Google, content farms and one slippery slope

Google, content farms and one slippery slope

Summary: How will Google's algorithm determine shallow and low quality content? We could quickly get into an algorithm as censor pickle. Are you willing to ride that slippery slope for better search results. Google is ready. I'm not so sure I am though.

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Google acknowledged its critics who argue that search results are becoming more spam filled and declared war on content farms and "low-quality content." The move makes sense, but does set up for a slippery slope. Who exactly judges low quality?

In a blog post, Google's Matt Cutts said that the search giant has made great strides in the spam game, but the big kicker is this:

As “pure webspam” has decreased over time, attention has shifted instead to “content farms,” which are sites with shallow or low-quality content. In 2010, we launched two major algorithmic changes focused on low-quality sites. Nonetheless, we hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content. We take pride in Google search and strive to make each and every search perfect. The fact is that we’re not perfect, and combined with users’ skyrocketing expectations of Google, these imperfections get magnified in perception. However, we can and should do better.

The natural conclusion here is that Demand Media, a company largely based on search engine optimization, is screwed just in time for an IPO. Memo to investors: Read the risk factors in those regulatory filings where Demand Media is upfront about its Google risk. But Google's content farm war is also going to hurt Yahoo's Associated Content and potentially AOL's Seed effort, which assigns stories partially based on anticipated keyword success.

So what has me a bit antsy about this focus on "shallow or low-quality content"? Some of that shallow content has been useful every once in a while. For instance, something shallow like "rack & pinion steering" would probably get nuked. But to a novice that doesn't know a thing about rack and pinion steering---until it's about to blow of course---may find Demand Media's eHow semi useful (admittedly not nearly as useful as HowStuffWorks.com).

Now the Livestrong.com site, also owned by Demand Media, has been a useless stray link on damn near anything health related I've researched. So I'd give permission to Google to just kill that site.

See the slippery slope here?

How will Google's algorithm determine shallow and low quality content? Is it a three paragraph post? Would five paragraphs make the cut? You get the idea. We could quickly get into an algorithm as censor pickle. Are you willing to ride that slippery slope for better search results. Google is ready. I'm not so sure I am though.

Topics: Legal, Banking, Browser, Google

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18 comments
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  • how about removing duplicates in the search results?

    it's the simplest algorithm for gettin rid of spam.
    sparkle farkle
  • RE: Google, content farms and one slippery slope

    You really didn't say much in your article. Are you sure it won't be mistaken for a "content farm" article?
    Michael Martinez
  • A slippery slope that leads to lawsuits and regulators

    What's frustrating here is that Google could easily cut spammy content farms like Demand Media. It's not that hard, and I'd expect that they have working prototypes that already do it.

    Google is already under investigation here and in the EU over the 'fairness' of its algorithms. Targeting specific companies and websites could lead to lawsuits and eventually to government intervention. Providing a better user experience is a compelling legal defense, and it's worked for Google so far, but it's not full proof. Worse, the EU is just dying to nail them for anti-competitive behavior.
    ALISON SMOCK
    • RE: Google, content farms and one slippery slope

      @stebidri

      I thought the EU is dying to nail anymore with $$ so they can balance their budget?
      Notice, they never target firms with no money who do the same thing, only companies that have lots of income so they can fine them.
      TAPhilo
  • Slippery slope?

    Only on the ski slopes!
    james347
  • RE: Google, content farms and one slippery slope

    I'm sure that Google's approach won't be as simple as "If it's three paragraphs long, it's a filler article from a content farm."

    Also, personalized search may play a role in how Google returns "content farm" search results: If you have a history of ignoring or backing out of pages on Livestrong.com, Google can simply stop showing you results from Livestrong.com. In other words, Google can let YOU make the editorial decision about Livestrong.com instead of having to "kill that site."

    Side note: One of the biggest challenges for Google (or any search engine) is how to differentiate between junk pages and useful pages on megasites like your own ZDNet.com. As a user, I'm annoyed when I see a Google result for "widgetco wc-1 widget review" at zdnet.com and it turns out to be a "stub" with some ads and price-comparison listings. At the same time, I'm not ready to dismiss ZDNet as a spam site, because many ZDNet pages ARE useful. Google obviously has the same problem that I do, but with luck the Google search team will refine their algorithms to do a better job of separating the wheat from the chaff on any given site.
    Europeforvisitors
  • People really need to switch to better search engine like Bing

    or give DuckDuckGo and Wolfram|Alpha a try. Google search is corrupt and does not give you the best search results.
    iPad-awan
    • RE: Google, content farms and one slippery slope

      @iPad-awan: Although it is now almost two months after the comment, if anybody reads this, please consider that the dude iPad-awan has done a "drive by" spammy content comment devoid of value! Why do I so charge? Obviously it is opinion only. It has no supporting facts, figures, or links to where such might be reviewed. Perhaps this dude has chosen as his role-models for public speaking the current crop of "neo-cons" in the U.S. Congress or one of the "tea-bagger" loaded State Legislatures?

