How to get your hubpages subdomain out of the Google Panda penalty box
The Google Panda update was the biggest shake up to Google's algorithm since the Florida update of 2003. Hundreds of websites saw their search rankings fall sharply, including Hubpages, which was deemed a "content farm" and hurt particularly hard by Panda.
Hubpages fought back and decided to put all their authors on subdomains - that way, good authors wouldn't be contaminated by the bad authors. And sure enough, some authors (including me) have experienced sustained surges in traffic. But some authors, who can by no means be characterised as "bad", experienced falls. What was going on?
Google is just a bot
The first thing people need to understand is that Google hasn't yet developed Artificial Intelligence. Their machines can't assess a quality piece of prose the way a human can. As far as I know, no one at Google can do telepathy, magic nor has alien powers either.
All the bot can do is look at a domain or sub-domain and compare it's metrics to those of known spam sites.
In a nutshell, Google uses human raters to identify spam sites, and then uses these as a benchmark. If your site has similar characteristics to a spam site, then down you go!
You can be innocent as anything - but if a spammer decides to build their sites using techniques identical to yours, you need to watch out. Part of the reason SEO is ever changing is that the spammers constantly adopt and borrow techniques to disguise the fact that they are spammers, and as Google catches up with them and bans the techniques in their algorithm, innocent people get caught out simply because they haven't moved fast enough to adapt to changing conditions.
"Your honour, I've been using this technique since 1999" doesn't wash in an internet world that moves at warp speed and expects all it's participants to adapt quickly.
The key to staying safe online as a webmaster is making sure that your site or sub-domain does not conform to any pattern that the algo has identified as spammy.
What is a thin affiliate site?
As it happens, we have a leaked document from Google designed to help their quality raters, dating from 2007. Here it is.
Here's what they had to say about thin affiliate sites:
Spammers make money when a transaction is completed after the user has clicked through to the “real” merchant site from the affiliate page.
“After you have clicked through you will see you are on a different URL or right-clicking on an image on the original page may reveal the URL of the affiliate. You may also be re-directed through a third party domain. A common type of thin affiliate spam is “hotel” spam, where you land on one page but are taken to a different domain when you attempt to complete the transaction. Amazon and eBay are also highly associated with this type of spam
It is unlikely they have softened this viewpoint as time has passed. On the contrary, their view of what they think of as thin affiliates has probably hardened.
So - they are clearly profiling sites that link out to Amazon and eBay.
Does your subdomain only link out to Amazon and eBay? If so, your profile will look similar to those autoblogs that use wp-robot or other auto-plugins to produce hundreds of amazon pages and nothing else.
I've seen some hubs with about 12-15 products listed per hub. This means a total of 24-30 amazon links per hub (as there is one link on the image and one link on the text). If you have a 100 hubs like this, this means your subdomain links out to Amazon 2400-3000 times.
Do you have anything to offset this? Links to other sites? Links to other affiliates? You need to make sure that your total outgoing links to Amazon/eBay are no more than 80%. So if you have a total 2000 links out to Amazon on your sub-domain, then you need 400 links out to other sites. Even that might be generous given the contempt G has towards affiliate sites.
This means either reducing the number of products that you feature in your hubs, or writing additional hubs that are informational and link to other trusted sites, to dilute the Amazon/eBay effect on your sub-domain. Link out to the main newspapers, link out to sites you own, link out to relevant sources. Linking out is good! It's what the web is based on.
If a good proportion of your subdomain is not amazon/ebay at all, you will definitely not fit the profile of a thin affiliate site, and you won't have been dinged.
Incoming links aka backlinks
If you have thousands of links out to amazon, do you have incoming links to balance this? And no, I don't mean links from other subdomains - they will have the same IP address as your own subdomain, and when it comes to backlinks, Google is looking for IP diversity. I mean links from other IP addresses.
I know that some people have reported that Hubpages is weird about people building backlinks and deliberately unpublishes those who do. However, relying on links from a single IP address (hubpages) is potentially a road to the back end of the SERPs.
So build some links, even some mild bookmarking on some do-follow sites should help produce a profile of diverse IP addresses linking in.
Google relies on profiling and pattern matching to catch out those they think of as undesirable spammers.
The key to survival on the net is to make sure that you don't conform to any pattern that others set, don't follow the crowd.. Zig when eveyone else is zagging and you will have a Merry Christmas!