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Despite New Panda Guidelines, Google Still Burying Authoritative Results

Health and Legal Queries Show Importance of Authority

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Despite New Panda Guidelines, Google Still Burying Authoritative Results
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There are a lot of elements of Google’s Panda update to discuss, and we’ve certainly discussed many of them over the last few months, but let’s not lose sight of the reason the update was launched to begin with – to improve search quality.

Do you think Google’s search results are better now? Tell us what you think.

While quality is often in the eye of the beholder, there are certain kinds of queries where the information being retrieved is simply more important than others. We’ve talked about this before, as it’s been a problem in some Google results.

One example we’ve looked at a few times is where an eHow article written by a freelance writer with no clear authority on cancer (and whose body of work includes a lot of plumbing-related articles) was ranking at the top of Googe’s results for the query “level 4 brain cancer” above numerous other sources that would seem to be of greater authority on such a subject.

Level 4 Brain Cancer in Google

In fact, the article did get bumped down after the Panda update, but it does still rank number 2, followed by another result from eHow. Granted, this is just one example, and Demand Media has efforts in motion to improve its own content quality, but you get the point.

Queries related to things like health or law demand authoritative advice. Not SEO’d content.

We had a conversation with Mark Britton, founder and CEO of Avvo about this subject. Avvo is a site that offers Q&A forums where consumers can ask medical or legal questions and get responses from qualified doctors and lawyers. It provides apparently authoritative content in these two areas from certified professionals.

This seems like the kind of content that should be ranking well for a lot of these types of queries. Does it not? Britton thinks it’s “very important” for commentary from experts in the medical and legal fields to surface high in search results for relevant topics.

“There is a lot of noise both online and offline regarding health and legal issues,” he tells us. “This comes in the form of lay people, professional commentators and even celebrities who often offer advice that is well-intentioned but inherently inferior to that of a doctor or lawyer trained in the area. However, it is not always easy to get doctors and lawyers to speak. Some still look down on the Internet as a publishing or marketing vehicle. Others just downright fear it, as they have seen too many movies where someone says something on the Internet and they are subsequently hunted and killed by terrorist hackers.”

“There is always room for improvement — especially with our newer pages,” he says of Avvo’s own search rankings. “We just launched our doctor ratings directory and our free medical question and answer forum in November, and it will take some time for those pages to rank as well as our legally related pages.”

Look at the results for a query like “Does type 2 diabetes shorten life expectancy?” Avvo’s page on the subject ranks on the second page, while eHow ranks at the top of the first. The Avvo result has actually fallen since I began writing this article. It used to be right below the number one result from eHow and the number 2 from Yahoo Answers.

Diabetes Results in Google

eHow’s is an article (not very long by any means) by a guy whose bio says he “has been a freelance writer since 2007. He writes extensively in the fitness, mental health and travel sectors and his work has appeared in a range of print and online publications including Scazu Fitness and USAToday Travel Tips…[and] holds a Master of Arts in community psychology.”

Keep in mind that USA Today has a deal with Demand Media for travel tips. So that presumably means his Demand Media content is simply published by USA Today. Does “Master of Arts in community psychology” indicate more authority to answer a life/death question about type 2 diabetes than say a licensed and practicing MD? That’s who provided an answer on Avvo’s page, which just got pushed further down in the search results.

If you change the query to something simpler like “type 2 diabetes life expectancy” eHow still ranks close to the top, and Avvo’s result slips to….get ready for it….page 18! That’s with various articles from places like eHow, EzineArticles and Suite101 (all victims of the Panda update) ranking ahead of it. Now, I’m not saying that Avvo’s result is necessarily the one ultimate result for this query and should necessarily be the highest ranked, but come on. Interestingly enough, the result was on page 3 for this query when I started writing the article (yesterday) and it’s slipped that much further into obscurity just since then. I wonder where it will be in another day.

Google has given publishers a list of questions to ask themselves about their content, as guidelines the company goes by as it writes its algorithms. The very top one is “Would you trust the information presented in this article?”

