Jan 28 2011

Is This Google Algorithm Change About Content Farms or Not?

Google has launched a change in its algorithm, following a post a week ago from Matt Cutts talking about the search engine’s approach to spam and content farms. However, it is still unclear whether this new update is the related to the "content farm" side of things. Matt Cutts wrote a post on his personal blog about the update, which he says pertains to "one thing" he mentioned in the original post. Cutts writes: My post mentioned that "we’re evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content." That change was approved at our weekly quality launch meeting last Thursday and launched earlier this week. This was a pretty targeted launch: slightly over 2% of queries change in some way, but less than half a percent of search results change enough that someone might really notice. The net effect is that searchers are more likely to see the sites that wrote the original content rather than a site that scraped or copied the original site’s content. (emphasis added) As far as I can tell, it would appear that the "one thing" Cutts is referring to with this new update, is when he said in the previous post, "We’re evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content." In that first post, Cutts acknowledged that "pure webspam" has decreased over time, which to me sounds like a good reason that this new update would only impact "slightly over 2%" of queries.  Though comments from Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt seem to lump "content farms" into this area, the original post from Cutts appears to reference content farms as a separate issue, and one which the company intends to put more focus on. Content farms, as defined by Cutts, are "sites with shallow or low-quality content."   Read more on this here , where I pointed out that everyone thinks of Demand Media when they think of content farm, so it would make little sense to use this terminology if it didn’t include this kind of content – see below: Cutts says that with the new update, " less than half a percent of search results change enough that someone might really notice. " That doesn’t sound like something that will affect the content farms described in the original post, where he said, "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." Reports out there seem to be rolling this all into one thing, but that’s not how I’m reading it. As there seems to be confusion, as indicated by Rosenblatt’s comments, I’ve asked Cutts to clarify, and will update when he responds. The words "content farm" do not appear in the new post.

