The “Domain Info” site: Google’s latest target

Every few months, Google gets a bee in its bonnet about a specific type of site, and usually rolls out a series of updates intended to clean up the results pages.  We’ve seen it for directories and “content farms”, and untold man-hours have been devoted to keeping “payday loans” clean and safe.

With the recent “Panda 4.0” update, a few sites have began publishing lists of “Winners and Losers”. The more interesting aspect is what happens when we look at similar lists over time. a clear trend appears.

Again and again, you see rank drops for the “sites that list every major domain” — this typically falls into one of three categories:

  • Thin “Site Info”. Typically, scraped WHOIS data, some out of date SEO data and made up traffic stats, and maybe a cute “estimate of domain value”.
  • “Comparable Sites” services. These are basically a special case of “Thin Site Info” where they’ll link to a few sites that they believe have some similarity. If you’re lucky, this shows a bit of human intiution, matching legitimately related content; the worst ones just cross-check a few keywords or show sites with similar Alexa stats.
  • “Status Check” sites. Good for you. You ran a cURL from three different servers and let us know that, indeed, Hotmail is down for everyone.

Why are these such a promising target for a Google Smackdown?

First, the analytics are probably going to be very poor. If you search a domain name, and it’s not a accidental “wrote the address in the search box” thing, you’re probably not looking for any of these sites– you might be looking for live, active discussions, or external links that reference the domain. This probably led to both a low click-through rate and a high bounce rate, easily trackable by Google.

From an on-page SEO basis, they’re low on information, but at the same time, match for thousands of different, unrelated keywords– the domains or service names they refer to. It looks like an old-school content farm, and is likely even more vulnerable to the same semantic analysis strategies– you won’t even have the keywords you’d expect to cluster together in real, human-written text about the domains being discussed.

One of the more interesting targets to consider is the “Status Check” site. While many search rankings are subjective, there are definitely situations where there’s a clear right answer– missing the boat here is enough to undermine user confidence in your search quality overall. In this situation, the undisputable right answer is the relevant vendor’s own status page, whether it’s an explicit availability dashboard, their support department Twitter feed, or a customer forum. The “Status Check” sites don’t bring any added value, and are arguably prone to out-of-date information or clumsy checking methodoligies.

Okay, Google has good reason to dismiss these sites.  So what’s the forecast for this sort of site?

It’s gloomy, but not as completely doomed as you might initially think.

First, such sites can be almost completely automated and are relatively cheap to run… a few hundred lines of code on a $10 per month VPS will give you your own “isitdownforeveryone.com”.

Second, they’re still pretty monetizable. The few people who actually are following the links to see domain and page info are probably researching the company, and therefore a solid audience for both direct and competitive marketing, as well as plenty of indirect SEO and business-development messages. Meanwhile, people checking for outages are going to be more receptive to alternative products. These sites’ AdSense  boxes will never be difficult to fill, unless they change their policies dramatically.

Third, they’re still up against plenty of weak competition. It might be easy to find ten relevant results about your brand, or product, but the domain name itself is likely to be a weakly contested keyword. Even the brand itself is unlikely to be generating huge discussions about it.

While they’ll be less and less lucrative, there’s a tendency to hold onto any business that will cover its cost and return enough revenue for a can of beer a month. They aren’t going to shrivel up and disappear just because Google has set their sights on them.