Google: Are You Really Serious About Removing Web Spam?

By: Rich Ord - February 3, 2011

Dear Google: First and foremost, my letter to you is not personal. I am a big fan of yours and always have been. You have the best search engine in the World, better than Bing. You have the best web email service. Your Google Docs product is amazing. Don’t even get me started on Google Earth or Google Maps, just unbelievable products. Your analytics product is excellent. Everybody loves Android. All you do is create and create and still give it all away for free. Your Adwords business model is even shared with other businesses so they too can make lots of money.

Obviously, you are a great company and despite what some believe, you are not evil. You are great for America and an asset to the World, in my opinion.

However, when you stated the other day that you are taking steps to make sure web pages from content farms don’t show up prominently in your search results it follows that you Google believe that content farmers and web spammers are bad for the Web, or at least your search engine. You said it was feedback from your users that convinced you to go after these bad content makers. So Google, if they are bad (evil?) or simply not good for the Internet then why Google are they still your partners?

It begs the question, if you are serious about making articles from content farms show up less in your top search results why don’t you just do it already?

Here’s what I suggest:

Step 1: Define what a content farm is. By the way, please also define what web spam is. I mean very specifically so that everyone knows what is and isn’t web spam. I think I understand what you are referring to, but I am not sure. I guess examples of sites that fit the various definitions of content farms, web spam and ‘mostly duplicate content’ … would be helpful. I would then suggest that you threaten them … again. That way the bad guys who are scared of you might just leave our Internet for a different one. Or, maybe they will change their behavior and start creating content that is not so bad. Right…. (sarcastic tone intended).

But at least the sites on the edge of this behavior would know that they are OK by you and that they will continue to show up high in search results. There is nothing worse than not knowing if your business is about to implode.

Step 2: Identify publically who the content farms are. Who are the companies? What sites do those companies own? Well, one company should be rather easy for you to identify Google because it has been widely referred to as a ‘content farm’ in thousands of news articles and is is about to go public. That of course is Demand Media. As I understand it, this would be the first content farm to go public and if they qualify as a content farm in your book, why not tell them and their potential new investors. They even stated in their IPO related filings that one thing that could hurt their prospects in the future is if Google took steps that would hurt their business such as giving them less prominence in the search engine or removing them as an Adsense partner.

I am asking you Google for the sake of the potential shareholders of Demand Media to simply tell us if content from eHow and Demand’s other sites is considered by you to be of "poor quality". After all, if Demand Media who has a staff of SEO experts and has scientific algorithms designed to create content that will rank high in search engines and who pays just a handful of dollars per article or video and who shows up in your results for medical results right next to the Mayo Clinic and WebMD … is not considered a content farm, then who is?

I have to believe that you believe they are the poster child of content farms. Obviously Google, the writers who produce content for article factories such as Demand Media are not doctors and have no expert basis from which to write such articles. Also, I am sure everyone would agree that all content from content farms is not bad. I recently watched a great YouTube video of theirs on how to make a cocktail. I really enjoyed it and learned something too. I don’t think that’s web spam at all. So the real problem is subject area right? If eHow has an article on changing your tire that’s probably OK, but if eHow has an article on brain surgery perhaps it shouldn’t be linked to at the top of your results, right?

Step 3: Stop partnering with known companies who produce what you define as low quality content or web spam. I assume this would include Demand Media and all major content farms since the term "content farm" was a major part of Matt Cutts anti-spam blog post. Why Google do you allow sites with low quality content as defined by you to be included in your Adsense Partner Program? Or maybe you don’t and I just don’t realize it.

Again, all of Demand’s content isn’t bad. In fact, my opinion is that most of it is pretty good. The problem is that Demand (and many others) pushed the envelope too hard with accepting expert style articles written by non-experts on subjects that one would expect an expert to write. Demand also SEO’s their articles so well that your Google search engine believes the articles are from experts. And because we users trust you Google we often assume that what we are clicking to from your top results is written by experts. 

Matt Cutts also mentioned that Google was making a change to its algorithm, "..that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content". Does this include which derives revenue from Google Adsense and openly hosts duplicate content and appears high in Google search results? I read their stuff and I like it, but Techcrunch articles are on and so are lot’s of other blogs. Are you against duplicate content or aren’t you? I really want to know. I personally don’t see the big deal, but it’s only fair that if you Google are going to penalize sites that host duplicate content you should do it for all sites, not just the scrapers. Also, does this include article submission sites that often have copies of articles that appeared on the submitters blogs? Most of these article sites are your Google Adsense partners as well.

My opinion Google is for you to consider ending your Adsense relationship with all content producers who don’t follow your search engine guidelines whether that means content farms, web spammers or sites that host "mostly duplicate content" even if they have a big web audience, look nice and professional and are a famous Internet brand.

