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Posted at 5:11 PM ET, 01/21/2011

Google promises searchers less spam, fewer content-farm results

By Rob Pegoraro

If you've been searching for a sign that Google recognizes that its search results don't always steer you right, look no further. Search engineer Matt Cutts posted a note to the Mountain View, Calif., company's official blog on Friday that acknowledged problems with its results and pledged improvements.

Cutts wrote that while Google has done a good job in scrubbing what he called "pure webspam" -- completely irrelevant links -- out of its results, more subtle junk has been sneaking in. To deal with that, Google is adjusting its search algorithms to screen out such offenses as outbreaks of spammy content on isolated pages and sites that employ plagiarism to boost their visibility:

To respond to that challenge, we recently launched a redesigned document-level classifier that makes it harder for spammy on-page content to rank highly. The new classifier is better at detecting spam on individual web pages, e.g., repeated spammy words -- the sort of phrases you tend to see in junky, automated, self-promoting blog comments. We've also radically improved our ability to detect hacked sites, which were a major source of spam in 2010. And 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.

Those should be comforting words to Web authors who have complained about seeing their work pushed down in Google's results by sites that reproduce it with minimal or no changes. But they may also provoke further arguments that by exercising editorial discretion, Google does not provide "neutral" results.

I suspect some of those complaints will come from sites that stand to lose from another set of changes forecast by Cutts. Toward the end of the post, he notes that Google users don't appreciate seeing the low-quality, information-poor fare of "content farm" sites that mass-produce articles to match up with search queries. You could call their output the fast food of the Web. But fast food is still made for people, while content farms target not humans but Google's search algorithm.

Cutts promises unspecified action to deal with these sites:

Nonetheless, 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.

One of the best-known sites in that category, Demand Media, is supposed to launch its initial public offering next week, and the prospect of its content dropping out of top search results could make many potential investors nervous.

(Disclaimer: I and a lot of other journalists are not fans of content farms, on account of the punitively low freelance rates they pay their writers and editors.)

Just how much work does Google have to do in upgrading its search results? You tell me: Take the poll, then explain your choice in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  | January 21, 2011; 5:11 PM ET
Categories:  Search  
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Comments

I've long mistrusted Google's search results, which is why my default was "Show 30". Since their predictive results, however, "Show 30" only shows 10. As does any "Show x" choice. THIS is what has pissed me off about Google, of late: let ME choose how many I want to view as I decide which results suit me best.

Posted by: Bush--notrelated | January 22, 2011 3:04 AM | Report abuse

Mine is a constant battle with those pawning shite with most of their efforts directed toward popping up on top of search results.

Many times I have to look at page 2, sometimes 3 to find the relevant content, especially shopping.

When searching for a specific GPSr I'd prefer to not swim through the first 100 results for screen protectors, etc., for it.

Evidently there's enough stupid in this country to keep the ExtenZe commercials coming.
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Posted by: gpsman | January 22, 2011 7:44 AM | Report abuse

I have stopped using Google- now use Dogpile mostly, or a variety of other search engines with specialized topics. I see no difference between Google and Bing- both return several pages of irrelevant hits before getting to anything of any interest. Mostly people selling things, when I may be looking for technical information...

Posted by: cwarner7_11 | January 24, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse

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