Inflicting Damage: Google Napalms UGC, Competitors And Content Farms
According to Google, last week’s Google’s algorithm update was supposed to help people find “more high-quality sites in search.” But when you look at the top 25 losers, you can’t help but notice Google seems to have devalued user-generated-content (UGC), and some of the losers can be construed as competing with Google’s modus operandi (MO).
Google is more than just a search engine. After all, their goal is to index the world’s information. Search provides a platform (and revenue model) for indexing everything on the world wide interwebs, but really, Google wants to be the go-to cloud-based app for the entirety of human knowledge — i.e. the how-to and what-is guide for everything.
Google Stifling UGC
Traditionally, Google seemed partial to UGC, and the logic seemed sound. After all, UGC doesn’t have the same commercial interests as so-called “commercial” sites.
Commercial sites produce content (and link to other sites) to make money. UGC, however, is more about normal people/users creating and sharing content because they find it useful — and that element of utility is at the heart of Google’s MO.
But if you look at the list of the top 25 losers from Google’s latest algorithm update, you can’t help but notice how many of those sites are UGC-driven. From article submission sites to shopping site powered by user-reviews, these losers were overwhelming.
Of course, these sites had found a chink in Google’s UGC armor and built a revenue model off of that exploit. In other words, they’ve built a revenue stream off of Google’s back. In the best case, they’ve exploited Google’s preference for UGC and how-to content.
In the more extreme cases, they actually incentivized users to generate this content. And in doing so, they’ve essentially eroded the value that content is supposed have because it’s user-generated. Basically, if there’s something in it for the user to produce the content in the first place, suddenly the user has a vested interested in being a content producer, and it’s that much less likely that content is actually useful and share-worthy.
So what does this Google update mean for the future value of UGC writ large? Well, probably not much. Most UGC these days is happening on social networks, beyond the reach of Google’s crawlers. But that doesn’t mean that users aren’t necessarily losing out in some ways from this update.
Google Swatting At Its Competitors
Another interesting thing about the top 25 sites losers is that two of them are pseudo-competitors: TheFind.com and Mahalo.
Then, in November 2010, Google launched Boutique.com, furthering its interests in shopping search. Either way you look at, Google has a vested interested in TheFind not ranking the way it used to.
Then there’s Mahalo, which started out in 2007 as a human-moderated search engine that was founded on the principle that actual human beings could do a better job of moderating the web than any half-assed-artificial-intelligence-search-algorithm.
Since then, Mahalo gave up on search and became another question and answer service, but it kind of stepped on the tail of a sleeping dragon at every step along the way. First, as a search engine, it implied that Google was imperfect and had left some room in the marketplace — taking a swipe at Google’s ego. Second, the human-edited element implied that a bunch of simian keyboard jockeys could out-do the algorithmic brainchild of two mathematical prodigies (Sergey Brin and Larry Page). Finally, when the search vision dissolved, it tried to exploit Google’s preference for how-to content content and build a revenue model around incentivizing users to create link-bait (so much for the mighty plans of Jason Calacanis).
Searching for Answers
Even if Google is lashing out at UGC and its competitors, you can’t really blame them. The meaning of UGC is changing, and with it, the value and relevance it has for search.
Whereas most UGC once happened on the open-web, through MySpace and Blogspot, most of it now happens on social networks — and much of it, behind the closed walls of Facebook where Google’s crawlers can’t reach it.
As search evolves, the kinds of UGC that’s really going to matter is going to be the stuff that social graphs are made up of. It’s going to be about the content that you have produced, and how that can be used to personalize your search results.
As for Google picking on its (much smaller) competitors, it’s sucks, makes their search results a bit less objective, and goes against that whole “don’t be evil” thing, but can you really blame them? For starters, those guys could have only competed for so much longer.
Besides, if you sat on the board of a company that was advertising the competition, wouldn’t you fire someone? I mean, it’s also unethical to not protect the investment of your shareholders, right?
About CT Moore
A former Staff Editor here at Revenews.com, CT Moore is a recovering agency hack with over 8 years experience leveraging search and social media to help brands meet their business goals online. By day, he runs Socialed, a digital consultancy that provides strategy to both SMBs and enterprise level companies in the tech, entertainment and travel industries. He also heads up Search and Social at Publikit, a boutiqe web dev agency. CT has worked with both start-ups and multinational brands alike, including Acquisio, Microsoft Canada, and Luxury Retreats. CT is also an accomplished blogger, podcaster, and speaker who educates groups and companies on how they can effectively leverage different online channels. You can read his personal blog here.