For example, if you search for "digital camera reviews", the first hit is dpreview.com, a fantastic site. Is there an equivalent site for appliances?
The real message here is that keyword optimized sites are addressing a real need, but doing it poorly, which suggests that there might be big opportunities for people who can beat them by producing better quality content.
The top search result for "washing machine" is ConsumerSearch. The second and third results are spam. The fourth is Wikipedia.
The top search results for "dryer" are the same as "dishwasher", but in a slightly different order.
The top search results for "refrigerator" are the same as "dryer", but in a slightly more vendor-friendly order. Again, no spam.
No spam on the first SERP for "microwave oven", either.
When it comes to dishwashers the cause of the problem may be very simple: there are no reviews online (or anywhere). At least not when it comes to the dozens of same old and bland models dishwasher companies tend to spew out.
(And since I don’t know anything about dishwashers this statement was most certainly a gross oversimplification for which I apologize to all the busy dishwasher engineers out there.)
This doesn't have to harm the user experience, incidentally. I am fairly upfront about what I'm doing: there are about 700 pages on my website which cost me about $3 each to write, and they are all designed to rank highly for a single search term or small basket of search terms. Probably 95% of them deserve the #1 ranking on Google because they are the best content for that search term on the Internet. (Better than 80% of them are the only content for that search term on the Internet.)
Similarly, the context the discussion I had with Thomas was also about creating user value out of a resource he already possessed but wasn't surfacing in a manner optimal to either searchers or his business interests.
[+] Edited to add information architecture, which I forgot to mention because I haven't worked on improving it in a while. Effective content siloing and interlinking is a major factor in why my site works as well as it does.
Also I wouldn't try any of your generic/naked term searches if buying a major appliance. The results don't really help discriminate among choices on major axes.
I would instead mix the categories with descriptors ("best", "reviews", "compact", "most reliable") or brand names. But unfortunately, that nowadays results in a maze of repetitive e-commerce pablum sites, many running AdSense ads. It's possible to pick out some useful information with effort -- but it's hidden in a lot of muck of Google's own making.
Thus it's a lot like other About.com sites -- sometimes useful, until everyone else gets into the same 'landing page' game. Then they're all just variated regurgitation of the same C&P'd wisdom from elsewhere.
It aggregates and summarizes reviews from Consumer Reports, a bunch of other resources, and Amazon.com user reviews, breaks products down into three categories, and provides a top recommendation for each, runners up, and a methodology.
It might be a wise synthesis of key points from many other reviews... but it'd take a while to earn that reputation as a trusted voice. In the meantime, its design is not giving me signals of reliability, though I can see it has those aspirations (from its 'about' page).
If it were signed copy, more clearly dated, with some quantitative indicators they'd done deeper research, it'd come closer to impressive for me. But, then the source sites might object about the quantity of material excepted.
How valuable is a review-of-reviews, by an unnamed someone who hasn't themselves ever tried the product?
I could believe that done right the review-of-reviews approach could theoretically provide some value. But it veers so close to pay-for-keyword-stuffed-article index-chaffing behavior my presumption starts out against it.
Part of the problem is that people don't tend to review appliances online, so there is nothing for google to find even if it was perfect.
And the appliance makers make it deliberately hard - the same model has a different model number depending on where it's sold (which is done to prevent people from price matching).
* Dishwasher-Review.com (spammy)
* Viewpoints.com (spammy)
* Buzzillions (borderline)
* Consumer Reports
* Wize.com (borderline)
There clearly is spam, but it's not a garbage dump.
Dishwasher-review may also be unnaturally high in the SERPs because of its close matching domain. And I'm not giving Buzzillions the benefit of the doubt.
ConsumerSearch and Consumer Reports are the only real results.
When Google first wrote their search algorithm, they tailored it to the web in order to produce good results. Now we're in the opposite situation where everyone tailors the web to fit the algorithm. I believe this is a worse world. I would rather see site creators focus on creating the best experience for visitors to the site instead of trying to play the SEO game, either white or black hat.
In addition, it probably creates a feedback loop that stifles innovation in search algorithms. Google issues recommendations on how to do SEO, so sites follow those guidelines, which in turn leads to the web conforming to what Google's algorithm wants the web to look like.
A concrete example: Newspaper editors used to pride themselves on writing witty and clever headlines for their stories. But SEO guidelines dictate putting lots of search keywords in the headline and page title, leading to bland and boring headlines. Google could change their algorithm to accomodate the way headlines are written instead of the reverse.
Simply because sites appear in the listing that you don't like doesn't mean they are spammy. People are also writing good content for the same reason. If folks are searching for material and you can provide something unique and valuable (which is really only determined by the consumer), there is a role for additional content providers in any area. Heck, there was a HN article a week or two ago about a company that is making huge bucks providing random video instruction. Remember these guys? http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/10/ff_demandmedia/
Finally there is existing content that is gaming Google's system to gain ranking where it probably doesn't deserve it as well, keying off of strategic partnerships and other things that just make them look better.
Once again, boys and girls, Google is an algorithm, not a way of life. Whenever you put an algorithm at the center of your company people are going to manipulate it. Google doesn't get to have the "magic" or right algorithm that is somehow non-game-able any more than Microsoft or anybody else does. This is an evolutionary process and we've got to expect change and adaptation. Seeing a lot of spammy sites in your results just means that the system is gearing up for the next evolutionary leap. Can't wait to see what it is.
As a personal story, I have a massage chair that gave me fits when I bought it a few years ago. So I put the name and model in my blog.
To this day I get about a comment a month with somebody asking questions about the chair and somebody else responding. Was that a spam article? Would it have been a spam article if I had purposely targeted that particular chair's keywords?
I think it's just content, and I think the rest is just content, and I think people write content for all kinds of reasons. If you incentivize it, people are going to do more of it. Search-by-keyword incentivizes creating content.
It seems obvious yet profound at the same time.
Spoken by someone who has never run an active content-based advertising revenue business. What you don't see behind that site with crappy content are 100's if not thousands of links pointing to that site. And THAT my friend is the real problem with Google search. Simply cranking out content is only a small part of the equation and will get you no where.
Any google search employees have an answer?
My only guess is that google seems to be anti crowd source and pro algorithm?
(I haven't got time to go looking to see what the button class="w5" does, but I'll be good money Google records everytime you click one of those buttons)
What the heck is this supposed to mean?
Is it just a catchy title or is there some unintuitive but turns out really appropriate metaphor going on here that I missed?
I understand there are content grinders out there that are made to rank high for Google (but see, they are not made by Google nor are they Google itself). It sounds a lot more like giving a snake what it likes to eat--say rats--rather than a snake eatings its own tail, but since you say it's clear, please do enlighten me because I honestly don't get how the metaphor is supposed to work.
And I don't see how Kedrosky is a black pot in this case. He is not a search engine, nor is he a spammer, nor a purveyor of affiliate-linking review sites.
Is he not doing exactly what he describes? He is writing about a topic popularized earlier in the day by TechCrunch. There are no objective measurements of the assertion that searching for dishwashers produces spam. As comments here note, searches for "dish washer" product pretty good results. Face it, it's the HN equivalent of Google spam.