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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:
http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/finding-more-high-quality-sites-in.html

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
http://searchengineland.com/who-lost-in-googles-farmer-algorithm-change-66173
Google Farmer Update: Quest for Quality - Sistrix
http://www.sistrix.com/blog/985-google-farmer-update-quest-for-quality.html
Websites to Google: 'You're killing our business!' - CNN
http://money.cnn.com/2011/02/25/technology/gaming_google/


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posted by Jody @ Monday, February 28, 2011   3 comments
Top 5 Online Marketing Posts of the Week - February 18th
Friday, February 18, 2011
Here is our top five online marketing posts for the week ending Friday, February 18th, 2011.
Last week's top five.

 
Top 5 Online Marketing Posts - Feb. 18/11

 
#5.  12 Questions to Ask When Performing SEO Keyword Research - Ko Marketing Associates - Derek Edmonds shares some of questions thta he walks through as part of his keyword research process.    There are some great tips here, like ensuring that you understand the value proposition of your website and ensuring that your keyword research covers your existing copy.  Derek speaks my language when he disccusses things such as intent, benchmarking and value prop.

 
#4.  New York Times Exposes J.C. Penney Link Scheme That Causes Plummeting Rankings in Google - SE Land - Vanessa Fox shares some thoughts on the whole JC Penney link scheme that graced the Internet news stories this week.   In case you missed it, the New York Times published an article about the search engine optimization tactics of JC Penney whereby it was discovered that "thousands of seemingly unrelated web sites (many that seemed to contain only links) were linking to the J.C. Penney web site. And most of those links had really descriptive anchor text. "  Matt Cutts later confirmed that the tactics violated Google's Webmaster Guidelines.  Vanessa goes into detail about why these tactics were wrong and why rankings were lost.

 
#3.  Google Stance On How & When Ranking Penalties Are Removed - Google's Webmaster Help YouTube Channel - Matt Cutts filmed a quick video in response to how Google adresses ranking penalties.



 
#2. Are Manual Solutions The Answer To Content Farms? - David Harry via Search Engine Land. David offers an interesting take on the state of modern search discussing items such as personalization, user feedback, social signals and timliness of data. David suggests that "What needs to be done is to find better filters and dampeners which can help limit the positive effects on low quality results."

 
#1.  A Tweet's Effect On Rankings - An Unexpected Case Study - SEOmoz.  An interesting case study performed by the team over at SEOmoz.  Ever wonder if/how, Twitter can have an impact on your search rankings?  The SEOmoz case study illustrates how they experienced the power of tweets when they determined that:
  • A high quantity of tweets from "real" users on Twitter has a pretty substantial impact on rankings in the short term (take note sources seeking rankings during high search volume periods - holidays, news events, etc.)
  • It appears likely that Google (and Bing) are using the concept they described in the interview on Search Engine Land of "Author Authority" to help weight the value of tweets (as we've seen that bot-repeated tweeting in similar quantities doesn't have this affect)
  • There seems to be some long-term, nascent value carried by tweets in addition to the short-term effects. If this is consistently observed, expect a lot more SEO activity around engaging and incenting tweeting to key URLs.
  • It's still unknown whether and how much the text of a tweet impacts the SERPs in a way similar to anchor text. That will be an excellent next test for us to observe.

Definitely some interesting findings.  You can almost be certain that there are site owners who are already trying to take advantge of this.
 
Thanks for taking the time to check out our top five favorite online marketing posts of the week.

 
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posted by Jody @ Friday, February 18, 2011   0 comments
Top 5 Online Marketing Posts of the Week
Thursday, February 17, 2011
This week and from here on, we are changing the format of our weekly top five from being our top five posts to being our overall top five online marketing related posts of the week. Hey we still like lists but we have been coming across so many great articles as of late that we thought that we should share the best of the best.

 
As a result here is our top five online marketing posts of the week for the week ending February 11th, 2011.

#5.  How to Avoid Being Labelled as a Content Farm -  SEOptimise.  Lots of discussions about content farms and Google's recent algorithm updates.  The folks at SEOptimise had a timely post describing content farms which they describe as "a site geared towards search engine users​."  The post lists a couple of examples of sites they view as content farms and why.  The end of the post features some tips for ensuring that your site does not get labelled as a content farm. 

#4.  Internet 2010 in numbers - Pingdom.com.   I love reading posts like this from time to time.  I am a bit of a stats junkie so I like to monitor sttas such as the ones compiled here by Pingdom.  Of course depending on the source, the numbers will vary but at least we can find them in one place.  According to this post, did you know that there were over 88 million .com domain names at the end of 2010?  Seems a little low to me.  As per June 2010, there were 1.97 billion Internet users worldwide representing a 14% increase over the previous year.  Again seemed a little low.  There are 2 billion videos watched per day on YouTube.  That sounds about right, as video is huge.  Check out the full post for more interesting internet stats for 2010.

