Friday, March 4, 2011

Google's Algorithm Attack on Content Farms

Only two months in to our new year, and the world of internet marketing and search engine optimization has undergone a fairly dramatic change. It was late January when Google first discussed that a major alteration would be made to their algorithm in an attempt to devalue content farms in the organic search engine result pages (SERPs). On February 24th, Google announced that the algorithm change had gone live. For those of you who may be unaware as to why Google would target content farms, it is necessary to know what these sites entail.

Essentially, a content farm is a website that contains an abnormal amount of textual content pertaining to any number of topics that a large volume of online users may be searching for. The goal of a content farm is to manipulate the search engine algorithms to generate as much traffic to the site as possible in an attempt to boost advertising revenue. Often, large businesses will hire freelance writers to publish these articles in order to produce the content at an alarming rate. Resulting from this mass production is often factually irrelevant, at times even incorrect, information that appears close to or at the top of the SERPs. Google is primarily concerned with this issue, as well as the fact that content farms rarely produce unique, high quality information.

Since Google's primary function is to return the best possible results to an online user depending on the search query, content farms in effect undermine their efforts and push quality websites further down the results pages. This decreases the likelihood that a person searching online would be able to retrieve high quality information. Recent studies that have been conducted on search activity suggest that 90% of online users never make it past the first page of the results. As the number of content farms popping up around the internet increased significantly over the last two years, so too had the criticism directed at Google for not previously adjusting their algorithm to solve this problem.

At the time of the adjustment, Google predicted that roughly 12% of its search results would change. The goal on their part was clearly to reward high quality websites while weeding out the lower quality content farms from the results. However, over the last few days, more webmasters have been coming forward to complain that their sites, which are not content farms, have seen dramatic decreases in visitor traffic as a result of the "farmer update"; some are claiming as much as a 50% decrease. One such site, the Apple blog Cult of Mac, came forward but as of two days ago had returned to their original ranking positions held prior to the algorithm change. Google has denied making manual changes to their rankings, but it will be interesting to see how they handle pleas from other webmasters as time moves forward.

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