Google Farms Out Blocking of Content Farms to Users

By  |  Monday, February 14, 2011 at 6:06 pm

So far, Google has been reluctant to directly block or demote content farms such as AOL’s Yahoo’s Associated Content and Demand Media’s eHow, which push out cheaply-produced articles intended mainly to appease Google’s search algorithms. But now it’s giving the banhammer to users with a Chrome extension.

Personal Blocklist lets you block entire web domains from Google searches. You’re not technically limited to content farms, either; the option to block a domain appears next to every search result.

Google isn’t hiding the fact that this is crowdsourced research. If you use the extension and block a site, Google collects that information, and “will study the resulting feedback and explore using it as a potential ranking signal for our search results.” In other words, if enough people block Associated Content or eHow, Google may lower the PageRanks of those domains.

This is a big step for Google, a company that is usually quite secretive about how it treats individual websites. Essentially, the company is asking power users to help figure out which sites should be demoted in PageRank. It strikes me as oddly democratic, but it does give the search giant a layer of impartiality when determining how to deal with individual sites.

This is also a publicity move. Although Google insists that its search results are generally less spammy than they used to be, the company has taken some heat lately over the rise of content farms. Google has been quite vocal in defending its search quality (and questioning the integrity of rival Bing), and releasing the extension is another way to show that it’s being proactive. Google certainly doesn’t want the perception among tech enthusiasts that search is broken, because that could only lead to more competition and disruption.

But perhaps it’s already too late, and that’s why we’re seeing such an unusual and desperate measure.



8 Comments For This Post

  1. Rip Says:

    No way, i'll probably switch to Bing. Bing might copy Google's results, but knows which ones are bad. Since Christmas 90%+ of my searches had 1st page full of and links

  2. Jolie du Pre Says:

    AOL doesn't own Associated Content. Do your homework before you write an article.

  3. Julie Richards Says:

    Does anyone think this may be a move to keep companies from using black-hat services like JC Penney did for their Christmas shopping drive? (New York Times article: The Dirty Little Secrets of Search)
    With Internet users able to determine the search results, Google may not be targeting the removal of "content mills" but, instead, giving the public what they really want, a customized search engine based upon previous searches and interests.

  4. JaredNewman Says:

    I don't know. For something like the JC Penney ordeal to affected by this, a significant number of people would have to block the site out of suspicion that it's gaming the algorithms, and I just don't see that happening.

    The idea of personalization, in general, seems a bit more plausible, but this would only be one step in that direction. I do think content mills are the main target of this particular move.

  5. Vanessa Says:

    Should we block newspapers, too? I worked for one. I make more money per hour writing web news and content than I ever did in my 60-80 hour a week newspaper job. Plus, I retain the copyright. Who is cheap? The print newspaper industry.

  6. Lyn Lomasi Says:

    I left a comment earlier, but it must not have taken for some reason. Anyhow, I see that the correction has been made regarding the ownership of AC. As someone who has been writing for Associated Content for years and seen great success (even more so with Yahoo! in the picture), I know firsthand that many of their writers put a great deal of effort into their work. While it is true that some don't take stock in their work, I would say the same can be said for many other venues, regardless of whether they are considered 'content farms' or not. I don't think it would be very wise of Google to block Yahoo! content, as many readers obviously find it extremely useful.

  7. D.P. Says:

    "In other words, if enough people block Associated Content or eHow, Google may lower the PageRanks of those domains." — and the same goes true for sites like Technolizer whom I presume has done little research into who writes for sites like Yahoo!, and falsely labels it a content farm, rather than isolating inferior works. This while joining the seo-wholesale-attack wagon to garner more pageviews rather than putting more energy into improving their own brand and subsequently alienating potential readers and consumers. Good strategy!

  8. jackson12 Says:

    While Google management might see this as a wise move, I can envision domain wars, with users blocking specific domains in order to help others rise in search engine results. Any site could potentially be blocked. This move by Google could set an unwise precedent. Power users may not be democratic – and that is the risk in the option to block specific domains and sites.