Google Crackdown on Content Farms Only Hurts Web Weasels

Google launched a new effort to waste less of your time on searches that turn up sites that rise way too high in search indexes by packing their pages with keywords, but little of actual value.

People hating "content farms" bring up companies like Demand Media, which make a living with sites such as ehow, Livestrong and Answerbag, all of which play the search-engine-optimization game better than they do quality content.

Sites like Demand Media's aren't the real target, even though its stock dropped 4.5 percent today after Google made its announcement.

Demand, at least produces its own content, some of which is consistently good.

Cracked.com, for example, is far better than it looks, while Trails.com is the opposite; but both rely on relatively unique content.

The content farms Google is targeting are the ones that don't just step over the line of propriety, but dance over it laughing and taking your time and money with them.

Among the big SEO sins are packing a page with stacks of ads filled with keywords, stuffing keywords onto the page in ways spiders can read but people can't, or linking one piece of content to a whole chain of sites so readers have to open three or four before seeing one piece of actual content.

Others drag down legitimate sites. Overblown-promises site Overstock.com, got dinged by Google for "unethical" deals with universities to put links to Overstock on their sites because links from .edu sites carry more weight in Google's search rankings than straight commercial links.

Google is specifically targeting techniques like keyword stuffing - packing keywords into regular content pages typed white-on-white so spiders can read it but humans don't see it, or hidden in other ways - link farms that force users to open a series of affiliated sites to get to the single piece of content they want.

Every company does a certain amount of SEO, just as almost all advertise to some degree. The difference is the same as between ads that flatter your product a bit to make it seem appealing, and those that outright lie about what it can do, what it will cost and why it won't kill them (much) when they buy it.

I can't pretend to be objective about this. I write for sites that have to use SEO to get noticed. And I do a lot of research online, so I've wasted my share of clicks on content farms.

I can't see a real downside to tougher analysis of content on Web sites. It will probably throw off the rankings of a lot of sites, and might need tuning to make sure the algorithms really are differentiating fresh content from foul.

But it will also save me a lot of time clicking on junk sites and, probably, raise the profile of sites like ITworld that post tons of fresh content and hardly ever pack it with keywords designed only to attract more links.

We write about solid, useful topics focusing on apple ipods with naked star gossip, charlie sheen lol catz on chatroulette with ipads and justin beiber with some of katy perry's mininova netflix freeware guacamole recipes.

And we feel good about that.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

Sign up for ITworld's Daily newsletter
Follow ITworld on Twitter @ITworld

Subscribe to the Today in Tech Newsletter

Comments