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Google Farmer Update: Innocent Sites Being Impacted
Monday, February 28, 2011
Google has been active as of late, I don't need to tell you that.  Their most recent algorithm update dubbed by Danny Sullivan as the "Farmer Update" is apparently directed at content farms or sites with low quality or shallow content.  This was a major update from Google.  In fact this is probably one of Google's most significant algorithm updates ever.  Talk all you want about the Florida update, but this Farmer update has wreaked havoc with a number of well known sites and directories.  As with any algorithm update, it seems that there are always some innocent sites that are impacted.  More on this in a second.  This update has applied the content farm label to many sites including syndication havens such as ezine articles, hubpages.com and others.  Sistrix released a list of some of the sites that experienced the greatest traffic and ranking declines.  There are some interesting sites on this list and some that many would not necessarily say are lower quality in nature.  This leads me to believe that there are a number of innocent sites that are experiencing significant traffic issues as a result of the latest algorithm update from Google.

This is a major update, no question.  So big in fact that Google has rolled it out in multiple stages.  The first part took place on January 26th where Google was targeting scraper sites that contribute to all of the webspam that we are seeing out there.  The second was last Thursday where sites with, what Google deemed, as having low quality content were impacted.  Here's what Google stated about last week's update:
But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. 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.
Google's official announcement:

This ties into a post from Matt Cutts on content spam from January 21st a few days prior to the first part of this Google algorithm update.  In this post, Matt states "... that we recently launched a redesigned document-level classifier that makes it harder for spammy on-page content to rank highly. The new classifier is better at detecting spam on individual web pages, e.g., repeated spammy words—the sort of phrases you tend to see in junky, automated, self-promoting blog comments."

Quite honestly, I am not sure that we have seen the full roll-out of this Google algorithm update.  For more details on the "Farmer Update", check out Danny Sullivan's great post over at Search Engine Land.  Danny has done a real nice job of explaining what this update consists of and what his thoughts are about what to expect next. An interesting comment from the post suggests that Google has been working on this update for quite some time.  According to Danny,
Google says it has been working on these changes since last January. I can personally confirm that several of Google’s search engineers were worrying about what to do about content farms back then, because I was asked about this issue and thoughts on how to tackle it, when I spoke to the company’s search quality team in January 2010.
I believe this to be true for the simple fact that a site that I work on has been directly impacted by the various algorithm updates since January 2010.  While I cannot get into specific details, traffic from Google has been suffering during this time and I truly believe that Google has made a mistake with regards to this particular site.  We have a team of superb writers and our content is 100% unique.  The problem is that our content is constantly getting ripped off by scraper sites.  Now while I only started working on the site in August, I can say that the site is not a content farm and while there are site issues to address, I feel that this site is is one of the innocent bystanders that has unfairly been hit hard by Google.  The impact on the bottom line has been felt and quite honestly is not deserved.  Innocent sites such as ours are suffering.  While it is often best to ride out the storm with algorithm updates, and while sometimes dealing with an algorithm update means being patient, as far as qualified traffic and revenue is concerned there are times when a site cannot afford to suffer through a lengthily traffic decline.

I totally get the fight against webspam, and I appreciate what Google is trying to do, but when you are a quality site that has been helping searchers find the information that they are looking for, in whatever industry you may be in, for nearly ten years and all of a sudden you are no where to be found for relevant phrases that you had previously placed well for, I have a problem with that.  Especially when the sites that are now appearing higher than ours are crappy spam sites that have shallow content and artificial link inventories.  Google I applaud your effort to clean up webspam, but this time you have simply not done your homework.  Innocent sites with high quality content are being labeled as having low quality content and are being lumped in with true content farms.  The site that I work on is a directory.  However not all directories are bad.  We try very hard to ensure that our content is fresh, unique, informative and useful.  For the past decade many users have come to our site and found the information they have been looking for to make an important decision in their lives.   With the recent algorithm updates Google has taken away the ability of our users to find and utilize our resources.  If we were not a top quality resource I could understand the traffic trends we are experiencing, but we are not a content farm or a site that features shallow content.  We are a quality resource and have been for years.  Google we are but one example of probably many innocent sites that are being impacted.  We do our part not to contribute to all of the noise and pollution that is on the Web.  We need you to do your part.

Call it the "Farmer Update| or the "AdSense Update", regardless of the label, innocent sites are being hit and hit hard while sites that are blatantly trying to game the search engines are moving up in the search results.  Again, Google we need you to do your part to clean up the Web.  Just do not do it at the expense of legitimate websites and resources.

Related Readings

Algorithm change launched - http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/algorithm-change-launched/
Google Updates and SERP Changes - February 2011 - Webmaster World http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4261944-7-30.htm
Number Crunchers: Who Lost In Google’s “Farmer” Algorithm Change? - Search Engine Land
Google Farmer Update: Quest for Quality - Sistrix
Websites to Google: 'You're killing our business!' - CNN

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posted by Jody @ Monday, February 28, 2011  
  • At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Nick Stamoulis said…

    I was surprised by some of the sites on the list. While it's possible that some of the content on content sharing sites like Ezine might not be that great, I know for a fact that there is also lots of good content on there. I can't help but wonder if websites that submit content to these sites will somehow be penalized as well. It will be interesting to see where this goes.

  • At 10:48 AM, Blogger Rob said…

    This update didn't target all directories. The company I work for also operates directories and our traffic has actually improved. In fact our googlebot traffic is through the roof right now!

    One thing I think has helped is we implemented a series of safeguards a couple years ago to keep our content unique. You might want to consider implementing a spider trap to find and block harvesters - that's one of the things we did and it's been great - we stop tons of scrapers.

  • At 1:48 PM, Blogger Jody said…

    @Nick yes it has been interesting to see some high quality sites being hit as well. Looks like Google is already tweaking some parts of this update.

    @Rob - Hey Rob. Yes you're correct in that not all directories were hit, but Google has had directories on their minds for a while now. The spider trap idea is brilliant! I would love to learn how you implemented this. If you get a moment drop me a line with any details that you can spare.


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