as to why Google de-valued his content, Rosenthal said, “My favorite guess is duplicate content, ie, people have stolen so much from me for so long and in so many different ways, that Google can’t tell the difference who is the originator and has declared a pox on all of our houses. But it could also be that they hate my 1995 style HTML, I’ve heard of a lot of other ten year old and fifteen year old sites with valuable content getting hit hard, it could be they are equally old fashioned in their presentation.”

It’s very true that the site is lacking in modern website aesthetics, though this is not necessarily indicative of the value of the content.

“I believe Google’s Singhal said something about Google wanting to send people to sites that you would be happy giving your credit card to, which may mean sites that have a very professional template, like Amazon, or eHow, lots of JavaScript, etc.,” he said. “Singhal also said something about whole sites getting penalized for some low quality content. By ‘low quality’, I assume he means in the SEO sense, because their algo doesn’t read and understand. So yesterday I took down a list of free books on Kindle that I had posted last year, with a very good reaction in social media, because that page consisted of 1,400 classic titles linked to Amazon so people could easily find them for free. I didn’t use ‘NOFOLLOW’ and didn’t use my Associates ID, they were just plain links. But maybe Google thought it was spammy. I hate having to do this kind of guessing, and it’s a shame that people have lost out on using the list for free.”

Rosenthal may not have seen the worst yet. So far, Google has only initiated the algorithm update here in the United States. Rosenthal and many other website owners may be in for an even bigger shock as Google expands it to other regions.

“If they roll the same update out overseas, it will be another major hit in traffic,” Rosenthal tells us. “About half of my Google traffic was US, half the rest of the world. And since I do sell eBook versions of my published books, it would hurt sales. In the past two years, I’ve sold eBooks to 86 different countries.”

On a related note, there’s some interesting new data on those affected out from SearchMetrics.

Do you think Google’s search quality has improved? Tell us what you think.

Foner Books – Another Victim of the Google Update
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  • http://www.LadySilk.Net Teresa Thomas Bohannon

    In October 2010 I starting selling my novel online, which is a Regency Romance. As part of my promotional efforts, I have a Google Alert set to “Regency Romance” that comes early each morning as an email digest. This was my way of finding the latest news related to my topic, complementary sites where I could leave relevant comments for backlinks and to otherwise interact with for author interviews and other promotional purposes.

    The Google Alert is set to send me only the best results. Before the Algorithm update, my Google Alert contained at least 20 (more when you total web and blog links) high-quality links a day, 16-18 of which were relevant to my topic. (One or two would usually be for Regency hotels and honeymoon packages etc.) Now the Google Alert contains maybe 6 links a day, 4 of which have any real relevance to my topic.

    I’ve tried fine-tuning my original Google Alert and adding a couple of new ones in different variations, but nothing I’ve tried has been able to bring the results up to their pre-Algorithm update, level of usefulness.

    One thing I have noticed is that it seems to be trying to send links to new sites. In other words, new posts by sites that regularly appeared in the list pre-Algorithm update, no longer appear in each day’s Alert. At this point, the theory of vanishing returns seems to be in place, and the Google Alert is almost useless to me. Any helpful suggestions or insights would be appreciated.

    • http://www.webpronews.com/ Chris Crum

      That’s a really interesting angle to all of this, and something I hadn’t really even thought about. I wonder how this is impacting reputation management.

      • http://www.LadySilk.Net Teresa Thomas Bohannon

        Additional insight. Today’s “Regency Romance” Google Alert contains 1 news, 5 Blog, 9 Web links.

        The first link under Blogs is the comment I made here yesterday. The web links are mostly Ebay and other Regency Romance books for sale links. The news is an interview in a California newspaper with a local author who is releasing a new romance series.

  • http://zuerst1.com webmaster

    Nice looking site,keep up the good work.
    Maybe Google will learn from mistakes?? but they are the GOD of the internet and I doubt if they will hiding in the dark,un-reachable and very confusing indeed!

