Google Admits Quality Problem

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.

Google Quality

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.

When coupled with the recent exposés on JC Penney, Forbes, and Overstock’s manipulation of Google’s results, it’s clear Google has major issues to address.

Content Farms

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, 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.

Google has been waging an impressive campaign, designed to increase the perception of quality within their own results while simultaneously attacking the viability of their main competitor.

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.

image source: chauromano


  1. Ben Cook says

    For their name? Yeah, I’m seeing them third (as mentioned in the post & shown in the screen shot).

  2. says

    In the UK, we’ve yet to see the impact of the Farmer update, and I don’t expect to for a couple of weeks. Like you say, its a massive admission by Google that close to 12% of queries were being adjusted by the update, and as I blogged recently, because many (most) of the affected sites were running AdSense, it’s likely that Google will actually be costing themselves serious money on advertising revenue from those websites.

  3. Ben Cook says

    James, Google might be costing themselves revenue, but if the sites that move up are also running ads, they’ll negate that loss a bit.

    Also, I fully expect Google to work with their larger publishers to improve the user experience and get their sites to a state where Google doesn’t face criticism over ranking them highly.

    Keep in mind, everything with Google should be viewed through the PR lens. Bad PR and a negative impression of the engine will cost the company more money more quickly than any short term action they take to improve quality or any competitor they’ve faced to date.

  4. says

    Angelfire – lol. I love it. Just hope blekko or bing can put some heat on Goog – the mess with Google places is a joke.