Google just announced "a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries."
The blog post, by Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts, emphasized that while data from the recently released Personal Blocklist Chrome extension wasn't used in the algorithm change, 84% of the sites most frequently blocked by users were impacted by the update.
The update, as well as Google's announcement are obviously aimed at improving the engine's public perception in response to recent criticism. In fact, Singhal and Cutts used the word quality 7 times (8 if you count the headline) throughout their post.
However, the announcement is also a tacit admission by Google that nearly 12% of their results were suffering "noticeably" from quality problems.
While the full impact of the update is still unclear, "content farms" were publicly placed on Google's Most Wanted list in January and are the assumed targets of Google's latest update.
Perhaps the most famous content farm, Demand Media's eHow.com, seems to have weathered the update fairly well. While they've dropped for a few terms they previously ranked well for, such as iphone alarm or ipod touch, they're still ranking well for almost all "how to" related phrases as well as ringtones for iphones, iphone rintones, compress pdf, format hard drive, and a whole host of other terms.
Aloha to Mahalo?
Ok, yes I realize aloha can also mean hello but don't get bogged down in the details. It's just a catchy way of saying Mahalo dropped in the rankings for a large number of phrases they'd previously been dominating.
While still on the first page, they've dropped towards the bottom for terms like mcdonalds coupons, fallout 3 walkthrough, how to play guitar (a term Calacanis often points to as an example of Mahalo's "quality" content), and many more.
In fact, Mahalo doesn't even rank #1 in Google for their own name anymore, having been beaten out by Wikipedia, and an old Angelfire (holy crap, remember them?) page.
I'm sure Mahalo founder, Jason Calacanis, will try to put some sort of positive publicity spin on the whole thing, but it's clear Mahalo's rankings in Google have suffered.
Similarly, it's probably not accurate for Mahalo critics to depict this as Google penalizing Mahalo. The site still ranks fairly well for a wide variety of terms, and I would without a doubt still be willing to swap Adsense accounts with them.
What Was Achieved?
While it appears content farms may have dropped a bit in Google's rankings, the update isn't going to cause any of them to go bankrupt any time soon.
Content farming will still be a viable business model, and Google will still earn millions of dollars by partnering with low quality or spam sites.
What has seemed to change in the past few months is Google's PR strategy.
Whether or not Google's search results improve dramatically due to this update, I suspect it helped Google take another step toward their true goals in the court of public opinion.