  • http://www.webologist.co.uk/ Jon

    Foner books does have a few issues. It may have once been specifically for Foner’s translated works, but now just looks like an affiliate book store.

    The first links on the home page are to books about “Computer Repair with Diagnostic Flowcharts”, “get you started in the PC business”, plus many other small business related links.

    The level of writing is not high either, which is another possible factor in the Farmer update – downgrading English language sites that have poor grammar and spelling mistakes. Examples on Foner:

    “The printable eBook can downloaded for $9.95 or the book can ordered from Amazon for $14.95, or from Amazon UK for ÂŁ9.95 or …..”

    Not saying it is a factor, but could be.

    But basically, it does look like an Amazon affiliate site, which we know that Google does not like all that much! It may have had more nobel beginnings and a lot of work may have gone into choosing the best topics to write about, but that is precisely what Google is trying to avoid – made for adsense / made for affiliate sites crowding the web with their information sites, when there is a lot of alternative quality information that is well researched and written available. SEO’s have spent a long time pushing relatively poor content to the top of the search engines. Now we are starting to see some better quality sites coming back.

    Everyone is focusing on what has been lost in the Farmer update, the real questions should be, who has gained? Maybe those sites are simply a good read?

    • http://news.seolinktagstic.com/pt/seo/ Steven W.

      Very interesting because the grammatical issues you observed would be the kinds of things a text classifier (logical piece at the heart of “Farmer Update”) would / could be analyzing.

      • http://www.webpronews.com/ Chris Crum

        I think there are few content sites out there that are completely immune to grammatical errors. I’ve seen them on all kinds of big brand media sites (and certainly been guilty of them myself on occasion). Interesting point to consider though.

    • http://www.fonerbooks.com Morris Rosenthal


      Yes, as a publisher I’m an Amazon Affiliate. That’s rather the point of giving away all this book content for free. What you seem to have missed is that the book content is there, and it is that content that draws visitor and links, not the front page. The front page is only there because a site needs a front page.

      I suspect that you, like Google, didn’t actually need any information from the site so didn’t read any of the content. If you had, you’d see why it was drawing over 10,000 visitors a day (and is still running around 6,000). It’s not the design, the navigation, or the advertising that draws people, it’s the content. But if you prefer a beauty contest, get your answers from eHow:-)


  • http://www.andersenstudio.com Mackenzie Andersen

    Interesting- Andersen Studio Ceramic Birds came out ahead on this one. Our Ceramic Birds page now #1 on the list of search results for the phrase “ceramic birds” up from position #5.

    The Find used to be ahead of us.They are now #2, which may be a gain for them as well, I am not sure.

  • http://GoTruckStop.com TJ Graff

    Upon reading your article, it made me recall several passages from a book I am currently re-reading … one that I read some 16 yrs ago.

    The author, Tom Peters, is a former McKinsey & Co. consultant and executive and the author of “In Search of Excellence”.

    The book I’m re-reading is “The Tom Peters Seminar: Crazy Times for Crazy Organizations”. The essence of Peters’ writings in “Crazy Times …” (writen in 199)is not just change, but abandonment.

    You write …”When asked what his best guess is as to why Google de-valued his content, Rosenthal said, “My favorite guess is duplicate content, ie, people have stolen so much from me for so long and in so many different ways, that Google can’t tell the difference who is the originator and has declared a pox on all of our houses. But it could also be that they hate my 1995 style HTML, I’ve heard of a lot of other ten year old and fifteen year old sites with valuable content getting hit hard, it could be they are equally old fashioned in their presentation.””

    Rosenthal is just like Union Pacific, IBM, GM, or even Microsoft over the past 10 years … stuck in an “old world” mentality, that being in position #1 for his niche market search phrases was sufficient. He forgot that others were striving to be #1 in that area and have changed, abandoned “old world” ideas, concepts and technologies … and stayed “fresh” with new designs and new technologies.

    Rosenthal, don’t blame Google … blame yourself !!

