Economics · The Secret Of Systems

Google’s Panda Algorithm. (Technical)

The Secret Of Systems, Part 5.

P 609i - google-pandaI spent a few years working as an internet marketer, which means if you understand the internet, you’ll already know about Panda. It was the morning following that a friend of mine had written me an email to say that he had lost his business. Everything he had done to help people was now impossible. It wasn’t as if he’d been defrauding people like Jan did. But from one day to the next, his thriving business had evaporated.

His was a business that describes itself as ‘Reputation Management’ in that it manages a person’s online reputation. Now, as with all bright ideas, the modus operandi actually depends on a reversal of the process that underlies the actual problem.

In this instance you had the following problem: someone has written something about you on the internet that you don’t like. Fair enough. That’s the internet for you. Only, some of these sour grapes are phrased in a way that borders on libel – or indeed, is actually libellous. Nor is there a great deal that can be done about it. In a search for your name or your company and up pops this web page in the first three – the most important – of the search results.

Outside of expensive litigation, there is literally nothing you can do about this state of affairs. The writer of that web page is hardly likely to withdraw that statement. They had a hard time and want people to know about it.

You don’t.

The better class of customer – or friend, come to that – will take such statements in their stride. However, that better class of customer, the kind that thinks things through for themselves, are becoming increasingly rare. This leaves the ones that don’t, and they will see the horrible things that are said and will take it as read…

Without any further thought.

If you have a business, part of your customer base will be formed of such people. They won’t be your better customers, the ones you can make real money from, but the little they do pay will cover a few expenses. Lose half a dozen of them and you are in for trouble.

Hence reputation management has its ‘niche’ as the term has it. Such businesses as my friend had, found themselves a place on the internet where people could come looking for him.

The Clever Bit.

Which is where you need to get your thinking cap on, because otherwise you’ll miss the point. The idea of Reputation Management is to make sure that all the search results for your business on, in this instance, on Google, are the ‘nice’ ones.

As stated, the problem arises when there is a not–nice one that pops up on the first page of Google’s search results. What’s more there’s nothing anybody save the publisher of that website who can do anything about it.

Which is an apparent dilemma, don’t you think?

Which is where we have to start reversing the process: because there are things one can do about the other websites. The ones that say nice things about you. Not that you can change their content… but then you don’t need to. Everything to do with those websites is either good or neutral, so they won’t affect your reputation. Not only that, they’ve got a healthy rank for your search term already.

There is one area the Reputation Manager can influence, and that is that they can increase the number of their backlinks. This means that the Google algorithm thinks they are more important. Thus, within a month or so, the relevant pages on that website have seen a significant improvement in their online status.

All of which means that they have a higher ranking than the nasty page…

Are you with me?

Promote the nice web pages so that they float to the top of the relevant search results and so push the nasty ones down the page, if not off the first page entirely.

Job done.

How Do You Do This?

In essence the problem of backlinking lies at the heart of Google’s ranking system: in that it was designed by two academics. To them, it was natural that authority should be built on the shoulders of greater men, so to speak. Put in terms of an algorithm, a site that cites other sites as the source of their information is seen as a better site than one that does not. Thus a small but nevertheless substantial part of how Google ranked a page from a website rested on how many such citations were made. These are the so–called ‘backlinks’.

Other Clever People.

Knowing this, there was another army of people who sought to abuse this situation. A system as large and as complex as Google’s search algorithm is going to be filled with holes of one size or another. Maintenance of a system is essential, and for this reason, there are around 550 updates to their algorithm every year. Panda was just a rather large one, that’s all.

So, is this a poem or an image... or what, precisely? This is all a computer gets, and the algorithm has to do the rest.
So, is this a poem or an image… or what, precisely?
This is all a computer gets, and the algorithm has to do the rest. The algorithm is where all the decisions are made.

Nevertheless, the algorithm still held authority as part of the quality of a website. After all, an algorithm cannot discern the quality of writing. You can write poetry to match Shelley, but the algorithm can only see the bytes that form the letters.

In this respect, discerning quality remains a singularly human ability. Furthermore, it is an ability that all good clients possess. It is possible to say that the poor client lacks this facility, in that not being able to discern quality implies that they are unable to do a raft of other things. But then, there’s no proof for this… but proof, like the thinking needed to build algorithms, lies in the realm of thinking that lacks this ability to discern quality – in short, muscle thinking; a thinking that needs few neurons to achieve its end. (It has to be said that the original inspiration that was the idea such an algorithm was formed around does lie in the realm of quality).

Thus when a person lacks the ability to discern something for themselves, they must resort to looking for things that will give them the facts they need to make a choice. This immediately puts them at a disadvantage in our modern world that requires people to be aware of the immediate situation that faces them. Reaching for facts takes time, and sometimes there just isn’t enough…

The point here is that other clever people – and cleverness invariably lies in the realm of quality in some form or another – means they were able to see the qualities that went to form the original algorithm and with this pictorial overview, could then see the assumptions the engineers made in order to get the thing working.

