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.

Source: Search Metrics

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.

For starters, TheFind (a super-social-affiliate site ) currently competes directly with Google. First, in June 2010, TheFind became the #2 shopping search engine right behind Google Product Search.

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. He currently provides digital strategy consulting to both SMBs and enterprise level companies through his consultancy Socialed. CT has worked with both start-ups and multinational brands alike, including Acquisio, Microsoft Canada, and Luxury Retreats. He is also an accomplished blogger and speaker who educates groups and companies on how they can better leverage different online channels.

Twitter: gypsybandito
  • http://twitter.com/easyfunds Easy Fundraising

    Wow. The target continues to move.

  • Arizona SEO

    Great Post! Google seems to have become rather hypocritical they’ve been shouting ‘content is king’ for years and now there shouting ‘your content is crap and by the way there is so much competition out there that it’s also duplicate content’. So what now? Google begins beating another drum for the next 5 years then changes their algorithm to yank down more sites destroying businesses? It’s maddening!

  • Pat Grady

    calling it “farmer” sounds so folksy, prefer your choice of words, like “napalm”.

  • Pat Grady

    digging thru my old notes, looking for Mahalo / Jason Calacanis quote from Aff Summit about affiliate garbage… pot got kettled.

  • Allan Smithee

    Google will forever do what’s in it’s best interests. And say it’s all for the benefit for the ‘user’. ahem

  • Pingback: Google, Content Farms, and the Changing Face of UGC

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QCXXT2KEJ33KJNRKNGDB2UZSOY Bryan Adams

    Hello,
    This is a very nice and useful blog post and it is pretty interesting as well and the reason I say that is due to the fact that you have managed to compile some very rare and accurate data.
    Well done. :)
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    article submission

  • http://www.uktonercartridges.co.uk/ ink cartridges for printers

    i find the best comparison b/w mahalo & the find , get i new knowledge here thanks for sharing

  • http://www.sp-assurance.com/ Web Applications Development

    Search engines seems to have become rather hypocritical they’ve been screaming ‘content is king’ for decades and now there screaming ‘your articles is junk and by the way there is so much competitors out there that it’s also repeat content’.