Google has announced a pledge to combat spam content – the type of articles that are tailored to the Google algorithm in order to get a high rank in search results. This is good news for companies that create genuine content, but bad news, in principle, for those companies which write content that is only published to capitalise on popular search terms.
Who decides what is good and what is bad though? There is much talk this week of the public offering of Demand Media, which floated with a higher valuation than the New York Times. The reason is because Demand Media has proven to be very good at living off Google search results, by creating content matching what people are looking for. How does that work? They have proprietary scripts that find the most popular subjects people are looking for on Google, they then create articles on sites like eHow.com by paying freelance contributors small amounts of money to “write to order”. The articles appear on the eHow or Answerbag or Trails.com and a number of other sites, which then gain a high rank on Google because the structure of the content is tailored to what Google’s algorithm “likes”.
The problem, critics argue, is that the content is only there to get people to look at pages containing Google Adwords ads, and Demand Media then earns a commission from Google if people click on those adverts. That is not to say there’s anything wrong with Demand Media, because the content it creates is quite good and the company has a strict editorial policy over the quality of the content.
Because articles are the best way to get a good rank on Google, though, the web is chock full of companies spamming the search engine with poorly designed, poorly written, badly researched content just to win traffic. If a web user is searching for information on, say, hotels in Lisbon, they would probably want to go to a genuine hotel directory or at least a feature article written by a good travel journalist. What they often get instead is a poor page full of drivel and covered in adverts served by Google, which are the same adverts Google is serving on the initial search results.
My advice to clients has always been to focus on your content. Write the content of your website to match what your customers are looking for, not what you want them to hear. Use the words in your site that match the keywords they use when they search, but don’t fall into the trap of trying to over-do it in order to compete with the many spammy articles that are getting good ranks. If what you publish looks like rubbish, from now on Google may treat it as rubbish.