Checks to curb latest SEO tricks

Search operators Bing and Google, have backed systems to guard against content farms flooding Net with subpar information to get top search spots, say market players.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

Unethical tactics employed by companies utilizing search engine optimization (SEO) tactics such as link farms and loading Web pages filled with irrelevant keywords, are not welcomed by search engine operators. This declaration was issued by two market players.

Asked if organizations such as content farms are outsmarting its system by flooding the Web with low-quality content to earn high-click rates, a Microsoft spokesperson said the company "prefers quality over quantity" to manage its Bing search engine.

"Backlinks, also known as 'inbound links', should be relevant to the page being linked to, or relevant to an SEO's domain if they are being linked to the homepage," he told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview. He pointed out that backlinks from sites considered to be authoritative in their field are rated to be of higher value than those from "junk sites".

Bing does prevent Web sites from appearing in its search results if they use techniques such as using hidden text or links within their Web page or create link farms to artificially increase the number of links, the Microsoft executive added. However, he did not elaborate on how the checks were implemented and executed.

Google adopts a similar stance, according to a company spokesperson. He explained that a site's ranking in its search results is automatically determined by computer algorithms that incorporate hundreds of parameters. "Our algorithms are effectively designed to prevent people from manipulating the rankings of competitors in our search results," he added.

Yahoo, also a major player in the search market, declined to comment when contacted.

Farming for content
Both companies' response might be deemed timely, especially following reports that some sites are turning into content farms to improve their SEO standing.

In a blog post on ReadWriteWeb, Demand Media and Answers.com are quickly blazing up the chart of top Web properties in the United States. Citing September 2009 figures from research firm ComScore, Answers.com climbed from 26th to 13th position over just two months, while Demand Media spiked from 24th to 15th over the same period.

According to ReadWriteWeb, Answers.com has 38 million pages of content on its site--much of which is user generated--while Demand Media churns out 4,000 new pieces of content a day. It further noted that the swift climb by the two sites suggests that "to succeed in the content business on the Web, you should pump hundreds of pages of content every day, preferably thousands".

Blog site TechCrunch described the phenomenon simply as: "The rise of fast food content is upon us, and it's going to get ugly."

Wired magazine also published a report noting that Demand Media created three specialized search algorithms to pick out the most sought-after subject matters and keywords that Web users are searching for at any given moment. It then uses the results, and assigns these keywords to a dedicated pool of freelance writers who would rush out content, written around the keywords, to be published online.

"Nearly every freelancer scrambles to load their assignment queue with titles they can produce quickly and with the least amount of effort--because pay for individual stories is so lousy, only a high-speed, high-volume approach will work," Wired said.

Disputing allegations that the company was a "low-paying content mill", Demand Media's senior vice president of content,Jeremy Reed, said: "In this day-and-age of publishing, where so many decisions are driven by the need to cut or eliminate costs, we've gone to great lengths to develop a community of really qualified writers and put them in a position and environment to create quality articles."

All content has value
According to an industry analyst, there will always be users who appreciate online content regardless of its quality.

Chris Perrine, COO and executive vice president of Springboard Research, said in the field his company plays in, "more is more" with regard to information.

Unfiltered search results provide its researchers with the most details and information they need for their jobs. "For the research field, you would want a wealth of information, and sometimes even a sub-par article can lead a researcher to a new piece of information or insight," Perrine told ZDNet Asia.

He noted, however, that other industries' requirements may differ. For instance, a marketing manager looking for media coverage may be hindered by the mass of information he would have to sort through on the Web. There is also a "difference in value" between the Wall Street Journal's content, for instance, and those aggregated by a random site, Perrine added.

Editorial standards