Google is changing its search results in a bid to prioritize “content by people, for people” and tackle the scourge of clickbait, the company says.
“We know people don’t find content useful if it looks like it was designed to get clicks rather than inform readers,” Danny Sullivan, of Google, said in a blog post. “Many of us have experienced the frustration of visiting a webpage that appears to have what we are looking for, but does not meet our expectations. The content may not have the information you want, or it may not even seem to have been created for, or even by, a person.
So-called “SEO spam,” content written explicitly for the purpose of appearing at the top of search engine results pages, has long been a thorn in the side of companies like Google. To address this, the company is rolling out a “helpful content update” next week.
The update covers a number of changes to the company’s ranking algorithms that attempt to identify content “that appears to have been created primarily to rank well in search engines rather than to help or inform people. “. Google says that in testing, the update resulted in particular improvements for searches related to online education, arts and entertainment, shopping, and technology.
In one example, Sullivan says, a search for a recent movie can sometimes turn up articles that simply aggregate reviews from other sites; now, “you’ll see more results with unique and authentic information, so you’re more likely to read something you’ve never seen before.”
There are winners and losers to such changes, of course, and online publishers may fear that their content strategies will see them caught in the net. In its advice to “content creators,” Google suggests that some of the signals it will use to downgrade search results are whether or not a website has a primary goal or purpose, and whether it exists” an existing or anticipated audience” who would find the content useful if they came directly to the page.
The “banhammer” will be handled generously. “Any content – not just useless content – on sites determined to have relatively high amounts of useless content overall is less likely to perform well in search, assuming there is other content elsewhere on the web. Web that is best displayed,” says Google. “For this reason, deleting unnecessary content could help your other content rank.”
Over the past few months, Google has launched a concerted effort to combat perceptions that the company’s search products have gotten worse over time. Titles like “It’s not just you, Google search is really getting worse” and “Google search has deteriorated. Here’s the trick people found to get around the problemblame the company’s growing desire to offer structured results, paid ads, and links to other Google services above simple web links, as well as the constant game of cat and mouse with spam SEO, and suggest focusing on sites like Reddit to find helpful answers to questions.
Navneet Alang, writing in the Toronto Star, called the process “a kind of vicious cycle”. “Google is relentlessly refining search to try to predict what people want, but in response, entire industries are working to pollute search results by giving people a cheap, counterfeit version of what they want” , he wrote.