Google tweaks search to punish 'low-quality' sites (Update)

February 25, 2011
This 2010 screen image shows the Google logo in Washington, DC. Google has changed its secret search formula in the United States to be more discerning when it comes to which websites are worth recommending and which should sink in the rankings.

Google has changed its secret search formula in the United States to be more discerning when it comes to which websites are worth recommending and which should sink in the rankings.

The move announced late Thursday was part of an ongoing duel between the search titan and low-quality websites that feature only content copied from elsewhere on the Internet or use techniques to trick their way high in results.

"Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them," Google principal engineer Matt Cutts and Google fellow Amit Singhal said in a blog post.

"But, in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking."

They said the search formula change affects 11.8 percent of search queries, dropping low-quality websites in results while elevating high-quality websites with original content such as research, analysis, or in-depth reports.

"We do have a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem," Cutts and Singhal wrote.

"Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that's exactly what this change does."

Google said that it has been working on the issue for more than a year and engineers spent several months crafting the algorithm change, which was implemented in the United States and will be rolled out elsewhere over time.

The change at the world's most popular search engine was a hot topic among website operators on Thursday, with some happy that Google knocked "content farms" down a few notches and others complaining of unfairly dropping in rank.

Content farms are in Google crosshairs because such websites are known to pack pages with copied or superficial material crafted to capitalize on attention-getting topics.

Such websites want to attract as many people as possible in hopes of making money off online advertising.

"They may have whacked eHow good, but they did it in part through a crude duplicate content filter," someone with the online name 'Content ed' said in a busy chat forum at webmasterworld.com.

"I'm seeing long established sites getting killed because they have been ripped-off, copied and rewritten/repurposed to the point that Google can't tell who was the original."

Demand Media runs eHow, answerbag and other websites referred to by some as "content farms" because they are crammed with articles seemingly geared more to score high in search rankings than be top sources of information.

"As might be expected, a content library as diverse as ours saw some content go up and some go down in Google search results," Demand Media executive vice president of operations Larry Fitzgibbon said in a blog post.

"It's impossible to speculate how these or any changes made by Google impact any online business in the long term," he continued. "But, at this point in time, we haven't seen a material net impact on our Content & Media business."

Demand Media websites focus on "useful and original" content, Fitzgibbon maintained.

The Google crackdown comes a month after Demand Media went public with its first offering of stock. Demand Media shares slipped more than three percent to $22.19 per share in late trading on Friday.

Google continually refines its search formula in a quest to deliver more relevant and useful results at faster speeds.

Website operators from the honorable to the nefarious have taken to employing "search engine optimization" tactics such as abundantly repeating popular query terms or fostering high numbers of links to other properties.

While Google keeps its search formula secret, both those factors raise websites in rankings of results.

There is tremendous subjectivity in the debate regarding content farms, and Google is in a difficult position, Greg Sterling of search news website Search Engine Land told AFP.

"Their success has bred a whole industry of freelancers producing articles that are ultimately designed to show display ads and rank highly in search results," Sterling said.

"They feel compelled to address it because they are being criticized by many sides that results are full of spam," he continued. "Google feels that if it doesn't address this, its existence is threatened."

Explore further: Google digs deeper into Internet search results

Related Stories

Texas opens inquiry into Google search rankings (Update)

September 3, 2010

(AP) -- Google Inc.'s methods for recommending websites are being reviewed by Texas' attorney general in an investigation spurred by complaints that the company has abused its power as the Internet's dominant search engine.

Google alters algorithm to combat abusive sellers

December 2, 2010

Google is tweaking its algorithms after an online eyeglass merchant managed to get his site listed at the top of search rankings by being deliberately rude to customers and sparking complaints.

Google targets spam-laden websites

January 21, 2011

Google on Friday said it has made it harder for spam-packed websites to rank high in results at the world's top Internet search engine.

Recommended for you

Apple issues update after cyber weapon captured

August 26, 2016

Apple iPhone owners on Friday were urged to install a quickly released security update after a sophisticated attack on an Emirati dissident exposed vulnerabilities targeted by cyber arms dealers.

12 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Bob_B
2 / 5 (5) Feb 25, 2011
What is a "low quality" web site? Sites that have boring home pages? Sites with Flash on the Home page? Sites that don't pay Google for Ad Words?
Quantum_Conundrum
1.4 / 5 (9) Feb 25, 2011
Yeah, this looks like a way of manipulating information and censoring anyone who either isn't their client or who has opposing political motivations.
mjmorrell
5 / 5 (9) Feb 25, 2011
What is a "low quality" web site? Sites that have boring home pages? Sites with Flash on the Home page? Sites that don't pay Google for Ad Words?

Sites that steal their content from other sources. There are websites that are created via mass-automation, that steal content from other sources and republish it, to drive traffic, and thus revenue (via ads or other means). This could be one of the types of sites targeted.

Not to mention websites created with the intention of keyword stuffing to improve search engine ranking.
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (8) Feb 25, 2011
... and low-quality websites that feature only content copied from elsewhere on the Internet or use techniques to trick their way high in results.


It says it right there. Articles that simply copy the original reporting of the primary site.
paulthebassguy
not rated yet Feb 25, 2011
The effects this change has on research & reports is well mentioned, but what about the effects on businesses? If somebody is searching for a vendor in a particular industry, will this change push some businesses websites higher in rankings above others? What will determine their ranking?
nada
3 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2011
Root cause of this: GOOGLE itself.
Google is the one who devised the ad system that has attracted all the IDIOT "wanna get rich" crowd that has poluted the internet with content-free google ad sites.

Google IS the crack-cocaine USER, who is now complaining that drug dealers are hanging around Google's house - gee, big surprise.

Guess all those PHD's at Google prove the "Piled Higher and Deeper" saying. Google, you got what you desired. LOL at Google!

The time is ripe for a new HONEST search engine.
sherriffwoody
1.8 / 5 (5) Feb 26, 2011
This is just wrong wrong wrong
what happened to the free open internet
who makes google GOD to decide what is not worthy??
soulman
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2011
who makes google GOD to decide what is not worthy??

You did, as did I and millions of other people around the world who prefer their search engine to anyone's else.
stealthc
3 / 5 (2) Feb 26, 2011
and what about popular sites that house information grouped together? Like this site for example, that reposts stories from plenty of other sites. I don't trust google, they are nsa, get rid of them.
Bob_B
5 / 5 (2) Feb 26, 2011
Thanks for the insights to the question I posed about: What is a "low quality" web site?

Now, I am in agreement. I get it it, now! At least with the copy/paste web sites that only want to serve ads.

I can directly relate to this. When I'm trying to search for guitar tabs or lyrics, it is so obvious that many, many sites are taking the content from one place and creating many other 'sites' yet they all offer the same content.
corymp
5 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2011
the problem is that people are designing "SEO perfect" websites. They make use of key words and search terms to create a website that is considered relevant by the search engine to get higher ranks. this is all done automatically by the coding of the websites. all with the purpose to display ads. Its horrible that when you search for something and all you get is a bunch of websites that the title of the page is EXACTLY what you typed in the search box that has absolutely no information on it, only a page of looping links to more pages that ultimately point you to an ad
paulthebassguy
not rated yet Feb 27, 2011
Google is not GOD. If you want you can always use a different search engine if you're not happy with the results.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.