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Google's Fight Against 'Low-Quality' Sites Continues 220

Posted by Soulskill
from the no-more-subsidies-for-content-farmers dept.
nj_peeps writes "A couple weeks ago, JC Penney made the news for plummeting in Google rankings for everything from 'area rugs' to 'grommet top curtains.' Turns out the retail site had a number of suspicious links pointing at it that could be traced back to a link network intended to manipulate Google's ranking algorithms. Now, Overstock.com has lost rankings for another type of link that Google finds to be manipulation of their algorithms. This situation has led Google to implement a significant change to their search algorithms, affecting almost 12% of queries in an effort to cull content farms and other webspam. And in the midst of all of this, a company with substantial publicity lately for running a paid link network announces they are getting out of the link business entirely."
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Google's Fight Against 'Low-Quality' Sites Continues

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  • Does that mean (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kokuyo (549451) on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:33AM (#35311790) Journal

    we can expect google to get better, e.g. closer to what it used to be in the early days?

    • Re:Does that mean (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:42AM (#35311880)

      Google didn't get any worse, the spammers are the ones who got better.

      I understand them if they are rather slow in making significant changes to their algorithm. In this sue-happy society they have to keep any collateral damage as low as possible (i.e. valid sites that move only a few spots down the ranking - can you imagine the outcry?). It's the disadvantage of being number one.

      • Re:Does that mean (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Archangel Michael (180766) on Friday February 25, 2011 @11:51AM (#35312594) Journal

        This is what I don't get. How can you decry the business of another when it adversely affects you, especially when the two industries are completely unrelated (Retail vs Search/Tech)? Google's business is to provide the most relevant results to the search request made. PERIOD. One of the search terms my site consistently is in the top three sites for recently went down several spots as people who've lifted content off my site and posted it to their site, unabridged and unedited. Just flat out copy/pasted it. I know, because there are unique aspects about my content (relevantly unique), which is why my site was so well listed, and why the content was lifted and posted elsewhere.

        I worked long and hard creating unique relevant pages to get to the top of the search, only to be replaced by exact copies on other websites. I'm not upset, I consider it flattery that my content is so good that people find it that useful that they want it as their own. However, I would be pissed if the information I had was commercial in nature (it isn't) and people were just taking it because of what I call the Kazaa mentality of just copying things because you want them and are too damn cheap to buy it. In a world where people (used to) buy ring tones for $2.99 but steal $.89 MP3s.

        Anyway, back to my point, as a result of people plain stealing my website content, my rankings have dropped considerably by exact copies of my work. What used to be #1 on the first page is probably now somewhere on page #2. It would suck if wasn't giving the info away, the more places that have my info the better. Still, I would love for Google to realize where the original came from (history) and gave points for being "first" for relevant content.

        • by GooberToo (74388)

          This is an issue of dilution and why mass copyright infringement ultimate devalues goods and harms their authors.

          Part of the reason why people want certain goods is because not everyone has that good. When suddenly everyone has that good,the willingness of the population to pay top price for the item is significantly reduced; capitalism at work. As a result, once the market becomes diluted, the market price is reduced. This means it has effectively become a commodity item. Worse, when the commodity is commo

        • by kiwimate (458274)

          ...people were just taking it because of what I call the Kazaa mentality of just copying things because you want them and are too damn cheap to buy it

          I'm really surprised you got modded up on a site like /. which is overwhelmingly pro-copying (quite happily admitting - in fact almost boasting - it's copyright infringement, because apparently that makes it a lot better).

          • Re:Does that mean (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Omestes (471991) <omestes AT gmail DOT com> on Friday February 25, 2011 @02:31PM (#35314726) Homepage Journal

            Perhaps the communal view on the issue is much more complicated than you'd like?

            Perhaps Slashdot isn't a mono-culture yet, and still has plenty of dissenting views?

            Perhaps the author has a point, there is a line between open culture and exploitive culture. Remixing is fine, sharing can be fine, plagiarism is not fine.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Whether it's Google or spammers that are responsible, the reality is that Google just isn't anywhere near as useful as it used to be. And I think they waited way too long to own up to the poor quality of results, they've been at parity with Bing and pretty much everybody else for quite a while, with their only advantage being rate of updates on their index.

        • Even on your assessment they are still the best: equal quality of results and faster updates means they are still the best.

          Personally, I still think Google results are the best - and I done my own testing, even using blind search [fejus.com] for a while.