    Peters writes (again back in 1994) “…Quad/Graphics, the brilliantly innovative printing company, is as clear as Intel on this point. (sic. change/innovation) The theme for a recent set of company strategy sessions )in which all employees participated): “Quad/Graphics must self-Destruct or risk being destroyed”.This is the new watchword of a company that already licenses its most advanced technolgy to arch-competitors for the express purpose of keeping the heat turned up under itself (and making a buck in the process.)…”

    GoTruckStop.com has held the #1 or #2 search position at Google for search phrases such as “trucking accessories”, “big rig gifts”, “big rig accessories” or “trucking gifts” since 1997. (Note: “trucking accessories” brings back over 2.1 million results as of this writing)

    At GoTruckStop.com, we could have sat back, rested on our laurels, slapped ourselves on the back and said “Good Job!” … or … as we did … we scrapped our entire look, utilized new technology, integrated social media and networking and are staying ahead of the pack.

    Mr. Rosenthal, don’t just change … go for abandonment … and you will be right back where you were … or stay where you are and look back on the “good old days” of 1995.

    • http://www.fonerbooks.com Morris Rosenthal


      I’m not an entertainer, I’m a nonfiction author. I want people coming for the information, I don’t want them for any other reason. If you want to be in the entertainment business, go for it.


      • Matt

        And here we see the problem. It could be that Google is staffed by clueless idiots who mistake smell for taste.

        “Gee, this coffee has to be better than all the other coffees, because it looks and smells so GOOD! So we are listing it as the Number 1 coffeee in the world!”

        “And how does it taste?”

        “Oh, even though it looks and smells good, it tastes really bad! Still, we have to list it as the Number 1 coffee in the world, as we base results not on the contents but on the appearance!”

        And that, folks, is how Google’s algo “works” although perhaps the word “works” in this context is somewhat overstated.

  • http://www.coffeeloversusa.com Joe

    I have two websites, the first one, Coffee Lovers USA (4 years old) and the second Stoneware Lovers USA (Just a year old). I have noticed a significant drop in traffic as well. I use Google Analytics and try to maintain a professional website, that first honors my customers, by delivering good information and than selling quality products. We have gone through a great deal of effort into constructing our site to make it easy to navigate, customer friendly.

    Google back links, according to Google Analytics remain zero. I know we have much to learn but to see our traffic drop after working so hard is very discouraging. I hope our future efforts will show the proper rewards and make it just a little easier to get ranked higher in Google. Joe P. C.L.USA/S.L.USA

    • http://semcps.info yayack

      now google has change PANDA to PENGUIN

  • http://www.m3autoshipper.com Michael Fox

    I think Google is becoming just like the government or anyone else with power. They have good intentions and they are trying to fight the problem. However, they don’t fully do their homework and they don’t think like the honest people. They put a solution in place that is 100% focused on targeting the dishonest but they forgot to make sure not to hurt the honest. They put in a 1 size fits all solution and it cripples the good sites out there. I don’t think they are evil, they just forget about the good guys while they are fighting the bad guys.

    Maybe their algorithm should just flag the suspected bad sites and have them reviewed by a human that is not part of the “catch all the bad guys” development team. A gut check so they don’t harm innocent sites. I have been writing code since the early 80s and one thing holds true…100% automation will be 50% flawed and 50% is a failing grade. Always have a human verify the results before you put your work out there…Google!
    I know that I have repeated myself in this rant, but I believe it is important for Google, and all the other companies out there, to get the message. No company is invincible and if you provide a bad product long enough; you will be replaced.


  • http://www.firewallguide.com Henry Markus

    Until Feb 24, 2011, Google had loved our Internet security hub website (firewallguide.com) and many pages therein for many years (since 2003?). Our Feb 23 drop in visitors was 28%.

    The drop reflects changes in organic search results. For example, search for “firewall” results ranked our home page on Google page one, line #2 in January 2011. Our router page was Google page 1 line #2 for “wireless router”. For firewall we are now page 2, line #1; for wireless router we are now page 2 line #1 as well.

    For “wireless router” it is interesting what is ahead of us now — 5 shopping sites (not including ads), 2 vendor sites, 4 information sites, and 2 Google more option links. To improve search quality, Google should offer a way to remove the shopping sites from the organic search results.

