Okay, maybe not little known — but seldom talked about. At relatively the same time marketers the world over were panicking about Panda and Penguin, Google was also rolling out Google Payday Loan. In fact, Google Payday Loan has gone through two iterations, the first targeting “spammy websites” and the others targeting “spammy queries.” Or as Google calls it, very spammy websites, and very spammy queries. And, as the name would suggest, this was targeted mostly towards sites such as “payday loan” sites — and few of us are going to lose sleep over lessened traffic for payday loan companies. But it wasn’t only payday loan companies that were hit.
Though Google never actually released a list, many financial products and insurance products were suspected to have been hit by the rollout. The algorithm change was stated to affect 0.3% of queries in English.. By contrast, Penguin 3.0 affected 2.3% of English search queries, but had a significantly broader target. Some webmasters reported that their websites seemed to have been hit even though they were in non-spammy categories, such as consumer electronics. But there was a lot of confusion, because Payday Loan 2.0 rolled out at the same time as Panda 4.0 — which obviously obfuscates reporting.
As with any Google algorithm change, there was no specific information released. But unlike other algorithm changes, Google was vague as to what even constituted a “very spammy” site or query. Google has released guides towards creating better content and developing a higher PageRank, but no similar guides have been released for avoiding “very spammy” keywords. There are a few key assumptions that you could be inclined to make, based on this information:
- Google may believe that “very spammy” is so obvious that it does not need to be defined.
- Google must be very committed to ensuring that these “very spammy” sites do not try to game the system.
- Google might believe that no relevant site would ever meet their “very spammy” algorithms.
And all of these things may be true — but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the algorithm will never affect a legitimate site. And because the Payday Loan algorithm is so close in nature to many aspects of Google’s quality checking algorithms, it may be impossible to untangle which algorithm is adversely penalizing your site, should your site be penalized.
Google’s Payday Loan algorithm can really be likened to a spam filter. It operates outside of Penguin, Panda and other algorithmic changes and focuses only on spammy sites and queries. It essentially strips out content that is valueless and overly promotional. So it would be easy to assume that it is likely scanning for similar queries as to a standard email spam filter: payday loans, male enhancement, car accident attorneys, unnecessary insurance products and similar. And if you’ve been on the web long enough, you already know: this accounts for a lot of web traffic.
But overly spammy content also includes content that is unoriginal and saturated with keywords — so websites that meet these qualifications may actually be undergoing even harsher penalties than they realize due to the Google Payday filter. Further, websites that are actually selling insurance or car accident attorneys may find it an uphill battle, especially if they are trying to develop a content marketing campaign from scratch.
Most SEO masters and mavens are already aware that insurance agents and attorneys are up there with real estate professionals for having sites that are, well, remarkably similar to other sites. In fact, you could say that a huge amount of insurance, real estate and legal websites are essentially spam — they tend to cover the exact same ground as each other, they put out content at an alarming rate and most of the content is fairly thin and shallow.
Google often leaves us with a bunch of puzzle pieces — some missing, some from different puzzles entirely — and asks us to put it together ourselves. For the most part, we can reconstruct something fairly reasonable to follow, though that can also lead us down the dark path of assumption. On the Google blog, a few indicators of spammy content are mentioned:
- “Content farms” are targeted specifically; sites that have shallow, low-quality content across the domain.
- Repeated, spammy words, whether they’re across the domain or on individual pages, are targeted.
- “Hacked site” detection is being used to determine whether a site may be under someone else’s control.
- Sites that copy content from other sites or that have low levels of original content.
These are the exact techniques that many marketers are using today to produce certain industry websites. But those websites and those marketing campaigns are still working… mostly due to geo-targeting. If you do happen to search for “payday loan,” for instance, you will get back a huge swathe of information that is local to you. Google isn’t trying to blacklist specific keywords, but instead spammy sites that are targeted towards those keywords.
Google Payday Loan is probably by far the most benign and outright helpful Google algorithm change, but it shouldn’t be entirely ignored — especially when dealing with industries that experience particularly high levels of spam, such as the legal industry and the insurance industry. This algorithm is simply another nail in the coffin for thin, shallow content, and again underscores the importance of search engine relevancy, user value and geo-targeting.