Too fresh for your niche

In between optimizing databases and trying to get some sites to run faster, I’ve also spent a good bit of time this week trying to figure out exactly what happened with the most recent “freshness update” to come down the pipes from Google.

The problem from my perspective is that a post I update every few days has been suffering from sudden ranking drops since that latest round of Caffeine. So why is some fresh content treated as being stale, while other sites are rewarded for having more fresh content?

Unfortunately, I might just be too fresh for the niche:

There are plenty of cases where results that are a few years old might still be useful for you. [fast tomato sauce recipe] certainly saved me after a call from my wife reminded me I had volunteered to make dinner! On the other hand, when I search for the [49ers score], a result that is a week old might be too old.

Different searches have different freshness needs. This algorithmic improvement is designed to better understand how to differentiate between these kinds of searches and the level of freshness you need, and make sure you get the most up to the minute answers.

Suddenly, it makes sense that long-abandoned websites are outranking me: Google has determined that the keyword search I’m competing in doesn’t warrant recent results. I’ve found some preliminary evidence supporting this, as well. It used to be that when I updated the post, the new publish date and time would be shown in the search index within 18-30 hours. Since November 6th, updates have taken about 60-72 hours to be reflected in the results – and every time I do so there is a temporary drop of an additional rank or two.

Why is the niche static?

Well, the basic reason is that the affiliate program has stricter standards against spamming and trademark infringement than Google does.

So most of the competition isn’t updating because they have been banned from the affiliate program for months or years. The deals they offer have all expired, but since this is such a common state of affairs for the niche, Google has determined it is preferable and reduced the quality of their own results.

See, the affiliate program is really damned strict about things like misrepresenting the brand and spamming. Every few weeks another high ranker is on the forums complaining that his strategy of republishing stolen articles and trademarked keywords in the domain name didn’t fly with the affiliate department’s quality control and TOS reviews. Eventually they drop it and leave the site to collect dust, but all Google sees is a domain name match and thousands of backlinks to a bunch of similar pages that never update.

That must be what the searchers want then, right? Only if they like broken affiliate links pointing to deals, discounts, and sale prices that don’t exist any more.

Still searching for the way forward

I’d love to close this post out with a plan to move forward and adapt to the new situation, but I’m just starting to think it is another source of income I’ll have to write off. There isn’t much to do but just ignore the post until Google deems it dusty and outdated enough to matter.

Of course the searchers are the biggest losers of all, because it is increasingly unlikely that the info they’re looking for is anywhere to be found in Google. I can imagine a lot of potential customers getting pretty frustrated when the coupons and promo codes Google sent them to won’t work: “Why is the company making false claims about deals?” Well, they’re not… Google just decided you wanted to know about the specials and prices offered last year.

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