Google cocks up catastrophically: claims BMJ and urban75.org are ‘content farms’

Google cocks up: claims BMJ and urban75.org are 'content farms'

Google recently announced a “pretty big” change in the way that its search engine would rank websites, promising to downgrade “low-quality” or “shallow” websites from online search engine results, in an attempt to hoof out “content farms“.

Baby/bathwater/ejected scenario

That sounds great to our ears, except Google has royally cocked it up, throwing the baby out with the bathwater and downgrading credible sites like the respected medical resource, the British Medical Journal, the long established Mac site, Cult of Mac, and our very own sister site, the non-profit  urban75.org, which has been online for over 15 years and contains thousands of pages of nothing but unique, original content.

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites – sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful,” claimed Amit Singhal, a Google fellow, and Matt Cutts, head of the company’s spam-fighting team.

“At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites — sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.”

Google cocks up: claims BMJ and urban75.org are 'content farms'

Sites hit hard

Trouble is, Google have made such a ham-fisted job of this that many legitimate sites have been hit very hard – and in some cases, the damage may even prove fatal.

An independent company called Sistrix analysed how sites ranked against huge numbers of common search keywords and found that more than 300 sites that have lost out as a result of Google’s re-ranking  process.

The Guardian listed some of the biggest clangers:

• the British Medical Journal, the respected medical resource
• Cult of Mac, which provides Apple news and interviews;
• Daniweb, a big IT discussion site;
• Digital Trends, a tech news site
• Mahalo, the “human-mediated” search engine backed by entrepreneur Jason Calacanis;
• PR Newswire, which pumps out press releases on behalf of companies, and so is often a mirror of what appears elsewhere, on companies’ sites;
• Robtex.com, which offers domain details on sites, and is a handy tool if you’re trying to find out who is cohosted on a suspected spam site;
• Slideshare, used to share presentations online;
• Songkick, which alerts fans to when their favourite band is heading to town;
• Technorati, the once-great, now-fading blog-indexer;
• The Well, “the birthplace of the online community movement”
• Wikinvest, a web startup that tries to challenge Yahoo and others by letting you track stock portfolios.

Furious

Not surprisingly, the reaction from unfairly downgraded sites has been furious, with the Cult of Mac’s Leander Kahney posting:

I’m pissed because we’ve worked our asses off over the last two years to make this a successful 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.

The owner of DaniWeb was also less than pleased, as his site’s US traffic plummeted:

I run DaniWeb, one of the sites that made the Sistrix list, and I can tell you that they even underestimated how much we were hurt. We literally lost about 70% of our US traffic overnight.

What boggles my mind even more is that we are a vibrant, healthy online community (forums + editorial) for people in the IT industry. We aren’t a content farm or Made-for-AdSense site. I am more than confused and frustrated how we got caught up in the mix.

In fact, just like a lot of forum owners out there, I was actually eagerly anticipating this update because I thought a crack down on “content farms” and “made-for-AdSense” sites would actually help us!!

Is Google listening?

We’re livid at finding urban75.org shoved on this list, but we’re not sure where we go next. Traffic slumped by 22% on Monday – the biggest day-on-day drop we’ve ever seen.

Sure, we’ll fire off letters to Google but we’re not very confident that such a monolithic company is going to be listening to smaller sites – and for some sites, these changes could prove utterly catastrophic.

We’ll keep you posted…

[View the spreadsheet of blacklisted sites here] – [Guardian feature]

About mike s

Editor, wirefresh.com

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