    In our case it’s not link farms but too many shopping sites. It is not clear what connection these two issues may have if any. But they both happened at the same time.

    • http://www.franklydigital.co.uk/online-marketing/seo/ Amelia Vargo

      But, aren’t some people more interested in buying wireless routers than learning about them? Or, do you mean a physical button – find products or find information, where people can clearly show their intent before the search is carried out?

  • Robert

    It sounds as if Google didn’t read the sign that said, ” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
    Fixing something just to fix it is no reason; but unless you have several initials after your name, ‘Who are you?’ You know the initials
    BS for your first degree MS – more of the same and PHD p Piled Higher and Deeper
    Amazon is famous for the above mentality

  • Chrissie

    Hi, I have noticed google are listing sites that have nothing to do with the search string I have entered, although the generic web-site makes a match on the string, it has nothing to do with the topic of my search string. When this happens I use another search engine but it might be easier to just start using another search engine by default.

  • Beamer

    Google’s constant algorithm changes WREAKS of manipulating the search results. This evil empire is nothing more than an arrogant dictatorship ruling the internet, like the devil walking up and down in the earth seeking whom it may devour.

    Why people put up with their BS is beyond me. Webmasters biting their fingernails and pulling out their hair in anticipation of G’s next algorithm change is absolutely preposterous.

    You work your rear end off providing a valuable service to clients who desire first page placement for their keywords, only to have your hard work literally destroyed by the search result manipulation game that Google plays. According to them your site is not worthy, so they just knock you down. This, my friends, is a dictator that needs to be overthrown and done away with.

    When searching for a plumber in Roseville CA, I DO NOT expect to see results for a restaurant serving Indian cuisine! Where’s the freaking relevancy? In addition, when searching for English as a Second Language (ESL) course, I DO NOT want to see results for English Riding Lessons when “horse” was NOT anywhere in my search query.

    When I want relevant search results, I know I will get them at Bing and that’s what my default search is now. There’s also Yahoo!, Blekko and hoards of others. Google can suck my cervix as far as I’m concerned.

    Google is pure junk and the sooner people realize this, the sooner the evil dictator monster’s power is decimated and put to rest.

  • http://www.solarwyse.ca Larry

    My website finally went to a PR3 from a PR2. It took over 8 months.
    Web traffic increased +30% and has remained at this level.

  • david

    I took a look at his source code for the main page. It is easy to see a little of the problem. The page is about computers mostly, yet the meta title is only about publishing. There is not enough correlation to meta title. This is just one little observation. david

  • http://www.preferredseat.com Greg

    For our company it was a blessing. Too many bad sites keeping good sites from being found for what people are looking for and the’re all the same company with the same products in a different package. Good ticket brokers are hard to find and now it’s easier to find us!

  • http://www.speedupmypc.allsoftware.us P Lee

    Well I am just Sick of google acting GOD! The last 6 months have really seen my software sales going up. Now nothing thank you GOD GOOGLE.

  • http://globaldanismanlik.com Yayack

    I love GOOGLE :)

  • http://www.TruckStuffUSA.com Mark Lane

    I started my first website in 1998 and was averaging over 1,700 Google visits daily until March of 2010. Then Google’s progressive algorythm change took me down to 1,200 within 2 months. Then the hammer fell a few days back when they took that 1,200 down to around 400. My Bing and Yahoo traffic has remained constant during the same time frame.

    By contrast, I track my competition as well and the ones that have Google ads increased their rankings and those that don’t (me included) lost big time.

    I’ve also noticed the same results with a few other niche websites I own. When adword campaigns are running (I run them seasonally), my rankings gradually increase. When I drop them in the off season, they gradually decrease.

    So, looks like the day’s of independent organic search by Google are gone. You don’t pay, you don’t rank in CPC or organic. I should have expected it anyway after Google went public in 2005 and they became shareholder accountable.

