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Google Changes Search Formula, Tweaks Rankings

February 26, 2011

Google said late Thursday that it has modified the formulas it uses in the United States to be more judicious about which websites are worth recommending and which should be left at the bottom of its rankings system.

The move is part of an ongoing battle between the Internet search giant and many low-quality websites that feature only content copied from elsewhere on the Internet or use techniques to try to trick their way to higher rankings.

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

“But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking,” they said.

Cutts said the search formula change will affect 11.8 percent of search queries, effectively dropping low-quality websites to the bottom of the results pile 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,” said Cutts and Singhal. “Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that’s exactly what this change does.”

Google said engineers have spent the last several months working on the algorithm modifications, which was implemented in the US and will be rolled out in other countries over time.

Santa Monica-based Demand Media assigns nearly 13,000 freelance writers to produce stories about frequently searched topics and then sells ads alongside the content at its own websites, which includes eHow.com and Livestrong.com, and more than 375 other Internet destinations operated by it and its partners.

Articles on these sites range from things like “How to Bake a Potato” and “How to Tie Shoelaces.” However, the company seemingly doesn’t agree with the “content mill” definition that it has been given by other websites.

Content mills — or “content farms” — are basically companies that employ large numbers of freelance writers to generate large quantities of textual content specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines. Their main goal is to generate advertising revenue.

In a blog post, Demand Media’s executive vice president of media and operations, Larry Fitzgibbon, said the company welcomes changes that search engines make to “improve the consumer experience,” and also said Demand Media focuses on creating “useful and original content.”

He added that some content from Demand Media went up and some went down in Google search results.

“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,” Fitzgibbon wrote in the blog.

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