Is Google’s ‘Search Spam’ Focus Bad for Content Farms?

Have traditional content syndicators gotten to Google and stifled IPO-ready Demand Media in the process?

The Internet Content Syndication Council, which claims Procter & Gamble, Reuters, Turner and the Associated Press as members, has been attempting to rally the industry to take a stand against what it sees as shoddy journalism churned out by companies like Demand and Yahoo’s Associated Content—content designed solely to gain high rankings in search engines.

The ICSC recently began circulating a set of editorial guidelines designed to tout its members’ editorial quality. Members of the group have claimed that content produced by Demand and its brethren “actually makes the Internet less valuable by junking up search engines.” The group has even gone as far as reaching out to Google for help.

That effort may be paying off. On Friday (Jan. 21), Google addressed the topic of “search spam” on its corporate blog. While the company contends that its search results have improved over time (which seems to be backed up by Google’s recent earnings), it does acknowledge that incidences of search spam have been on the rise of late.

“We have seen a slight uptick of spam in recent months, and while we’ve already made progress, we have new efforts under way to continue to improve our search quality,” wrote Matt Cutts, Google’s principal engineer.

Of course, Cutts does not specifically identify content produced by Demand, Associated Content or AOL’s Seed group as “spammers.” But the company is looking to root out sites that use “repeated spammy words—the sort of phrases you tend to see in junky, automated, self-promoting blog comments,” wrote Cutts. He also called out “sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content” (all tactics content farms are regularly accused of).

For Demand specifically, these may not be the most welcome words to hear as the company preps for an IPO, which may happen next week.

Whether the efforts of the ICSC are to blame, Google clearly wants to be seen as taking this issue seriously. Cutts emphasized that Google is actively looking for violators—regardless of whether or not they are also advertising partners. “To be crystal clear,” Cutts wrote, “Google absolutely takes action on sites that violate our quality guidelines regardless of whether they have ads powered by Google.”