Under fire after a series of well-publicized schemes revealed flaws in the effectiveness of its search results, Google is taking action. The search giant recently overhauled its ranking procedures in what company executives called an effort to favor “high quality” sites over those that are “not very useful,” a move Google says will noticeably impact the ranking of results in nearly 12% of all Google queries in the United States.
The change, which was announced on February 24, went beyond the minor tweaks Google frequently makes that are often invisible to the average user. The company is trying to address fallout from issues that have recently come to light, most notably in a New York Times report that showed how department store chain J.C. Penney became a top search result in many queries by “gaming” the search engine. In a separate incident, retailer Overstock.com was punished by Google for going against policies that prohibit companies from falsely boosting their ranking in the search engine, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Many technology commentators also have recently criticized Google for allowing spam and low-quality content into its search results. Google has responded by saying it would downplay results from sites often known as “content farms” — that is, sites such as Demand Media and Associated Content that produce large volumes of quickly written articles constructed according to how they will rank in search results.
These incidents, and Google’s responses, raise a bevy of questions. How much does search quality matter — and to whom? Does Google have too much market power? Should the company be more transparent about the algorithm that selects its top search results? What is the future of search?