Step 4: If all else fails I suggest Google that you give web spammers and content farmers a taste of the directory massacre technique you employed a couple of years ago. Remove from your index all links to content from sites you identify as produced by content farms, web spammers or are largely and predominently hosting copies of content from others. Yes, content farms in particular have some good content but possibly a little good content collateral damage is OK in order to get rid of all the bad stuff.

Removing all this bad content from your massive index Google will make the Internet a much better place for us all, won’t it?

Rich Ord

About the Author

Rich OrdRich Ord is the CEO and founder of iEntry, Inc. which owns WebProNews, Twellow and many other B2B news sites and email newsletters. Follow Rich on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

View all posts by Rich Ord
  • Guest

    Rich, I don’t think anyone disagrees with you about removing content farms from the index. I’m sure that Google’s search engineers want to do so more than anybody, and could do so in a matter of hours if they chose to. You’ve ignored the main impediment, though: the potential legal consequences. Regulators are already breathing down Google’s neck, just waiting for them to show some kind of ‘bias’ in their results. Already, Google is being investigated in the EU for just this kind of behavior (i.e. downranking spammy comparison shopping sites). Specifically targeting sites, even if they are content farms, is too risky.

    • Rich Ord

      I agree that legal concerns could be a huge issue. However, it didn’t seem to concern Google when they de-indexed millions of pages from thousands of sites that happened to be directories. This happened not long ago. You would think that was even more legally problematic because directories compete kind of directly with search.

      Google claimed this was aimed at selling links but I have first hand knowledge that it was a rather general sweep. Directories were assumed to be selling links and there was no chance for appeal. Lots of directories were hurt by Google that did not sell links. They simply linked. And I don’t remember any lawsuits.

      Perhaps because the companies Google would be aiming at that own content farms are now large and prosperous (thanks to Google) they are concerned about legal spats. Time will tell.

      Rich Ord
      CEO, iEntry, Inc.
      Publisher of WebProNews

  • Guest

    I’m a web content article writer of unique articles not SEO bulked. I too have trouble with the idea of non-medicals writing medical articles, and I have read trouble with people that refer to themselves as “Dr.” almost like it’s a joke, i.e. “Dr. Love”. But isn’t there something illegal about impersonating a doctor?

    I think a lot of the problem Google may be annoyed at is the same thing that I’m annoyed at. Trying to get into Elance to write articles is nearly impossible because of offshore content farms doing articles for $1 each. The problem there is they are so far removed from North American culture but write articles as though they are NA. Sometimes the grammar is bad and I believe the writers do a lot of stealing and spinning which I don’t think is right. There are spinning programs they buy to do it.

    As a wise consumer, I know which articles not to read, often by first glance at all the links and ads covering the page.

    • Rich Ord

      You are talking about the lowest of ‘low quality” content. Not automated or scraped but pretty damn bad, right? I agree that most foreign content production factories in India, Pakistan and a few other places produce the worse content. However, in the end I don’t think that is the only type of content Google is aiming at.

      Matt Cutts and others in Google who focus on search result quality would like to remove ALL content from top results that was produced for the sole purpose of appearing in top search results. I think Google should pick the low hanging fruit first like Demand Media and article submission sites and then go deeper.

      The problem in search result quality is content from the big content farms, not the little ones. So what’s the big deal Google, stop making the content from these sites dominate your search results.

      Matt Cutts (of Google) — you make the statement that sites are not rewarded for being Adsense partners, but all the big content farms ARE Adsense partners. If you don’t like content farm content then why are they your partners and why are your search results filled with their links. Just wondering…..

      It’s not rocket science, it could be solved to today if only Google was really serious.

      Rich Ord
      CEO, iEntry, Inc.
      Publisher of WebProNews

  • Adsense

    I would never attempt to try and tell Google what it’s rules should be, but I do like your idea that Google needs to define what a content farm is. They say they are working on taking care of the content farming problem, and I believe they are. They’ve improved a lot of things and added a lot of stuff to the internet at no cost to the public. Imagine that. They are truly changing the world on byte at a time. The problem is who do you single out to show an example of what a content farm is? Forget about all the bad press, imagine all the traffic the a single link like that will provide to the site? How about a lottery? I wouldn’t go around pointing fingers at everybody, but publishers need to know what at least one of them looks like.

    As for the money…….well sorry to say, but even if these people don’t get traffic through Google specifically, most of them do all sorts of social networking, email, sms, marketing, ppc, cpm, etc. marketing. Also why is everybody pointing the finger at Google? They’re not the only search engine out there, and like I just said, they’re not the only source of traffic these sites get. If you look at the stats for any site I’m sure you’ll see Google is not their only source of traffic. Maybe webpronews will post their last year traffic percentages by source? Top 10 maybe?

