Google's Matt Cutts: We've Been Discussing The MetaFilter Google Penalty

May 22, 2014 • 8:38 am | comments (24) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

metafilterMetaFilter is one of the first ever community blogs, created in 1999 and helping users with Q&A style answers from before the times of the typical social networks. It is a quality site - no one would argue with that.

MetaFilter's founder Matt Haughey posted a long blog post named On the Future of MetaFilter: Peak ads, MetaFilter’s Google Problems, and the need to scale back. The post documented how overnight, something happened with their Google traffic and their traffic dropped like a rock.

The date Danny Sullivan figured out with his post named On MetaFilter Being Penalized By Google: An Explainer was on November 17, 2012. It was one of those dates that Google would not confirm an update but one that I felt was an update, Google actually went as far as denying any update on November 16th or 17th.

But clearly many sites, including MetaFilter were hit. Here are charts from MetaFilter's Google Analytics and a SearchMetrics chart:

click for full size

click for full size

Yes, there was a Panda refresh on November 21st but that was after this site lost it's traffic overnight on November 16th/17th. So it was not Panda.

When Google's Matt Cutts was questioned about MetaFilter, he chimed in on Twitter:

Yes, Matt wrote, "MattH and I have been discussing it over the last week or so." MattH is the founder of Meta Filter.

What exactly happened? Why did Google drop their traffic so suddenly? As Danny said, he "don’t know" and I don't know. If I had to guess, Google did push something out on November 16th, maybe a bug, and didn't know about it and we are were we are now.

Now that this mega site is on Google's radar, maybe they will look back and see what really happened on that date in 2012.

It could be links, it could be ads, it could be Panda, it could be negative SEO, or it could be a bug with Google or the site. I am putting my money on it was a weird bug with Google that they never fixed.

I'd be surprised if we didn't see MetaFilter's traffic return at some level in the very near future.

It is just a shame MetaFiler waited so long to come out about this.

Forum discussion at Twitter.

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05/22/2014 01:10 pm

That's kind of weird, because I have one site that fell about that same time too. All my other similar sites are doing great, but that one site fell in the first couple weeks of November, and it didn't line up with any of the "official" algorithm change dates.

Ricardo Costa

05/22/2014 01:11 pm

I run a poetry website which is based on users contributions (user generated content) and I can relate my current situation with the one above. My adsense graph is very similar with "the one that is not posted here". I've also been notified and blocked for violating adsense rules for usage of mature content. I've also responded by removing publicity from those offending pages. For sure, a month after I've made my biggest adsense monthly income, my site has been consistently loosing organic traffic. I've never noticed a sudden drop(expect for some keywords), just a steadily decline. My users continue to be engaged and my site is still considered to be the best of its kind, just not for google, If MetaFIlter gets to get up, that would be a good indication for me that there is still hope.

Ben Griffiths

05/22/2014 01:19 pm

"it could be negative SEO" Just... no.


05/22/2014 01:27 pm

This just in! A website was penalized in 2012! They probably updated their website and orphaned their backlinks. Mystery solved.

Christopher Meinck

05/22/2014 01:34 pm

Google seems to have a difficult time assessing the quality of forums, many of which continue to get pounded by well intentioned algorithm updates.

Andrea Pernici

05/22/2014 01:38 pm

As I wrote in the SEL post I bet on other 1000 forum or bulletin board hit the same way.

Barry Schwartz

05/22/2014 01:40 pm

The date is the most interesting part for me. November 17th.

Alec Bertram

05/22/2014 01:40 pm

It looks as though they lost a lot of visibility on terms which they really shouldn't have ranked for in the first place. A lot of these are navigational queries, searching "yahoo mail inbox" and ending up on metafilter would absolutely lead to a bad experience. "craigslist maine" - ranked #4 on a page which mentioned craigslist once: "the gm card" - ranked #5: "yahoo mail inbox" - ranked #5 for a question from someone about how to use yahoo: "candy store" - ranked #3 on a page where a person asked for name suggestions for their business: "instant watcher" - a question which had 1 answer (not related to instant watcher): "craigslist nyc" - a question about buying drugs on craigslist: For all of the above queries, I would expect that dropping metafilter from page 1 lead to a better set of results.

Andrea Pernici

05/22/2014 01:44 pm

I don't think it's necessarily a "date" cause it could be happened after a big recrawl caused by a server/provider change, an outage, a mini restyle of a section etcc... so I tend to look at the date with some reserve, but is obviously a possibility.

