Google Inc., long considered the gold standard of Internet search, is changing the secret formula it uses to rank Web pages as it struggles to combat websites that have been able to game its system.
The Internet giant, which handles nearly two-thirds of the world’s Web searches, has been under fire recently over the quality of its results. Google said it changed its mathematical formula late Thursday in order to better weed out “low-quality” sites that offer users little value. Some such sites offer just enough content to appear in search results and lure users to pages loaded with advertisements.
Google generates billions of dollars from advertising linked to its search engine, whose influence as a front door to the world’s online content and commerce continues to grow by the year. Google’s power over the fortunes of so many other companies has made it a target of competitor complaints. It has also faced government investigations, including scrutiny by regulators in the U.S. and Europe.
The Silicon Valley company built its business on the strength of algorithms that yield speedy results. The company constantly refines those formulas, and sometimes takes manual action to penalize companies that it believes use tricks to artificially rise in search rankings. In recent weeks, it has cracked down on retailers J.C. Penney Co. and Overstock.com Inc.
Last month, Google acknowledged it “can and should do better” to beat back sites that “copy content from other websites” or provide information that is “just not very useful” but are ranked highly anyway.
“I’ve never seen Google be attacked on the relevancy of their results the way they have these past couple of months,” said Danny Sullivan, editor of a widely read blog about the field called Search Engine Land.
The debate about Google’s results was sparked by a recent blog post by Vivek Wadhwa, a former technology executive and a visiting scholar at the University of California-Berkeley. He wrote that his students had trouble finding basic information about the founders of start-up companies on Google.
“The problem is that content on the internet is growing exponentially and the vast majority of this content is spam,” or of little use, he wrote. “Google has become a jungle.”
Google says it acts in the best interest of users, and frustration by some sites is understandable.
“Google has an enormous amount of power to make or break businesses,” said Scott Jones, chief executive of ChaCha Search Inc., a question-and-answer site, who said he was seeing some negative effects from Thursday’s algorithm change, especially for Web pages on his site that have short, “bite-sized” content.
“It’s unfair, I think, that Google made some wide, paint-brush decisions here in their algorithm that didn’t take into account a site like ChaCha that does have unique content created at fairly high cost,” he said.
Once blocked, the sites won’t appear during future searches. Google on Thursday said that while it didn’t use data from the experiment to influence the changes it made to its algorithm, it found that the algorithm change covered 84% of the Internet sites that were the “most-blocked” by users. Read the full story…
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