Content written to appear at the top of web search results will be subject to further changes, the company says.
Google is changing its search results in a bid to prioritize “content by people, for people” and address the scourge of clickbait, the company says.
“We know that people don’t find the content useful if it looks like it was designed to get clicks rather than inform readers,” Google’s Danny Sullivan said in a blog post. “Many of us have experienced the frustration of visiting a web page that appears to have what we’re looking for but doesn’t meet our expectations. The content may not have the information you want, or may not even appear to be created for, or even by, one 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 will release a “useful content update” next week.
The update covers a series 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 help or inform people.” Google says that in tests, 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 bring up articles that simply aggregate reviews from other sites; now, “you’ll see more results with unique, authentic information, so you’re more likely to read something you’ve never seen before.”
Of course, there are winners and losers in these changes, 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 demote search results are whether or not a website has a primary goal or purpose, and whether there is “an existing or anticipated audience.” that they would find the content useful if they landed directly on the page.
The “banhammer” will be handled generously. “Any content, not just useless content, on sites that are determined to have relatively high amounts of useless content is generally less likely to perform well in search, assuming there is other content elsewhere on the web. says Google. “For this reason, removing unnecessary content could help rank your other content.”
Over the past several months, Google has launched a concerted effort to combat perceptions that the company’s search products have gotten worse over time. Headlines like “It’s not just you, Google search really is getting worse” and “Google search just got worse. Here’s the trick people found to avoid it” blame the company’s growing desire to offer structured results, paid ads, and links to other Google Services over simple web links, as well as the constant game of cat and mouse with SEO spam. and suggest focusing on sites like Reddit to find helpful answers to queries.
Navneet Alang, writing in the Toronto Star, called the process “a kind of vicious cycle.” “Google is tirelessly refining the 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.