      • by Jurily (900488)

        I understand them if they are rather slow in making significant changes to their algorithm. In this sue-happy society

        They could go the way of Microsoft, i.e. Patch Tuesday. Optimize all you want, but we'll be changing the algorithm every month. (Oh, and flagging the quickest responders as spammers, they obviously care too much.)

      • And here come the Google fanboy's explaining how it's not Google's fault that Google search results are getting worse over time...

        Google didn't get any worse, the spammers are the ones who got better.

        If Google's search results have gotten worse, then yes - Google has gotten worse.

        I understand them if they are rather slow in making significant changes to their algorithm. In this sue-happy society they have to keep any collateral damage as low as possible (i.e. valid sites that move only a few

    • Re:Does that mean (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dagamer34 (1012833) on Friday February 25, 2011 @11:01AM (#35312056)
      It's not so much as google getting worse or better, but people and companies building businesses around pagerank, and thus the need for very aggressive SEO. Were you to dump the same "low-quality" sites onto the Internet in 2000, I'm sure the results from Google would have been FAR worse than what we see today.
    • by PRMan (959735)
      No. Because years ago Google switched from "What you know" to "Who you know". You can have the most unique content on earth and be the only place that does, but if you don't have a few level-4 or higher sites linking to you, Google won't even scan your site beyond the home page. What used to be objective will now forever be political in one way or another. So Google will never get back to what they were in the early days unless they switch back, which almost certainly won't happen.
  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:40AM (#35311868) Homepage Journal

    Please tell me they are going to start going after the myriad car parts spam sites that flood the google rankings when searching for anything but the most obvious automotive items. I am sick and tired of sifting through a dozen completely worthless sites when googling for a part number I am trying to track down. Ebay is more reliable than google for almost everything I am looking for lately.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 25, 2011 @11:00AM (#35312054)

      The best interest of somebody selling a muffler on ebay is to get your eyes on the muffler so you can consider buying it. you obviously aren't going to buy the muffler if you've been searching for elvis wigs, and I think bad tagging gets your seller rating shot to shit.

      On the other hand, in a web search, the best interest for the site is to maximize their investment and get the most eyeballs. So, they play dirty and abuse the algorithm to get as many hits as possible so their ads get as many hits as possible as well.

      We're just lucky in this case that Google is siding with the people on this one, but that's only because Google seems to dislike vertical search sites as much as anyone else who is trying to search for an answer and gets baited into a mailing list / aggregator of the search results you were just looking at in google.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by adeft (1805910)
      Same can be said for searching for computer part numbers i.e. a replacement laptop cd-rom. If it wasn't true, this could be considered a computer analogy to explain a car situation.....
      • a computer analogy to explain a car situation.....

        Whoa, are you trying to get the world to spin backwards?

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      While this IS a problem, it's not an insurmountable one. It's rare I can't tell which links are bogus from the search results page. Searching by full part numbers has worked well for me for Subaru, Ford, Mercedes, and Nissan. I recently got a new shifter cable for my 1992 F250 by part number for about a quarter of MSRP... I think it was on the third page of results or so. Maybe took me ten minutes to find, the time certainly paid for itself.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Completely unpredictable that Google keeps maintaining their product, unfathomable

    Next target, those stupid mailing list aggregators that keep popping up first in results, but are a redirect to a redirect to a redirect ... and digg/reddit types

  • by shoppa (464619) on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:57AM (#35312026)
    What I can say as guy who sells ad space on his website: My Google AdSense income has gone up by a factor of 5 to 10 in the past two months. No, I'm not gonna be able to retire on this money. But it's an obvious increase. And I see it coming at exactly the same time as I see Google cracking down on rank spamming.
    I think Google has "rationalized" a lot of their ad process (both ranking and sales) and the only guys who are hurt, are the ones who were gaming the system to begin with. e.g. click fraud and spamming the ranking.
    • by garcia (6573)

      Mine has stayed relatively stable. Couple dollars more like usual. While I'm sure it depends on the type of content that drives revenue to your site, I have a feeling that very little has changed for those who make more than a couple dollars a day.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      I gave up on AdSense years ago, just the fact that they didn't bother to care whether or not the javascript worked across platform was enough to lose any interest in using their product. I don't mind them filling in free ads if nobody has paid for a particular spot, but when their javascript prevents people from showing their ads on my page, that's a problem and given that they supply the tools necessary, it's completely unacceptable.