Ralph Slate

05/22/2014 02:01 pm

They are very clearly having problems, but I'm not sure how much is directly related to Google. I am actually one of their one-time subscribers. I used to go to the site directly quite a bit. I still do, but not as often, because I go to Reddit more. The advantage of Reddit is that there are more posts, they are narrowly classified, and the comment section is a lot better with better voting and hierarchy. Metafilter excels in that its stories are better curated, and they are often more in-depth. They're like the PBS of the blog, whereas Reddit is like MTV.


05/22/2014 02:37 pm

MetaFilter should look at it this way "it was a good run". Sometimes the world moves on, especially if you don't keep up with the times. I was surprised to see that the site worked on my iPhone.

Michael Martinez

05/22/2014 02:51 pm

"If I had to guess, Google did push something out on November 16th, maybe a bug, and didn't know about it and we are were we are now." Had you guessed that in November 2012 I would have said that's a good guess but after so long such a hypothetical bug should have come to light by now (not 100% guaranteed, but a "bug" strikes me as highly unlikely).


05/22/2014 03:04 pm

And who are these people who tweet at Google's "Grand Gentleman" Matt Cutts any time something comes up or down? Quick to the Cutts phone Batman!


05/22/2014 03:20 pm

I agree with Andrea there. I've seen quite a few times where the site has been fine for a little while after an update then suddenly tanked later. I think this is simply where the algorithm is running, it takes a while to all the web and even when it has finished, the local DBs have to be updated as well which can take several days, so if the area where you are getting the majority of your traffic from is updated last, it could be a week + after the update before you actually see any affect on your rankings.

Barry Schwartz

05/22/2014 03:24 pm

How often do you fix your software bugs. ;-)


05/22/2014 04:01 pm

I have to strenuously disagree with the comment quality on Reddit. Reddit comments are more often than not juvenile and useless. Funny, but juvenile and useless. This is almost never the case at Metafilter, and especially at Ask.Metafilter.


05/22/2014 05:17 pm

Not anytime... This was about something that happened in 2012. We're talking about cat like reflexes here.

Michael Martinez

05/22/2014 08:05 pm

I spent nearly 30 years in the software industry. We fixed plenty of bugs after products went live, but it's a rare, rare bug that lasts 2-3 years in a heavily used environment. And remember that Google supposedly rewrote the entire system last year for Hummingbird. I am sure they reused some code but that makes it even less likely a bug could have survived this long.

Barry Schwartz

05/22/2014 08:07 pm

I was being sarcastic.

Michael Martinez

05/22/2014 08:41 pm

Ah, well in today's software world I guess they don't fix bugs so much as come out with "new versions".


05/22/2014 08:57 pm

This is an example of collateral damage, sites that often play by the rules and get clipped anyway. It's really a shame (for all parties, Google included) that there isn't a better way to fix this.

Michael Martinez

05/22/2014 08:59 pm

We don't know enough to "know" that this is collateral damage.

Peter Daams

05/23/2014 11:16 am

Yes, this date is definitely significant. They weren't the only large,old UGC site to be hit on that date.


