Jan 212011


If you’ve noticed lately that Google’s search results are a bit spammy, you’re not alone.

In a blog post, Google Principal Engineer Matt Cutts acknowledged that “we have seen a slight uptick of spam in recent months,” and that tech watchers are growing
critical. Cutts then outlined a few new initiatives to improve the quality of Google’s search results.

Among them: Google has a new “document-level classifier” that’s better at detecting the hallmarks of spam, such as oft-repeated keywords; Google is improving its ability to detect hacked sites, which were a big source of spam last year; and the company is evaluating other changes, including a crackdown on Websites that primarily copy other sites’ content.

But on the issue of “content farms,” Cutts didn’t have all the answers. If you’re not familiar with the term, you’ve probably stumbled upon some content from purveyors. For example, many in the media call sites Demand Media and AssociatedContent content farms. Rich in search keywords and produced on the cheap, content from these sites appears prominently in search results but seem geared solely towards appeasing search algorithms.

Although Google tweaked its algorithms last year to give content mills less prominence, the problem hasn’t gone away, and Cutts’ blog post offered no further solutions. “The fact is that we’re not perfect, and combined with users’ skyrocketing expectations of Google, these imperfections get magnified in perception,” he wrote. “However, we can and should do better.”

Cutts reiterated that Websites don’t get preferential treatment by purchasing or displaying Google ads. Their rankings don’t improve and they’re just as likely to be punished for violating Google’s quality guidelines.

I suppose it’s comforting to hear Google address issues of search quality, especially as criticism grows louder. Notably, new search competitor Blekko has created a spam clock to count how many spam pages have been created since the start of the year. Google says its results have half the spam they did five years ago, but that count is meaningless if low-quality content mills are able to game the system and get high pagerankings.

With Google co-founder Larry Page stepping up to chief executive, the pressure’s on to improve search while cultivating newer ventures such as software and social networking. Hopefully Cutts’ blog post is just the beginning.

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