The Online Slang Dictionary
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Google and The Online Slang Dictionary

Summary

This site has more than 5,300 citations of slang use gathered from published sources, but we can't show them to you. Google penalizes this site in search rankings when we do. And even though all of the citations were removed 705 days ago, the penalty is still in place because we used to show citations.

This is a bug in Google's code that applies the "Panda" penalty. Though Google has confirmed the penalty, they have been unwilling to enter into a dialogue with me about resolving it. Please help me in spreading the word. If you've found The Online Slang Dictionary to be useful, please let your friends and colleagues know about the site. 

If you work for Google, I'd love to talk with you. I can be reached via email at waltergr@gmail.com.

Why are citations important for a slang dictionary?

Real dictionaries have citations because that's how they show that their definitions are real. Being a dictionary of real slang terms, the same applies to us. Citations serve the same purpose in dictionaries as they do on Wikipedia: they provide evidence for factual claims.

Do you have evidence of the penalty?

Yes. A Google employee confirmed that this site is being penalized.

In 2011, Google released a change to their ranking algorithms designed to penalize low-quality websites. One thing Google now believes is an indicator of low quality is displaying excerpts of content that exists elsewhere. Despite citations being a hallmark of a high-quality dictionary, they get interpreted by this change (called Panda) as the complete opposite, because by definition citations are content that exists elsewhere.

The following shows the consequence of this penalty, measured in visits to this site from Google searches. The rest of this page explains the data in more detail.

Overview charts

On this page

About The Online Slang Dictionary

Started in 1996, The Online Slang Dictionary is the oldest slang dictionary on the web. Serving 1.9 million visitors each month, it provides more than 24,000 real definitions for over 17,000 slang words and phrases. The integrated slang thesaurus has more than 600 categories of meaning. Unique features include usage voting, vulgarity voting, and SlangMaps. Logged in users can add words and definitions.

The site has approximately 5,300 citations gathered by hand from TV programs, films, news publications, magazines and other sources - and added by hand to the appropriate definitions. Each is a short 1 - 3 sentence excerpt, with proper attribution.

An additional 5,700 citations are prepared and ready to be added to the site. Another set of around the same size has been logged but not yet prepared. Adding those two sets would bring the citation count to more than 16,500. But since Google penalizes the site for showing citations, there is no reason to add them since they wouldn't be available to visitors.

Details

Timeline

2011

2012

Google penalizes The Online Slang Dictionary for showing citations: Part 1

Google's Panda changes - designed to penalize what Google's algorithms believe are "low-quality" sites - were released globally to all English-speaking users on April 11, 2011. Visits to The Online Slang Dictionary that were the result of a Google search dropped markedly on April 11, 2011.

This chart only shows traffic from Google searches.


April 11 2011 traffic drop

The loss in traffic was limited to visits from Google searches. No other traffic sources (other search engines, direct traffic, or referral traffic) were affected. Such a drop is unprecedented for the site since I began tracking site analytics in 2007.

Specifically, traffic declined because Google moved this site to a lower position in its search results. Reports from Google Webmaster Tools show that the position of The Online Slang Dictionary in Google search results fell on April 11, the date of the Panda penalty.


Google Webmaster Tools average position

The reports that I have access to cover a time period of a month, rather than a single day. So the effects of the penalty only start to become evident in the report dated March 12 - April 11. The next dated report goes through April 12, so it includes 2 days of penalty. The subsequent report includes 3 days of penalty, and so forth. As more days of the penalty are within the date range of the report, the amount of the decline is increasingly revealed. (Why the uptick at the end? Because the reports show a range, the final report that includes April 11 is dominated by subsequent dates. There was a small uptick in ranking during those dates - which did not restore traffic - then the ranking dropped back down.)

So as the data shows, The Online Slang Dictionary started receiving a penalty on April 11, 2011, and that's the date that the Panda changes were released to all English-speaking users of Google.

Citations are removed

During the next seven months, I made dozens of structural changes and thousands of content changes to the site - but these changes had no effect on the amount of traffic referred by Google queries.

Largely as an experiment, I removed every citation from the site on November 5, 2011. I couldn't believe Google would be penalizing the site because of the presence of citations. After all, high-quality dictionaries have citations, and Google Panda was designed to penalize low-quality websites.

A week and a day later - on November 13 - the penalty was rescinded.

The following chart shows only traffic from Google searches.


Penalty is lifted November 13 2011

Google penalizes The Online Slang Dictionary for showing citations: Part 2

The citations were then missing from the site for almost a year. In early October 2012, I identified what I believed was a way to restore citations to the site without being penalized by Google. The full inventory of citations - approximately 4,800 at that time - returned to the site on October 6, 2012.

The technical details of the citation restoration, are, in brief: to improve page speed by avoiding an extra HTTP request, output citations inside HTML comments within the web page. Use JavaScript to turn those HTML comments into visible text. Since Google doesn't index content within comments, this seemed to be a clear way to tell Googlebot that the citations shouldn't be used for indexing - or ranking - purposes.

The penalty returned 3 days later.

This chart only shows traffic from Google searches.


Penalty returns November 9 2012

I tried a second approach: to not include any citations in the HTML at all, but load a JavaScript file - from a directory blocked by robots.txt - that splices the citations into their appropriate positions. Since the citations were loaded from a directory blocked by robots.txt, this seemed to be a clear way to tell any compliant spiders that the citations shouldn't be used for indexing - or ranking - purposes. This had no effect on the site's ranking.

Citations are removed again

On November 16, in order to be able to compete with dictionary websites that don't have citations, I once again removed all citations. Hopefully this will cause the penalty to be lifted.

In the meantime, the penalty is ongoing, and is decimating traffic to The Online Slang Dictionary.

Please help me in spreading the word. If you've found The Online Slang Dictionary to be useful, please let your friends and colleagues know about the site. 

If you work for Google, I'd love to talk with you. I can be reached via email at waltergr@gmail.com.

Any suggestions?

I'd love to hear them. My email address is waltergr@gmail.com.

Thanks for your time.