Google changed its algorithm in late February, and I am proud to announce that I saw no drop in traffic to my website. The change was designed to weed out content farms and other low-quality websites that were gaming the search engine’s system by packing their sites with SEO (search engine optimization) keywords rather than good information. (To read more on content farms, see “Content farms offer empty calories.”)
OK, so maybe I’m not much of a data point. After all, my audience of 100 or so family, friends and colleagues would probably still read my blog even if it made no sense and was stuffed with keywords like “Viagra.” In fact, I’m pretty sure a couple of them might even read it more.
The point is that Google has succeeded, at least temporarily, in kicking the content farms down a few notches in search results. That’s a good thing for anyone who cares about good editorial. Demand Media admits that Google’s new algorithm hurt its search rankings. In a conference call to discuss the company’s quarterly results in May, CEO Richard Rosenblatt said search engine referrals for eHow were down 20 percent. The company is also still losing money, reporting a first-quarter loss of $5.6 million. As of May 18, Demand Media’s share price was down to less than $15, from a high of just over $24.
In explaining the changes to its algorithm, Google is trying to encourage higher quality. While it won’t reveal details on the new algorithm, since that would defeat the whole point of confounding the content farms, Google did explain the company’s thinking on its Webmaster Central Blog. It presented a list of questions, most of which any good editor would use to judge the quality of her website, magazine or newspaper. Among them:
• Would you trust the information presented in this article?
• Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallow in nature?
• Does the site have duplicate, overlapping or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
• Does this article have spelling, stylistic or factual errors?
• Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
• Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
• Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
• How much quality control is done on content?
• Does the article describe both sides of a story?
• Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
• Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
• Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
• Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend or recommend?
• Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
“We hope the questions above give some insight into how we try to write algorithms that distinguish higher-quality sites from lower-quality sites,” wrote Amit Singhal, Google Fellow.
In apparent reaction, Demand Media announced that it will hire “feature writers” to write 850-word-plus articles based on actual reporting.
“The feature writer role is designed to bring highly experienced writers into our studio to develop lifestyle features around topical ideas, with compelling story lines and original quotes from known industry experts,” said Jeremy Reed, senior vice president of editorial at Demand Media.
What a novel idea. Almost sounds like journalism.
And what will they pay these writers, who are required to have 5 to 10 years of experience writing or reporting for a major daily newspaper or equivalent experience as a regular contributor to a major magazine? Up to $350 per article. Yes sir, three hundred and fifty big ones.
And how many of those 850-plus words are going to have to be certain keywords? Somehow, I don’t think this move will do much for Demand Media’s search engine ranking. Quality is something that just doesn’t fit into its business model.