How Google Is Destroying Small Business & Jobs

On February 24, 2011 Google released an experimental addition to their algorithm called Panda, destroying thousands of small businesses and the people they employ. Panda relies on artificial intelligence to evaluate websites and help determine their place in the search results. When it was released, it mistakenly devalued scores of legitimate high quality businesses, dramatically dropping their websites in the search results to where users would no longer find them. Established businesses were ruined, and many people have lost their jobs as a result. Since the initial release of Panda there have been several modifications, destroying more and more businesses with each new iteration.

In addition to traditional businesses, a Search Engine Roundtable poll found that due to Google's Panda:

  • 9.2% of people working in the field of search engine optimization lost their jobs
  • 6.8% said they were forced to lay off employees
  • 25% said they were afraid they would lose their job or have to lay off employees

Google has said the purpose of Panda was to "reduce rankings for low-quality sites" and "provide better rankings for high-quality sites", but their experiment in artificial intelligence has gone very wrong. Along with the spammers they hoped to remove, they also removed high quality, established online businesses throughout America and around the world. While Panda did give a major boost to big corporations like Amazon, Walmart, and Target, along with Google's own YouTube, it wiped out untold numbers of smaller e-commerce and information sites. Some higher profile sites (Cult of Mac and Daniweb, for example) were able to get enough media attention for Google to bring them back to their former positions, but the vast majority of affected businesses have been left to fail with no useful suggestions from Google.

Prior to the Panda experiment small businesses had a legitimate and fair chance to rank in Google's search results. Since Panda, they are randomly wiped out by an algorithm gone bad. Google has every right to adjust their search results, but because millions of people use Google to find businesses every day, and hundreds of thousands of businesses rely on that process, Google has a responsibility to inform businesses before wiping them out, advising them on what they can do to avoid being wrongly punished. Small businesses and jobs aren't the only thing at stake. Google is destroying people's lives.

On May 6, 2011, Google posted guidance for sites that had been mistakenly damaged by Panda. The post is a public relations move and an attempt to limit bad press more than actual guidance for business owners. The questions Google asked webmasters to consider are broad and impossible for an algorithm to consider (as Google admitted in the post). But more importantly, as you'll see in the examples of businesses on this site, the legitimate businesses that were devalued by Panda have taken the questions into account, can answer them affirmatively, but still remain penalized.

While there have been a few articles in the mainstream media detailing the negative effects of Google's Panda on legitimate businesses, and plenty of discussion among business owners on online forums, blogs, and even Google's Webmaster Central, most people have no idea how many small businesses and employees were negatively affected.

We hope to change this situation before even more damage is done. On this site we'll detail stories of legitimate, established small businesses that have been destroyed by Google. If your business was one of them, please submit your story. We also aim to be a resource for journalists looking for detailed examples of businesses that have been forced to close and people who have lost their jobs due to Google. If you are a journalist, please see our media page.

What We Expect From Google

We understand that Google can and should be able to improve and adjust their search results, and that criteria must be selected to do so. But Google also needs to take into account their enormous power and ability to destroy businesses with a single algorithmic change. Just as they often inform webmasters of penalties in Google Webmaster Central, before making massive changes they have an obligation to explain these new criteria to business owners so they can adapt before being put out of business. In the physical world, an individual or business cannot avoid breaking the law if the laws are secret and unknown, and it would be entirely unjust for them to be arrested, jailed, or shut down with no knowledge of laws or what they have done wrong. All we ask is for Google to follow the same moral standards we expect in the physical world.

Furthermore, it is assumed that Google doesn't understand the effects of Panda themselves. If they did, surely they would not have punished websites such as the British Journal of Medicine and Technorati? If Google's Panda experiment renders them unable to give actionable criteria to website owners, they should abandon it. It is neither just nor moral to destroy real jobs and businesses for the sake of testing artificial intelligence algorithms.

We expect Google to either:

a) Reverse Panda for the time being and publish the new criteria for businesses to follow before implementing it again.

b) Scrap the experiment altogether.

Either option would save the thousands of small businesses they're currently destroying. Google's motto is "don't be evil". We would like them to follow their motto.