Interesting blog post from Google’s Matt Cutts last Friday, regarding the search engine’s efforts to minimize “spammy” search results. He starts off with a little history about how Google has become much better at delivering quality search results (reducing English-language spam in Google search results by over 50% over the last five years). Then Cutts mentions that the company has seen a slight “uptick” in spam in recent months and goes on to discuss some new initiatives the company has put in place to improve search result quality.
The new efforts are aimed at identifying what Cutts calls more subtle forms of spam, as opposed to pure webspam sites that are looking to “cheat their way into higher rankings”. Among the new initiatives is a “document-level-classifier” that makes it more difficult for “spammy on-page content” to gain a high search rank. The new classifier is more effective at looking at individual web pages and catching things like repeated spammy words or content.
Google claims that it has also improved its ability to identify “hacked sites,” which Cutts reports were a significant source of spam content during 2010. Lastly, Cutts mentions another change that will affect sites that “copy other’s content” or have lower levels of original content. The low quality, original content includes articles and other posts on so-called “content farm” sites that generate large amounts of original content, often with no other purpose than to have its pages appear higher in search results.
As with any time that Google adjusts its algorithms, online marketers need to keep an eye on their results and rankings to determine if their sites will be negatively affected. While the efforts to root out spammy on-page content and detect hacked sites shouldn’t have much of an effect on legitimate online marketers, the focus on high-quality, original content could be worth looking at more closely.
While cutting and pasting content from another site without permission is certainly a sketchy practice, there are many legitimate ways that affiliate marketers may obtain content for their sites from outside sources. Many affiliate marketers make use of freelance copywriters or purchase already available content to post on a site in order to improve search rankings and make the site more valuable to users. In each case, the marketers aren’t creating the content themselves (not everyone wants to be a copywriter), but they aren’t simply copying content from other sites without permission either. If a copywriter or content provider is selling identical content to multiple websites (certainly possible), this could create problems for those sites if Google’s new initiatives identify that content as unoriginal on some or all of those sites.
Article directories represent another interesting challenge for this new original content focus. Many online marketers (especially those who utilize blogs in their marketing programs) will re-post original articles and other content from their main sites onto various article directories in efforts to build inbound links and drive more traffic. Up until now, this has been a useful and completely above-board practice, but if it begins to obscure the actual original content, it could actually be a detriment to overall search rankings. It is possible that Google’s initiatives will do a good job of identifying the original source of the content and recognize sites like article directories as legitimate ways to expand distribution. However, this issue wasn’t mentioned in Cutts’ blog post.
Perhaps most interesting is Cutts’ comments regarding content quality. During 2010 Google made a few changes to its algorithms to reduce the value of low-quality content. However, the search engine has determined that those efforts were insufficient and will now be implementing additional changes to remove or lower these low-quality contents sites in search results. But, how does Google go about determining the quality of content? Does it look for typos and grammar issues and then automatically tag a page as low-quality if it has these issues? Does it look for repeated words or phrases in content? Does the overall length of the content matter? Content quality is often as dependant on the audience as on the content itself. Whether Google’s algorithms will be effective in truly identifying quality content remains to be seen.
If you rely on search results to drive traffic to your sites and offers, then now would be a good time to take another look at your content. Wherever possible, focus on utilizing original content. If you aren’t a writer yourself, then look at getting some freelance copywriters to update your content. Make sure you are doing your best to deliver content that is valuable to your site visitors and not just filled with keywords you think will help your SEO efforts.