12% Of Google Searches Have Been Affected… Why Didn't You Notice?

The fact that “Google” is now longer just a company name but a verb in every language means it was, of course, major news last week when the online search giant announced it would change the way it carries out its Web searches. With the announced upgrade to its ranking algorithm, Google said it intended to beat back low-quality search results and deliver higher quality contents. What does the change really mean, and how is it working for you?

Described by Google as, “a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking,” the change will give higher rankings to sites with original content, in-depth reports or “thoughtful” analysis.

The change to the company’s secret, much-discussed algorithm comes after vocal criticism, largely from the tech community, that it had fallen victim to so-called “content farms,” resulting in an increase in cheap, low-quality content being rewarded by Google with top results.

“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,” the company said in a blog posting announcing the change. “Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that’s exactly what this change does.”

“Content farm” sites like Demand Media and Yahoo Inc.’s Associated Content had been able to advantage of the Google algorithm by using popular keywords, copying content and throwing up quick stories, videos or how-to instructions on popular topics to catch the attention of the search algorithms.

The change to Google’s algorithm affects twelve percent of queries, or one in every 8 search requests in the U.S., the company said. It also addresses 84 percent of the top several dozen most-blocked domains so far.

Google remained mum on exactly how its search algorithm had changed, but said it’s “very excited about this new ranking improvement because we believe it’s a big step in the right direction of helping people find ever higher quality in our results.”

For users and tech followers, the results, so far, appear mixed.

The Atlantic, for one, conducted its own analysis of Google’s old and new results by performing the same search in the United States and through a proxy server that made it appear the query was coming from India.

The latter search for “drywall dust” served up seven sites with low-quality or aggregated content in the first 10 results, senior editor Alexis Madrigal wrote. The domestic query only surfaced one.

“The information delivered by the new algorithm is much, much better,” Madrigal concluded.

Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, on the other hand, argued in a post that “Google’s algorithm is falling further and further behind the very motivated people and companies out there fighting that algorithm. It’s an arms race, and Google is losing that arms race.”

Similarly, Ryan Singel at Wired reviewed the change and concluded, “While it’s too early to tell how effective the change will be, the mere fact that it’s still too early to tell means the change isn’t nearly radical enough to represent a real reset of the economics of publishing on the net. In other words, don’t expect that clicking through on a top result is going to land you on a page full of thoughtful, well-sourced information. It’s still up to you to fight past the junk food and fast food chains to find something nutritious on the net.”

As of now, the upgrade is available only in the United States, but Google plans to roll it out to other countries in the near future.

Responding to the same criticism that prompted the search upgrade, Google also recently launched an experimental tool for its Chrome browser that allows users to block what they believe to be low-quality sites and send that information to Google. The company said it would study the feedback and potentially use it as a signal in future search results.

Tell us what you think. Have you noticed a change in your Google search results?

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