Google Rolls Out Search Algorithm, Targets Content Farms

Martin Brinkmann
Feb 25, 2011
Updated • Dec 10, 2012
Google, Search

Google is making a lot of changes lately which can partially be attributed to the rising criticism that search quality has taken the dive in recent years. The aim of the latest change that has been rolled out yesterday in the US is to move "more" quality sites to the top of the search results, and the low content sites down. The main problem here is that Google does not define the terms "quality site", "content farm" or "low-quality". Google merely states that the "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".

If you'd ask me I'd say ehow,, mahalo and the like, plus all article directories like ezinearticles, single-page sites like hubpages or Squidoo and Wikipedia like sites (including Wikipeda).

It is to early to say how the algorithmic change affects search. It is currently rolled out in the US with other countries and regions to follow later this year. If you look at webmaster forums like Webmaster World you notice that several posters are not happy at all with the changes. While it is not possible to determine the quality of their sites, many report that their "legit" sites saw a traffic drop of 30-60% while low-quality sites remained unaffected. The drops happened on February 23 for most webmasters.

It may take weeks before the search engine settles down which means that the results that are currently showing are likely not the results you will be seeing in March. Google confirms that the algorithmic improvement - that's what they call it - impacts 11.8% of all search queries, a high percentage. The update did not rely on feedback from users who have been using the Personal Blocklist extension for Chrome. The algorithmic change did however address 84% of the "top several dozen or so" most blocked domains from the Chrome extension which Google sees as confirmation that the update is indeed improving search quality.

The problem with that assessment is that it does not necessarily mean that quality sites have filled the positions. Some webmasters who have voiced their opinion in the forum thread linked above have reported that low quality sites have taken over the positions, and that the change affected legit sites that they own or monitor.

Again, it may be to early to tell at this point if the algorithmic change has a positive effect on search quality. Do you see changes in the Google US search engine? If you do, would you say the search quality has improved, or declined? (via)


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  1. Jojo said on February 28, 2011 at 2:18 am

    Came across this interesting link yesterday:

    Also, in Google searches I have done in the last day, I have noticed MUCH better quality of hits in many searches.

    But NO CHANGE if you look up a phone number (USA format xxx-xxx-xxxx). Still the same old teaser garbage telling you they can identify the owner IF you sign up for their service.

    1. Martin said on February 28, 2011 at 10:49 am

      Oh, and you can see a more detailed winner / loser listing here

    2. Martin said on February 28, 2011 at 10:30 am

      Jojo, many believe that the change is still processing, so that you will see the “real” new results in weeks or even months. The main problem for Google currently is to tweak it so that the sites that have been falsely identified are brought back to the positions they deserve to be.

  2. wolf99 said on February 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    I would have to disagree with your classification of Wikipedia. Although structured very similar to content farms etc, I would argue that the articles contained within that structure do add significant value to people on the search for information vs on the search for purchasing/services.

    Obviously this distinction is something that hopefully Google’s algorithm will have to take account of, and be able to decide whether or not it is appropriate based on the users query.

    1. Martin said on February 25, 2011 at 2:02 pm

      Wolf, Wikipedia content often is placed prominently in the SERPS even if the user is looking for something different, plus it ranks sometimes for blank articles as well. I have no problem with Wikipedia quality wise, but it ranks to high most of the time.

      1. Jojo said on February 25, 2011 at 9:40 pm

        I find a lot of good material in Wikipedia and I would like it to continue to appear in the top 5 results.

        As to gaming Google results, there are a huge amount of sites out there that tell you how to do this. Apparently Google people read the same sites and are trying to counter them.

        There are also a huge number of companies offering SEO services where they make dumb guarantees like “we will get you to the top of Google” (w/o stating that would be for one obscure keyword search). I wouldn’t mind seeing these companies go out of business.

        Lastly, I think Google is also reacting to how they got scammed by JC Penny’s SEO company over a period of months late last year (which managed to get JC Penny at the top of Goggle hits for something like 4 months using bogus links).

        P.S. JC Penny reported a 36% increase in sales for the 4Q2010 today. Coincidence?

      2. Martin said on February 25, 2011 at 10:29 pm

        Jojo, read about Overstock? They have apparently been punished by Google as well.

      3. Andrew said on February 25, 2011 at 3:38 pm

        While I would mostly argue with you about the quality, I do agree that it ranks too high most of the time, usually at the top of every search. As long as Google arbitrarily suppresses and exalts certain sites that buck and uphold (respectively) its Weltanschauung, it might as well knock Wikipedia down a few pegs for truly better search results.

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