Content Farms Down, MetaFilter Up February 26, 2011 2:23 AM   Subscribe

Testing Google's New Algorithm: It Really Is Better ...for Ask MetaFilter, which broke into the top 10 results for "drywall dust" in this limited test. (via a namedropping Jay Rosen) (related)
posted by oneswellfoop to MetaFilter-Related at 2:23 AM (63 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Here is the official announcement. Note in particular that the algorithm change does not use any user data from the Chrome blocking extension as theorized in the previous post on the blue.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:04 AM on February 26, 2011


This is the post, I bet. It is funny how the randomest damn search terms will have an AskMe post in the top 10. This looks like it'll increase the hitrate. Which should be fabulous news for MetaFilter Network, Inc.
posted by Kattullus at 3:58 AM on February 26, 2011


Hmm, still needs some fine-tuning. "Grar" still returns the Green Rapids Association of Realtors as the top hit.
posted by JeffK at 6:40 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ehow is a content farm? I've actually found some pretty good stuff there.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:19 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've found some really awful stuff there.
posted by limeonaire at 8:04 AM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ehow is a content farm? I've actually found some pretty good stuff there.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 8:05 AM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


You'd think this could mean an overnight huge jump in traffic, but the past few days have had maybe 5% or so more traffic at the most.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 8:18 AM on February 26, 2011


ehow is a pile of crap. Index that Google.
posted by johnny novak at 8:30 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine is a piecework copy editor for eHow. You should see their content before she gets her hands on it. Yow.
posted by mendel at 8:36 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]



Google: How to boil water._

How to Boil Water | eHow.com
Lean how to boil water like a pro in 24 easy steps.

posted by special-k at 8:55 AM on February 26, 2011 [10 favorites]


You'd think this could mean an overnight huge jump in traffic, but the past few days have had maybe 5% or so more traffic at the most.

According to the article I read in the Times, the results will change fairly slowly, so the impact on MeFi could take a while to fully kick in. Mostly I just don't understand why google waited so long to do this. Those crappy results made it look like google was being lead by advertising revenue rather than trying to have good search results with revenue following from that.
posted by Forktine at 9:03 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Google was just slow to act. In the past they've done huge updates of their index every 6 months or so (so much so that I noticed SEO douchebags would name each "release" like software) and then the whole world of search dorks would flip out and scream bloody murder because their latest tricks no longer worked and they would scramble for a few weeks trying to come up with new hacks to beat Google. It seems like Google has done this pretty predictably for the past five years or so but about a year ago there didn't seem to be new revamp versions of their indexes and I think the results kind of stagnated and it was only the recent press about Google getting worse and worse that I realized I couldn't remember the last time they did a huge index change.

When demand media went public (basically banking on their contentfarm's rank in google) I knew Google had to do something to not encourage more companies to churn out crap, like that internal document from AOL was basically just "let's copy demand media and throw high recent search engine result crap into pages for people to fall into".

The tough part is you can't programmatically tell total demand media-style crap from actual good advice. eHow has something useful in about 1 in 20 results I've seen from their site. 19 of those 20 articles are keyword stuffed crap people were paid pennies to churn out, but once in a while there's something useful. I just don't know how you tell a search engine which ones are crap and which ones are actually good. Maybe measure user's time on the page?
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:21 AM on February 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


That Google announcement's ultra-vagueness has been bugging me. I understand that they think they need to keep some aspects of their algorithm secret to prevent SEO gaming (though even this seems quite debatable), but have they actually said anything about what they changed or even what they mean by site "quality"? Given that search is essentially a necessary public utility at this point, the paternalism here scares me a bit — "we won't tell you what we just did, exactly why, whom it helps and hurts, or how it works, but trust us, everything's 11.8% better now" is not the most comforting message I can imagine.
posted by RogerB at 9:23 AM on February 26, 2011


