Google recently announced that it would be making considerable changes to its search-results algorithm. Why? Two reasons: content farms and webspam.
For far too long now, many sites have been guilty of “gaming” the system when it comes to their rankings. As opposed to offering fresh and original content populated with meaningful keywords and phrases worthy of a hard-earned and organic top ranking, these sites have been pirating material from other sources. As a result, what is featured on these so-called “content farms” is often of very low quality and sometimes even useless. This is not surprising given that what content farms have to offer is selected and manipulated with just one goal in mind―to achieve higher rankings through the use of headlines and popular keywords and phrases that will then be picked up by various search algorithms.
Another ongoing problem and one that search engines like Google have made great strides on is webspam. Webspam refers to the useless content you get in response to your search results when websites acquire higher ranking positions by dubious means, including cheating and violating search-engine-quality guidelines, as well as illegal tactics such as hacking.
In his blog dated January 21, 2011, Google’s Principal Engineer Matt Cutts summed it up this way:
“To respond to (these challenges), we recently launched a redesigned document-level classifier that makes it harder for spammy on-page content to rank highly. The new classifier is better at detecting spam on individual web pages, e.g., repeated spammy words―the sort of phrases you tend to see in junky, automated, self-promoting blog comments. We’ve also radically improved our ability to detect hacked sites, which were a major source of spam in 2010. And we’re evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content.”
Algorithm changes in the U.S. have already been made and will roll out internationally soon. In the meantime, an independent analysis of the new algorithm’s impact by The Atlantic found that it yielded far “superior results.” In fact, the key-phrase search results overseas were far different and obviously low-quality as compared to what showed up in response to the same search here at home.
Despite their seeming effectiveness and perhaps not surprisingly, Google’s algorithmic changes are currently undergoing all kinds of scrutiny and are a hot topic of debate. Some are suggesting that by being the arbiter of what is and is not legitimate content Google is overstepping its bounds. Additionally, sites like the Huffington Post, which openly rely on valuable, original content as well as what might be considered farmed content, are concerned about the new system’s potential negative effects on their rankings.
Whether you’re inclined to support or dispute Google’s actions in all of this, one thing’s for sure―despite all of our 21st-century technological prowess and advancement, we can't escape the fact that so much of what we experience is filtered through the prism of all-too-human and subjective decision-making. Like it or not, the worldwide web is no exception.