Q: Google changed its algorithm to improve its search function and block certain sites from appearing, but I haven't seen a significant change. Is there a way to modify personal settings to clean up my results?
A: A couple of weeks ago, Google tweaked its famous search algorithm to battle content farms like eHow.com and others, where hundreds of freelance writers spit out low-quality articles in order to make money from advertising sold against readers. While those sites scramble to figure out how to keep their traffic numbers up as search engines, their primary drivers, turn against them, Google continues to make improvements to its primary business. Tucked inside an interview with Google's engineers, we found a fascinating detail about how the company is using human feedback to determine which sites are worth blocking.
We suspect that Google's engineers are also watching -- and collecting data on -- which sites its users go out of their way to permanently block from appearing in their search results. If some content farms or other sites that you consider low quality -- or just don't want to see anymore -- are slipping through the search giant's cracks, you can manually block them. Here's how:
If you're using Internet Explorer 8 or 9, any Firefox model released after 3.5 or Chrome 9 to browse the Web, there's some built-in functionality that makes permanently blocking sites simple. Login to your Google account and, after searching, click through to the site that you intend to remove. Use your browser's back button to return to the Google search results page and, under the link to the page you just visited, you'll find a new option next to the always-present 'Cached' and 'Similar' links: 'Block all X results," where X is the domain name of the site. Click the new link and Google will block that site from appearing in your search results. Just make sure you're logged in whenever you want to search.
Made a mistake? It's easy to unblock a site. If you're still on the Google search results page, simply click 'Undo.' If not, navigate to 'Manage Blocked Sites,' a page within your Google settings. This page lists all of the sites that you have blocked from appearing in your search results and allows you to add more sites manually (and even leave a note to yourself, a reason for blocking). "Sites will be blocked only for you, but Google may use everyone's blocking information to improve the ranking of search results overall," the page explains. You can block as many as 500 sites.
If you're not using an updated Web browser, don't want to login to your Google account or are hesitant to build out a list of blocked sites (what if you want some of those sites to appear in your search results on occasion?), you can use the minus sign when searching. Just as you can add "site:theatlantic.com" (for example) to the end of a search phrase to only obtain results from one specific site, you can preface that extension with a minus sign (-) to exclude it.
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