I was happy when I heard that eHow would be downgraded in the rankings, because every time I look at eHow I find their advice useless or wrong. Then I looked at the new Google results and it's a disaster for me. eHow is now ranking ahead of my site for one of the most important searches. It's infuriating because the eHow page is significantly inferior. Most of it was simply stolen from another site, while some was stolen from mine.
posted by Ery at 9:54 AM on February 26, 2011


Given that search is essentially a necessary public utility at this point

It isn't a public utility. Google just happens to be the most popular and successful of the many search engines around. People are free to use alternatives to Google.
posted by John Cohen at 10:01 AM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


JeffK writes "Hmm, still needs some fine-tuning. 'Grar' still returns the Green Rapids Association of Realtors as the top hit."

That's because we don't link GRAR. If every time someone wrote GRAR it was linked to the popularizing thread we'd move up.
posted by Mitheral at 11:02 AM on February 26, 2011


You'd think this could mean an overnight huge jump in traffic, but the past few days have had maybe 5% or so more traffic at the most.

I guess it depends on your natural growth rate, volume, etc. 5% jump in a few days seems pretty big to me, I'd be excited about that at work. (Not that you're not or whatever, but something in the 5-10% range sounds about right for this kind of change to me).
posted by wildcrdj at 11:08 AM on February 26, 2011


I nearly wept with joy when I did a search for recipes this morning and didn't get a single about.com article.
posted by meese at 11:29 AM on February 26, 2011 [9 favorites]


So how do you make it do the search with the new algorithm if you're sitting in the UAE? I am SO sick of ehow...
posted by bardophile at 11:31 AM on February 26, 2011


I will be darkly amused if this leads to more askme spam cleanup work.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:38 AM on February 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Now if Google can transfer this serving up of useful relevant information to those who have to pay for every kilobyte, they'd really be offering something unbeatable.

This is in reference to recent info that google search request from Africa doubling each year, and mostly via the mobile phone or at least SIM card modems. Data bites.
posted by infini at 12:37 PM on February 26, 2011


You'd think this could mean an overnight huge jump in traffic, but the past few days have had maybe 5% or so more traffic at the most.

I just spent way too much time trying to figure out where this quote came from before realizing the killfile GM script I installed recently (but never configured), had "mathowie" as an example.

I am also cautiously optimistic, but not really floored by a single search comparison for drywall dust. Google results have been declining in quality (for me) for a while now. I also feel their algorithms for figuring out what I "really" meant to search for have become overly aggressive.
posted by cj_ at 12:46 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


That Google announcement's ultra-vagueness has been bugging me.

Well, they're not being totally opaque. You can read between the lines and see that they're a) using some kind of history search to determine whether a site originated new content or copied and pasted it from an existing page, and b) taking into account the length of the actual meat of the page; many eHow pages seem to have as few as 75 - 150 words when you strip away all the bullshit.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:32 PM on February 26, 2011


(And now I realize that "strip away the bullshit" in reference to an eHow page is meaningless as it's 100% bullshit. I guess I meant the header/footer/sidebar/teaser/navigation bullshit.)
posted by Rhomboid at 1:37 PM on February 26, 2011


Ehow is a pile of crap. Index that Google.

I had to do it. It was too easy.
Sowwy.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:53 PM on February 26, 2011


Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land features some initial before & after reports and number crunching about who some of the the biggest losers are in what he calls Google's "Farmer" algorithm change. I don't see e-how named, but there's a rogues gallery of crap. Couldn't happen to a nicer crew of sites!

Sullivan has a prior analysis of the change after an interview with folks at Google: Google Forecloses On Content Farms With “Farmer” Algorithm Update. He states that the change will impact 12% of US results.
posted by madamjujujive at 2:09 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


taking into account the length of the actual meat of the page; many eHow pages seem to have as few as 75 - 150 words when you strip away all the bullshit.

I hope not, since that would penalize concision across the board.
posted by John Cohen at 2:13 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Couldn't happen to a nicer crew of sites!

