Google announced late yesterday the renovation of its algorithm. But this isn’t the search engine’s typical, periodic lacquering; this time it’s more akin to the gutting and refurbishing of a substantial portion of the house.
According to Google’s blog, the algorithm “noticeably affects” 11.8 percent of queries. There’s trillions of Web pages filed by the algorithm. 11.8 percent of a trillion–that’s a pretty portentous change.
“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,” according to the blog. Meanwhile, high-quality sites–”sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on”–will receive a rankings boost.
Google’s move to separate wheat from chaff came after a barrage of criticism. Both mainstream media and bloggers (including this one) had pointed to the swelling discontentment regarding the amount of spam that had grown to the surface, the prime real estate, of organic listings. Much of the spam came from content farms, sites like Demand Media, which enlisted non-expert freelance writers to produce articles aimed at specific keywords, designed with the express purpose of currying favor from Google’s algorithm. It’s companies like Demand Media that should be shaking in their boots.
That’s because this round of algorithm tweaks will likely spray paraquat on large swaths of content farms’ crops. Officially, Google said the revamp didn’t target these sites. But given all the criticism and a Jan. 21 blog post that stated, “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,” it’s hard to imagine the farms not getting raked in the cleanup. The blog added: “attention has shifted instead to ‘content farms,’ which are sites with shallow or low-quality content.”
If Google’s posts are to be taken literally, low-quality sites will be buried in organic listings. While sites like Demand Media’s eHow–commonly labeled a content farm–produce articles ranging from good to bad across the continuum, a good portion of the pieces are, well, crap. That crap will be sunk. And sinking along with it will be a good portion of the company’s revenue. Why? Because Demand Media’s profits rely solely on the advertisements that inundate their articles. No one wants to pay to advertise on an article on the 108th page of Google’s listings.
Demand Media is not the only content farm out there, but it’s the biggest and most profitable. In fact, the company is preparing for an IPO.
I doubt potential investors take this news as encouragement.