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On Friday May 20th the most significant changes to the Google SERPs were seen since the notorious Florida update last November. As ever, a torrent of abuse, confusion, despair and the occasional delight poured through the search engine community and the search for understanding has never seemed more acute.

I have had only one new client affected by the changes on Google – which on the whole, and from a user’s perspective seem to have been good for the quality of results presented – who whilst hurting with the best of them, appears not to have been singled out for anything deliberate.

Out of the chaos, I think there are two factors raising their heads above the paraphet: 1. Obvious affiliation and 2. Residual 302 re-direct problems.

The first, where Google would sensibly attempt to demote affiliate sites so that the results are not cluttered with hundreds of sites selling the exact same thing, and are not out-ranking the source site, does not seem to be equally applied, so clearly all affiliates are not equal in Google’s eyes. However sites running comprehensive and very influential affiliate schemes have reported a measurable impact on affiliate revenue.

The second, is more bug than deliberate algorithmic effect. Google has long had problems with properly associating content to a correct domain when a 302 (content temporarily moved) redirect is involved. Many, many sites incorrectly applied 302s to the non-www versions of their domains and regardless of the obvious connection between the pages Google appears to have got itself in a tangle not knowing quite what to do with the data it has in its index. Now whether the effects seen in Update Bourbon are attributable to Google trying to fix this problem, or continuing reverberations within the index itself as it remains unfixed, is hard to say.

Google has hardly had a happy time of redirects itself; early last week an alleged accidental redirect, amounting to a hijack, using a meta refresh technique, had a third party site apparently hosting the content from Google’s Adsense home page. Now surely this makes it a bug, not a feature!

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