Semantic Advantage Inc.
SEO, SEM/PPC and Social Media Marketing

Google Cracks Down on Content Spam and Content Farms

Earlier this year Google announced a new offensive against content spam This is the latest effort by the leading search engine to curb artificial and questionable practices designed to obtain better Google search rankings.

The Problem
Google takes this action in response to the explosive growth of content-for-hire businesses like Demand Media (owner of,,, Suite 101, Mahalo, WikiHow, as well as AOL’s and Yahoo!’s Associated Content subsidiary. These companies produce massive amounts of web content (Demand Media currently generates more than 5,000 pages per day), and this SEO-enhanced material is increasingly showing up in the Google search results. The problem is particularly severe for ‘long-tail’ searches – users looking for a narrowly-defined topic with 3 or more keywords. ‘Short-tail’ searches provide fewer opportunities for content farms, since there is already a lot of online content for these broader topics.

Potential Content Spam Solutions – What can Google do?

The Google search engine presently commands a 64% market share. Previously Google initiated changes in their search ranking algorithm to address similar problems caused by paid link spam and keyword stuffing. These efforts were only partially successful, catching only the most obvious and flagrant cases. Content spam is even more challenging to control -- and difficult to define. So it will be interesting to see how effective Google can be at combating this nuisance. Google’s primary objective is to provide a high quality search experience for its users (so they will see and click on more ads!). They fear losing traffic to social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter – as well as to other search engines which are better at content spam rejection, like upstarts Blekko and GoDuckGo.

Of course, the social media sites have their own spam issues to deal with, as craven spamming constitutes an increasing fraction of social media content. We expect Google will be largely unsuccessful in reducing the quantity of content spam in their search results via algorithmic modification. Although Google is highly motivated and has plenty of resources to apply to this problem; content spam is fundamentally difficult to define and police.  In the limit, content spam is in the eye of the beholder; and the fact that content is paid-for (and even paid very little for), produced in large quantities, or hosted on a particular website does not inherently make it spam. Google may elect to tighten up anti-spamming provisions in their Webmaster Guidelines (to limit content scraping, for example) and publicize more of their ‘enforcement’ actions to deter mainstream SEOs. But professional spammers will continue to violate the Guidelines to find ways to land their pages in the Google search results.

Impact on Web Developers and Advertisers
White hat publihers and advertisers have nothing to fear from Google’s initiative. They may actually benefit if Google succeeds in reducing the level of web spam in the search results -- or discouraging website owners and consultants from using content farms. However, the technical difficulty of modifying the Google search ranking algorithm to downgrade or eliminate content spam should not be underestimated. As an indication of this, note that the recently announced downgrades and removals from the Google index have been achieved through manual methods.

The economic value of a page one ranking in the Google search results is very high; and there are millions of website owners trying to achieve this. With all its resources, Google does not have the capacity to detect, investigate and eliminate all content spam. They may achieve some deterrent effect by publicizing high profile examples of demotion or removal from the Google index; but when website developers and SEOs continue to see spam-filled search results for their main keywords, they will feel compelled to adopt an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach.