Is Google poised to slow the growing domination of its search results by content farms like Demand Media and Associated Content? At the end of last Saturday’s episode of the podcast This Week in Google, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, suggested that it would: “If your business model is solely based on mass-generating huge amounts of nearly worthless content, that’s not going to work as well in 2010.”
Cutts’s remark came in response to a question by host Leo Laporte near the end of the episode. Though Laporte only learned about Demand Media a week earlier in his This Week in Tech Podcast, as he glancingly noted, he left no mistake about where he stood on the merits of its approach: “it seems like a way to game Google by creating a lot of pages with . . . barely adequate content in a niche area [in order] to drive traffic.”
Though Cutts avoided taking a position on Demand Media itself, he made it clear that Google was looking to address the generic problem:
“Within Google, we have seen a lot of feedback from people saying, Yeah, there’s not as much web spam, but there is this sort of low-quality, mass-generated content . . . where it’s a bunch of people being paid a very small amount of money. So we have started projects within the search quality group to sort of spot stuff that’s higher quality and rank it higher, you know, and that’s the flip side of having stuff that’s lower-quality not rank as high.”
In response to a question from co-host Jeff Jarvis, Cutts gave some specific ideas of how Google might try to adjust for the content-farm effect:
“You definitely want to write algorithms that will find the signals of good sites. You know, the sorts of things like original content rather than just scraping someone, or rephrasing what someone else has said. And if you can find enough of those signals—and there are definitely a lot of them out there—then you can say, OK, find the people who break the story, or who produce the original content, or who produce the impact on the Web, and try to rank those a little higher. . . .”
Jarvis, it should be noted, is not a cookie-cutter critic of Demand Media. He argued that Demand’s system for determining what content readers and advertisers want is “very smart.” But he seemed to agree that its resulting product is ranked too high on Google’s results. In the link economy, he said, it becomes an “ethical matter” to support original content by linking to it “at its source.”
Jarvis took Cutts’s thoughts further by stressing the growing importance of “Twitter, Buzz, and Facebook,” or “human recommendation of content,” as a way “to get past this notion of spam and content farms.” The more Google and others can capture the value of this social-media validation, he said, “the less this content-farm chaff is going to be a problem.”
In a BuzzMachine post published on Monday, Jarvis expanded on the topic of how content will be discovered in the future. Thanks to new tools like Twitter, Facebook, Buzz, he wrote, “human links are exploding as a means of discovery.” Earlier forms of discovery, he said, have been prone to manipulation, but in the new “content ecosystem,” where we “discover more and more content through people we trust,” quality will again rise to the top.
Well, here’s hoping.