Google Sets Sights On Content Farms In 2011

Google has fired a warning toward “content farms” — you’re in our anti-spam sights in 2011. That message was made loud and clear in Matt Cutts’ blog post today, a post in which Google also says its search quality has improved due to new spam fighting techniques.

Cutts points out that Google has already taken steps against content farms (which he defines as “sites with shallow or low-quality content”), pointing out the so-called “Mayday” update and other algorithmic tweaks made last year. But he also promises a renewed effort in 2011:

…we hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content. We take pride in Google search and strive to make each and every search perfect. The fact is that we’re not perfect, and combined with users’ skyrocketing expectations of Google, these imperfections get magnified in perception. However, we can and should do better.

This announcement comes just as Demand Media gets set for an IPO. Demand owns eHow, LiveStrong.com, and several other properties that often get labeled as “content farms,” and is reportedly going to go public next week. AOL, with Seed.com and Yahoo, with its Associated Content purchase last year, are also in the content farm business. Those two, in fact, will be speaking on a panel called “Content Farms” Or The Smartest SEOs In the World? at our SMX West conference in March.

Postscript From Danny Sullivan: Peter Kafka from AllThingsD has an excellent interview with Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt who says the Google blog post “is not directed at us in any way.”

He’s right, in as much as you believe that as Google defines it officially, content farms are simply places with “shallow or low quality content.”

Rosenblatt makes a good argument that Demand Media might actually benefit from some of the planned Google crackdown, just as it claims it has in the past. He also tries to get Demand out of the “content farm” category.

I might come back later to revisit just exactly what should be considered a content farm, but as a starter, it’s anything that depends on search traffic for a large degree of its traffic and which churns out tons of answer-driven content using cheap labor.

I think that includes Demand Media. I do NOT think that means Demand Media content is all terrible. In fact, as I’ve written before, it has plenty of useful content.

And, despite Google’s definition and Rosenblatt’s confidence, I think Google will be taking a close look at Demand’s content along with content farm material in general. If stuff isn’t up to snuff, it’ll go. If most of Demand’s stuff it great, then they have no worries.

One big mistake in his interview. At the end, Rosenblatt talks of having a synergistic relationship with Gogole, since they both “fill gaps” in Google’s index and earn Google lots of money by carrying Google’s AdSense ads. That will suggest these two things are tightly linked — Google’s not going to do something to hurt one of its major ad partners. That suggestion is the type of thing that will give Google’s PR team nightmares, since the company has been adamant that ads and listings are entirely disconnected.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://managinggreatness.com Gil Reich

    Hey Matt,

    I don’t agree with your take on Matt Cutts’ post.

    Yes, he does say that they’re going to do a better job regarding “content farms.” But he also takes on two of the critics’ main claims by asserting:
    1) People should stop confusing spam and scraper sites on the one hand with large-scale content sites on the other
    2) Google does not give better rankings to sites that show Google ads.

    Sites like eHow (and Answers.com, where I work) get a ton of Google traffic because they often have the best result for a particular search. In my (admittedly biased) opinion, much of Google’s success is because they’ve been much better than their competitors at responding to long-tail queries with relevant content. If they sometimes display content that you don’t think is high enough quality, don’t click that link. Removing eHow would make Google worse, not better.

    My thoughts on the subject are expanded here:
    http://managinggreatness.com/2011/01/22/matt-cutts-on-search-and-spam/

    Thanx

  • Matt McGee

    Thx Gil. I didn’t really share “my take” in this article — was just reporting on what Matt C. said regarding content farms in his blog post. My opinion doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things, but I’ve found some great info on eHow pages and some useless drivel.

  • http://www.sandiegoseoguru.com SEOGURU_@twitter

    Wow, Google isn’t wasting any time with anti Spam. Do you think they will eventually just clone the best that Blekko has to offer?

  • LindaC

    I understand the frustration regarding low quality on content farms like Demand Media sites. That said, article repositories, doc sharing sites and “answers” sites are no better, and are probably worse as far as content quality goes. Writers can’t submit “spun” and regurgitated content to Demand Medias — they can and do at article sites.

    It will be interesting to see whether Google targets recognized names like Demand Media (easier, by far) or whether they try to assess quality of the content (more difficult, for certain). Demand Media is probably written better (even when it’s fluff) than 90% of the “spun” junk in the article directories.

  • http://managinggreatness.com Gil Reich

    Good point, Danny, about Rosenblatt’s mistake. He needs to stick to that first point, that they provide relevant content that fills gaps “in Google” (that is, in the internet). They need to avoid any suggestion that Google ranks them well because of AdSense.

    Your definition of content farm is reasonable, but please remember that every long-tail evergreen content site, from Wikipedia to Stack Overflow, gets most of their traffic from Google. Stack Overflow definitely meets your definition of content farm (free is as cheap as you get). If content farm just means “a site that efficiently provides content that users demand” then that’s fine. If it’s a pejorative term for specific types of site with lots of crap then the definition should focus on the crap part. That is, is Demand Media a Content Farm because their model is evil, or because they should pay another few dollars per article and insist on maintaining an acceptable level of quality for all their articles?

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