Google made changes this week aimed at "content farms," which are designed to boost search ratings for websites. Google said its search algorithm should give users "the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible." Some website owners complained the change "is killing our businesses."
The new search algorithm follows an exposé last weekend by The New York Times indicating venerable J.C. Penney hired a search engine optimization firm to create websites that linked to the retailer's main website, thus boosting its ratings. Google responded by lowering their search status, which prompted J.C. Penney to fire SearchDEX.
Overstock also was busted by Google for allegedly manipulating students to place favorable links on their school websites. And the company recently unveiled a personal block list that Google 24/7 blogger Seth Weintraub says would allow "users to block content from their research results as they see fit."
All this action takes place amid a backdrop of complaints from users who say it is hard to get legitimate search results in between "content farms" and "content scrapers. "It reflects a Google," Weintraub claims, "on a mission to clean up its reputation." According to the annual Harris Interactive Reputation Quotient Survey that polls more than 30,000 respondents, Google holds the top ranking for reputation among highly visible companies.
In addition to SEO-optimizing marketing strategies, some online companies offer to paper over reputation-spattering bad news with good news spread out on several websites. This practice of trying to bury bad news under a virtual carpet is called online reputation management, but can be just as counterfeit as its marketing cousins.
Boosting search results is important and necessary. But it requires an old-fashioned dash of hard work to create new, legitimate and useful content. In the case of reputation preservation, it also requires straight, honest talk.
Google's actions should help quality content generators by allowing their efforts to rise to the top of searches where users can see them.