Google Search vs. Content Farms

Google’s Matt Cutts responds to the spate of recent complaints about the rise of content farm sites in Google search results. (Examples: Jeff Atwood, Vivek Wadhwa at TechCrunch, Richard MacManus at ReadWriteWeb, and maybe the most comprehensive: Anil Dash.)

Cutts’s response is a little circuitous, to say the least. He spends the first few paragraphs talking about outright search spam. That’s not the issue at hand. Content farms aren’t spam in the classic sense — they’re low-quality ham that is designed specifically to appear within search results. And it’s a real problem. In response to Google’s very effective defenses against outright spam, it’s like spammers have evolved to become as minimally spammy as possible to get through Google’s defenses. It’s insidious.

What’s worrisome about content farmers is their means of monetization: typically, Google AdSense. This leads to the cynical conclusion that Google doesn’t see it as a problem at all when such sites are ranked too high in search results. Cutts addresses this charge head-on:

To be crystal clear:

  • Google absolutely takes action on sites that violate our quality guidelines regardless of whether they have ads powered by Google;
  • Displaying Google ads does not help a site’s rankings in Google; and
  • Buying Google ads does not increase a site’s rankings in Google’s search results.

I have my share of criticism for Google these days, but I believe Cutts. “Trust but verify”, though — let’s see when these changes actually appear.

Monday, 24 January 2011