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Google Sets Sights On Content Farms In 2011

Google has fired a warning toward “content farms” — you’re in our anti-spam sights in 2011. That message was made loud and clear in Matt Cutts’ blog post today, a post in which Google also says its search quality has improved due to new spam fighting techniques.

Cutts points out that Google has already taken steps against content farms (which he defines as “sites with shallow or low-quality content”), pointing out the so-called “Mayday” update and other algorithmic tweaks made last year. But he also promises a renewed effort in 2011:

…we hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content. We take pride in Google search and strive to make each and every search perfect. The fact is that we’re not perfect, and combined with users’ skyrocketing expectations of Google, these imperfections get magnified in perception. However, we can and should do better.

This announcement comes just as Demand Media gets set for an IPO. Demand owns eHow, LiveStrong.com, and several other properties that often get labeled as “content farms,” and is reportedly going to go public next week. AOL, with Seed.com and Yahoo, with its Associated Content purchase last year, are also in the content farm business. Those two, in fact, will be speaking on a panel called “Content Farms” Or The Smartest SEOs In the World? at our SMX West conference in March.

Postscript From Danny Sullivan: Peter Kafka from AllThingsD has an excellent interview with Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt who says the Google blog post “is not directed at us in any way.”

He’s right, in as much as you believe that as Google defines it officially, content farms are simply places with “shallow or low quality content.”

Rosenblatt makes a good argument that Demand Media might actually benefit from some of the planned Google crackdown, just as it claims it has in the past. He also tries to get Demand out of the “content farm” category.

I might come back later to revisit just exactly what should be considered a content farm, but as a starter, it’s anything that depends on search traffic for a large degree of its traffic and which churns out tons of answer-driven content using cheap labor.

I think that includes Demand Media. I do NOT think that means Demand Media content is all terrible. In fact, as I’ve written before, it has plenty of useful content.

And, despite Google’s definition and Rosenblatt’s confidence, I think Google will be taking a close look at Demand’s content along with content farm material in general. If stuff isn’t up to snuff, it’ll go. If most of Demand’s stuff it great, then they have no worries.

One big mistake in his interview. At the end, Rosenblatt talks of having a synergistic relationship with Gogole, since they both “fill gaps” in Google’s index and earn Google lots of money by carrying Google’s AdSense ads. That will suggest these two things are tightly linked — Google’s not going to do something to hurt one of its major ad partners. That suggestion is the type of thing that will give Google’s PR team nightmares, since the company has been adamant that ads and listings are entirely disconnected.

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