Jan 27 2011

Demand Media CEO: Google Not Talking About Us

Last week, Google’s Matt Cutts put up a blog post talking about a shift in focus to content farms, which he defines as "sites with shallow or low-quality content". Most people that read this assumed he was talking about sites like some of those offered by Demand Media (eHow.com, for example), which launched an IPO this week valuing the company at $1.5 billion .  It’s not that people thought Cutts was talking only about Demand Media, but most of the time when an article is written about "content farms", Demand Media is cited, as it has basically become the poster child for the phrase.  Peter Kafka at AllThingsD had a conversation with Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt who maintains that a. Demand Media is not a "content farm" and b. Matt Cutts was not talking about Demand Media in the post.  Rosenblatt is quoted as saying, "It’s not directed at us in any way," in reference to Cutts’ comments, though he declined to comment on whether or not he talked to Google about it.  He is also quoted as saying, "He’s talking about duplicate, non-original content. Every single piece of ours is original. Written by somebody. And I understand how that could confuse some people, because of that stupid ‘content farm’ label, which we got tagged with. I don’t know who ever invented it, and who tagged us with it, but that’s not us…We keep getting tagged with ‘content farm’. It’s just insulting to our writers. We don’t want our writers to feel like they’re part of a ‘content farm.’ That’s fair. Nobody can blame Rosenblatt for not wanting the label, and the company has indicated repeatedly that it has stepped up efforts to improve its quality – though they clearly have a ways to go to reach a high level across the board.  It’s hard to believe, however, that Cutts meant for sites from Demand Media to not be included under the "content farm" label. As Demand Media is generally the first company that comes to mind or is mentioned anytime the word "content farm" is mentioned around the web, why would Cutts use that phrase if Demand was not included?  Furthermore, Cutts doesn’t mention duplicate content in the post, and if that’s what he meant, why wouldn’t he have just said "duplicate content", a phrase he’s used many times before.  He does say Google’s evaulating a change that " primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content," but that  appears to be in reference to "pure webspam", as he says, quickly following that with, "attention has shifted instead to ‘content farms,’ which are sites with shallow or low-quality content." Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t benefits to Google that come from Demand Media. As Rosenblatt says in the interview, their partnership "makes sense." "We help them fill the gaps in their index, where they don’t have quality content…We’re the largest supplier of all video to YouTube… we’re a large AdSense partner. So our relationship is synergistic, and it’s a great partnership," said Rosenblatt. At PubCon in November, Matt Cutts said there was a debate going on internally at Google over whether they should consider content farms web spam, saying they were wrestling about the topic. He said that users were pretty angry with content farms, adding that there may be a time for web spam at Google to take action against them. So it sounds like not everyone agreed on how to handle "content farms". Based on Cutts’ post, it sounds like some kind of decision has been made.  According to Rosenblatt, Demand’s traffic only went up when Google implemented changes last year like Mayday, Caffeine, and Google Instant, but it’s hard to see how Google’s new approach will help it. Cutts said in his post, "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." If "people" are asking for stronger action on "content farms", are these not the same people tagging Demand Media with the label?  If Demand Media and other sites that are commonly labeled as content farms want to continue to reap the Google rewards, they’re going to have to keep up the quality  – that is if Google truly does take action like it is indicating, which we’ve really yet to see so far.  You can still search for "level 4 brain cancer" on Google and the top 2 results are from eHow. The top one comes from a freelance writer with a background in marriage psychology and family therapy, whose other featured articles on the site include titles like "Kohler Toilet Won’t Flush Completely", "Roper Dryer Won’t Start", and "My Toilet Water Smells".  Again, nothing against the author or even the article, but is it really the first thing that Google should be showing to someone searching for a term like "level 4 brain cancer". Wouldn’t a more medical-related site make more sense – even the local results that Google is pushing so often lately for maybe? How about the National Brain Tumor Society at braintumor.org, which is displayed in the paid results on the right-hand side of the page? The second result is also from eHow, and THEN a guide from the MGH Brain Tumor Center. Also included in the top ten – results from Associated Content and Yahoo Answers. Some content from the A.P. John Institute for Cancer Research is the last result on the page. You get the idea.  Is this not the kind of thing Cutts is talking about? The top article does not even have any links in it referencing expert information (though it does have ad links) – no way to know if the source is trustworthy or if the information is accurate – nothing to back anything up (though Rosenblatt has claimed in the past that medical articles are fact-checked with doctors). That’s not to say it’s not an accurate article, but how is the reader supposed to know? How is someone with brain cancer searching for information on the subject supposed to gain anything helpful from this without questioning it? This is just an example, and it’s not that the article shouldn’t have been written, but should it be the most prominent piece of information related to this query?  There is no information on the page indicating that the writer is in any way an expert on the subject of brain cancer.  He’s simply an "eHow contributor".  As far as Demand "filling in the gaps" for Google’s search results, it may have accomplished that, and moved much further into saturating the areas were there are no gaps.  Therein lies the problem. This is why people are calling for action on content farms, as Cutts says. Most critics will even acknowledge that there is plenty of high quality content coming out of Demand Media, Associated Content and others, but all too often it isn’t the highest quality choice of content for the queries for which it is being presented as such. Google will not come out and say whether or not it considers Demand Media a content farm. Even Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports they’ve been ignoring the question from them. That publication calls Demand a content mill, after interviewing its chief innovation officer.  Is content from so-called "content farms" hurting people? Probably not. I like to think people can figure out on their own what content to trust , based on the information and credentials required, and that more content also means more options to help you make more informed decisions, but that doesn’t mean the good content is always easy to find under Google’s current system. Sometimes the more relevant content is buried, and the user has to work harder to reach that goal of the informed decision.  Recent articles on this topic: – Should ‘Write To Rank’ Articles Be Punished by Google? – Google: Are You Really Serious About Removing Web Spam? – The Real Problem With Content Farms is Google

Jan 20 2011

If You’re Not Local, How Can You Compete in an Increasingly Local Google?