    What I’m curious is if they banned sites that were content farms from Adsense how much would Google loose in revenue? I mean if I had to guess I’d say millions, maybe tens of millions. A drop in the bucket, but if you were a content farming site wouldn’t you just throw up other ads even if it means a dip in revenue if you were making tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in Adsense revenue and were banned from Adsense? It’s no secret that some other ad network and affiliate programs are reaching into Google territory and doing local search ads. They would love to get the income and traffic that Google doesn’t want for Adsense.

    While I agree with that Google needs to solve the content farming issues of it’s index, and apparently so does Google, I don’t think cutting Adsense off for these sites will actually do anything but end up with Google loosing revenue and other ad networks gaining revenue.

    How they intend to solve the problem is yet one of those secrets that Google probably isn’t going to share with us, but you can be assured if Google can think of it, the content farming sites are already thinking of the next step after that they need to take.

    • Rich Ord

      You articulated a good argument but here are the facts as I see them. Google is hypocritical if they on the one hand state that they are going to punish content farms and on the other hand are their main source of revenue via Adsense. Not to mention that they are also profiting from these so-called “low quality” web pages.

      In terms of referral traffic I would guesstimate that over 80% of content farm traffic comes from Google. Social traffic is not significant for content farms because it’s hard to promote “low quality” articles to your friends on Facebook or Twitter. Promote it all you want but once people click your shit links they won’t click again. Right?

      So therefore, Google is generating the traffic for content farms and is also generating the revenue for content farms. They know this and they are disingenuous in not ending both traffic and revenue instead of just bashing them with words in blog posts. Sorry, but that’s just the facts. Hopefully they will match their words with actions. Google shouldn’t simultaneously make millions of dollars from content farms like Demand Media and then bash content farms in blog posts. After all, Google traffic and Adsense are the ONLY reason content farms dominate search results.

      End Adsense and search referrals for the well known big content farms Google and you solve the problem ASAP. No need for big pronouncements or changes to your algorithm. If Google is worried about legal repercussions here why weren’t they worried about legal issues when they deindexed thousands of directory site pages, especially since directories traditionally (Yahoo) compete with search engines.

      Rich Ord
      CEO, iEntry, Inc.
      Publisher of WebProNews

      • Adsense Publisher

        There you go again stating “facts as you see them”, which in journalism that’s called your opinion.

        Google realizes they are not the only ad network in town.
        So you cut off Adsense and all you do is get them to turn to other ad networks.
        Millions lost to Google means millions more for another or several ad networks.
        When advertising is the lifeblood of the website, and so much time and money is invested into keeping the traffic flowing, you have to understand if you were a content farming site you wouldn’t go quietly into the night.

        So then you have de-indexing or Google finding a solution of how to rank content farming sites lower down the chain of relevant results for searches. If this hurts the income as you guess it will if your guess at 80% being the magic number of how much traffic Google is sending these sites vs other sites, then not only will they be improving the quality of their search engine, but they will also be lowering their own income unless the content farming sites can boost their traffic through the other sources to make up for the loss in revenue, or at least enough to keep a float. If the overhead is low and the yield is high, this may not be a solution to stop these farms overall. I mentioned social networking as only one potential source of traffic, not that it was the only source. In fact I know several sites where Google is not their primary source of traffic, so if their rankings on Google were effected it wouldn’t hurt them, and if Adsense was yanked from them they’d just go to Google’s competitors, a lot of which use Adsense as well.

  • Roy

    Is this article some sort of joke? Out of this world’s suggestions. It won’t happen. Google will get in trouble if they start eliminating boldly what they think are “content farms”. They are supposed to be neutral and index the web, not punish business models. They got the majority of searches so they have to behave or be split into little companies. Bing and Yahoo can do that without any problems if they’d want it to but Google can’t do that. The lawsuits will rain. What they need to do is stop favoritizing their own properties in search results and restore the trust people once had of them. That’s what they need to do.

    • Rich Ord

      Hi Roy – Google already has punished business models. A few years ago in particular they removed from their index most directories on the Internet. And keep in mind that directories are a direct competitor to a search engine. They simply accused millions of directories of selling links and without any evidence except their own belief stopped including most of these directory’s pages in Google.

      My company owns a bunch of directories and therefore I know that we don’t sell links, don’t sell inclusion, never have. We make our money from advertising, just like Google. Some of our directories were punished by Google unjustly. So I am sorry Roy, but you are simply wrong. Google will “punish” business models and those who own those businesses should not expect fairness or a hearing.