Ugh, indeed. ezinarticles is one of the most common recurring linkfarming headaches I clean up, to the point where I just do a search now and then to see if I've missed any because they're pretty much never, ever mentioned in legitimate comments.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:15 PM on February 26, 2011


Ask Metafilter is an organic content farm.
posted by mullacc at 2:33 PM on February 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think the term is Community Supported Link Agriculture.
posted by zamboni at 2:36 PM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Pssst. Got that hydro askme here. *cough* Need that hydro askme?
posted by Rhomboid at 2:44 PM on February 26, 2011


Oh man I took a hit of MetaTalk once and I argued with my blender for like an hour.
posted by The Whelk at 2:46 PM on February 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


There are kind of two categories of crap site that have been clogging the search results lately-

1. the kind that just literally copy stuff from other sites.
(For example by grabbing an RSS feed and just posting it surrounded by ads - I gather this was happening with Askme content on some sites.)

2. the kind like eHow, where their content is original, but typically poor quality.
(They pay people very small sums to write on assigned topics that have been pre-selected as being things people search for eg "how to cure diaper rash" etc. The pay is so poor that the writers don't have incentive to make their product any good, and there's no check for expertise on whatever the topic is. Sometimes their pages will be okay, sometimes terrible.)

So when people say "content farm" which do they mean?

I assume the new Google update mainly targets type 1, not type 2?
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:12 PM on February 26, 2011


I assume the new Google update mainly targets type 1, not type 2?

No, it's supposed to target type 2.
posted by John Cohen at 3:18 PM on February 26, 2011


I'd say it's supposed to target both of them.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:24 PM on February 26, 2011


Yes, I had read that NYT article. It says Google has not specifically mentioned type 2 in its description of what this will do, although a Google employee talked about sites of type 2 recently, and the article offers eHow as an example of a worthless result. I gather that the reporter and others were speculating that it might address type 2. But I guess I'm wondering if people here have seen changes in the ranking of sites of type 2. It seems like the type 1 problem would be easier to solve than the type 2 problem.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:42 PM on February 26, 2011


LobsterMitten, that other type of offender is often called a scraper site and Google made some changes last month to target scrapers. As I understand it, this more recent change is primarily targeting the low quality content sites.
posted by madamjujujive at 3:48 PM on February 26, 2011


Ah, thanks!
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:55 PM on February 26, 2011


At first blush it seems like this shouldn't have an impact on Ask Metafilter traffic at all. Is there that much overlap between questions that are googleable and questions that make it onto Metafilter? Because I always thought that was sort of a deal-breaker. Like, what's the capital of Idaho?

Maybe it's a chicken and egg relationship where a certain type of question isn't googleable until after the question gets posted to Ask Metafilter and can show up in Google results.
posted by Jeff Howard at 4:00 PM on February 26, 2011


Is there that much overlap between questions that are googleable and questions that make it onto Metafilter?

Yes. While questions that are dead simple, like what's the capital of X or what's 12 inches in feet? (which *does* show up on askyahoo and content farms), are deleted normally. However, questions like how to snake a drain are searched a lot by people, and as you see, they match both eHow and AskMe (with eHow being higher than AskMe, so if the rankings get adjusted and AskMe moves up, that probably would cause more traffic).

And I'd say, while that question is very googleable, I'd still say it's a fine and common type of question here since it can vary depending on situation and personal preference.
posted by skynxnex at 4:14 PM on February 26, 2011


Yes, I had read that NYT article. It says Google has not specifically mentioned type 2 in its description of what this will do, although a Google employee talked about sites of type 2 recently, and the article offers eHow as an example of a worthless result. I gather that the reporter and others were speculating that it might address type 2. But I guess I'm wondering if people here have seen changes in the ranking of sites of type 2. It seems like the type 1 problem would be easier to solve than the type 2 problem.

