NEW YORK (AP) — Google says it has tweaked the formulas steering its Internet search engine to take the rubbish out of its results. The overhaul is designed to lower the rankings of what Google deems "low-quality" sites.
That could be a veiled reference to such sites as Demand Media's eHow.com, which critics call online "content farms" — that is, sites producing cheap, abundant, mostly useless content that ranks high in search results.
Sites that produce original content or information that Google considers valuable are supposed to rank higher under the new system.
The change announced late Thursday affects about 12 percent, or nearly one in every eight, search requests in the U.S. Google Inc. said the new ranking rules eventually will be introduced in other parts of the world, too. The company tweaks its search algorithms, or formulas, hundreds of times a year, but it said many of the changes are so subtle that only a few people notice them. This latest change is "pretty big," the company said in a blog post.
"Google depends on the high-quality content created by wonderful websites around the world, and we do have a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem," Google fellow Amit Singhal and principal engineer Matt Cutts wrote in a blog post. "Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that's exactly what this change does."
Demand Media, based in Santa Monica, assigns roughly 13,000 freelance writers to produce stories about frequently searched topics and then sells ads alongside the content at its own websites, including eHow.com and Livestrong.com, and about 375 Internet other destinations operated by its partners. Articles range from the likes of "How to Tie Shoelaces" to "How to Bake a Potato" and more. The company doesn't seem agree with the "content farm" or "content mill" definition.
In a blog post, Demand Media's executive vice president of media and operations, Larry Fitzgibbon, said the company applauds changes that search engines make "to improve the consumer experience," and he said Demand Media focuses on creating "useful and original content."
He added that Demand Media "saw some content go up and some go down in Google search results."
"It's impossible to speculate how these or any changes made by Google impact any online business in the long term — but at this point in time, we haven't seen a material net impact on our Content & Media business," Fitzgibbon wrote.
Demand Media Inc.'s shares fell 54 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $22.06 in afternoon trading Friday.