Search Engine Optimization and Marketing for E-commerce

Microsoft Expands Content-Farm Filtering Internationally

by Andrew Kagan 11. April 2011 12:54

Google announced today that it had expanded the content filters it put in place this past February in the U.S. to all its English-language search engines internationally. The algorithmic change (code named “Panda”) was an effort to improve search engine results by filtering out “low quality” pages and websites, typically content farms and link farms that tried to boost relevance by generating millions of links to website pages. While the move will likely improve the ranking of white-hat SEO websites, it does create new challenges for optimizing webpages.

Google has estimated that the original “tweak” to its ranking algorithm affected about 12% of all search queries, and its implementation led to a new “Google Dance” as keyword rankings oscillated wildly before settling down. Google expects the additional rollout will broadly affect rankings for many websites.

Trying to leverage link popularity

Since the Caffeine update early last year, Google has steadily expanded its attempts to incorporate “link popularity” into its rankings, in an effort to make it’s results more timely, even reflecting up-to-the-minute changes. An important technique for this was to monitor the number of “inbound” links to a webpage (other websites linking to a given webpage). This would provide a “relevance boost” if many people appeared to be interested in a news event, or story, or blog post of import.

As Google came to give more relevance to referral links, the balance slowly shifted away from the content on the webpage, and more to its popularity. Thus during the Caffeine rollout, many webapages with high relevance and solid content suddenly dropped in search rankings against websites with many inbound links.

The  problem got worse when people began abusing this algorithmic sensitivity, by “seeding” millions of links all over the web to a particular webpage, forcing it to the top of the search results for a particular keyword. These auto-generated pages generally had little information on them other than the keywords and link they were trying to promote.

It has proven particularly difficult for Google to weed out these forced links from natural ones, as was witnessed in the JC Penney Linkbait Scandal over the christmas holidays last year. The problems are magnified as we get into the “long tail” of search results, where very specific search phrases return fewer search results, and there is more opportunity to manipulate those results on a page-by-page basis.

The new changes are designed to take link popularity into account, but devalue links coming from low-quality pages. Unfortunately for the rest of the universe, we don’t know exactly how Google defines “pages of low quality”, but we certainly know what Google’s goals are in estimating page quality…relevant content, and more than just a paragraph of bogus copy and a link.

User Data Further Contributes to Rankings

Google also revealed that it was now incorporating user actions to block sites in its ranking calculations. Google had initially used blocked-site data (reported back to Google by the Google Toolbar extension) to corroborate it’s own data, but the correlation was so high (>84%) that the search engine will now use user data as a secondary factor (also known as a “signal”) in search ranking.

As reported by Vanessa Fox, a contributing editor at SearchEngineLand, Amit Singhal at Google cautioned that “high-quality” website should not be affected by the algo changes, but encourages SEOs to use Google’s Webmaster Forums to alert Google to any ranking problems created by the rollout of the new algorithm.

A renewed focus on content

Google’s judgment of link quality is likely to affect the relevance any pages with limited content. For SEOs and their clients, it underscores more heavily than ever the need to develop quality, relevant content for website’s particular market focus, and to do a better job isolating long-tail keywords and targeting content specifically for them.

As Google juggles page relevance with popularity, rankings will continue to shift. Knowing your most valuable keywords and targeting them in your webpages is the only strategy that makes sense moving forward.



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