Mar 02 2011
You may have heard of the Farmer Update now, Google’s intention to clear out content farms from their search results. At first I was skeptical about Google’s claim on their blog that this was a “pretty big algorithm improvement,” but now I’m convinced it was and is a huge change that will remain!
This update was nothing like the Florida update that affected almost every ecommerce store enjoying good search rank just before December 2003, and I doubt there will ever be another update from Google like that one – which felt like the effects of a hurricane. But I predict that the Farmer update will go down as the biggest in terms of visible change over a four-year period of updates.
Search Engine Land published a fascinating post on the losers in the Farmer update.
The shock and awe of this update came from sites that have dominated the search results for years, but now Google says they are low quality content farms. Here’s a sampling of sites that are well known and yet experienced a total visibility loss of 80% or greater:
Of course there were winners as well (high quality, original content sites):
From my observation of the loser sites, one of their business model’s is selling advertising. How will this update impact their bottom line now, especially if they lost 80% or more in keyword visibility from Google? If organic Google traffic proves to be a major profit center, they will soon be having discussions about alternatives to replace that free revenue stream.
There are a number of questions that the Farmer update begs:
- What is G’s limit with a web page that contains “low quality” content – 40%, 60%, 80%?
- How will sites that have strict editorial guidelines for user-generated content (i.e. Ezinearticles.com, Buzzle.com, etc.) ensure that their content will not be considered “low quality” going forward?
- What are the main differences of similar sites who also have editorial guidelines for user-generated content and yet won with Farmer (i.e. Amazon.com, eHow.com, etc.)?
For those who are curious about their own site, Andy Beard created a report that detects how much a site has been affected by the Farmer update using Google Analytics.
I’m not sure the Farmer update qualifies as an SEO game changer, especially for SEOs who are trying to keep up with Google. A couple years ago Todd Malicoat summarized the SEO game changers from Google:
- Onpage factors (1995 – 1999)
- Offpage factors (2000)
- Florida update (2003)
- Fresh Crawl/ Everflux (2004)
- Sandbox effect (2005)
- Duplicate content filtering (2006)
- Human editorial (2006)
- Onebox/ Universal Search (2007)
- Paid linking handling (2007)
- No follow (2008)
- User data validation and segmentation (2009)
- Brand Mentions (update Vince – 2009)
I’ll add two more to Todd’s list:
13. Higher quality sites for long tail queries (Mayday update – 2010)
14. Content farms handling (Farmer update – 2011)
There are alternative ways to build free traffic to a site, perhaps that’s the lesson of the Farmer update, as it was to so many in the SEO community back in 2003 when Florida hit. One of the lessons I learned back then and still holds true today, first came from Jill Whalen (I think):
Do things to bring targeted traffic to your site that you would do anyway even if there were no search engines.
I’d love to get your input on the Farmer update.