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A View from Erica Naone

Google Aims To Take Out Content Farms

A change to its search algorithm will “noticeably impact” more than 10 percent of all search queries.

  • February 25, 2011

In a move that will “noticeably” affect more than 10 percent of all search queries, Google announced a change to its search algorithm that’s aimed at reducing the ranking of lower quality sites.

The official blog post didn’t say the phrase “content farms” - sites such as Demand Media that churn out articles designed to attract traffic from search queries. However, many believe that content farms are indeed a key target of the change.

Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand writes:

How can I say the Farmer Update targets content farms when Google specifically declined to confirm that? I’m reading between the lines. Google previously had said it was going after them. … From Google’s earlier blog post, content farms are places with “shallow or low quality content.” … That content is what the algorithm change is going after.

Demand Media has strenuously objected to being labeled a content farm, and posted a response to the changes on its blog:

As might be expected, a content library as diverse as ours saw some content go up and some go down in Google search results. … 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.

Whatever the company says, consumers seem to have a hunger for blocking results from content farms. Search startup Blekko has gained a lot of attention for helping people block these sites:

It’s a method intended to block the low-quality pages that pollute the results of more established competitors, says Rich Skrenta, a cofounder of the company, which has raised $24 million in funding since 2007. “Various bad actors have created the bulk of URLs on the Web today,” Skrenta says. As examples, he sites spam blogs and companies like Demand Media, which pay people small fees to write content designed mainly to rank high in search results.

Google recently launched an extension for Chrome that allowed people to block sites they didn’t want to see in results. The company noted that it did not use this data to construct the recent changes—but Google certainly consulted it. The official blog post notes:

We did compare the Blocklist data we gathered with the sites identified by our algorithm, and we were very pleased that the preferences our users expressed by using the extension are well represented. If you take the top several dozen or so most-blocked domains from the Chrome extension, then this algorithmic change addresses 84% of them, which is strong independent confirmation of the user benefits.

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