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In Latest Anti-‘Content Farm’ Move, Google Changes Its Search Algorithm

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) is making its biggest move yet to ensure its search results are not overridden with low quality articles from so-called “content farms.” The company says it has made a “pretty big” adjustment to its algorithm in order to “reduce rankings for low-quality sites” and provide higher rankings for sites “with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.” Google says the changes impact 11.8 percent of the queries on its search engine; Demand Media (NYSE: DMD), thought to be one of the targets, says it has yet to see a material impact.

Google notably does not say in its blog post on the move that “content farms” are the target of the change , instead saying it is penalizing “low-quality sites,” which it defines as those that provide “low value-add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.”

However, the company has repeatedly defined such sites in the past as being “content farms.” A month ago, for instance, Google said it wanted to improve the quality of the pages it highlights on its search engine, specifically noting that “people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content.”

Two weeks ago, the company also introduced an extension for its Chrome browser that let users block specific sites from showing up in their search results. It described that move as a way to help it “detect content farms.”

Demand Media, the company which is most often associated with the term “content farm,” however, has insisted that Google is not concerned with the content it is producing. In an interview this week with paidContent, for instance, CEO Richard Rosenblatt said the company is not in fact a content farm and said that the content its sites produce — while sometimes arcane — is extremely valuable for many.

We asked Google to clarify whether it considers Demand Media to be producing “low-quality content,” and it responded that “in general, we don’t comment on how specific algorithmic improvements impact specific websites.” As for why it is no longer using the term “content farm,” the company says it “means different things to different people,” so it has “tried to be more descriptive, referring to high- and low-quality sites instead.”

Update: Demand issued its response late Thursday evening in a corporate blog post by Larry Fitzgibbon, EVP of Media and Operations. From the post:

“Today, Google announced an algorithm change to nearly 12% of their U.S. query results. As might be expected, a content library as diverse as ours saw some content go up and some go down in Google search results.This is consistent with what Google discussed on their blog post. 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.”

4 Responses to “In Latest Anti-‘Content Farm’ Move, Google Changes Its Search Algorithm”

  1. Google doesn’t seem to be penalizing Demand Media at all. One has to wonder if Demand Media’s vast contributions to Google owned YouTube have something to do with the preferential treatment.

    Case in point, I just searched for: Photoshop “tissue paper” in Google. The first result is an eHow article (eHow is owned by Demand Media), and the second result is for a COMPLETELY USELESS comment page on eHow. Why Google would even continue to index eHow’s comment pages is a complete mystery.

    Demand Media automatically generates comment pages on eHow that have no value when separated from their articles, (or even when attached, for that matter), in an apparent attempt to artificially inflate the size of their site. Many of these useless comment pages have no comments whatsover, as is the case for the results for my search in Google.

    Second place for a page full of nothing but ads and internal site links? Really Google?

    If anyone can tell me what value this page has for someone who is looking for a way to create a tissue-paper effect in Photoshop, I’ll gladly retract my assertion:

  2. Sites that didn’t take a hit are keyword in domain and big brands. Still plenty of keyword in domain websites that have low value content. And still websites like using keyword in subdomain that get a pass. Google failed attempt at cleaning up system. You should probably start in your own house is full of spammers..

  3. I think the best way to address the problem of questionable/useless content is to provide users a rating or like/dislike (not to be too facebooky but you know ;) ) function. This would let the content searchers tell you if they found the site to be helpful or not. It would also be good to let people block content delivered from a site all together. That is really the only viable way I can see that this sort of thing can take effect.

    There are SOME things you just can’t automate.