Google adds content-farm blocking extension to Chrome
You can do your part to salt the earth of content farms--mass-production sites that extrude content to fit popular search terms, as opposed to starting out with something original to say--with a new extension to Google's Chrome browser.
Personal Blocklist, as you can see in the picture at right, lets you click a small link below each search result to remove a site from future searches in that installation of Chrome. Blocked sites appear only momentarily in results before getting whisked out of sight by the extension, which also adds a message that "Some results were removed by the Personal Blocklist Chrome extension" to the bottom of the page.
You can uncover blocked results by clicking a "show" link next to that message or by clicking a red icon, with a hand facing outwards in a "stop" gesture, in Chrome's toolbar.
You can't, however, see if other people have blocked a site. Nor does this affect search results done in other browsers or in other copies of Chrome, even if you're signed into a Google account; in that respect, it's less useful than SearchWiki, the feature that allowed Google users to vote sites up or down from late 2008 until early 2010.
But Personal Blocklist could have bigger changes later on. In yesterday's post, Cutts notes that Google will be observing your use of the extension:
If installed, the extension also sends blocked site information to Google, and we will study the resulting feedback and explore using it as a potential ranking signal for our search results.
That could cause trouble down the line for content farms, which have been a growing problem for Google (as noted by my colleague Mike Rosenwald in a recent Sunday Business feature and by me in an accompanying column). As I wrote in that piece, sites like Demand Media's eHow and Yahoo's Associated Content game Google's system by analyzing popular search trends, then ordering up articles and videos--commissioned on the cheap, often with little attention to their quality--to match those queries. The practice turns one SEO, search engine optimization, into another: search engine obsession.
That practice pollutes Google results with pages that appear relevant but prove uninformative. It also tempts other sites to follow suit. Consider, for example, The Huffington Post's "What time does the Superbowl start?" post, obviously cranked out to pair up with a popular Google query.
But you can't say content farming doesn't pay. Demand Media fetched $1.9 billion in its initial public offering, and the Huffington Post's aptitude for SEO-driven programming--much more so than its stable of A-list bloggers or its original reporting--explains why AOL is paying $315 million for the site.
If those trends bother you, you might want to try Personal Blocklist. Or you might want to try a different search engine. Will you choose either of those options? Will you continue to look past content-farm clutter in your Web searches? Or do you not mind so-called content farms in the first place?
| February 15, 2011; 10:00 AM ET
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