    • by WoTG (610710)

      My revs are up marginally the last few months. My theory was that it's Google doing a much better job of using their DoubleClick display adds to follow users around the web - it might be specific to my main site, it's very niche, and there really weren't that many distinct advertisers. Plus, I've been noticing Google ads following me as I browse the web. It's a little eerie, for example, I was researching antivirus packages for work. A day or so into the process, I'd start seeing ESET NOD32 ads everywher

  • by Drakkenmensch (1255800) on Friday February 25, 2011 @11:01AM (#35312066)
    My searches don't seem to be turning up quite so many fake download sites with "certified full download" links anymore, good riddance to those.
    • by hedwards (940851)

      Searching for free software has been quite a challenge. It inevitably turns up more "free downloads" and "free trial" than actual free software by default, and you can't just eliminate those two without losing sites which offer both on the same page.

  • by ErichTheRed (39327) on Friday February 25, 2011 @11:14AM (#35312180)

    One of the things I use Google for extensively is the ability to search for wierd error messages, return codes, etc. that appear in commercial software I use for work. It's very frustruating when your very specific search query returns 45 different sites, all of which are rehosting the same forum post or newsgroup article. These get ranked higher up than other unique posts, causing a lot of scrolling through results and wasting time. Also, these aren't queries like "bmw 335i" or "" that are guaranteed to return millions of unique hits. I'm looking for the one other guy in the world who's found this issue and has a workable answer. Google used to be pretty good for that, especially if your query was well formed and incredibly specific.

    Real world example - I got an error message trying to install Windows 7 SP1 last week, with a long hex number and a very specifically-worded message. I typed the query into google, and the first hit was some idiot who had no idea what he was talking about on a support forum. The next 5-6 hits were that exact same idiot's post rebroadcast to sites like eggheadcafe.com, techarea.in, etc. I eventually found the answer, but it was on page 3 of the search results.

    On another topic, how and why do these content farm sites exist? How does eggheadcafe.com, which just copies newsgroup and forum data, able to pay to keep the site going? Are they all just looking to cash in on ad revenue? Do they really get that much in revenue to justify the site-crawling they must have to do?

    • The next generation is to get out of generic search. Build a roster of say 5 sites that do a great job on your error code problems and then use advanced search to stay in that domain.

      Set up your browser to be specific search domains. (Non error related example) - I typically run IMDB and Wikipedia in a pair, so I do the search on those, one per tab.

      • by pjp6259 (142654)

        I was part of a startup 10 years ago that was doing something like this. We used the DMOZ data to build a matrix of word frequency relationships to categories. Then when a user entered a query, we would determine the category, and send their query to a more specific search engine. For example, if they typed in 'beatles', we would identify this as a music query & send them results from allmusic.com. Unfortunately around the time our product was getting usable, the dot-com crash happened, all of our

    • I got an error message trying to install Windows 7 SP1 last week

      sp1 is out?? why doesn't it appear in my updates? and its already giving mysterious errors!

      • MS stages the release of their service packs. IIRC some special partners get it first, then MSDN and technet subscribers get it. Then it goes on the download center and finally it goes on windows update. I think within windows update the release is gradual too though i'm not sure on that.

        Theoretically this would allow them to pull a service pack before most users get their hands on it but i've never heard of that actually happening (though IIRC windows update DOES check some preconditions before handing out

    • by alexhs (877055)

      Also, these aren't queries like "bmw 335i" or ""

      If you're trying to put some text between < and >, write &lt; and &gt; , and don't forget to preview ;)

      Do they really get that much in revenue to justify the site-crawling they must have to do?

      Well, my guess is that the answer is "yes". These forums don't really require that much storage nor bandwidth, the usual "related topics" on that kind of sites helps getting better Pagerank (than the original forum), and the page is otherwise usually mostly filled with ads. You can also imagine other goals, for example :

      1. Copy other forums' posts : forum aggregator;
      2. Imitate other forums : with r
    • by Plekto (1018050)

      The problem is that content sites and review sites and blogs and so on should be automatically excluded from all searches unless you explicitly but in words like "sale" or "review" in the search. (or have a non-commercial web sites only check box).

