Google Lowers the Boom on Content Farms

Google is finally admitting its got a quality problem, and the Web giant is doing something about it. Essentially, it’s dropping the hammer on content farms.

In a blog post late Thursday (Feb.24), Google announced a major adjustment to its algorithm specifically designed to filter out low-quality content from its searches. The new tactic will affect 11.8 percent of its searches in the U.S.

That’s hardly an insignificant number, given Google’s clout in the market. According to comScore, Google handled close to 12 billion search queries in January; meaning that the algorithm tweak would impact roughly 1.4 billion searches.

In its blog post, Google did not specifically mention content farms—companies like Demand Media, and Yahoo’ Associated Content—which actively look to work Google’s algorithm to churn out thousands of search friendly articles. But the language used was fairly loaded, as Google seems to be coming down on the side of traditional Web publishers and quality journalism.

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other Web sites or sites that are just not very useful,” wrote Google Fellow, Amit Singhal and principal engineer Matt Cutts, “At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

The implication seems clear: Companies like Demand Media—which just went public—don’t always offer thoughtful analysis. Demand would certainly dispute this claim, as the company has worked hard over the past year defending its quality and touting its partnerships with Lance Armstrong, Tyra Banks and others.

But examples of Demand’s potential for schlock abound.

Larry Fitzgibbon, Demand’s evp, actually praised Google’s move in a blog post response on Friday (Feb. 24). “We have built our business by focusing on creating the useful and original content that meets the specific needs of today’s consumer,” he wrote. ”So naturally we applaud changes search engines make to improve the consumer experience—it’s both the right thing to do and our focus as well…It’s impossible to speculate how these or any changes made by Google impact any online business in the long term—but at this point in time, we haven’t seen a material net impact on our Content & Media business.”
Either way, the big takeaway is that Google, after a period of caution, is recognizing that its algorithm, and its resulting search quality, are becoming increasingly cluttered with questionable content. Several industry groups, including the Internet Content Syndication Council, have publically called upon Google to reexamine this issue—an effort that appears to have born fruit.

“Our goal is simple: to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible,” wrote Singhal and Cutts. “So, we’re very excited about this new ranking improvement, because we believe it’s a big step in the right direction of helping people find ever higher quality in our results. We’ve been tackling these issues for more than a year, and working on this specific change for the past few months. And we’re working on many more updates that we believe will substantially improve the quality of the pages in our results.”