#3.  Google 2000 vs. Google 2011 - Mattcutts.com - I, like many, think that Matt Cutts is a cool guy.  Very knowledgeable and approachable.  Just an overall nice guy who sometimes takes a lot of the criticism directed towards Google.  This week Matt had a fun little post comparing Google 2000 vs Google 2011.  Matt states "Mostly I wanted to make the point that Google looked much cleaner compared to other search engines in 2000, but spam was absolutely an issue even back then."  Interesting little post.

#2.  How To Improve Organic Search Results With A Simple Site Audit - Search Engine Land.  The first of two post from SE Land.  George Aspland discusses one of my favorite things site audits.  Site audits are a great way to diagnose issues with your site from both a technical and search perspective.  In addition as part of your audit, you can look at your conversion process and look for ways to improve your process as well.  George shares some great tips on how to use tools such as Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools to assist in your site audit.  Is there anyone that is not using Google Analytics or GWT tools yet?  Whether you are proceeding with a site redesign or are revamping your online marketing campaign begin with a site audit to identify the top areas that require attention.

#1.  7 Things To Teach Your Children About Conversion - Search Engine Land.  A great article from Brian Massey touching on conversion optimization and learning about how to improve conversion rates.  Some of the tips Brian shared include:
  • A deep and abiding conversion scenario requires two things: a source of quality traffic and an on-page experience that converts clicks to leads and sales. - I couldn't agree more.
  • The most dangerous pages are those that you can’t measure.
  • Your value proposition shouldn’t seek to placate all segments, but to energize the ones that give you the biggest advantage. - agree I agree entirely, you need to know who you are targeting and you need to understand just what it is that they are looking for.
  • Blind copying of competitor websites is probably helping your competitor more than it is helping you.
  • Real marketers “go all the way” and split test their decisions.
  • Personas are a great way to organize what you know about your visitors. They build empathy for the visitor, helping everyone on the team pull in the same direction. This reduces “friction” in the relationship that leads to abandonment. - personas are a very useful tool for any marketer.  Use them and use them wisely.
Great article from Brian which is why it appears at the top of our list as our favorite online marketing post of the week.  See you next week with Marketing Jive's Top 5 Online Marketing Posts of the Week.

 
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posted by Jody @ Thursday, February 17, 2011   0 comments
Has Link Popularity Run Its Course as Part of Search Algorithms?
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
By now you have most likely heard of the whole JC Penny SEO fiasco where an investigation by the New York Times found thousands of unrelated web sites in the retail industry were linking to JCPenny.com.  Yes another linking scheme.  The process was done by linking very specific keywords. Based on the detail of these links it was evident that someone planned this process.  The SEO company for JC Penny was quickly fired, but one thing that comes out of this is just how easy it still is for people to game and manipulate the search engines.  Ok,  JC Penny got caught, but what about all of the hundreds (thousands?) of other sites that are leveraging this tactic?

If you have been paying attention to Google in recent weeks you know that they have picked up their crusade against the war on spam.   This is a good thing people.  The search results from Google have become... well poor.  Webspam has started taking over and people, Google included, are not happy about it.  But fighting webspam is not an easy thing to do.  Rand Fishkin had a great post about webspam where he shared his thoughts on why Google may be letting so much spam and manipulation go unpenalized.  His thoughts included:

Scalability of Spam Fighting Tactics - it could be that the ability for Google's team to combat web spam has diminished due to the increasing size, complexity and demand in search.


They're Working on Something Big - for many years, Google would let lots of spam they clearly knew about pass... for a while. Then, they'd release an algorithmic update to defeat a huge layer of spam or seriously cripple certain types of link manipulation.


Too Much Baby Thrown Out with the Bathwater - perhaps, as link manipulation and spam have grown in popularity, Google's found that they can't penalize a technique or sites employing it without dramatically reducing the usefulness of their index...


Live and Let Live - It could be that although Google's public messaging about webspam and link manipulation hasn't changed, internally their attitude has. Perhaps they've found that sites/pages that buy links or run low quality link farms aren't much worse than those who don't and having relevant results, even if they've used black/gray hat tactics, isn't highly detrimental to search quality.


They're Counting on New Inputs to Help - Part of Google's initiative in acquiring social gaming companies, building social platforms and making data deals with folks like Twitter could be to help combat spam.


These are all great thoughts and with most of them, there is reference to link manipulation.  Herein lies the answer as to one of the best ways to deal with webspam, in order to address the issue of link manipulation, change the link popularity mechanism of the algorithm.  Placing even less emphasis on poor quality links and artificially inflated link inventories can only help clean up some of the garbage that we are seeing in the search results.  I previously wrote a piece asking the question "what happens when link popuularity well becomes less popular?"  In the post, I mentioned,
The fact is that the engines do place a lot of weight on link popularity and link authority.  My concern is that pages with high link popularity do not always serve up the best result for my needs as a searcher. 
I have worked with some big brands out there.  I have also worked with some small mom and pop sites as well.  Through great content, some focused keyword research and a little bit of link love here and there, I have experienced great success with these sites.  Not once have I ever tried any form of link manipulation so I know that great results can be accomplished without link manipulation.  While it is getting increasingly difficult to produce these results due in part to increasing competition, focus on link popularity and web spam, it simply takes time to develop a strategy that works not only for search but for online in general.

Has Link Popularity Run Its Course as Part of Search Algorithms?


I know that Google has made and continues to make algorithm updates to deal with webspam.  For Google's webspam team you just might want to look at further tweaking the link popularity piece of the algorithm.  Until you do, webmasters and black hat SEOs are going to continue to artificially inflate their link inventories for their client's sites.  Right now it is like an election and people are stuffing the ballot box with phony votes.  As a searcher and user of Google (and Bing and Yahoo and ASK...) why should I have to sift through the irrelevant sites with artificial optimization and link inventories that populate the results of my search queries?  Quite honestly, the link popularity piece of the algorithm has run its course and needs to be revamped.  Google knows this, why do you think that they are factoring in elements such as social aspects to their search algos?

The fact is something needs to be done about this.  Will Google penalize all of the sites that practice link manipulation?  Of course not, but they will make exceptions and make examnples of well known brands (BMW, Google Japan, JC Penny anyone?).  For site owners and online marketers, you can do your part as well.  As Vanessa Fox put it with her take on the whole JC Penny issue:
The best scenario is not to go down the path of manipulating search engine algorithms, but instead focus on solid search acquisition principles (building a site search engines can access, creating content your audience wants, raising awareness of that content…).
Search engines like Google and Blekko cannot fight webspam alone.  What they can do is control and penalize the number of sites that are trying to game the search results.  Everyone wants to place number one for "insert search term here", but they cannot, so there has to be some mechanism to determine as to why site "A" appears before site "B".  I get that, but there should be harsher penalties for sites that are guilty of deceptive practices for getting to the top.  There are stiffer penalties for manipulation or fraud in the offline world, perhaps the online world needs to catch up.  A temporary ban of a big brand in the search results might not be enough to prevent people from trying forms of link manipulation.  Until the algorithms adjust the importance of link popularity expect more of the stats quo with a few sites being made examples of along the way.

Knowing that there are hundreds of factors that make up the search algorithms and the fact that link popularity is one of the key factors of the algorithms means that people will try to take advantage of link manipulation until, well until this aspect of the algorithm changes.  We all know how difficult it is to get quality links.  The fact is that if you provide useful and informative content, and ensuring that people can find your content (whether it is through search or other mediums) you will obtain quality links pointing back to your pages.  Again it just takes time and the ability to provide value via your content.

My advice to Google and other search engines is simple.  Revisit the link popularity aspect of your algorithms.  Should a link continue to carry as much value as it does? 

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posted by Jody @ Wednesday, February 16, 2011   0 comments
Why Content Strategies Are Your Best Bet for Online Success
Friday, February 11, 2011
A few months ago at Pubcon, during what turned out to be a solo keynote speech, Google's Matt Cutts mentioned that Google would be refocusing efforts on fighting spam.  Could it be that Google finally took a long hard look at their own search results and saw how there was/is a large number of poor quality pages dominating the results?  Many SEO folk have leveraged some form of content optimization for the purposes of gaining visibility in search engine results.  Quite honestly the promotion that "content is king" made people take note that they had to build out more content to be successful with search.  While this is true to a point some (many?) have taken this practice to the extreme and the Web became quickly polluted with poor, low quality and in cases overly syndicated content.

Enter January 2011, where Google has gone public with their attack on content farms and sites that serve up low quality content.   All of a sudden "content farms" are a new buzzword that many are talking about.  It makes you wonder, just what is a content farm?  Does Google define a content farm the way you or I would define a content farm?  For me a content farm is a site that:
  • provides low quality content
  • features a lot of content that is syndicated or copied from other resources (all of you scaper sites out there take note)
  • has old or what I refer to as complacent or dated content that is of little use 
  • content that is over-optimized or has been fabricated for the sole purpose of gaming the search engine results
  • content that has artificially inflated their link inventories in an attempt to gain visibility in the search results
  • content that is cookie cutter in appearance; where it is obvious that a number of copywriters have created a bunch of content that is not unique or serves little purpose than creating noise on the Web
Having said that, there are sites that practice content marketing and article marketing.  That does not make them a content farm.  At least not in the content spam sense.  Yes there are exceptions to this, but there are a lot of sites that are putting out great content on a regular basis. Which leads me to the point of this post, content is still critical for your online success.  If you want to succeed, not only in search, but in the online space, you need to develop a strong content strategy

