Thinking Tech

"Quality sites" also fall victim to Google's new spam-killing search engine

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An analysis revealed that while Google's grand re-organization project panned out mostly as expected, there were a few surprises.

Last week, Google rolled out a revamped spam-killing search algorithm in an ambitious attempt to restore order to the internet ecosystem.

The tweaks were implemented primarily in response to numerous complaints and conspiracy theories that the company was allowing some companies to game search results by publishing content designed to appear higher in search results, but were devoid of any useful information. While some sites were in line to receive a much-deserved boost, content-farms like Demand Media, which subsists by continuously flooding the internet with these "junk" sites, braced themselves.

So how did things shake out in the aftermath?

Sistrix, a software company, released an analysis that revealed what sites ended up moving up the rankings and which tumbled. While the results showed that, for the most part, Google's grand re-organization project panned out as expected, there were a few surprises. Some of Demand Media's eHow pages actually rose up the page rankings while some more legitimate sites such as the Cult of Mac and even the British Medical Journal, a respected information source for doctors, actually tanked.

Here are some of the notable winners and losers:

  • popeater.com +24%
  • dailymotion.com +19%
  • etsy.com +17%
  • ehow.com +15%
  • linkedin.com +15%
  • loc.gov (Library of Congress) +12%
  • facebook.com +12%
  • Youtube.com +12%
  • cultofmac.com -96%
  • suite101.com -94%
  • essortment.com -91%
  • ezinearticles.com -90%
  • hubpages.com -87%
  • buzzle.com -85%
  • associatedcontent.com -93%
  • articlesbase.com -94%
  • mahalo.com -84%
  • wisegeek.com -77%

In one fell swoop, the Cult of Mac website took a nosedive, with pages losing 96 percent of its Google spots. Cult of Mac's Editor, Leander Kahney, was predictably more than a bit irked over the ranking demotion.

"I'm pissed because we've worked our asses off over the last two years to make this a successful site," wrote Kahney on the Cult of Mac web site. "Cult of Mac is an independently owned small business. We're a startup. We have a small but talented team, and I'm the only full timer. We're busting our chops to produce high-quality, original content on a shoestring budget."

Although Google is keeping mum on exactly what changes they've made, the company has pointed out that rebuilding the search algorithm wasn't an entirely headless process and involved incorporating data from human testers who sifted through search results to sort out the junk sites from what they deemed were useful ones. Google Fellow Amit Singhal told Wired that his team is also working on fixes to prevent quality sites from being mistakenly tagged as spam.

Singhal admits the change might not have been perfect, since “no algorithm is 100 percent accurate.”

“We deeply care about the people who are generating high-quality content sites, which are the key to a healthy web ecosystem,” Singhal said. “However, we don’t manually change anything along these lines.”

“Therefore any time a good site gets a lower ranking or falsely gets caught by our algorithm — and that does happen once in a while even though all of our testing shows this change was very accurate — we make a note of it and go back the next day to work harder to bring it closer to 100 percent.”

“That’s exactly what we are going to do, and our engineers are working as we speak building a new layer on top of this algorithm to make it even more accurate than it is,” Singhal said.

And it didn't take too long to reverse some of the damage -- at least in the case of Cult of Mac's plummeting page ranking. Before Wired published their story, the site had already regained it's status within the Google universe.

“The site is miraculously back. Everything looks great. I’m wondering if it was you talking to them, but it was back in the index pretty early this AM,” Kahney said.

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Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure