Lost in Translation: Google Algo Update 06-04-2011

Posted on by in Organic SEO

I started noticing a large-ish drop off in google organic traffic to seoforums.org last night.

This is something that I’ve been through a few times before so as soon as these changes occur it generally means a late night, lots of coffee and much concern.

Around 2am I finished my analysis and pretty much knew what was going on, but needed to wait until this morning to publish the findings just in case it was a matter of GA being slow to update (that doesnt happen anywhere near as often as it did 3 or 4 years ago, but it was still a possibility).

Google Algo Update: Lost in Translation

Since September last year, I’ve been using a plugin here on seoforums.org which auto translates all of the content on pageload to a new URL in the members selected language of choice.  It then saves that page into a cache database to increase performance for future pageloads (refreshing every so often depending on the page type).

So far this just sounds like pretty common google translate spam right?

The plugin also detects posts made in foreign languages and translates them out to all 30+ other languages used here on seoforums.org – therefore (and lots of people do this) you can see people posting in greek, speaking to someone posting in arabic, and someone else speaking in French.  Each one of those posts are seen in each users native language as defined when they signed up.

Its a beautiful system. That is NOT google auto translate spam, that is a legitimate translation use of their API in my opinion.

The Setup:

google algo updatewhen I started using the plugin, I registered each of the subfolder sites as specific websites in Google Webmaster Tools, as you can see from this screenshot.  I then went on to geo-target each of the subfolders to the relevant countries.  Linkbuilding to these subfolders has been entirely organic (I’ve never bought a link for this site full stop).

I’ve also submitted a specific XML sitemap for every regional variation of seoforums.org and each of the sites within GWT is correctly reporting the search queries, volumes, site speed etc. all as you would expect for any other site.

In short, I didn’t do this “a la spam” site – I built it properly.

The Results:

until yesterday I was pleasantly surprised with the results.  After a slow-ish start it was building up a nice % of overall google organic traffic.  Over the last week or so these landing pages have been receiving more or less a thousand additional visits per day, at a bounce rate no worse than the rest of the site (and much better than some pages in english – but thats another story).

As you can see from this graph, there was a heck of a fall off sometime yesterday:

google update

Additionally, when searching google.co.uk with a site:seoforums.org command, you saw lots of “junk”, ie. the homepages for each foreign language was listed in the top 50 results.

This wasn’t really a great UX, but then how many people actually search with the site: command that aren’t SEO’s? Furthermore – as I’d submitted each sub folder as a different geo-targeted site  so frankly google shouldn’t have been displaying them in the .co.uk results anyway.

I must stress that I DO NOT BELIEVE that my use of the google translate API in this case is spammy.

Its creating a legitimate forum in dozens of languages, and allowing people of diverse nationalities to discuss topics in their native languages.  Some of them (ie. the Spanish one) are great translations. I know some are rubbish, but I’m relying on google’s own API for quality.

My Conclusions:

it does appear that google yesterday rolled out an algo update which has improved their detection of auto translated pages and removed them from the index.

That will be of benefit to most consumers in removing yet more of the junk that has been out there for some time, but in my case I do feel a little let down – there is no other way for me to translate a site which is 100% UGC and updated constantly.