Google revamps to fight cheaters
By AMIR EFRATI
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 has changed its search algorithm in an effort to filter out data from "content farms" in search results. Marcelo Prince, Jessica Vascellaro and Simon Constable discuss how this affect site rankings and revenues for businesses.
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."
On Friday, Mr. Wadhwa said in an interview that he had previously "written Google off" but is now "optimistic they may well get this under control," though it will take time to see whether there are improvements. "It's not rocket science; they know who the bad guys are, they compensate the companies" by letting them post Google ads and share revenue, he said.
Google search engineer Amit Singhal said in an interview that the company added numerous "signals," or factors it would incorporate into its algorithm. Among those signals are "how users interact with" a site.
It also used feedback from hundreds of people it regularly hires to evaluate changes. These "human raters" were asked to look at search results and decide whether they would give their credit card number to a site or follow its medical advice, Mr. Singhal said.
On Thursday night, Mr.