Google attempts to take spam off the menu

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Google's conceding that its search results are sometimes less than ideal, and is promising new efforts to reduce the amount of spam that it generates.

The company's posted a lengthy piece on its blog, defending its search quality - but also conceding that the company's seen 'a slight uptick of spam in recent months'.

It's already introduced a new document-level classifier that, says principal engineer Matt Cutts, makes it harder for spammy on-page content to rank highly.

"The new classifier is better at detecting spam on individual web pages, e.g., repeated spammy words — the sort of phrases you tend to see in junky, automated, self-promoting blog comments," he says.

"We’ve also radically improved our ability to detect hacked sites, which were a major source of spam in 2010. And we’re evaluating multiple changes that should help drive spam levels even lower, including one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content."

And Cutts denies strongly that Google is, shall we say, a little more lenient with spammy sites when they're serving Google ads. It's been a widespread rumor, with Adsense bringin in around $2.5 billion a year for the company, around 30 percent of revenues.

"To be crystal clear, Google absolutely takes action on sites that violate our quality guidelines, regardless of whether they have ads powered by Google; displaying Google ads does not help a site’s rankings in Google; and buying Google ads does not increase a site’s rankings in Google’s search results," says Cutts.

But promising to try and eliminate what it calls content farms - 'sites with shallow or low-quality content' - sounds suspiciously like a form of editorial control, which is just what Google has always denied takes place. And it's impossible for Google to prove that it isn't exercising editorial control, or favoring sites carrying Google ads, without revealing its search algorithms - which are more carefully guarded than the recipe for Coca-Cola. It's quite possible that the moves will lead to more mistrust of Google - not less.