05/23/2014 03:47 pm

Key topic: Google 'Search Quality' fiasco -- GOOGLE HYPOCRISY & Predatory Corruption re: obscene fraudulent nonsense-string (scraped names) WebSpam that is prevalent in Google Search Results > Question: Is Google deliberately abetting corrupt obscene fraudulent Israeli/Russian-jewish organized-crime WebSpam & WebSCAM porn for profit ?? Related, significant info. re: Google Corp.: (& see Link, July 2013) "Google gets Lowest Score Ever in Customer Satisfaction Survey" => =>> also, view: "Customer Service Scoreboard" site (note: Google Corp. has 'Terrible" rating) => Please be aware that... ('Google groupie') Ashley Berman Hale serves as an operative shill for Israeli/Russian-Jewish organized crime protecting their 'Porn Empire' -- this explains why her comments are uselessly snarky and she is deliberately unhelpful to the victims of corrupt, obscene, fraudulent (scraped names, phone#) WebSpam sites -- corrupt (random nonsense-string) Spam-Junk sites which are clandestinely abetted by Google Corp. (for profit) and which ludicrously proliferate in typical awful-quality Google search results. * please note: I am honestly reporting the above info. -- I myself am jewish heritage & I'm the daughter of holocaust survivors -- however, the public should realize it is a FACT that many criminal-scam websites perpetrating 'search abuse' (including obscene & fraudulent scraped names, phone# etc.) WebSpam sites, are controlled by Israeli/Russian-Jewish organized crime -- and are harbored/facilitated and protected or even promoted by Google Corporation. =========== ASHLEY BERMAN HALE provides 'cover' for Google Corp. harmful corruption & lack of responsible business practices... please note: I assuredly guarantee that Google Corp. affiliates immediately remove any corrupt WebScam listings that mention themselves ! > Google Corp. affiliates protect themselves but not YOU -- the general public -- from corrupt obscene fraudulent random-aggregator WebSpam (scraped names, phone#, etc.) that is creepily, awfully abundant in typical Google search results ! => Google's HYPOCRISY & deleterious corporate practices ! Google's so-called SPAM REPORTS are apparently USELESS wastes of time! > Attention: MATT CUTTS, Google 'Search Quality' Team (& affiliated Google staff & Google shills) Please note: Ashley's prior "Webmaster Central" comments are not relevant, because as I stated, I already prevously submitted Google Spam Reports several times -- And... the (supposed) Google standards-violating corrupt obscene WebSpam site is quite BLATANTLY & OBVIOUSLY using randomly SCRAPED Names & words, as displayed by Google in the crappy search results NONSENSE-String SNIPPET (shown below) ! WHY has Google 'search quality' apparently DETERIORATED, in general ?? Unfortunately, Google 'search results' are chockfull of corrupt, harmfully fraudulent, erroneous & meaningless nonsense-string (random scraped words/names hodgepodge) listings -- including ludicrous & obscene SNIPPETS that display people's full names & business names, fraudulently mis-used within WEBSPAM SEARCH ABUSE !! see egregious example -- this type of sleazy WebSpam which Google Corp. seems to abet... => Note: Ashley Berman Hale thinks that the fraudulent mis-use of randomly scraped names is not problematic for... other people (for the 'peons'), but let's see how she likes to be exploited by Google Corp. sleazy corrupt recklessness when it happens to her: !!LOOKING FOR CASUAL SAFE SECURE SEX!! droom design ...‎ ... www.for rent ...... ASHLEY BERMAN HALE Cisco ... teacher leani may mp www.oral sex pastoral marine ... =========== WHY is Google Corp. seemingly promoting & proliferating this obscene and fraudulent scraped-names nonsense garbage ?? -- Exactly WHO is profiteering from deliberately awful-quality, crappy & sleazy search results !! >>>>>> Attn: Alan Eustace, Amit Singhal, Matt Cutts and GOOGLE 'Search Quality' Team See example of corrupt obscene nonsense-string (search abuse) WebSpam that is fraudulently & erroneously mis-using my full name, which is displayed in Google snippets. Note: I don't have any connection whatsoever with this disgusting corrupt website, which has obviously scraped my name and other contents of randomly-juxtaposed names & words... (see problem snippet below) = Google Corporation's typical crappy, misleading, & fraudulent OBSCENE SPAM-JUNK 'search result' SNIPPET => !!LOOKING FOR CASUAL SAFE SECURE SEX!! droom design ...‎ ... www.for rent ... Matt Cutts ... teacher leani may mp Larry Page www.oral sex pastoral marine ... !!LOOKING FOR CASUAL SAFE SECURE SEX!! droom design ...‎ corrupt Google WebSpam ... Amanda Rosenberg ... Amit Singhal ... typical Google crappy search result ... www.for rent John Mueller .... Matt Cutts ... teacher leani may mp Larry Page www.oral sex pastoral Sergey Brin marine ... Sundar Pichai .... Alan Eustace --> Attention: GOOGLE EMPLOYEES REMOVE THIS (Fraudulent Search Abuse) Snippet IMMEDIATELY ! -- The Google 'Web Removal Tool' procedure has been USELESS & INEFFECTIVE !!! Also, I have tried filling out Google 'Spam Report' form several times to no avail ! This is the specific 'Search Abuse' WEBSPAM site =>‎ ADDITIONAL NOTE! = I recently discovered to my shock that the above-listed (corrupt fraudulent obscene) website is a Google Corp. ADVERTISER which actually posts advertisements on Google+ (Google Plus) pages !!! > Untrustworthy, duplicitous GOOGLE Corp. in recent years conducts itself in a deleteriously callous manner toward the general public. ###

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