Google Inc. said it changed the way the company carries out Web searches to feature more “high- quality” sites, following criticism that its results favored information of little value to users.
The change to Google’s algorithms, which it relies on to discern what users want when they search the Web, affects 12 percent of queries, the company said. Google made the change this week, aiming to give higher rankings to sites with original content, in-depth reports or “thoughtful” analysis.
“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low- quality sites -- sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful,” the company said in a blog posting late yesterday.
Google, which gets most of its sales from search-engine advertising, has received complaints that spammers and websites game its system to receive prominent placement. The company has made other changes in recent months aimed at quelling concerns over so-called content farms, which tailor information in such a way that it takes precedence in results.
Companies like Demand Media Inc., a content farm that uses on an army of freelancers to generate material, needs Google to bring traffic to their sites, said Danny Sullivan, the editor in chief of search-analysis firm Search Engine Land. Demand Media’s initial public offering in January put a spotlight on content farms, and Google’s latest changes could affect their performance, he said.
“What it does mean for them is they are definitely on notice,” Sullivan said. “If they have subpar content, Google is going to try to take out that content. If they’ve getting some of the revenue -- or significant amounts of their revenue -- from subpar content, then it’s going to go to their bottom line.”
Larry Fitzgibbon, Demand Media’s executive vice president of media and operations, said Google’s changes haven’t had a big effect so far on its content and media business.
“It’s impossible to speculate how these or any changes made by Google impact any online business in the long term -- but at this point in time, we haven’t seen a material net impact,” Fitzgibbon said in a blog post.
Demand Media’s stock dropped as much as 7.8 percent today following Google’s announcement, before rebounding. The shares closed up 36 cents at $22.96 on the New York Stock Exchange. They have risen 35 percent since their debut last month.
Google advanced $1.22 to $610.04 on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The shares have climbed 2.7 percent this year.
The company also has faced questions about retail sites boosting their search results. The New York Times reported earlier this month that J.C. Penney Co. artificially increased its ranking on Google for a range of product categories.
The retailer has since terminated its relationship with the consulting service that worked on its search performance, said Darcie Brossart, a spokeswoman for Plano, Texas-based J.C. Penney. The company also has taken down more than 2,000 Web links that were set up to boost its results, she said. The links weren’t authorized by J.C. Penney, and the site saw no financial benefit from the higher search results, Brossart said.
The Wall Street Journal raised similar questions about Overstock.com Inc., saying Google was penalizing the e-commerce site by moving its links down in search results.
The site was enabling university webmasters to provide discount links to students and faculty, which Google didn’t believe should influence its algorithms, Overstock Chief Executive Officer Patrick Byrne said in an e-mailed statement. The e-commerce company discontinued the program and worked aggressively to pull down or deactivate the links, he said.
Google also faces more competition from Microsoft Corp.’s Bing search engine. Google’s market share of U.S. queries dropped to 65.6 percent in January from 66.6 percent the previous month, according to ComScore Inc. Bing accounted for 13.1 percent of searches in January, up from 12 percent.
Earlier this month, Google announced a feature for its Chrome Web browser that lets users block unwanted sites from search results. Feedback from that effort didn’t influence the latest changes, though the adjustment does appear to play down many of the sites that users were blocking, Google said in the blog posting.
“At this point, anybody providing content and making money from it is highly dependent on the traffic from Google,” said Whit Andrews, an analyst with Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner Inc. “Any content provider is reading that blog entry exhaustively.”
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