Google content farm crackdown hurts cheaters, helps users

New algorithm can only help if your SEO strategy isn't sleazy

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Google launched a new effort to waste less of your time on searches that turn up sites that rise way too high in search indexes by packing their pages with keywords, but little of actual value.

People hating "content farms" bring up companies like Demand Media, which make a living with sites such as ehow, Livestrong and Answerbag, all of which play the search-engine-optimization game better than they do quality content.

Sites like Demand Media's aren't the real target, even though its stock dropped 4.5 percent today after Google made its announcement.

Demand, at least produces its own content, some of which is consistently good.

Cracked.com, for example, is far better than it looks, while Trails.com is the opposite; but both rely on relatively unique content.

The content farms Google is targeting are the ones that don't just step over the line of propriety, but dance over it laughing and taking your time and money with them.

Among the big SEO sins are packing a page with stacks of ads filled with keywords, stuffing keywords onto the page in ways spiders can read but people can't, or linking one piece of content to a whole chain of sites so readers have to open three or four before seeing one piece of actual content.

Others drag down legitimate sites. Overblown-promises site Overstock.com, got dinged by Google for "unethical" deals with universities to put links to Overstock on their sites because links from .edu sites carry more weight in Google's search rankings than straight commercial links.

Google is specifically targeting techniques like keyword stuffing – packing keywords into regular content pages typed white-on-white so spiders can read it but humans don't see it, or hidden in other ways – link farms that force users to open a series of affiliated sites to get to the single piece of content they want.

Every company does a certain amount of SEO, just as almost all advertise to some degree. The difference is the same as between ads that flatter your product a bit to make it seem appealing, and those that outright lie about what it can do, what it will cost and why it won't kill them (much) when they buy it.

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