Google Tweaks Search Algorithm to Minimize Impact of Content Farms

A recent blog post in the official Google blog by Matt Cutts — a Google search engineer — indicates that Google may finally be addressing the impact that content farms have been having on Google search results.

What are content farms? Content farms are networks of sites that churn out vast amounts of poor quality content, but are heavily optimized for SEO. The practice is so pervasive that it has spawned several (and hilarious) content farm parodies. The poster child for the practice is Demand Media, a company that has built a tuned-for-SEO content empire by employing legions of freelancers to crank out millions of web pages of information.

The quality of Google search results has come under fire recently from a growing number of critics. Jeff Atwood (co-founder StackExchange, an excellent community Q&A network) has complained about “Trouble in the House of Google“, while Salon’s Farhad Manjoo posted about how the Huffington Post cared more about SEO results than content quality. And a recent article by the New York Times showed how Google’s search results can often be gamed by nefarious means.

So Google’s move to change their search algorithm to minimize the impact of content farms — announced in a blog post by Cutts on February 24th, 2011 — was welcome news to many. Here’s an excerpt from Matt’s post (highlights are mine):

“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.”

What this should mean is that Google will now be much better at penalizing low quality sites that heavily abuse SEO practices to game Google search results and that copy content from other websites.

Time will tell if this works, but it should be good news for all publications that product high-quality original content.

Follow Jeff James on Twitter at @jeffjames3.

Follow ContentShift on Twitter at @contentshift.

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