SEO Octagan: Google vs Content Farms

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There has been a lot of buzz this past week about Google’s latest algorithm update, labeled the “Farmer Update,” performed in February 2011. This algorithm update from Google aims to take on content farms; spammy, low-quality content sites that have been crowding their search results.

“Our goal is simple: to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible…This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on…”

The Google crackdown affected 11.8% of search queries.

While the “Farmer Update” did successfully knock a lot of splogs (spam blogs) out of the search results, several major content distribution sites took a major hit— , and Yahoo! Associated Content to name a few.

Readers can see just how the latest Google Farmers Update had impacted some of these major sites – see the graph from Sistrix. EzineArticles CEO Chris Knight wrote a blog post about the consequences of EzineArticles getting labeled a content farm and what they intend to do about it:

“…we adamantly disagree with anyone who places the “Content Farm” label on… We’ll be evaluating ways to reduce the number of ads per page to improve the perceived user experience… Expect to see our current article rejection rate (40.6%) climb by another ~20%…”

The Google attack on content farms is a prime example of why sites need to take a diversified SEO approach. Sites that were relying on links solely from content marketing efforts suddenly found that a lot of links are now attached to sites that Google views as spam. Link credit (aka link juice) can have a substantial impact on a site’s trust factor. If a site’s inbound links are now associated with content farms, they lose part of their trust factor.

Content marketing got a lot of attention as a critical component of SEO. And once something is considered an important factor, that’s when the spammers and black hat SEO types swoop in and try to game the system. Since content marketing has taken a hit with the “Farmer Update”, websites should take some time away from content marketing and focus on other components of their link building plan. That is not to say that you should give up on producing a company blog or developing quality content. It just means that major content sites that were adversely affected by the update will have some sorting out to do before they can begin to publish new content. Hopefully the sites that were wrongly labeled as content farms will re-earn their spots in the search results.

Other sites were affected by the update because, while they may have had decent content, they may have had too many Adsense Ads or ads in general that are cluttering the page. The number of ads feeds into the overall user-experience, and a lot of ads comes across as spammy. Too many ads can kill the quality and usability of the content. However, Google hasn’t laid down a clear line of what constitutes “too many” ads. This has many site owners frustrated, as the feel like they’ve been unfairly penalized for trying to monetize their site.

Some are grateful for the update, glad to see Google finally taking on content farms that have been burying quality content in the search results. Others feel like Google went too far and attacked sites that typically produce quality content.

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