      Rich Ord
      CEO, iEntry, Inc.
      Publisher of WebProNews

  • Atul

    I cant understand google
    I didnt get about its latest update also on adsense policies that adsense code cant be placed on copied content. means no forums etc can have adsense code because in Forums, its obvious that tehre wud be duplicacy and also copied content

    ALso, many reputed sites also have copied content in forms of comments

    Then who can place adsense ?

    Google ???????


  • Smobot

    To the contrary, behind closed doors, Google views content farms as reliable business partners.

    They can rely on a deemed “content farm” such as eHow, HowStuffWorks, etc, to consistently provide informative, somewhat relevant, though (the important part) most often non-consumer oriented content.

    If such a content farm happens to run Google Adsense, I think the partnership is pretty obvious.

    Otherwise, the partnership is still blatant. Google might PREFER informative content in organic search results, biasing organic towards the informative end, which would tend to encourage higher click-through in the sponsored results.

    That is not to say that Google would intentionally provide poor organic results, or lower the quality of their search. But if there is any communication whatsoever between sponsored results and Google’s algorithmic organic results, a clear conflict of interest arises between consumer-oriented content in organic, and that in the sponsored sections.

    The presumption is that content farms may have a scored reputation as information providers. Wikipedia, eHow, Mahalo, etc. The content itself may not be poor or irrelevant. However, it is most often not consumer-oriented, and therefor not in direct click-through competition with sponsored results… It is about time content farms take a back seat to authorship with ownership.

  • Guest

    Chicken and egg is exactly right … the only reason the scraper sites, and most if not all of the bulk content sites exist is to run ads. Remove the ability to run ads via Adsense and a huge number of those sites will simply disappear.

    • Rich Ord

      I totally agree. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds either because every Adsense account is approved by a Google Rep who actually looks at the site. Large accounts are of course reviewed on a regular basis. Google should review all of their large Adsense accounts and if they are a content farm producing content primarily to rank high in search then Google should have the integrity not to remain Adsense partners with them.

      Rich Ord

      • Guest

        Yeah, that will never happen Rich. I’d be willing to bet 80% of Google’s adsense income comes from spammer, content farm and scraper sites. Google just can’t survive without these sites. Heads would roll if they kill all those sites.

  • John Nagle

    It’s a tough call for Google. When search immediately takes the user where they want to go, the search engine makes no money. Only if the user clicks on an ad, or is taken on a side trip to some ad-heavy page, does the search engine profit. Google has a fundamental conflict between advertising and editorial.

    30% of Google’s revenue comes from pages with AdSense ads. A sizable fraction of those pages are places you don’t want to go. We tally 36% of AdSense domains as “bottom feeders”. If Google really cracked down on all junk sites and web spam, they might take a 10% revenue hit. Read Jill Whelen’s “Google Sucks All the Way to the Bank!”

    There’s a second spam problem in Google Places results – phony business locations and phony recommendations. (We have a paper on this: “”) There it looks like Google simply underestimated how easy it was to spam recommendations in bulk. Reading through recommendations on Google place pages makes it clear that, in high-spam categories like “locksmith” and “carpet cleaning”, most are phony.

    Recommendation systems that let anyone post recommendations are worthless. Nor do the usual ant-spam measures (email verification, CAPCHAs, etc.) work. This, incidentally,is why the Blekko approach won’t work. If they get any market share, they will be buried by junk “tagging”.

    Web spam can be stopped. We (SiteTruth) have the technology. But it takes more of a hard-line attitude than Google can perhaps afford.

    If you view AdWords as an addiction for Google, they’ve just begun step 1 of their 12-step program. They’ve admitted they have a problem. They have a long way to go to get back to “don’t be evil”.

  • Chris

    Do you really believe that Google will ban them from their Adsense program seriously? Just on Demand media we are probably talking 6 or 7 figures income monthly on their back, so, if they ban them, they’ll got to Facebook, Yahoo or somebody else, which means of course loose of income but most importantly, new income for a direct competitor which is for sure the last thing any business would want. The directory massacre technique in another hand is a good way to shaken them properly by reducing their traffic, so, their income too. If they struggle on that part, they know that even changing from Adsense to another one will not make any difference. For example, with my websites, 90% of the traffic from search engine comes from Google (I would prefer something more diverse but it’s like that), if they cut my traffic, even if I quit Adsense, that wll be the same or even less traffic.

    I can’t really blame Demand Media either for doing their job. Find me just one newspaper or magazine who don’t rely on adventising for income? Most of the time, the articles are just made to held the advertising, Demand Media just apply a proven technique here. But for sure, all articles about Health should be written by experts and proved to be. It’s not a topic we want to be unacurate when we read it.

  • Gail

    Google, Google, Google! Issues, Issues, Issues! Doesn’t anybody ever get tired? I’m surprised we can still use the Internet with so much going on. Fix it. Don’t talk about it so much.