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Jeremy Morgan

Mostly Coherent Ramblings of a Silicon Forest Software Developer

Google Algorithm Update Takes Aim at "Content Farms"

By: Jeremy Morgan






Yesterday Google announced a significant update to their algorithm, which they say will affect 11.8% of their queries. The 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.”  Basically it looks like they’re taking aim at “content farms”. So what does this update mean for you? It could be good news.

Algorithm Changes

Google Algorithm Update Target's "Content Farms" Google changes their “algorithm” all the time.  There is no actual single algorithm, but likely thousands of algorithms that determine ranking. Google changes them quite frequently and most of the time they’re pretty subtle. This is why people check their rankings daily and see changes. There have been many large scale changes such as the “Florida” update of 2003 (which incidentally increased my search engine traffic dramatically) and the more recent ”Mayday” update last year.  These changes usually make a serious impact, any many sites fall off the map completely, bringing other sites up.

I love it when Google does these large updates, because I nearly always benefit from them. Can you guess why? Because when they do these drastic updates they cut a lot of cheater, spam and Blackhat SEO’d sites out of the index, and the rest of us rise to the top. As long as you’re keeping it honest not only do you not have to worry about huge updates, but sometimes you’ll benefit from it. But I won’t ramble on too much about that, but you get the picture.

What is a Content Farm?

A content farm is basically a junk site with junk content used to scrape search engine traffic. They aren’t really built for human visitors, their sole purpose is getting search engine traffic and funneling it towards a revenue source. There are a few ways they build the content for their sites:

  • Scrape Content From other sites

  • Hire offshore writers to make keyword loaded but senseless articles

  • Grab content from RSS feeds

  • Grab content from Wikipedia and reword it

  • Use Markov Algorithms and other tools to generate text

The list goes on and on, but mostly they put together sites filled with nonsense but try to get Google to rank it. Most of the time the information is either copyrighted or randomly generated. These sites can generate thousands of pages and their owners build backlinks to get them ranked and throw ads on it.

If you’re doing this and making money off it, it really can work but you must understand the business model. You can create hundreds or thousands of domains, fill then with thousands of pages and create complicated link structures and make a lot of money. But this is not a great long term strategy, and eventually the sites will be dropped from the index become worthless. Your domains will be de-indexed or even banned. Do not ever do this with your main company URL. Ever.

That’s in short what a content farm is, and Google has declared war on them. This update is one of many moves Google has taken to clean their results of these types of sites.

What do we know about this Google Algorithm Update?

What do we know about this update?

In short, very little. Google sometimes announces these updates as they did this time, but they rarely give any real insight to the technical part of it, or what they’re looking for. The reasons for this are fairly obvious. But here is what I’m guessing this update is about. Keep in mind this is only my educated guess and I really have no insight or confidential information on it.

I believe Google will be targeting:

Sites with duplicate content - Sites that contain content found on other sites, and sites that contain scraped information. Especially sites that take content that doesn’t belong to them. It wouldn’t be hard to figure out that Bob from from get-your-latest-financial-news.biz doesn’t have the rights to republish a clone of CNN.com with all their content.

Sites that contain only RSS Content - Any site that contains content only scraped from RSS feeds will likely suffer. You can build entire sites from these feeds, but if you don’t have anything else unique on your site they’ll find it.

Sites that have low quality or Markov text - Google is constantly changing and developing algorithms to detect junk text. Just because the random text looks like it’s a real article, doesn’t mean it will make sense if you read it aloud. This also goes for those 1000 articles for $5 deals you sometimes find in webmaster forums. It’s poor quality stuff and Google will pick up on it.

Sites that just contain articles from popular article sites - If you’re using articles from Goarticles.com or something similar on your site, that’s great. I often write articles for them and other article distribution sites in hopes that people will republish and spread my articles around. There is nothing wrong with using those articles on your site, but if your site consists solely of these articles you’re likely going to run into a penalty.

Sites with very little original content - This one is pretty obvious. Whether it’s syndicated articles, RSS feeds, javascript includes or whatever you can find, if there is no original content on your site, eventually it will fall through the cracks. You need original content to survive!

How does this affect you?

The answer to this one is pretty simple. If you’re doing some of the things listed above, you may be affected by it. If you’re not doing any of those things you shouldn’t see any more than your usual  fluctuation. If anything you’ll see better rankings because the junk is being flushed out again, but there’s no guarantee. If you’re staying with White hat SEO efforts you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

My Opinion

As I said above, usually when Google does major algorithm changes my rankings seem to benefit so I tend to like them. Most of the people who complain about Google algorithm changes are people who were gaming the system to begin with. I like the fact that Google is taking steps to eliminate bad results, and it’s good they are moving forward. As a searcher, I like finding better results and an SEO/Website Owner I like having my sites and my customer’s sites  rise up above the spammy crap. The more of these kinds of updates the better.

People often forget that Google owes you nothing. It’s free traffic (Unless you’re using adwords of course.) and should be considered as such. Those who get very angry and devote their lives to trashing Google on blogs and forums usually feel that Google has cheated them in some way, and they feel they aren’t getting as much traffic as they should and get upset. They often forget that basing your entire business on Google is risky at best. Don’t put all your eggs in the Google basket because any day you can wake up and be removed from the site for any reason.

In short, keep it honest, and any development Google makes towards putting out better results  will end up helping you.

Further Reading:

Official Google Release

Google Content Farms and Diversification

Google Announces a Major Algorithm Change to Improve Search Results

Demand Media’s Response to Algorithm Change

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