      I always strive to describe reality in understandable (to my audience) terms with corroborating data. Seems to me the "type" represented by this dude says something and expects all to accept their newly "created" reality!

      Please, take no offense, from my words. I believe I have objectively described one of the greatest problems facing our Nation/the World today: subjectiveness as opposed clear perception of reality, in effect, personal filtering!
      justjosephhere
  • RE: Google, content farms and one slippery slope

    Unfortunately, I think Google has become unusable without an adblocker. That way I can be 100% sure I'm not falling for any of their funny business.

    I'm not sure, but I keep getting this impression, Google is making it difficult for Windows users to use their services, seemingly causing them more grief and trouble in complying with what the user wants to do.

    "I typed into Google, and then it said I had a virus..."
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • Adsense

    Blame it on Adsense, which Google created... agree?
    Hasam1991
  • RE: Google, content farms and one slippery slope

    Copied content for Adsense is the problem
    I personally know of a person who spends every day copying how-to content from various sites to make $ from adsense adds. Example: "How to finish concrete" He has never finished concrete in his life and does not even know if the content is correct.
    I get irritated when every search results shows the same information when pages are opened.
    Service9
  • RE: Google, content farms and one slippery slope

    Blame it on the rain, that was falling falling...
    matthewlinux
  • RE: Google, content farms and one slippery slope

    Just this weekend I was looking for a way to move Calendar .ics events to a .csv file, and after much looking at off-track and too-technical forum posts, there was an eHow article on this subject that covered it succinctly. I hope Google doesn't eliminate this in favor of the "less spammy" but obtuse technical blogging that is otherwise the only recourse for the masses.
    AndyHalliday
  • Google is private, and there's lots of competition...

    I applaud Google's efforts. It's a business, and it must meed the needs and demands of its customers. Every time I get a whole page of results pointing to nothing but a bunch of (crappy-) content-farms and link-farms, I get mad at Google for serving me results that I'm not looking for. Yes, every now and then eHow or somebody provides me some introductory information, but far too often such results are disappointing.

    If Google becomes too heavy-handed, another search engine can and will take its place in a heart-beat, both in my own search habits and those of others. Similarly, if Google DOESN'T innovate and change its factors (as the needs and demands of its customers change, and as spammers and related black-hat SEO ilk adapt to their preventive measures), then another search engine will very soon get my business.

    Hmm... I wonder how much it would slow their servers down to allow for customizable search algorithms (within limits, of course). For example, let the user specify whether to give a higher or lower ranking to content-farms.
    PatHMV
  • RE: Google, content farms and one slippery slope

    User ratings might help. Give an easy 1 click rating on search results, filtered perhaps by the users IP to stop "thumbs up bots" and sort by rank.
    guywayne
  • It may be a slippery slope...

    ...but it's not of Google's making; it's from those trying to game the system who keep pouring their dung down on top of us searchers.

    I'd rather have them make an attempt to rectify things rather than watch the system slowly become useless due to all the garbage coming back in the search results.
    the.ksmm
  • Quality is a complex measure

    of a product or servie or sytem. If Google is giving option to information seekers (search users) to block sites with low quality of content (LQC-sites), Google cannot be blamed for blocking the sites.

    If Google's algorithm generates a list of LQC-sites without revealing the CRITERIA for slection and non-selection (NOT the algorithm itself), they may be accused of bias. In any case this falls within the ambit of editorial policies and practices. If Google is open, honest and consistent with its editorial policies and practices, there should be no serious legal problem.

    If EU is inimical to prosperous businesses for the only reason of their success, it is EU which has to be regulated.
    putchavn1
  • RE: Google, content farms and one slippery slope

    I hope Google doesn't eliminate this in favor of the "less spammy" but obtuse technical blogging that is otherwise the only recourse for the masses. <a href="http://sazkove-kancelaree.cz/expekt">expekt</a>
    marco5811