Amidst complaints that search results are of degraded quality, Google is pinching its algorithms to do a better job of removing spam or automated content. The company says the ranking updates, which arrive in May, will “keep the lowest-quality content out of search.” Of particular note, Google says its engine will be better at rooting out today’s automated (read: AI-generated) content that’s harder to spot.

Google says it’s taking what it learned from the 2022 algorithm setting to “reduce useless, unoriginal content” and apply it to the new update. The company says the changes will send more traffic to “useful and high-quality sites.” When combined with updates from two years ago, Google estimates that the revision will reduce spammy, non-genuine search results by 40 percent.

“This update includes refinements to some of our core ranking systems to help us better understand if web pages are useless, have a poor user experience, or feel like they were built for search engines instead of people,” the director wrote in Product Management at Google Elizabeth Tucker. “This can include sites built primarily to answer very specific search queries.”

Google sounds like it’s targeting AI-generated SEO spam with its massive content abuse notices. The company says it’s stepping up its approach to the growing problem of sites generating junk automated articles (as well as zeroing in on old-fashioned human-generated spam).

“Today, the methods of creating content at scale are more sophisticated, and whether content is created solely through automation is not always as clear,” Tucker said. Google says the changes “will allow us to take action on more types of content with little or no value created at scale, such as pages that pretend to have answers to popular searches but fail to deliver useful content.”

AI-generated content farms to blow up system game content is a growing problem, so Google’s changes – if they’re as effective as they’ve promised – will be welcome. While sites spamming only this content may be easier to spot, it will be interesting to see if scenarios where once-respected sites experiment with AI-generated spam (CNET and Sports Illustrated are recent examples) will be affected.

Another algorithm change will address the practice of otherwise reputable sites hosting low-quality third-party content designed to detract from the site’s good name. Google provides an example of an educational site hosting a third-party payday loan review. “We will now consider very low-value third-party content created primarily for ranking purposes and without strict control by the website owner to be spam,” Tucker wrote.

Finally, Google’s updates are said to do a better job of rooting out expired domains that have been bought by someone else and turned into click mills. The search engine will start treating these websites as spam.

You won’t see the improvements right away, as Google gives site owners two months notice to adapt accordingly. The search engine changes take effect on May 5.