One such assumption, on the part of Google, was the backlink. This required an independent website, with no few backlinks of its own. So, independent website owners started offering backlinks.

All you had to do was purchase a space on their website and call it after anything you needed. Then, you could create pages that linked to your site – and this is the genius of the Reputation Manager – to any other. Using computer software called ‘spinners’ it was possible to write a page that included various synonyms that could be ‘spun’ using the program to make thousands of different pages. Thus, thousands of unique backlinks to the website of your choice.

Yours, or anybody else’s.

The Modus Operandi Of Reputation Management.

Armed with this seriously sharp weapon, the Reputation Manager can influence positive sites in a positive manner. The end result is the nasty site is pushed down the rankings.

But there was a problem. This relied, as all genuine fraud relies on, a loophole in the system. And closing loopholes are part of what maintenance of a system is all about. Part of maintenance is to recognize the shortcomings in one’s original thinking. By the time Google had accepted this reality, selling backlinks was big business.

Irrespective of the fact that Google stated in no uncertain terms that this was against their terms and conditions.

It was a little like the banks trying to avoid reality by asking the government to slacken the regulations – but that is for a future post.

The point being that this fraud – and there is no other name for this practice of exploiting backlinks – was going to be found out at some  time or other. Google sent out reminders of its terms and conditions, highlighting the areas associated with backlinking. But, as is usual in such situations, people thought that it couldn’t happen to them.

What Happened Next.

Some search results plummeted. Pretty well overnight.
Some search results plummeted.
Pretty well overnight.

It wasn’t pretty. Well, to tell the truth, the algorithms didn’t notice anything at all. They just did as they were told in the way they were told and thought nothing about it. But that’s algorithms for you.

The effect on the Reputation Managers was total. As mentioned, I received a whining letter telling of how Google had trashed his business overnight. All his backlinks, bought and distributed with such care, were deemed useless.

His own reputation was in tatters. But then, he had based his reputation on a loophole in the regulations – a loophole had already been closed by Google’s own terms and conditions. He had been abusing a loophole that Google had not been able to police – until Panda came along.

The Moral Of This Tale.

If you have a business – be it your own, or be it a bank – if you rely on loopholes for your living, you do not have a business. You are relying on an illusion that at sometime will be undermined in one way or another. It’s how the world works, and buying congressmen will only alter this for a short time. The banking crash of 2006–8 is a case in point, the changes that followed the Panda algorithm was another.

That doesn’t stop people trying to change things, it only means they will hit the earth the harder when reality rears its ugly head.

The other thing to note is that if your business is reliant on a system, keep a close eye on what the people creating that system want. Because successful systems are those that follow reality as closely as possible. Those that diverge from it – as set out in the scenario above – are asking for trouble.

For my old painting and decorating website, one fifth of my pages had hit Google #1 by the time I had finished uploading pages to my website.

It isn’t hard, but it does take some time to make sensible ‘alt’ texts to one’s illustrations along with a few canny tricks – all perfectly legal – that saw several of my .nl pages rank at #4 on In a world where people described their illustrations with the order number for that pattern of wallpaper, it’s not hard to guess why they didn’t get very far… they weren’t applying their brains to the problem, were they??

The Bitter Truth About Systems.

Furthermore, the reality of any system is that it has – or should have – no effect on your business whatsoever. What it does is allow others to come in contact with you, and their response – that is to say, the response of the person at the other end of the line – is where the money actually lies.

Systems in and of themselves are nothing without people who want to use them. What is more, the money to be made by exploiting systems will always be less than the money one can earn if one deals with a human face to face.

That, again, is for another post to explore. Because there were people who made millions before Panda ate them up, but because they were reliant on a loophole, when that loophole was closed, their stream of income went from $5,000 a day to $3.


The Secret Of Systems, Links To Other Parts In This Series:

Part 1: How Can Lidl Be So Cheap?

Part 2: All Hard Drives Look Alike.

Part 3: A Different View Of Karma. (Published Privately).

Part 4: The Value Of Money.

Part 5: Google’s Panda Algorithm. (Technical)

Part 6: Thomas Hardy And Friedrich Nietzsche. (Published Privately).

Part 7: That’s Not Fair Play!

Part 8: Confessions Of A Lapsed Adwords Jockey.

Part 9: When The System Bites Back.

Part 10: I Admit It: I Made A Mistake.

Please note that privately published posts are available to trusted friends without cost. The content is not intended for the general public and is restricted to those who can demonstrate that they understand the nature – and implications of – Rudolf Steiner’s scientific thinking. It is not for the unready.

In certain circumstances, pdfs of these posts are available on request; you may do so by leaving a comment. This will tell me if you can grasp the nature of the post you are enquiring about. The comment itself can be left unmoderated or deleted if requested.




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