Why Content Strategies Are Your Best Bet for Online Success

Whatever the reason you choose to create a website, your content is the reason people will visit or not visit your site.  As a site owner there are three things that you need to think about when creating content:
  1. Value. Will the content provide value?  Is it useful to someone?
  2. Uniqueness. Is the content unique?  Is there some unique element to it?
  3. Relevancy.  Is the content timely - does it provide value now and will it continue to be relevant in the future?
We have said it before, but the messaging and type of content that your serve your audience can be the difference as to why users come back to your site or visit your competitor's site.  You can have the greatest writers in the world, but if the content they produce does not resonate with the intended audience, that content opportunity has been wasted.

The messaging that you feature on your site provides you with an opportunity to satisfy the need of your site visitors.  Perhaps they are looking for "how to" information, perhaps they are gathering research prior to making a purchase decision or perhaps they are even ready to make an online purchase.  Regardless a well planned out content strategy that is well optimized (yet not over optimized) can ensure great online success.  So then why are content strategies the best bet for online success?  Here are ten reasons why content strategies are your best weapon for guiding your audience to a conversion and online success.
  1. Adaptability - you can tailor your messaging to the needs of your audience
  2. Timeliness - you can provide the right messaging at the tight time
  3. Ease of reach - if your site is well optimized and can be found via online avenues such as search or social media, you can reach your audience quicker than other forms of marketing
  4. Ability to leverage different forms of content - whether it is a traditional web page, a blog post, a news release, a tweet, a Facebook update, an infographic (image), or a video, a well rounded content strategy should encompass various forms of content allowing you to reach people who consume information via different methods.
  5. Ease of update - it is easy to update your content online by simply editing a webpage or adding up a follow up post or video.  It can be easy to get timley information to your audience at Internet speed.
  6. Search - people use search for finding something.  Although the search algorithms are not perfect, quality content should be easy to find, people just need to be able to search for it and more importantly find it.  Well optimized, highly linked and authoritative content can have a greater visibility in search and social arenas.
  7. Ease of testing - online content strategies can be easy to test to ensure that your content is highly engaging.
  8. Dynamic/Change - similar to point number one above, your content strategy can be dynamic where your messaging can be guided by your user.  You produce the information that they are looking for ensuring that it is avaialble when they require it.
  9. Diversity - your content strategy can consist of various elements that can be interchanged as needed.  Perhaps you begin with a blog, or write an ebook, or publish a series of videos, or create an infographic, or leverage an article, whatever the mechanism you use to convey your content, the messaging can be the same but be presented in various manners. 
  10. What are the alternatives?  If you do not have useful content, what else will drive users to your website?  You need content for search, for your audience, for social.  Without content where would the Internet be? 
I applaud Google's efforts to clean up the Web.  The same with Blekko, I fgeel that they just need to be careful in lumping high quality sites (which because they may not have the most links or may not be the best optimized) with poorer quality sute that get neglected by the search engines and are not found within the search results.  Content is King?  Well maybe, but it is more like useful, timely and relevant content is king.

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posted by Jody @ Friday, February 11, 2011   0 comments
Top SEO Lists - Week of January 31, 2011
Sunday, February 06, 2011
Last week's top five.  

Top 5 SEO Lists of the Week - Week of January 31, 2011

#5.  6 Search Operators I’d Be Lost Without - Lisa Barone had a great little post on useful search operators.  http://outspokenmedia.com/seo/handy-search-operators/

#4.  5 SEO Mistakes that Crush Rankings - Neil Patel shared a few things you should avoid, if you don’t want your rankings to tank.  http://www.quicksprout.com/2011/02/02/5-seo-mistakes-that-crush-rankings

#3.  3 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started - I think that everyone in the search industry could write such a post.  Over at Search Engine Journal, Ross Hudgens shared some lessons that he has learned throughout his SEO career.
http://www.searchenginejournal.com/3-things-i-wish-i-knew-when-i-started/27519/

#2.  Training Tips for SEOs - SEOmoz.  Here is a nice list of tips for SEOs when it comes to planning and delivering effective training sessions. 
http://www.seomoz.org/blog/training-tips-for-seos

#1.  Modern SEO KPIs For the Evolving Practitioner - some great thoughts here on SEO KPIs that include: Non-Brand Keyword Traffic, Global Distribution of Brand Keyword Traffic, Keyword Market Share, Social Media Profiles in Google & Bing SERPs and Traffic From Social Media & Applications.

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posted by Jody @ Sunday, February 06, 2011   0 comments
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