I'm surprised by your interpretation of the article. The first several paragraphs are all about how Google's new algorithm is supposed to downgrade type 2 articles. Also, the Atlantic article's example shows eHow going down by 1 and About.com dropping off the first 10 results.
posted by John Cohen at 4:17 PM on February 26, 2011


The NYT article was the first thing I read about this change, yesterday, and it left me wondering.

It begins by saying that Google is changing their algorithms in order to improve results. It then says (NYT's assertion) that the main problem is type 2 sites. Then there is a bunch of other stuff about why it's important for Google to yield good search results. Then 3/4 of the way down it says Google has not actually said the update is directed at content farms (although a Google employee acknowledged they are a problem in an interview not talking about this update). The strongest sign was this, and again it's not about this update but about general techniques that they could use against content farms: "Of course, the quality of a particular site is subjective. To determine quality, Google does things like track “boomerang” searches, when people click on a link and promptly click back to the results, and ask people to compare search results."

Anyway, from the Atlantic piece it's clearer that content farm results are lower, so that's great.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:30 PM on February 26, 2011


"Maybe measure user's time on the page?"

I often don't even click through if the title of some site answers my question.

My personal universe-pony is that this encourages eHow etc. to hire editors and pay more, improving the quality.
posted by klangklangston at 5:06 PM on February 26, 2011


I just did a recipe search and a medical search and dang it all, I want to hug Google now. It's been months since medical searches were any good for me before the second or third page, and now I've got uniquely helpful pages as the second or third result.

I definitely think it's spreading fast, though. I swear I ran one of these searches two days ago and got nothing but Ask and Wrong Diagnosis.
posted by SMPA at 5:19 PM on February 26, 2011


Heh. Somehow I totally missed this; I've been learning Android development every weekend and today my related searches yielded WAY better results than they have. I thought I was just lucky.
posted by Kwine at 5:59 PM on February 26, 2011


Now if only they can kill those pages that are just a list of every possible phone number in a given exchange. Holy cow that's annoying. (I often pop the number from the caller id into google and then get pages of auto-generated sequential numbers.)
posted by Karmakaze at 7:19 PM on February 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Karmakaze, you want http://whocalled.us.

I use it every time I get a weird no caller ID call on my private cell phone, and it almost always turns out that the number called a bunch of cellphone users that described who it was and what they were selling on the that site.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 7:50 PM on February 26, 2011 [13 favorites]


Not to be snarky or anything, but isn't AskMe a bit SEO-ish? At least (when I worked for a "content farm") the pieces had to be cited and checked for accuracy or they weren't published and I didn't get paid. Do the mods always check answers for accuracy? And in defense of the feeble-minded out in Googleland, not everyone knows how to boil water or the amount of atomic displacement would be if his head were to fall in aforementioned bowl of water. Yes there are folks that do not know what "format c:" really means. The good news is that Meta will get more people asking how to boil water and pop boils. (Even SEO whores need a hug) ▼ ..says it right there...

Addendum & editorial commentary: The new search results are remarkable.

.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 8:35 PM on February 26, 2011


Hmm, still needs some fine-tuning. "Grar" still returns the Green Rapids Association of Realtors as the top hit.

Hey - thats Grand Rapids -- Birthplace of MeFi's own jpdoane
posted by jpdoane at 8:43 PM on February 26, 2011


1. the kind that just literally copy stuff from other sites.

1.5: the kind that don't even bother with THAT, but just repeat your search with the same search terms and throw in a bunch of ads.

1.7: the kind that don't even bother to do THAT, just have a dynamic top line that says "the best $SEARCHTERMs on the NET!" and then a bunch of not-at-all related filler. And ads, of course.

Also, Dear Google: please just wipe out all sites with 'lyrics' in the url. The collateral damage will be acceptable.
posted by ctmf at 8:57 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can we just blackwhole everything that bulk-copies Wikipedia, Linux HOWTOs and mailing lists, and similar strategies?
posted by rodgerd at 10:42 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I realized I couldn't remember the last time they did a huge index change.

The search people were busy working on search-as-you-type. Basically, how to massively increase queries/sec without too big a quality hit. But some reduction in result quality was assumed from the get go.

The rest of the company was running in circles trying to invent the next big social networking thing. But that effort was handicapped by an internal culture that prides itself on minimizing contact with users and ignoring their feedback. (To their credit, Google is pretty upfront about this, though.)
posted by ryanrs at 3:59 AM on February 27, 2011


Am I missing something, or doesn't Google have a big conflict of interest here? Demand Media could not exist if it weren't a Google Adsense publisher. (Demand says as much in its IPO prospectus.) So Google is both complicit with and profiting from the content farm business model, it seems to me.
posted by yarly at 9:55 AM on February 27, 2011


Not to be snarky or anything, but isn't AskMe a bit SEO-ish?

No. When people talk about content farms with regard to SEO, they're mostly referring to sites that target keyphrases based on traffic and create pages optimized for those phrases (e.g., repeating them a lot, etc.) without worrying about the quality of the content. I don't think people are writing questions and comments on AskMe based on targeting certain phrases. Also, content can suck and also be totally unoptimized for search engines.
posted by snofoam at 11:37 AM on February 27, 2011


I don't think people are writing questions and comments on AskMe based on targeting certain phrases.

Exactly. The issue with content farms and SEO fuckery is that the intent is explicitly to Get Traffic, not to Provide Info. Demand Media doesn't exist because someone woke up one day and really, really wanted to help people find useful info on the internet. It's an explicit attempt to game search paradigms to turn cheaply produced content into cash. It's anti-quality; it's noise; it's Fuck You I Got Mine taken to an absurd level.

Curiously, one of the things we do see is brand new fuckos signing up specifically to place links into comments on askme threads that they've found by doing keyword searches. You want to see what an "SEOish" Ask Metafilter would look like, imagine the green as a place where every answer was a stiltingly worded plug for someone's website or ezinearticle blurb.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:21 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not to be snarky or anything, but isn't AskMe a bit SEO-ish?

Sadly, things like AskMe and their high page rank are the things that many SEO strategies are designed to emulate. The fact that people turn this around and say "Oh yeah, well you guys are SEO-ing just like anyone" is somewhat amusing.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:34 PM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


This reminds me I wanted to do a site analysis of MeFi for a project because it was a great example (Quick-loading! No obtrusive images! Involved community! The place where I spend a looot of time!), but I decided against it because I couldn't bring myself to analyze business models for the site. Plus, you know, no professional white background.
posted by ersatz at 5:16 PM on February 27, 2011


So Google is both complicit with and profiting from the content farm business model, it seems to me.

As anyone who has done consulting, design, or professional services work will tell you, sometimes you have to fire a paying client because they are a giant sinkhole of frustration, time, karma, or whatever. If google improves its user experience across the board for all its users and prevents Bing defection, then that's probably a net positive even if they lose Adsense income on a few dozen large but user-hostile sites. Focusing on maximizing ad revenue at the expense of user experience would be exactly the kind of thing that a Microsoft or Yahoo! would do if they were in charge of a search engine, and we've seen how well that worked out.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:34 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are the tags being repeated in page titles on AskMe a new thing or did I just notice it today?
posted by floam at 5:59 PM on February 27, 2011


Not that I'm saying it's an SEO tactic, but it does make the results harder to read to me, more than the tags seem to help me pick the right search result, and I imagine it could be construed that way.
posted by floam at 6:01 PM on February 27, 2011


It's a newish thing, and basically a sucks-that-we-need-to-do-it SEO countermeasure against scraper sites. Matt knows the details.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:27 PM on February 27, 2011


Oh thank goodness, it's totally working, no more crappy Luuux results when I search for makeup reviews. Cheers for that Google.
posted by like_neon at 6:02 AM on February 28, 2011


Likely just busy-monday-morning coincidence, but I woke up to a real bumper crop of brainless link-exchange emails in the contact form.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:09 AM on February 28, 2011


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