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Blekko may not be a big player in the search space, but the upstart search engine is trying to make a name for itself by playing up its focus on eliminating web spam and content farms from its SERPs.

The company's timing couldn't have been better: Google is increasingly criticized over the quality of its search results, and many say the search market's 800 pound gorilla isn't doing enough to crack down on those who look to game it for profit.

Google seems to be getting the message. Late last month, Google's Matt Cutts published a post on the Google Blog announcing that Google has been and will continue to implement changes that make it harder for spammy sites to achieve top rankings.

It remains to be seen how far Google is really willing to go, and how much of an impact its changes will have. But Blekko, with far less at risk, isn't afraid to make bold moves: it has banned from its index a number of prominent web properties operated by companies with content farm models.

Banned properties include eHow.com, experts-exchange.com, AnswerBag.com and encyclopedia.com, all websites you've probably encountered in a Google search at some time or another.

Previously, Blekko had put together a feature that allowed its users to exclude these sites from search results, but CEO Rich Skrenta told Search Engine Land that twenty properties have been removed from the index entirely "based on our users [clicking on] /spam on results".

Needless to say, Blekko's move, no matter how bold, will go unnoticed by the vast majority of internet users. Blekko is nowhere near as big as Google, but its high-profile banning of properties like eHow.com and AnswerBag.com raises the question: should Google follow suit?

On one hand, fighting low-quality content with mass bans is, in some cases, akin to killing an ant with a sledgehammer. Yes, content farming has a bad reputation, but the truth is that there probably is a legitimate market for fast food content, in moderation.

On the other hand, there's an argument to be made that, given the worst of what content farms are willing to publish, search engines shouldn't necessarily have to invest significant resources in separating the wheat from the chaff on properties known to produce far more chaff than wheat.

In determining the best approach to take, Google might eventually have to consider the latter. Given the volume of information Google indexes, making even incremental improvements to search quality is probably going to be an increasingly complex and costly undertaking. That means that picking off low-hanging fruit, such as prominent content farms, may provide the most bang for the buck.

From this perspective, the question for Google may not be whether it can afford to ban websites with poor quality content profiles, but rather whether it can afford not to.

Patricio Robles

Published 2 February, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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James MacAonghus

What about websites like ezinearticles, goarticles, hubpages etc? They are surely content farms, and heavily used for SEO purposes. Banning them might be the right thing to do, although it would annoy the SEO industry. It would also favour large SEO agencies, who could carry on creating backlinks from their networks of smaller sites, whereas smaller agencies or the website owners rely more on these content farms.

over 5 years ago

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Rodney Riley

To be honest most content on content farms is complete rubbish. Written with one purpose, to manipulate rankings. Google does not really care about SEOs, it never has, Google cares about the relevance and quality of its results as judged by users. Most users are not technical and it is easy for those who are to forget this! Google has a lot of user side data flowing in from Analytics, Google Toolbar, Google Chrome etc. Unless they are daft they will use this in future ranking algorithms.

over 5 years ago

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Jenn Prentice, Brand Journalist at Experts Exchange

The generally accepted definition of a content farm is a site that
employs large numbers of (often freelance) writers to generate large amounts of textual content.

Experts Exchange is not a content farm.

As both a technology blogger for Experts Exchange and an approved Demand Media writer, I can assure you that the two companies and their websites are VERY different. Upon being approved to write for Demand Media, I was asked to choose a topic from the hundreds of thousands of topics (which are
generated by what people are currently searching for on Google/Bing/Blekko) in their database and write about it.

By contrast, I've written a number of articles for Experts Exchange and each time, a page editor was called in to review my work before the article was published to the site.

In addition, the Experts on Experts Exchange give of themselves and their time to answer real questions, asked by real people. That means each question & answer thread fixes a specific problem. And these aren't fake experts, either--at last count, over 300 Microsoft MVPs volunteer their time to answer and monitor questions and write and edit articles on Experts
Exchange.

I appreciate Blekko's efforts to better serve their customers by providing better search results. But when a company that acts as a gateway to the internet starts banning sites, they better have their definitions straight.

over 5 years ago

Simon Gornick

Simon Gornick, Owner at Moovd LLC

Your conclusion is right on the money. Can Google afford not to ban content farms. But the core of the issue is really credibility with users. They can't allow the idea to take hold in any meaningful way that their search results can be gamed to the point that they can't be trusted. In the long run that could profoundly undermine their entire business model.

over 5 years ago

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buyerbeware

I don't think this is about content farms, they are being used by Blekko to discredit Google in my view. All's fair in competition but Blekko saying content farms are spam when they do have some satisfied audience seems an underhand tactic to me.

over 5 years ago

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Andrew McGovern, Regional Ecommerce Manager at Serif

@Jenn Prentice - I must admit I was a little surprised by Experts Exchange being mixed up with this lot as they do provide a useful service, but their hard sell model trying to get users to pay to see answers is doing them no favours. You can scroll down to see the answers for free of course, but many users won't go that far, and they are trying to game the search engines by doing this.

over 5 years ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

I think it is wrong to blanket ban them, yes having a huge amount of content under one domain (and so having a small number of big players rather than lots of competing sites) could be bad but it shouldn't mean the sites should be banned. Experts Exchange provides good content, I would also say there is good content on eHow.com I've googled a things before and found the answer on there and other similar sites. They shouldn’t be banned, if they were would Wikipedia be banned??
There is definitely a place for site like this, just not taking over the results, The answer is just within Google’s algorithm, some authority websites can rank on terms just by adding a page of content on that term with few or no backlinks from other sites linking to that particular page. Surely they can change the algorithm to stop sites like this ranking so well on terms they are not really related with rather than banning these sites and taking away the content which people may find useful away

over 5 years ago

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Douglas Karr, President and CEO at DK New Media, LLC

The one ridiculous notion here is that Blekko included ChaCha in this debacle. I am a consultant working with ChaCha and ChaCha has been employing content writers and web producers to target their audience in the latest pop culture. Unlike many of the other Q and A services, they have NOT farmed. You'll find high search volume, search value, targeted keyword pages on many of the other Q and A sites... but not on ChaCha. ChaCha utilizes its own metrics to identify popular topics (from submitted questions) and then continues to elaborate on them. Their popularity has skyrocketed - as their search traffic. Is that their fault for doing a great job?

over 5 years ago

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Nick Wales

Should the big G follow suite when they just accused Bing of copying thier search results despite having copied their layout for the last 2 years? personally I think thats a bit off a silly question and a bit loaded too.
The search facilities are near enough available with google, they have actually always categorised their results and its easy enough to remove a domain from the results they list. Although I like to be objective as I can with this, I would rather not have my search results censored unless I specifically imply that I want it so. I would rather have my web organised than filtered.

over 5 years ago

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Nagel

Well, in my opinion not all the content on content farms is useless. Most of it is very informative and based on facts. It is true some people are using this for SEO and all that, but thats how it works.

over 5 years ago

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