      5 pages of reviews of a computer part that are actually all "reviews" left by consumers on shopping sites are useless when you really just want the obvious review of the part that was done by a computer review site. Their search engine also is worthless because b

  • alta vista (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fermion (181285) on Friday February 25, 2011 @11:15AM (#35312190) Homepage Journal
    Alta Vista was not able to save themselves by complaining that web sites were not being honest about keywords. They were not able to whine and get people to stop using perfectly legal practices.

    Market forces will insure that firms will continue to hack the google algorithm. If Google fights back too much firms will begin to use and promote other advertisers, like Bing. This is a typical case where the end user is not the customer. The customer is the firms that pay Google to advertiser. Then search engine only serves to collect views that raise the value of those ads. Therefore the only issue is if the 'low quality' search results causes substantially fewer people to view ads.

    In fact I don't see Google doing anything to make the search results better. All the link farms with Google ads appear to perpetually stay high in the ranks. The only time that anything seems to be done is when a firm fails to pay Google for ads and instead pays other firms to manipulate the rankings. I can imagine that Google, who will doing anything, ethical or not, to be the only ad agency on the web, would find that to be a very bad thing.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      you meam all those aggregator sites will stop listing on Google and will fill Bing with all their crapola instead?

      that's pretty much the best result I coudl have expected (as I don't bother using Bing in the first place).

    • by PPH (736903)

      If Google fights back too much firms will begin to use and promote other advertisers, like Bing. This is a typical case where the end user is not the customer. The customer is the firms that pay Google to advertiser.

      Google isn't the advertiser. That's what the pages it lists are. Its more like a shopping mall. Google is trying to protect the reputation of its location by attracting Neiman Marcus and Saks 5th Avenue. JC Penney's can move to the cheap mall across town with Wal Mart and its customers [peopleofwalmart.com].

      • by sconeu (64226)

        I live near a mall that has both a Neiman Marcus and a Target.

        I keep waiting for it to explode from the inevitable matter/antimatter (Neiman/anti-Neiman) reaction.

    • Re:alta vista (Score:4, Insightful)

      by asdf7890 (1518587) on Friday February 25, 2011 @01:50PM (#35314090)
      I think you are missing the point of Google's business model. Their core product is our attention, which they sell to advertisers by various means. In order to maintain their product, that is: keep our attention, they need to keep their search results relevant and useful (or at least as relevant and useful as the competition). Pushing the aggregators/copiers/similar further down the search results than the original good content sites helps to keep my attention and that of many other people (who would prefer to see, say, the original StackOverflow page instead of a copy that has 613 advert slots added), so this helps them maintain that sector of their product. And if those sites give up and concentrate on getting a high rank at Bing or somewhere else instead then that will not harm Google (they won't, of course, the listings war will continue battle after battle).

      Google won, over AltaVista and others of the time, in part because the results were better - because AV's algorithm couldn't screen out the less useful results as well. They also won by just being a search engine rather than spending countless $ on becoming a "portal" when people didn't actually want a portal they wanted a search engine - perhaps AV would have done better if the $ that went into the portal thing went into improving their search functionality instead? Of course Google's keep-us-interested schemes involve much more than just the search engine these days so they could potentially fall into the same trap eventually, but unlike AV their other tools are just that: other, by which I mean that they compliment the search engine product (and the more general "information location and management" focus) or are not even related to it rather than trying to replace it.
  • by plover (150551) * on Friday February 25, 2011 @11:17AM (#35312212) Homepage Journal

    I've just looked back at JCPenney's stock price, and there's no fluctuation or even a news mention about them getting Google-slapped for SEO gaming. They made it through the Christmas season selling tons of stuff, Google has slapped them down, yet there isn't even a bump. An analyst noted they had slightly weaker January sales and blamed it on "Lower inventory clearance coupled with bad weather".

    Apparently it means that SEO gaming does not rise to the level of "Corporate Evil" that would divert shoppers or stock traders. I guess the public must just see it as "corporations advertising like normal."

    • by TheMidget (512188)
      Or maybe, that JCPenney makes most of its money in its brick-and-mortar stores rather than online?

      Or most of their online customers go directly to JCPenney's rather than searching for a source of doodads or widgets?

      In the end, google might have done JCPenney's a favor by showing them how little business their SEO games actually brought, and that this is an expense they can well do without...

  • by mevets (322601) on Friday February 25, 2011 @11:26AM (#35312310)

    If I have a site that google has identified as a "bad link source", I can sell that as a service so companies can lower the rank of their competition.

    Of course, Dr Suess saw this long ago http://www.squidoo.com/thesneetches [squidoo.com].

