There's a special joy when you realize someone with way more power than you'll ever have is actually listening to what you have to say.
So it was last week when Google released a number of tweaks to its search algorithms designed to improve the quality of search results by demoting, radically in some cases, the ranks of sites that are almost universally considered content farms. In a blog post, it said about 12% of U.S.-based queries are affected, and that it would roll out the updated algorithm globally soon.
While I wouldn't be so bold as to think Google was listening to me specifically, it's clear that the chorus of complaint about increasingly polluted search results has been heard loudly and clearly in Mountain View. That chorus mostly erupted when Demand Media announced plans for its IPO, which many people view as a content farm but which its president says is merely focused on "creating the useful and original content that meets the specific needs of today's consumer."
Ironically, Demand Media seems to have seen a net increase overall in its rankings in the few days since Google made the changes, though several of its properties did take a hit according to various analyses. Its key competitor, Yahoo's Associated Content, didn't do as well -- in fact, it took a big hit. And Mahalo, the content farming site founded by serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, also took it in the shorts.
Some big winners were, notably, retailers, which produce proprietary content that relates to the products and services they sell. From Amazon to Sears and Target, online retailers are doing much better since Google made the shift.
An important factor in all this is a new plug-in for the Chrome browser that enables users to block sites they feel do not deliver quality content relevant to the search query. The Personal Blocklist, which is available for free in the Chrome Web Store, shows up as a little red hand icon at the far right of the Chrome browser bar -- one quick click sends a message to Google that you didn't care for the content in a site listed in a search result.
Google says the algorithmic changes address 84% of the top several dozen most-blocked domains so far. Though introduced only two weeks ago, the new plug-in is perhaps the best listening device Google could have created.
And it puts those concerned with SEO on notice that if you engage in activities like scraping, or keyword stuffing, or any other shenanigans to game search algorithms, your days are numbered. Demand Media says its main site, eHow, is comprised of genuine content on subjects the public seeks answers to -- and that it is not a content farm.
Demand Media may be right. Here's the thing: average, everyday people are now empowered to make their own assessment. And the best news of all?
Google is listening.