Instead, he found that, similar to Panda updates, low-quality sites were being punished. Clickbait articles, sites chock-full of supplementary information, pages of stacked videos and those that were hard to navigate all lost visibility, according to his May 11 blog post.
But why did HubPages see declining visibility across the site, even for pages with informative, researched and edited content? According to Gabe, the algorithm is ruthless, punishing an entire domain when it recognizes a certain percentage of spammy pages.
"When you have a domain-level algorithm update or ranking change, it can impact the whole site," said Gabe, whose firm, G-Squared Interactive, is based in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. "Pages that should be drawing well could also be pulled down in the results."
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A spokesperson for Google declined to comment for this story, but the Mountain View, California-based company is quietly acknowledging that a change took place. At the Search Marketing Expo in Sydney this week, Gary Illyes from Google's Webmaster Trends team, said it was part of a core algorithm update.
That's all he would say. Google is notoriously secretive about the details of updates, primarily to avoid helping spammers game the system.
"For the most part, Google is not very transparent about the updates because it's driven by engineers that try to improve the search quality," said Marcus Tober, founder and chief technology officer of Searchmetrics. "They don't think about the impact of their updates on other businesses."
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For how-to sites, life in the Google ecosystem has become an even greater challenge after the search engine altered how it displays results. Type "how to fry an egg" or "how to wax a surfboard" into a Google search box, and instructions pop up immediately so the user doesn't have to click away to another page.
It's part of the Google Knowledge Graph, which the company introduced in 2012.
Where Google used to drive traffic to other sites, it's now keeping people on its own properties, even though the information being displayed comes from other sources. The egg frying instructions, for example, are from foodnetwork.com.
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"This is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the Web and understands the world a bit more like people do," Google said in a May 2012 blog post.
The new format coupled with punitive algorithm changes is too much for many businesses to handle.
"Any site that's providing factual information that can be found elsewhere and that Google will deem as public knowledge is susceptible," said Gabe. "If you mix a demotion with the Knowledge Graph, forget about it. You're dead in the water."