Google Pushes MetaFilter To Layoffs

    May 22, 2014
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Sites fall victim to Google’s algorithms all the time, but this week, one in particular is getting a great deal of attention. MetaFilter, which was a popular web destination years ago (it claims to have still had over 80 million readers last year), was hit by a Google update (possibly Panda, but it’s unclear) a year and a half ago, and has been unable to recover.

The site’s founder Matt Haughey blogged this week about how the decline in Google traffic has led him to lay off a few of the site’s staff. On Monday, he wrote the “State of MetaFilter” post. It begins:

Today I need to share some unfortunate news: because of serious financial downturn, MetaFilter will be losing three of its moderators to layoffs at the end of this month. What that means for the site and the site’s future are described below.

While MetaFilter approaches 15 years of being alive and kicking, the overall website saw steady growth for the first 13 of those years. A year and a half ago, we woke up one day to see a 40% decrease in revenue and traffic to Ask MetaFilter, likely the result of ongoing Google index updates. We scoured the web and took advice of reducing ads in the hopes traffic would improve but it never really did, staying steady for several months and then periodically decreasing by smaller amounts over time.

The long-story-short is that the site’s revenue peaked in 2012, back when we hired additional moderators and brought our total staff up to eight people. Revenue has dropped considerably over the past 18 months, down to levels we last saw in 2007, back when there were only three staffers.

In a Medium post, Haughey says the site has been getting emails from others asking them to remove links because Google had told them the links were “inorganic”.

Haughey claims, however, that they have a staff of six full-time moderators in five timezones making sure zero spam ends up on the site.

Other sites have been publishing sympathetic posts, wondering if Google has simply made a big mistake when it comes to MetaFilter.

Former Googler (and MetaFilter member) David Auerbach writes for Slate, “If, like many Slate readers, you’re considering a septum piercing, MetaFilter’s page on pros and cons is far more informative (and better-spelled) than Yahoo Answers’ or Body Jewellery [sic] Shop’s (both of which Google ranks above MetaFilter if you search on ‘septum piercing pros and cons’). In short, MetaFilter is the sort of site that makes the Web better.”

Danny Sullivan has a long piece about it at Search Engine Land, which despite its length and the expertise he brings to the table, fails to come up with a real conclusion as to why the site was hit. He does, however, make some great points about how Google should be a little more helpful to sites that are hit, in giving them information about why.

MetaFilter and Google’s Matt Cutts have been discussing things though, so perhaps a resolution is on the horizon. Or at the very least, maybe the site is getting a better idea about what went wrong.

If it weren’t for the whole inorganic links thing, I’d wonder if it had anything to do with the overall appearance of the site. The site has been around for a long time, and frankly it looks like a site that came out a long time ago. That’s not a knock. Just a fact (okay, an opinion, I guess).

While many of us are perfectly fine with an older-style site design showing up in search results as long as the content is good, I can’t help but be reminded of comments Cutts made in one of his Webmaster Help videos a while back, talking about established sites not being able to rank forever without evolving.

“The advice that I’d give to you as the owner of a site that’s been around for fourteen years is to take a fresh look at your site,” he said. “A lot of times if you land on your site, and you land on a random website from a search result, you know, even if they’ve been in business for fifteen years, fourteen years, sometimes they haven’t updated their template or their page layout or anything in years and years and years, and it looks, frankly, like sort of a stale sort of an older site, and that’s the sort of thing where users might not be as happy about that.”

“And so if you do run an older site or a very well-established site, I wouldn’t just coast on your laurels,” he adds. “I wouldn’t just say, ‘Well I’m number one for now, and everything is great,’ because newer sites, more agile sites, more hungry sites, more sites that have a better user experience – they can grow, and they can eclipse you if you don’t continue to adapt, and evolve, and move with the times. So I wouldn’t say just because you are a domain that’s well-established or has been around for a long time, you will automatically keep ranking. We’ve seen plenty of newer domains and businesses bypass older domains.”

This may have absolutely nothing at all to do with MetaFilter’s situation, but Cutts’ words are at least worth noting.

It may very well be that the site gets its rankings back after all of this, though that would be somewhat surprising given that the hit came so long ago. On the other hand, sometimes Google responds to conversations that become very public, and draw significant media attention. Or maybe Google just has a completely legitimate reason for not ranking the content in question better.

I’m guessing we haven’t heard the end of the story just yet.

This week, Google launched two new algorithm updates, including a new Panda update, and it looks like eBay is taking a bit of a hit this time.

