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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 02/25/2011

Google tweaks search to promote "high-quality" sites

By Rob Pegoraro

Do Google's search results look a little different this morning? Maybe they should. The Mountain View, Calif., company announced changes to its proprietary search equations Thursday night that affect more than a tenth of its old results.


A blog post outlines how Google proposes to lower the boom on uninformative sites that have been gaming its search algorithm a little too well. Google's Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts wrote:

Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking--a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries--and we wanted to let people know what's going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites--sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites--sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

In that post, Singhal and Cutts say this U.S.-only change wasn't based on input collected from Google's just-released Personal Blocklist extension for its Chrome browser--but that its revised search results fit well with those that Blocklist users saw after rejecting unwanted sites.

(Search Engine Land editor Danny Sullivan described the effects of these changes in more detail Thursday.)

That would be unwelcome news for the growing ranks of "content farm" sites that start by identifying popular Google search terms, devote a minimum amount of time and effort to cranking out pages that fit with those queries and then move on to the next topic.

I'm not breaking any news to say that I've seen Google lose its way before. Most recently, I struck out searching for an answer to a seemingly simple question--how many movies Netflix offers for instant online viewing--then got a useful link almost immediately via Twitter.

The Google query I remember trying then now seems to deliver slightly better results. But without screenshots of my earlier, unproductive search results, I can't offer an exact comparison. You tell me: Does Google seem to be steering you straighter this morning, or do you close the browser window feeling just as confused as ever?

By Rob Pegoraro  | February 25, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Google, Search  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Elder Scrolls V preview up on YouTube
Next: Google planning Netflix-like YouTube service? No, says YouTube


I'm getting completely blank pages for every search using Google from my Firefox toolbar and also by entering into the address field. No results, no Google logo, no nothing, just a blank white page. On three different computers (same network). I did get a "server not found" message on one of the computers on the last try.

So no, I wouldn't call that an improvement.

Posted by: moxilator | February 25, 2011 8:56 AM | Report abuse

This sounds like it could help a lot, because it seems like more and more Google searches recently have been driven to search farms than to bona fide content.

Posted by: Fitz157 | February 25, 2011 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Don't the content farms already deliberately produce pages on queries that lack high- (or even middling-) quality answers?

Posted by: Bob_Greiner_WB1 | February 25, 2011 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Looks like a substantial improvement to me. I did a search on a common medical condition that usually brings up many poor sites. New search brings up much better information.

Posted by: Sue13 | February 25, 2011 10:49 AM | Report abuse

If you want no spam at all, try DuckDuckGo. It has more privacy, less spam, !bang, and 0-click info.

Posted by: voop556 | February 25, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

If you want no spam at all, try DuckDuckGo. It has more privacy, less spam, !bang, and 0-click info.

Posted by: voop556 | February 25, 2011 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Not sure how "low quality" looks like in algorithm, but their actinos of late could be inviting trouble, as I have blogged on here:

Posted by: MikeWendy | February 25, 2011 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Search engines in general and Google in particular have transformed the way I work. I'm a generalist. I need to cover extensive swaths of knowledge: diverse platforms, protocols, services, appliances, technologies. I wouldn't be able to do it without Google. But in the last years I have noticed an important increment in clutter. I used to be able to search, for examples, for a driver, or a way to alter IMF in MS Exchage, and get it at first click. Now it's way harder. Usually, people posting/consulting technical contents are not so finicky about appearance, and it's fairly common to copy and paste, or just list links to other sites. Somebody who takes the trouble to list links with solutions or knowledge about a specific subject works for my kind of technical advisor. This is good as it is easier to find your way; think it as being in a thick forest with multiple small trails leading in roughly the same direction. But lately lots of sites have sprouted that want to charge for this knowledge. This information is public, and not more accurate or truer in these sites, but now you have to pay for the right to rummage through it. The free colaborative info is still out there, but it's like these massive walls have been erected all over the forest and we keep butting into them, and need to find our way around again and again. If those are the high-value sites, then the high value is not for the user but for the poster, and, probably, for Google. I'm all for these kind of filters, but I think they should be customizable: give me a console where I can set the profile of sites that are more valuable to me.

Posted by: jorge_mt | February 26, 2011 3:10 PM | Report abuse

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