    • by Rutefoot (1338385)
      Why penalize at all? Why not just completely disregard links from those sites?
    • If I have a site that google has identified as a "bad link source", I can sell that as a service so companies can lower the rank of their competition.

      I doubt it. Most reputation algorithms ignore (untrusted) negative feedback precisely for this reason. I think if your site is detected as a bad link source, its page rank is hard-set to exactly 0 so what you do or do not link has no effect on anything.

      Of course, Dr Suess saw this long ago http://www.squidoo.com/thesneetches [squidoo.com].

      nice...

  • Now, Overstock.com has lost rankings for another type of link that Google finds to be manipulation of their algorithms. ... And in the midst of all of this, a company with substantial publicity lately for running a paid link network announces they are getting out of the link business entirely.

    So where are the stories to support these two statements? TFS wasn't a summary of a story, it was a few low quality links and some bold, without citation, claims.

    • The Slashdot posting was mostly plagarized from this story at SearchEngineLand. [searchengineland.com] That story also has the phrase "And in the midst of all of this, a company with substantial publicity lately for running a paid link network announces they are getting out of the link business entirely.", without saying who it was. Searching for that phrase in Google brings up 73 results from sites which scraped that article, but no insight. Variations on that phrase bring up mostly hits to scraper sites.

      Clearly, the new Goog

      • by lee1 (219161)

        Clearly, the new Google patch doesn't detect scraper sites. Catching those would be a big win, because there are so many of them and they have near zero value.

        And obliterating the plagiarism sites from Google's index would help the original authors, too, and be a blow for justice. I'm thinking that Google could compile a list of scraper domains similarly to how it caught Bing copying its search results (MS sockpuppets: don't bother. You got caught.). Create pages with long, unusual phrases; every time you c

  • .. that Google will FINALLY go after dodgy outfits like ExpertsExchange cloaking their search results and hiding answers from people who click through?

    Man, those guys suck.

    • by higuita (129722)

      Just scroll down... and down, and down... you will get the answers that google indexed.
      but remember, you must click on the link shown on google, dont try to search directly on the site

    • by Bigbutt (65939)

      They do suck but if you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you get the answers anyway.

      [John]

  • It sure would be nice if google laid the smack down on all of those bogus electronics datasheet archive websites. Those are totally useless and make it very difficult to find specs on old parts.

    • by vettemph (540399)

      Funny, two days ago I sent Google a suggestion regarding datasheets. If someone types in 74HC[anyhing] etc... We want the .pdf, not a link to bogusdatasheets.com. Hell, just make it easier to select filetype:pdf in a checkbox, on the search or results page.

  • by Bert64 (520050)

    How about malicious link farms, that is someone sets up a link farm specifically to screw over one of their competitors?

    Also, how about aggregation sites... Sites that have "content copied from other sites" but provide data from multiple locations in a single place making the data that much easier to use? I wouldn't consider such sites to be of low quality.

    One thing that does irritate me, if i have a technical question google can usually find 50 instances of other people asking the same question, but not al

  • Google's latest change is being discussed in the "search engine optimization" community. The consensus seems to be that a few big-name junk sites are being hit, and some minor link farms stopped having an effect, but the change isn't doing much else. "eHow" entries still show up. "alibaba.com" (a wholesale supplier directory, mostly for China, India, etc.) was hit, "globalsources.com" wasn't.

    This may be a "manual adjustment", in emulation of Blekko's blacklist of content farms. Google's announcement, of

  • The other day I was approached by a marketing firm that wanted to buy a text link on the front page of my main website. That wasn't new, any webmaster of a half-busy site will get generic link buying requests frequently. This was different.

    It was clearly a specifically written email to the webmaster, me. It wasn't the usual automated scatter-shot form letter email. I was curious, so I asked for a bit more information and it turned out to be a Fortune 500 firm that wanted to rank highly on printer supplies

  • It was like thousands of Search Engine Optimizers cried out, and then suddenly were silent...

  • What if a competitor generates link spam on your behalf for the purpose of peanalizing your rankings in google in a bid to knock out the competition?

    How do they know "who" is responsible for the linkages?

  • Just maybe this will have a wonderful side effect of slowing down or even stopping automated comment link spam..

    ..well one can hope anyway.
  • This probably means that big companies get ranked higher, and the smaller guy will end up on the bottom of the list.

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