While neither of the articles provide any helpful links to sources of information, the Avvo article comes from a medical doctor. I think most people would find that slightly more trustworthy, even if the article isn’t as long or as well SEO’d. Here’s the eHow article. Here’s the Avvo one.

The second question on Google’s list is, “Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?”

While Google makes it clear that these questions aren’t actual ranking signals, they must be used to determine the signals at least, and you have to wonder just how much weight authority on a topic carries.

Britton maintains that ALL of the site’s advice comes from qualified professionals, claiming that this is one of the site’s “greatest differentiators.”

“We CERTIFY every doctor and lawyer offering free advice on the site in two principle ways: First, we verify with the state licensing authorities that the answering doctors or lawyers are licensed and in good standing,” he explains. “Second, we rate the professionals from 1 (“Extreme Caution”) to 10 (“Superb”), which was unheard of prior to Avvo’s entry into the professional ratings arena. We are big believers that not every doctor or lawyer is ‘Super’ or ‘Best’ which was the steady-state in professional ratings for decades.”

“This was really just an extension of the Yellow Pages model, where the ‘recommended’ professional is the one paying the most money to advertise,” he continues. “But consumers are getting wise and demanding greater transparency regarding the qualifications of their doctors and lawyers.”

“We have three ratings that speak to the expertise of our contributors: The Avvo Rating, client/patient ratings and peer endorsements,” says Britton. “For the Avvo Rating, we start with the state licensing authorities and collect all the information we can regarding a professional. We then load that information into our proprietary web crawler, which we call ‘Hoover.’ Hoover goes out and finds all the additional information it can regarding the professional. We match the licensing data with the Hoover data and then we score it. The scoring is based on those indicators of the professional’s reputation, experience and quality of work.”

Britton says Avvo was not really affected by Google’s Panda update. “We saw a small dip, but things came back fairly quickly.”

“While I understand the intent of Google’s latest update, I’m not sure they entirely hit their mark,” he says. “We noticed a number of pure lead-generation sites – i.e., sites that are selling leads to the highest bidder — jump ahead of us in certain key terms, which is not good for consumers.”

Avvo encourages people to ask questions on the site, claiming it its Q&A boasts a 97% response rate.

Avvo asked us to let readers know that in support of Skin Awareness Month, it is donating $5 to the Melanoma Research Foundation for every doctor review during the month of May.

Should authority and certification of expertise carry greater weight in Google’s search rankings? Comment here.

Despite New Panda Guidelines, Google Still Burying Authoritative Results
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  • Steve

    Content farms as well as most Blogs, only revenue stream is selling advertisements and most use Google AdSense, so the real reason for spamming would have to be Google as they have created a monster that drive sites to spamming and duplicate content of no real value, Google endorse spamming as they rank in favor of sites that use their AdSense.

    If you want to gain in the SERPS just place Google AdSense (NonSence) and your Googles favorite little BITCH.

    Sites with something real to sell other then AdSense (NonSence) get page10.

    A lot of people jumping off the Google ship and are using other engines. Googles response to their crappy algorithm that ranks their own AdSense (NonSence) is to pretend they are taking out the cane, they are not fixing the spam problem they have created, as this is all about money for them and not quality search.

    As long as the Variable $Money is part of Googles algorithm Google will continue to spam the Google search results

    Googles not so secret algorithm

    $Money”== “AdSense”;
    “$Google”==”$Money”;

    All they have to do is Band any AdSense (NonSence) sites and Google would be the Google I grew to love and not hate, like so many other people do.

    In conclusion the core of most spamming is Google them self’s.

  • http://www.twincitiesdiningguide.com Jim Byrd

    While “professional” articles are important they can indeed be hard to read for the average person. Having had a friend die of brain cancer I am well aware of these sites. However, please don’t discount a “layman’s” contribution because it will be far easier to understand especially if they have gone through it themselves. I believe that if someone is actually looking for the “professional” sites on any subject they will fine tune their search to find only the “Scientific or Professional” sites.

