There have been complaints. Loud complaints.
I'm talking about complaints about Google's search results being full of spammy links that lead to nothing of value. The complaint department window at Google was open for business, because they were listening and they've made some changes.
Complaints and Alternatives
Before we get into the changes, check out these examples of the complaints that Google was returning too much search result spam:
- Over 77 Percent of Lifehacker Readers Say Google's Search Results are Less Useful Lately
- Trouble In the House of Google - which points out how content scrapers and syndicators often rank higher in search results than the original source of the material
- Why We Desperately Need a New (and Better) Google
Most of the complaints mentioned that Google search results were filled with spam results from content scrapers, marketers, or sites that consisted of nothing but keywords surrounded by useless crappy content.
Often mentioned in relation to spammy results are content farms. Demand Media is a name that come up often when talking about poor quality content. Yet at the same time, many articles such as Demand Media Valued at More Than $1 Billion Following IPO also appear. People are investing in Demand Media at the same time that people are asking to have its articles removed from search results. In the article about Demand's IPO, Adam Ostrow said,
Early indications suggest that concerns over Demand — which owns sites like eHow and Trails.com — being at the whims of Google’s search algorithms are not worrying investors. The company increased the size of its offering by nearly 20% and also raised the offering price, with investors pushing shares another 40% higher when they debuted.
Last week, Google wrote about its plans to take on search engine spam and so-called “content farms,” a category that Demand is often lumped in with because of the way it produces its content, with thousands of low-cost freelancers authoring stories that target popular search terms.
I have a few personal things to say about Demand Media, which I will get to in a minute.
As for alternatives to Google, BlogHer Michelle Rafter organized a chat for writers in WordCount Jan. 26 chat: Google, search spam and search tools for writers that suggested alternative ways for writers to find dependable search results. Her chat announcement:
It follows a series of posts on search skills for writers I’ve done recently, including one on alternatives to Google, an update on Help A Reporter Out (HARO), the website that matches reporters’ requests for sources with companies that could provide the information that Vocus acquried last June, and how to get the most out of a HARO query.
Sounds like a great chat, I'm sorry I missed it.
Alternatives to Google have been popping up regularly. One is a new search engine, Blekko, which specifically claims to remove spammy results from your search. See Blekko De-Spams Search Results with Slashtags.
Someone made an extension for Chrome (Google's browser) that blocks spam results. See Search Engine Blacklist Prevents Spam Sites from Ever Appearing in Your Search Listings.
How Google Stepped Up
As I mentioned, Google was taking note of all this. Their response appeared on the official Google blog in Google search and search engine spam. Here's part of that announcement.
To respond to that challenge, we recently launched a redesigned document-level classifier that makes it harder for spammy on-page content to rank highly. The new classifier is better at detecting spam on individual web pages, e.g., repeated spammy words—the sort of phrases you tend to see in junky, automated, self-promoting blog comments. We’ve also radically improved our ability to detect hacked sites, which were a major source of spam in 2010. And we’re evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content. We’ll continue to explore ways to reduce spam, including new ways for users to give more explicit feedback about spammy and low-quality sites.
The Google announcement also reaffirmed Google's principles that buying Google ads does not increase site rankings and having Google ads does not prevent a site from violating Google's content guidelines.
Christina Warren quotes Google's Matt Cutts in Google Changes Algorithm To Penalize Site Scrapers, saying that the “net effect is that searchers are more likely to see the sites that wrote the original content rather than a site that scraped or copied the original site’s content.”
Demand Media and Me
For a while, I worked for eHow.com as their expert in the Internet category. I'm telling you this story because eHow is owned by Demand Media. I wrote several hundred articles for eHow that I stand behind as being of comparable quality to anything I've ever written for BlogHer or my own blogs.
While I was well paid for each post I wrote at eHow, there were also writers there who were not paid per post but through a system of rewards based on traffic. Eventually, eHow dropped its experts who were paid by the article. I stopped writing for them at that time. Now, writers only receive rewards based on the traffic their articles generate. eHow also wanted people who were writing there to move to writing keyword laden posts for Demand Media. I chose not to do that.
Personally, I am happy about my relationship with eHow and I'm proud of my posts. But I've read enough articles there to know that the quality is uneven – some is excellent and some is not.
I've never looked at any of the content produced on the Demand Media side of the business, but I know they generate vast amounts of it. And its making them money, as you saw from the story on their IPO.
The changes in Google's algorithm will affect the profitability of content farm sites like Demand Media's because it will bring higher quality results back into the top ranked search results.
The changes will also be helpful to many BlogHers who are frustrated by sites that reproduce entire blog posts without permission. If the changes are effective, the original post from the BlogHer member's blog should rank higher than any scraped content reprinted elsewhere.
Photo Credit: Robert Scoble.
Virginia DeBolt writes about web design education and web technology at Web Teacher and creates a daily writing prompt at First 50 Words.
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