Google Demands better quality results

Google says it's made 'pretty big' changes to its algorithm. Is it enough to banish content farms from our search results?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 25 Feb 2011
Getting tired of clicking on search results, only to discover that it’s one of those ‘How to’ articles that doesn’t really give any information at all? So, it seems, is Google: the search engine says it’s made some ‘pretty big’ changes to its algorithm, in an effort to reduce the number of ‘low quality’ sites that turn up in its search results. In classic Google style, it’s keeping schtum as to which sites in particular it might be targeting, but since it has come under fire for the number of articles from so-called ‘content farms’ that appear near the top of its results, there’s a good chance we could well see those annoying ‘articles’ slip down the rankings.

Google makes 500 or so changes to its algorithm a year, and no-one knows exactly how those changes will affect search results. In a blog post yesterday, though, the head of Google’s anti-spam team said the change is designed to reduce rankings for sites which are ‘low-value add for users, copy content from other websites, or sites that are just not very useful’. Which sounds similar to the words some newspaper and magazine publishers used earlier this year to describe the output of content farms like Demand Media, which publishes thousands of keyword-heavy articles a day, based on the number of searches people perform for that particular topic.

The change will apparently affect about 12% of searches, which doesn’t sound like a lot, until you take into account that more than a billion searches are performed on Google each day. This isn’t the first time Google has cracked down on shady search engine optimisation practices, either: just yesterday, in fact, it took action against US online retailer Overstock, which had been artificially boosting its rankings by encouraging students to post links to the site (based on the idea that the more sites that link to you, the higher you turn up in search results) in return for discounts. The site went from the first page of search results to languishing in the fifth or sixth page overnight. Harsh.

So, could this ring the death knell for Demand Media, which made its multi-billion dollar IPO at the end of January off the back of its uncanny knack of getting to the top of rankings? If that’s the case, CEO Larry Fitzgibbon is staying determinedly cool about it: ‘some content went up and some went down in search results,’ he shrugged today. ‘At this point in time, we haven’t seen a material net impact on our content and media business.’

So it looks like it’s here to stay for the time being, at least (albeit, hopefully, slightly lower down the rankings).

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