A Billion Websites, and No Information!
Have you had the same frustrating experience as me? You go looking for real information by using Google or some other search engine, and all you can find is short “articles” that are very thin on anything but superficial information, but which proliferate at the top of the search results — page after page after page. Sometimes you find the identical single, cheap article over and over again, because it was posted on fifteen or twenty article storage sites.
I can’t count how often, in the past year, I’ve grumbled, “You can’t find real information on the internet anymore — but you can sure find keywords.” And I’ve often yelled, “Surely Wikipedia isn’t going to be left to us as the only more-than-superficial information source on the internet??” This certainly wasn’t what visionaries perceived as the promise of the internet in its infancy. And by the way — this is a big lesson to all of us who create websites and provide information. We have something to learn here.
Google’s New Solution
Google has spoken quite a bit lately, about how they want things to be found based on valuable information and a good user experience — and not based just on how many significant words people can stuff into an article that others might be looking for when they do a search. (Hear that, fellow information creators? Our page ranking should not be based just on keywords, but on value!)
So the big search engine has recently made moves to try to correct the problem of thin information and valueless websites. At least to some degree, anyway, as discussed in a recent Wall Street Journal article: Google Rakes Content Farms. One thing that will supposedly happen, with the changes Google is making, is that “content factories” will be pushed lower down in search results.
Just what are Content Farms, anyway?
These “content farms,” sometimes also referred to as “content mills” or “article mills,” are the companies that produce thousands of “articles” with only superficial levels of information, but containing lots of keywords. The articles are written by countless authors who may be paid as little as five dollars apiece. Some of those authors write very well (and should be paid much, much more for their labour), while others are barely coherent. All you can see in their writing, in fact, is the keywords.
But with this cheap, overworked labour force at their disposal, these article mills produce lots of “content” (a word I already heartily loathe) that draws in lots and lots of traffic. Often the idea is that once the traffic arrives at the site, they’ll click on ads, and the site will make money off them.
Significant Words Plus Value!
Keyword searching isn’t going to disappear, of course. Keywords are, after all, what people enter into a search engine to find what they’re looking for. But most of the time, what they’re looking for is real information, not merely a thinly-disguised attempt to drag money out of their pockets without giving them any value in return. So while Google hasn’t abandoned keywords as a search method, it’s placing a much higher value on the experience users have once they arrive at a site.
Think about it. Why do some videos go viral? Why do certain photos, articles, or LOLCats get sent around and around the internet for weeks or even months on end? It’s because people have a good time watching the videos, looking at the cat captions, or reading the articles. That is value for users!
Google noted in its official blog (Finding more high-quality sites in search) that this new algorithm isn’t directly connected to an extension they also recently added to the Chrome browser, which allows users to block results from specific sites they don’t want to see. And yet, says Google, “If you take the top several dozen or so most-blocked domains from the Chrome extension, then this algorithmic change addresses 84% of them, which is strong independent confirmation of the user benefits.”
That really says something. It says that nobody wants to see these valueless sites. Or not that many people, anyway.
Will This Change Work? Maybe
Of course, cynics also point out that Google may be trying in vain to fight against “content factories” like Demand Media, which puts out hundreds of thousands of rather thin articles on a daily and weekly basis, again paying the writers a relative pittance for all their labour. And as the Wall Street Journal article mentions, Michael Arrington at TechCrunch (Google’s Wizard of Oz Search Algorithm And The Threat of Facebook Search) thinks Google’s attempt to weed out less valuable websites won’t ultimately succeed. Something as simple yet as widespread as Facebook’s “LIKE” function may spell the end of Google’s algorithm before things are done.
For myself, I hope it works. I don’t want to see “content” when I do a search; nor do I want nothing but sites that yell at me, “Buy mine! Buy mine! Buy mine!” I want value — and hey, if I see value, I’ll be buying. But if I keep seeing websites of little value, one thing they can all be sure of it that I will not be buying from them.
At the very least, this new algorithm should spur on those of us who aspire to create valuable information for all our visitors when they arrive at our websites. Sure, we can add significant keywords to take our articles and posts. But if we’re not presenting something that visitors enjoy and can use after they’ve arrived, we’re just wasting our time. And flooding the internet with much verbiage and no substance.