On Thursday Google pulled the trigger on “content farms“, making a big change to their algorithm which they hope will result in less low quality sites appearing at the top of the results. This has been a growing problem over the past couple of years, but in the last 6 months, the IPO of Demand Media and a lot of public criticism have resulted in the issue getting to the top of the agenda.
In their blog post, Google alluded to how big the content farm spam problem was – the change notably affects 11.8% of searches. Although Google have never publicly stated how many searches they handle per day, estimates upward og 2 billion have been thrown around. For convenience, let’s half that figure to 1 billion.
11.8% of 1 billion is 118,000,000 searches that were affected by content spam
Given that the number 1 result in Google for a query gets around a 30% CTR, that means that about 35,400,000 clicks on spam results.
Assuming that these sites are running fairly optimised AdSense campaigns, they should be getting a click through rate on their adverts of at least 5% – that means about 1.8 million clicks per day. At about $0.10 per click, that means about $180,000 per day is being paid out to content farms – just over $65 million per year.
Google won’t publicly confirm the share of payments from AdSense that go to publishers, but even on a 70:30 split, Google’s change will have cost them somewhere in the region of $30 million. Small beans to them, but a big statement to publishers about what is needed.
Google recently launched a blocking extension for Chrome that allows people to flag websites that they don’t want to see again as they crawl. While Google claim that the tool was not used in determining the identifiers for low quality websites that they were removing from their index:
we did compare the Blocklist data we gathered with the sites identified by our algorithm, and we were very pleased that the preferences our users expressed by using the extension are well represented.
The Fall Out
There was a predictable storm of attention about the change, and the initial impact in the US / com version of Google was that a lot of websites got nuked and lost most of their search traffic. What’s not entirely clear yet is what the longer term impact will be – are the sites only going to be impacted in the search results, or is their ability to pass PageRank around networks going to be affected too. If so, we might see a bigger change in the approach of SEO companies who currently make use of networks of interlinked content websites to create relevant back links to their clients’ websites.