Google Lets You Block Sites From Search Results

Google is making it easier for users to block unwanted sites in their search results, ratcheting up the pressure on domains that might be perceived as spam or low quality. The search giant is allowing users to hide or block sites from future search results right from within Google search instead of employing a Chrome browser extension, which it launched last month.

The decision to expand site blocking greatly increases the number of users who will be able to selectively target unwanted sites, the company said (users will need to be on Chrome 9, Internet Explorer 8 or Firefox 3.5 or higher). The new feature only applies more pressure on so-called content farms, which are increasingly being targeted by Google, Blekko and others.

The way the new Google blocking feature works is that when a user conducts a Google search and follows a link to a site that they decide they want to block, they can return to the search results and find a new link in the search entry that allows them to block that domain. After users confirm their decision, future results will not include the hidden site.

Users will get a reminder in their results if a search would have included a blocked site, and will be able to manage blocked sites from a new page in the search settings menu (they can also reinstate blocked sites or add new ones to the list). Google said it’s all part of delivering a more personalized and enjoyable experience. But it’s clear Google is also responding to mounting criticism about the perceived decline of its search results. It has acknowledged the issue and has been working to tweak its algorithm to downgrade lower-quality results. The latest “Panda” update to its search algorithm last month¬†has affected 12 percent of search results and is delivering a hurt on some content owners such as Associated Content and Demand Media.

The Personal Blocklist Chrome extension last month was another tool in helping Google identify spammy content, and the company said it might use the data from the extension to help inform its algorithm. It said today it’s not currently using new blocking data to tweak its algorithm — but will look at the information to see if it might be helpful to use in the future.

On the face of it, it would sound like this could be damaging to content farms. But by again giving responsibility to users, Google is ensuring that the effect won’t be as bad as if it took charge and actively banned sites. That’s the approach Blekko has been taking, which has resulted in 1.1 million sites banned. Google is not interested in antagonizing companies like Demand Media and others because many of them run Google advertising. But it feels compelled to do something, so it keeps working in the background while equipping its users with more blocking tools.

But I think Google knows that only a fraction of users will take up the challenge of actively blocking sites. It’s easy to complain about bad results but many just won’t make it a habit to block sites, even if it’s available through most browsers. Google is still reworking its algorithm to identify low quality content but when it comes to blocking, it seems happy to let its users be the heavy in this fight. That may not kill the criticism about declining search results but it may buy Google some more time as it figures out what to do long term.