Google overhauls algorithm, content farms potentially screwed

Google has changed its algorithm to favor "high-quality sites" and cut rankings for sites that "are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites" and "are just not very useful."

Google has changed its algorithm to favor "high-quality sites" and cut rankings for sites that "are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites" and "are just not very useful."

The changes, announced in a blog post, go well beyond the usual tweaking. Indeed, nearly 12 percent of queries will be affected. Here's the explanation:

Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

We can’t make a major improvement without affecting rankings for many sites. It has to be that some sites will go up and some will go down. Google depends on the high-quality content created by wonderful websites around the world, and we do have a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem. Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that’s exactly what this change does.

Also worth noting. Google didn't make the changes based in feedback from the Personal Blocklist Chrome extension, which also gives the search giant some good data to use in the future.

What this amounts to is an attack on content farms and there's definitely a public relations benefit for Google, which has come under fire for its search results quality. Specifically, sites like Associated Content, acquired by Yahoo, and Demand Media, which just went public, could take a hit.

The big question for me: What is Google's unassailable definition of low quality content? We don't quite know yet and Google's algorithm is a secret. As I noted before, there's a slippery slope here where Google acts as the Web's judge and jury.

I do know that I'd be wary of any business model that rests on search engine optimization. Demand Media knows this and issued a statement. The gist:

We have built our business by focusing on creating the useful and original content that meets the specific needs of today’s consumer.  So naturally we applaud changes search engines make to improve the consumer experience – it’s both the right thing to do and our focus as well.

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.

Of course, Demand Media wouldn't see a material change since Google just flipped the algorithm switch. On Demand Media's earnings conference call, Google was the main topic. After all, Google's algorithm is one of Demand Media's biggest risk factors.

Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt acknowledged on the company's earnings conference call that the company's content can have "a level of specificity arcane to some." But Rosenblatt has also indicated that Demand Media is filling a role for consumers. In the meantime, Demand Media is diversifying its traffic sources and focusing more on Facebook. The aim: Don't become that dependent on Google.

With Google's algorithm change we'll find out soon enough how dependent Demand Media really is on the search giant.