Google Changes Algorithm, Declares War on ‘Content Farms’

Move “designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites”; Demand Media responds

Google has announced a big change to its algorithms designed to drop "low-quality sites” down in its search results so more “high-quality sites” show up — a not-so-subtle shot across the bow aimed at so-called “content farms” like Demand Media and the-search-artist-formerly-known-as-Associated Content.

“Our goal is simple: to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible,” a pair of Google engineers wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “This requires constant tuning of our algorithms, as new content — both good and bad — comes online all the time.”

The move, Google said, 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 … 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.”

Google said the change – which impacts about 12 percent of all searches — was launched in the U.S. only.

More from Google:

We can’t make a major improvement without affecting rankings for many sites. It has to be that some sites will go up and some will go down. Google depends on the high-quality content created by wonderful websites around the world, and we do have a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem. Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that’s exactly what this change does.

Demand Media, which recently went public with an I.P.O., weighed in on the algorithm change with a statement on its own website. And, somewhat surprisingly, they're publicly applauding the move.

“We have built our business by focusing on creating the useful and original content that meets the specific needs of today’s consumer,” Demand Media EVP of Media and Operations Larry Fitzgibbon wrote in a post. “So naturally we applaud changes search engines make to improve the consumer experience – it’s both the right thing to do and our focus as well … They make changes nearly daily in a quest to give consumers the best possible experience, as do we.”

Demand Media's stock was down about 5 percent during Friday morning trading — which is a sign that some investors, though not many, think that Google will win this war.

While some website owners will undoubtedly (and unfairly) get lumped into the low-quality site bin in the short-term, Google had to make this change.

"Google has been plagued by black hat SEO practices and content farms for a while now," Stan Schroeder noted on Mashable, "with the complaints from users slowly mounting over time."

Fitzgibbon claims that beyond Demand’s success with Google search, it has seen a rise in “direct visits, repeat visits and social visits.”

Social search is becoming a buzzy new media term — and with good reason. It's worth noting that on Friday "Google Declares War" was among the top trends on Twitter.