  • http://www.marfaoriginala.ro adidasi

    very interesting case Foner Books it was powerfull but the editor maybe made some mistakes that turned google against Foner.

  • http://www.installhdtv.com David Aimi

    I personally think just because someone was in the Top 10 or #1 for 10 years that they are always welcome to that position. SEO is an on-going effort and the internet changes by the day. Google will continue to update their algorithms and businesses will need to be agile enough to be prepared for that. I have heard quite a few horror stories as of lately, but frankly, if you have all your eggs in one basket then you are doing something wrong.

    • http://www.fonerbooks.com Morris Rosenthal


      I don’t do SEO. If Google requires SEO to find good content they aren’t doing their job and Matt Cutts has said as much on multiple occasions. For example, my business partner posted over a decade ago a ship’s history of WWII. He was on the ship, he is an excellent historian, that history as written by him is not going to change. Should he have to go back every year and tweak the presentation, learn CSS and javascript, in hopes of mantaining search engine visibility? Hell no, the growing links to his resource from relevant places should be enough to tell search engines that this is the real thing.

      Constantly updating websites and having social interaction features my be fun for kids, but it doesn’t add to quality, it generally detracts. The amount of time he put into writing and research a book that may be spread over two dozen web pages was years. He’s now beaten by spam sites scraping tiny parts of his content and creating thousands and thousands of pages.


  • Boycott Google

    Here is a quote from this article-
    “That part hasn’t changed, Google just decided they hate the whole site.”

  • http://ioneday.blogspot.com ione

    thanx for info

  • http://www.gam-legalalliance.com wey

    I should start checking if my site is also a victim of these changes.

    Thanks for the info.


  • Paddy Devine

    I’m not giving my website as I don’t need the hit from anyone. I get great traffic for its size. I outrank some of the big guys on a single tag. I do see links to sites that have no knowledge of my area except for material stolen from my site over the years. I had my site long before this area became popular.
    All in all, I get better results from google than with bling, which I personally find to be a joke.

  • Andrew

    The simple reason why Google pushes other websites in front is: adsense. Adsense makes money for Google. If you use Adsense you get ahead. If you don’t (or only use it on a small number of pages), expect to get shoved down the SERPS.

  • http://www.hotelsmombasa.com Tom Njiri

    Hi Rosenthal,

    Have read your article with a lot of interest as to the impact of the latest Google Farmer update.

    However, on doing a Google search for the key words “book contract” and “book contracts”, I still note you Fonerbooks.com is still the top dog! Am I missing something here?

    Mombasa Kenya

    • http://www.fonerbooks.com Morris Rosenthal


      You must be overseas. In the UK, I’m still #1, but in the US, it’s #4 or #5. But that’s just a symptom of being penalized. Over 50% of my US Google visitors are gone with the update, it’s even a little worse than I initially suspected. I’ve had to go with Analytics for my stats, since my server stats have been stuck mid-upgrade for a month:-)


  • http://www.sathookup.com SatHookup Man

    Nobody wants to look at your ill-formatted content. Figure out a way to make it nicer and you will be fine. Yeah it’s a lot of work, but this creates opportunity for new companies to come into market.

    • http://gotruckstop.com TJ Graff

      Exactly !! Mr. (whiney-crying) Rosenthal blames his drop in rankings to Google. Yet he fails to address his lack of current design and format that his competitors are utilizing.

      Gee, I remember back when … when a pre-paid phone card was the easiest and most cost efficient way to make a long distance call while you were away from the home or office.

      Does that mean we should ALL go back to pre-paid phone cards?? Of course not … new technology, innovation, design and concepts come about (cell phones, VOIP, 3G, 4G, Skype etc) … and those that simply whine and cry, as Mr. Rosenthal has and is currently doing will be lost in the dust of time … and never realize why.

      I truly believe this issue with Mr. Morris Rosenthal is closed.

  • http://www.outerboxdesign.com Ecommerce designer

    I haven’t seen too many changes, but have noticed sites with the “same” modified content in multiple pages took a hit. But, that’s what you get for not writting unique content. We all knew it’d happen sooner or later

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