Most of the time the effect is so subtle that we don’t notice, but Google is constantly tweaking our search results. This time the effect is a little stronger than usual, with precisely 11.8% of searches being affected by the latest change: the rejection of content farms.
You’ve probably come across these during searches: you click on a result and find yourself looking at a random collection of links to other sites, and usually not very relevant ones. Google somewhat euphemistically calls these “low-quality sites: sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful”.
Going for quality
So the great Google has decided to shove these content farms as far away from the front page as possible, something it has achieved by tweaking the search algorithm. While not much more was said about the technical aspects, Google Fellow Amit Singhal writes on the official Google blog that 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.”
The change is now being rolled out in the US first, with other geographies to follow later. Singhal says feedback from the new ‘personal blocklist’ Chrome extension was compared with the sites identified as content farm by Google’s technology: “We were very pleased that the preferences our users expressed by using the extension are well represented. If you take the top several dozen or so most-blocked domains from the Chrome extension, then this algorithmic change addresses 84% of them, which is strong independent confirmation of the user benefits.”
The message is clear: Google doesn’t want any nonsense. It wants to deliver “perfect” search results every time, something which is also increasingly demanded by its users. And it has to be said: Google is good at what it does. In the earlier days of the internet, searching was a much less exact science, but now I rarely have to type in more than one or two search terms before I find what I’m looking for. Interestingly I’m getting sloppier with my search terms too – it’s no longer necessary to be overly specific or detailed, because Google works out what I’m getting at. There’s probably a host of algorithms at the core of this, but for the user it translates as pure intuition.
While there isn’t a monopoly on internet search, the fact that ‘to google’ has become a verb goes a long way to show the solidity of its position as the market leader. The fact that Google can, and will, tweak search results could be perceived as somewhat unsettling; the conspiracy minds amongst us must surely take issue with this sort of meddling. But while there is much to be said for openness and impartiality, the internet is becoming too vast to manoeuvre without some sort of filter.
As discussed in this article over at sister site TechDigest, social networks fill an important role in helping us filter down our internet experience to a more manageable mass. Google’s crack-down on content farms is another example of internet volume control. When this is done right, it becomes quality control – this is why we are likely to see more of these sorts of measures in the future. There is a fine line here though, and you don’t have to be a conspiracy nutter to see how this could go too far. But for now it looks like Google has yet again changed our internet experience for the better.