My Take on the Google Farmer Update

A lot has already been opined and discussed regarding Google’s latest algorithm update. So I guess this is me throwing in my two cents.

First, I’ll give it to Google – they really have a tough problem on their hands. Which would explain why this is an update that they have supposedly been working on for over a year. From their own blog, here’s the stated goal of this update:

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.

First, lets talk about what got Google into this conundrum. Their problem, in my opinion, is that the domain authority/trust component of their algorithm was allowing sites like eHow, eZineArticles, Squidoo, and a plethora of other so-called “content farms” (however you want to define them) to rank for search terms that they really have no business ranking for. See this post, detailing how several Demand Media sites rank at the top for a search like “level 4 brain cancer”. As a side note, after Google updated, those same eHow articles still rank at the top for the same search.

At the same time, I think Danny Sullivan’s complaints about eHow ranking for a search term like “how to get pregnant fast” are a little out of line. Is the quality of the content that was ranking lacking? Sure. It’s not going to win a Pulitzer prize. But is the person typing “how to get pregnant fast” into a search box really looking for high quality content? No. IMO, that person is looking for basic “how to get pregnant” type tips – which is exactly what that article provides. That being said, does eHow really need 1165 articles even loosely related to the topic of “getting pregnant”?

Some have suggested that Blekko’s approach to this problem (i.e. completely removing from their index any site that they consider a “content farm”) is better, but judging by their search results I beg to differ.

Interesting precedent Google is sending with this update. eHow was relatively untouched with this update, and their business model is essentially to take any “how to” topic the human mind can devise, and then pay a legion of writers to craft 8-10 unique (but essentially, spun) articles on the topic. Interlink said articles, use a powerful root domain to rank them, toss up premium Google AdSense ads, profit. Oh wait, Mahalo. After the update, they don’t even rank #1 for their own brand.

So, what is it about eHow that prevented them from being hurt by these latest algorithm changes? They’ve been ranking near the top for a LOT of “how to” type search phrases for a long time – maybe in that time they’ve managed to attract enough “natural” links that their rankings were relatively untouched? It will be interesting to see if any tweaks Google makes to this update impact eHow in a negative way. After all, the bitching and moaning that spurred this update had Demand Media as one of it’s primary targets.

I don’t have a lot of examples of sites that got caught up in this algorithm change unfairly, but I have found a few.

  • (interestingly enough, this site was recently acquired by Google)
  • (oh noes!)

In addition to these, there are hundreds of webmasters complaining of lost rankings, traffic & earnings at WebmasterWorld.  For the first time in 7 years of being a webmaster, a couple of my own sites (both were recently acquired from another webmaster) have been penalized – though, in my opinion, unfairly.

Here’s hoping Google does some tweaking to this algorithm over the coming days, weeks, and months.

Btw, hat tip to Andrew Walsh for inspiring me to take the time to write down my thoughts on this update.


  1. Michael McMahon says:

    There are a bunch of other sites who got hit recently… being one of them, though it mostly related to the practice of encouraging college/university sites to placing inbound links for discounted prices on the site.

    Google will be doing lots of tweaking, especially as it incorporates social media data into its search results.

  2. Speaking of Google in the news, I continue to hear-tell from time to time that the Google search function is going to be incorporating social media in it’s search results. Any idea what this means exactly? Are we going to be searching for Granny Smith Apples and get 1.5 million hits of facebook pages for people named Smith?

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