Matt Cutts on Search and Spam

A few weeks ago I asked people to chime in on whether Google search results were getting better or worse.  Well, Matt Cutts just did.

Matt Cutts

Matt Cutts

Here are his key points:

  1. Google results are getting better. “The short answer is that according to the evaluation metrics that we’ve refined over more than a decade, Google’s search quality is better than it has ever been in terms of relevance, freshness and comprehensiveness.” Obviously Matt’s an interested party, but so are the critics, and the critics aren’t offering any data of their own.
  2. Google has been making great progress fighting webspam, scraper, and low-quality sites.
  3. With Google’s success on those fronts, some people have shifted their attention to “content farms” and calling for “even stronger action” against these sites. Google will try to do better here.
  4. Running Google ads does not help a site’s Google’s rankings. This is a key point for Google, especially as any linkage could really hurt Google in future anti-trust cases. Google repeatedly insists there is no linkage, which does little to silence the repeated accusations.

Last week, Cecilia Kang at the Washington Post reported that Matt Cutts was in Washington testifying that “The only reasons I know of to go in and change [search rankings] manually is for security, a court order or spam.” In Danny Sullivan’s words, “Google’s results are determined by an algorithm and not tweaked to get particular sites ranking well. Google steps in only to deal with spam, security threats or due to legal action.”

A few quick points of my own:

  1. Condemnations of “content farms” generally focus on eHow. But the critics never ask Google to pressure eHow to increase their content budget, or their commitment to quality content. There’s nothing wrong with eHow’s model, as ReadWriteWeb admitted “As long as search engines like Google continue to rank niche, topical content highly – and we see absolutely no reason why they wouldn’t – then Demand Media will continue to pump out thousands of articles a day to feed that page view generating machine.” before they changed their minds and coined the term “content farms” (previously they used the term “page-view generating machine”). Speaking for Answers.com, further increasing our content quality is our biggest focus. Sites like ours receive significant search traffic because we very often have the best page for some long tail search.
  2. Despite the complaints of some tech bloggers, large scale content sites are among the key reasons for Google’s success, not their decline. IMO the biggest difference between Google and their competitors has been how much better Google is at indexing and ranking on the long tail. If you’re seeing eHow, it’s usually because no other site has a page as relevant to your search as the one eHow is offering. If you don’t like eHow, don’t click on their link.
  3. The “anti-content farm” columns (like anti-SEO columns) generally pointed out cases of spam or scrapers and then said “see how bad content farms are?” Spam sites dominated one searcher’s searches for Dishwasher Reviews and somehow that became eHow’s fault.
  4. Anti-trust concerns probably make Google hesitant about manually addressing relative quality among the large sites. Which is a pity. Because one potential solution would involve Google working with the large sites on achieving measurable quality goals.
  5. I think that if Google really favored sites with Google ads then Wikipedia would stop ranking first on so many of my searches. Google would instead give higher ranks to (for example) the many Answers.com pages that provide great exclusive content from premium sources like Oxford and Gale in addition to Wikipedia content.

What are your thoughts?

My previous posts on this subject:

Update (Jan 26, 2011): The stock market did not share the view that Matt Cutts’ statements signaled doom for Demand Media. Demand Media’s IPO today has so far exceeded expectations. See CNN / Money’s Demand Media shares soar 41% in IPO.