There’s no question that Google has been putting a lot of focus on local results lately – from the release of products like Google Places and Hotpot (the company’s personalized and social recommendation engine) to an increasing amount of queries simply retrieving local results – often above other organic listings.  We had an extensive conversation about this with industry veteran Bruce Clay at PubCon a couple months ago, and webmasters and SEOs have been stressing about it all over the web. In fact, just today, one consulting firm ran a press release talking about the competitive advantages local business owners have as a result of recent changes with Google.  Do local businesses have the upper hand in Google? Tell us what you think .  Consultant (and founder of the firm, LocalMarketingProfitFaucet  says there’s a new type of Google Gold Rush. He’s referring to getting the prime listings from Google Places, which Google will often place at the top of the SERPs.  "This change is having an immediate and positive impact on the local businesses shown in these Page 1 listings," says Adams. "The Internet-savvy business owners who understand how to take advantage of this are generating new customers for next-to-nothing. Meanwhile, a surprising number are still oblivious to the significance of this change. In fact, Google has revealed that only a tiny percentage of local businesses have even claimed their Google Places listing, let alone optimize it." "From our experience," Adams continues, "Google has always given preferential treatment to unique, multimedia content that is kept fresh and up to date. And of course, stay away from any black hat tactics that try to game the system. Google always catches up to these shenanigans. When they do, your listing could be banned with no warning and no second chances." If local businesses have the competitive advantage now, then some non-local businesses are wondering how they’re supposed to compete with that. After all, the far reach of the web has historically been an attractive reason to start a business in the first place.  In a new video uploaded to Google’s Webmaster YouTube channel, Matt Cutts (head of the company’s webspam team) addressed a user-submitted question: "In a search environment where local is becoming increasingly important (and more full on the SERP), how can an out of town company compete with the local based (and locally housed) competition without lying to show up in these results?" Cutts responded by saying, "The entire page of web rankings is there that out of town people can compete on, so the idea of the local universal results is to show local businesses, so in some sense, there’s not really a way where if you’re out of town, you can sort of show up (within our guidelines), and show up as a local business." "Now, if you are a mobile business – so for example, maybe you’re a plumber, and you get into your pickup truck, and you drive around in a particular area – so if you’re a mobile business, then in Google Places you can specify a service area, which is roughly 50 miles around where you’re based, but that’s only if you actually have some base of operations there," he continues. "You can’t be based in Topeka and claim that you have a service area in Wyoming if you have no physical presence there." "I think that that’s a good idea. You do want to have local businesses show up, and I know that the team has really been paying a lot of attention to try and improve Maps quality, make it more robust, check on the authenticity of businesses, and that will only continue," adds Cutts.   In other words, if you’re not a local business, there’s nothing much you can do about getting the kind of visibility the local businesses are getting, should Google deem the user’s query worthy of the local results. I might suggest finding queries related to your business that aren’t returning local results and giving these some more attention, and of course there’s always AdWords.  If there’s a particular geographic market that you’re after, but you’re not based there, you may want to consider setting up shop. In the end, Google is just going to do what it thinks will help users. Whether or not you buy that is up to you, but they’re not going to deviate from that stance, and if it encourages more people to buy AdWords ads, then so be it.    You can expect there to be a great amount of focus continued to be placed on local. The company even moved former VP of Search products, Marissa Mayer, to this area of focus, and with mobile becoming such a big part of the way people search, local is by default going to be a bigger part of what people are actually looking for.  Has Google’s increased focus on local hurt your search rankings and visibility? Let us know in the comments .

Jan 18 2011

Is Bing Growth Being Inflated By Shady Sites?

Facebook took in an estimated $1.86 billion in advertising revenue last year, according to eMarketer , and AdvertisingAge says that the top two advertisers were AT&T and Match.com. Google was number five.  It is the third-largest advertiser on Facebook, however, that has raised a few eyebrows, including those of Google’s Matt Cutts. The advertiser is something called make-my-baby.com – not a well-known brand that you’d expect to see in the top three. Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team, said the following in a Google Buzz update early this morning (via Marshall Kirkpatrick, who has an interesting write-up of the situation): Visiting make-my-baby.com instantly prompts you to install a browser plugin. The "terms and conditions" link takes you to http://mmb.bingstart.com/terms/ which has phrases like "If Chrome ("CR") is installed on your PC we may change the default setting of your home page on CR to Bingstart.com."  I also noticed this phrase in the Zugo toolbar section: "To uninstall the Toolbar, please visit the Toolbar FAQ ( http://www.zugo.com/toolbar/faq/ )." Sadly, that url is a broken link. It looks like a few people have had trouble uninstalling the Bing/Zugo toolbar, according to pages like http://support.mozilla.com/en-US/questions/746034 or http://mymountain.blogspot.com/2010/03/how-to-remove-bingzugo-toolbar-hijack.html If make-my-baby.com is Facebook’s 3rd biggest advertiser, I wonder how many people are installing this software without reading the fine print that says "Installing the toolbar includes managing the browser default search settings and setting your homepage to bing.com" ? After some discussion about the find, Cutts also says, "It’s entirely possible, even likely, that FB and MSFT didn’t realize this was going on. I wouldn’t assume they were aware of what was going on." One has to wonder how much of Bing’s growth can be attributed to practices like this. It might not be a substantial amount, but on the other hand…third largest advertiser on Facebook? And this is just one example of a site like this. It didn’t take Cutts long to find several more with a quick search. There’s no telling how many site like this are actually out there.  "It’s pretty remarkable that even at the top of this giant success story of Facebook advertising, and perhaps near the top of the story of Bing’s steady rise as a search engine, is a Web 1.0-style pulling the wool over the eyes of gullible internet users," says Kirkpatrick.  It’s worth noting, as mentioned by a commenter in the Buzz conversation, that Cutts broke this story using Google Buzz, which goes to show – it doesn’t matter if the site is called Twitter, Quora, or Google Buzz – if there is interesting content there, it’s got to have some value. Webspam in a growing problem. Watch our exclusive interview with Blekko CEO Rich Skrenta , who talks about the trend.