Image via MetaFilter

  • https://restore.solutions/ Numus Software

    Our best site at its peak hit Alexa rank 8000, our income was £75k a month that’s about 100k dollars.. we employed 20 people the site is dead now we ended up killing it. it was called userguidesdotcodotuk if you can read that.. i am not about post a link here.. anyway we laid off everybody.. we had to liquidate the company buy back all the assets .. and start again.. however even with spending 50K on a complete site rebuild.. i mean spending a lot of time and money on advice and help.. the site over the next 3 years just carried on dropping.. we finally killed the domain and 301ed it after it dropped over the 1Million rank on Alexa, Make no mistake 8 of our staff had their houses re-possessed, and we lost everything.. no matter how many times we talked to Google.. no matter what we did the rank never came back.. strangely we never had any messages in our webmaster tools that anything was wrong.. in that time period we had a total of 4 different sites, some forum based some not.. all continually died.. We have since purchased some old domains and tried to rebuild our business back up.. We started to do well again on natural search, but then things started to change, natural search dropped and now we are totally swamped by eBay adverts and other adverts. in some of the serps we had 8 eBay pictures on the right from top to bottom with ads all the way down to the bottom and paid for ads at the top.. All well and good except the people advertising and hitting our keywords have .. very very bad sites.. sell very bad versions of what we do.. Overall the user experience of these paid for advertised sites is diabolical.. one of them had 4 x headers in every page that was put together with just just cut and paste from other sites.. including their meta-tags and headers!!… then that very same site started to rank above us in natural search!! a 12 year old site with 1.2 million unique informative pages.. with zero errors, running on 32 processor SSD based state of the art servers. our sites have 48,000 Facebook likes.. we have amazing user engagement.. yet the cut and paste site is now hitting above us.. we use disqus extensively .. our newest site has a user experience of 95 – 100% on the desktop Google tool and the same on mobile devices Google user experience tools..the sites automatically change format depending what device you use..which is incredibly hard to successfully achieve with so many pages…. the code is error free html 5 according to wc3 tools.. 1.2 million pages of minified perfect error free code.. our bounce rate is around 50% a little high, but pretty much the landing pages tells the user everything they need to know.. .. yet we do not rank.. We are professionals.. the sites that out hit us are a joke.. badly written riddled with errors, We recently employed a company to analyze our issue. and i will quote them “This is proof that something very fishy is going on” After some digging they found 250,000 very very bad links on hacked sites linking to us.. we had been totally taken down , as far as we can see , by a sustained negative seo attack.. as the sites are hacked and are still completely overrun we cannot get the links taken down.. so the disavow tool.. well has made no difference My wife is broken.. because of the stress.. Google’s algorithm does not work if you can weaponize negative SEO and kill competitors with it.. Bad links should be just ignored.. On another note.. another company that out ranks us is Walmart.. they have some small print at the bottom of some of their products saying that they do not supply ***** with their products.. these words out rank us..for sites dedicated to supporting the actual item they are talking about… so in the last 6 months we have seen another decline in total of around 80% of our revenue… So what are our options? class action against Google springs to mind. No company in the world, with this sort of power should be allowed to operate unregulated and with such economic control.


    One note on the terrorism laws,

    (a) Offense.— Whoever provides material support or resources or conceals or disguises the nature, location, source, or ownership of material support or resources, knowing or intending that they are to be used in preparation for, or in carrying out, a violation of section 32, 37, 81, 175, 229, 351, 831, 842 (m) or (n), 844 (f) or (i), 930 (c), 956, 1091, 1114, 1116, 1203, 1361, 1362, 1363, 1366, 1751, 1992, 2155, 2156, 2280, 2281, 2332, 2332a, 2332b, 2332f, 2340A, or 2442 of this title, section 236 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (42 U.S.C. 2284), section 46502 or 60123 (b) of title 49, or any offense listed in section 2332b (g)(5)(B) (except for sections 2339A and 2339B) or in preparation for, or in carrying out, the concealment of an escape from the commission of any such violation, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life. A violation of this section may be prosecuted in any Federal judicial district in which the underlying offense was committed, or in any other Federal judicial district as provided by law.

    This does include knowingly allowing the use of its products or services to be used to negatively financially affect a company..

    Now here there doozey

    2 of our competitors are Russian one is Chinese, one is British and the rest are USA based.. looking at the data we uncovered its pretty obvious 3 of these companies have involved in negative SEO against us and against each other

    I would very much like an explanation from Google..


    Class action anybody?

  • Gary

    My site was hit by the first ever Panda update and only just recovered from last weeks update. so this weaker Panda is confusing? Is my content weak but your letting me off or was the algo wrong on the first place?