Google’s new ranking systems are designed to stop spam, SEO, and other manipulative tactics

Google is introducing some new changes to its search ranking systems, which are designed to highlight good content in your results and hide some of the worst and most cynical things on the internet. The company says it’s doing a better job of downranking content that exists only to summarize other content — which can sometimes be normal SEO stuff, but is also increasingly a job for generative AI tools — and in combating some of the tricks people use to deceive are ranking systems.

There are always people trying to manipulate their way to the top of the Google results. That’s just a fact of the internet and a fact of life for Google’s search teams. Google is also constantly making changes to its ranking algorithms in an effort to improve search results. We never hear about most of those changes. “You only see the ones that have slipped through the controls, so to speak,” says Pandu Nayak, VP of Search at Google. “Unfortunately, these are not things you can just wave a magic wand and get rid of.”

When Google announces the changes, there are two signals. First, that these are big changes that could meaningfully change your search experience. Nayak says Google’s measurements show a reduction in “unhelpful content” by as much as 40 percent. And second, that Google is sending a message to the Internet: your spammy, sketchy behavior ends now.

Google is sending a message to the Internet: your spammy, sketchy behavior ends now

Nayak gives three examples of what Google now considers spam behavior and plans to go down. The first is content at scale: the sites that create thousands of low-quality articles per day, either through low-paid contractors or AI generators, and target that content to search results. Nayak points out obituary spam – which one The edge‘S Mia Sato recently wrote about it – as an example of a problem that needs to be solved here.

The second spam behavior is what Nayak calls “site reputation abuse.” This is when an otherwise respectable website rents out part of its site for spammy nonsense; I won’t name or shame anyone here, but you’ve probably seen the sites that make you wonder why they have coupons or why an entire section of the site seems irrelevant and AI-generated. The third is “expired domain abuse,” which means someone buys an abandoned but high-ranking domain and fills it with worthless content that then jumps to the top of search results. The current state of The hairpin is an example of how this can happen Wired well covered in recent weeks.

For those guilty of abusing sites’ reputations, Nayak says Google will give sites 60 days to remove them before changing the rankings. The others are now coming into effect. Google has a spam problem, it knows it and is trying to shut it down. “The healthy, high-quality ecosystem is exactly the one that will be affected when spammers and providers of low-quality information gain control over the rankings,” says Nayak.

Of course, the job isn’t done yet. The reckoning over AI-generated content – ​​what it means, who wants it, how it should rank – is just beginning and will cause Google many internal headaches as it both tries to bring AI to everyone and prevents the Internet from gets into trouble. overwhelmed by it. (Even Google’s own search engine is increasingly becoming an AI machine.) And there will always be new, sneakier ways to sneak your way to the top of the search results. This is a headache of Google’s own making: most people on the Internet exist solely to play Google, and so Google will always be one step behind.

But if Google wants to remain Google, it has to be good at finding good things on the Internet. The company has been signaling for some time that it plans to prioritize people over machines and real content over clickbait, and is starting to take steps in that direction. But it’s still a long way to go.

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