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

      There is something to be said for content that makes technical subject matter easier to understand. No question about that. Still, without any resources linked to, the content simply lacks credibility or at least the awareness of it.

  • Todd

    Some businesses are calling for Google to be regulated by the government like a public utility company. We need to support that movement. Google has the power to bring the US economy to its knees if left unregulated. Thousands of business are being affected everyday by Google’s tantrums and anti-competitive behavior. They derank sites in favor of their own properties and deindex businesses without giving any explanation of the problem, nothing. Start calling for the regulation of Google and search now. The world is at the mercy of Google.

  • http://SeoWritingJobs.com Yuwanda Black, Editor, SeoWritingJobs.com

    I address this very question in the post, “SEO Copywriting Tips: 23 Questions Google Says SEO Copywriters Should Keep in Mind When Creating Content (Post Panda)” at http://www.seowritingjobs.com/google-panda-update-seo-content-writing-guidelines/, saying, in Question #14:

    For a health-related Query . . . Possible New Google Guidelines for Certain Content?

    . . . could special requirements for certain content (eg, medical, legal) to rank well be far behind? For example, will sites have to certify that the content produced is by a licensed doctor, lawyer? If not, will a disclaimer have to be included (eg, “This content was not created by a licensed professional. Please do further research or consult a qualified professional in order to learn more.).

    Hmmmm . . . just something to think about.

  • http://www.gmrtranscription.com transcribe

    Google’s search results are better than before. we don’t have to write the whole phrase, it’s coming of its own.

    • Steve Australia

      You must be new to the Internet Google stopped been the best shortly after they floated on the stock exchange. It’s all about selling ads now their AdSense greed will destroy them everything they do is about AdSense.

  • http://www.channeltunnel.org.uk/ Channel Tunnel

    I thought those mostly against the Panda update were disgruntled web site owners. Interesting to read of dissatisfaction from searchers too. What a strange direction Google seems to have chosen. Anymore chaotic updates like this and “Bing!” Google could find itself losing some serious ground to the competition.

  • http://www.atnsystems.com/ Anne

    Also, one of my site is cached by Google two times per day. But the last five days my website is not at all caching and the last date is cached on 10-May-2011.

    Please let me know is due to the Google Panda Update

  • http://www.ncl-cruise-pictures.blogspot.com Sailor

    I feel agitated when I see Yahoo answers come on top of the Google search results.

  • http://www.businessmasterygroup.com USA website Designers Developers

    This is good article published for web masters to promote their websites.
    Thanks.

    • Steve Australia

      Indeed it is, but do you think about Google’s Panda

      PS rel=”external nofollow” says your link NoVote

  • Blogger

    I’ll add one more thing though, although I admit I am somewhat a conspiracy theorist – how can you be sure that your “scientific” site is really talking the truth here, when you realize much of our “science” is actually hogwash?

    Sorry to burst some bubbles here, but I will add another thing. People today are not as smart as they were a few generations ago. Progressive dumbing down saw to that. How many here listen to Lady Gaga and watch porn every day? Come on, own up.

    Go and find the exam papers for fifth grade American students back in the 19th century (if you can). It is A LOT tougher than the exams of today.

    Like it or not, our world is undergoing a revolution, it’s not very noticeable, but it is real. What sort of change, you decide.

  • http://www.siamese-dream.com/ Srisuda H.

    It’s not JUST legal and health sites that need competent people writing the articles.

    I really don’t want my 84-year-old parents to take a reverse mortgage on their house based on what an 18-year-old kid writes. Nor do I want my neighbors to do a brake job on their car using tips they learned from ehow.

  • http://www.pcwizz.co.za/ Dewaldt Huysamen

    I have experimented on over 200 blog sites the questions Google raised one should ask for quality content and I have to say I have seen a 40% increase in rankings according to Google webmaster tools.

    Un-indexing and also removing the low quality pages from the sitemap did great wonders.

  • http://www.digitalundivide.com Sam Houston

    Google searches are good for the most part but Google will never be able to satisfy everyone who make searches.

  • Mel

    I avoid using Google. I use Ixquick (secure) as much as possible