Google's 'Farmer/Panda' Update
By: Matt Naeger, Executive Vice President, Strategy
The most recent in a series of Google algorithm updates has been called the "farmer" update - mainly because it appears to have been targeted at sites that are considered content farms and whose objectives appear to have been solely designed to manipulate the Google ranking algorithm. This algorithm update was released in late February and has affected at least 11.8% of Google search queries in the United States. The sites that saw the biggest change in rankings, as a result of the update, are those that provide many pages of very thin content on topical areas that are commonly searched for by people across the web. Although the update was designed to specifically reduce the value of thin content in the Google algorithm, it has also affected several more substantial web sites, whose business models are designed around publishing content for others that - although topical - do not provide in depth details on any particular subject matter.
For the majority of the life of search engines on the web, the primary purpose behind the organic ranking algorithms was to identify sites that provided deep levels of useful content to answer the questions that searchers have as they navigate the web. Over the past few years however there has been an assault on the engine algorithms by web sites that have identified unique niche marketplaces where, if they were to provide a small amount of content, they could achieve high rankings in natural search. Once these rankings were achieved on the thin content that the sites provided, they then began to grow authority as a place to go to for answers to a variety of questions and therefore generated high quantities of links. The links to these sites and the specific content further solidified them as valuable within the natural search results on Google. During the process of growing their rankings, these sites then utilized the traffic that they generated to aid in earning revenue from banner and content advertising programs like Google AdSense.
The main change in the Google algorithm that is being discussed has been designed to increase the value of unique content within the sites that are being indexed by Google and to prevent sites with little unique content on a subject from controlling the top spots on Google. In the articles listed below, you will see a series of statistics about the sites that have been penalized the most from the update. What we have identified is that not only were content farms penalized, but also sites that had limited unique content on a topic and few quality links specific to the topic area. The examples of the breadth of this penalty are seen in the lost rankings for sites like PR Newswire and Technorati. These sites would never be referred to as typical content farms, but do both meet the criteria of limited unique content on a topic area and a limited number of quality links for their content. Other sites that actually include low quality content, such as Associated Content and Suite 101, have seen significant drops in search result rankings, which can be seen as a great benefit to the experience of a searcher.
On the other hand, two sites that have been discussed for not being penalized are eHow and Yahoo Answers. These two sites both have what would normally be seen as thin content but they also provide substantial value to their readers that tend to generate high quality links and references from other web sites. The reason that sites like these weren't penalized is that the new algorithm is increasing the weight on unique content value and an increased weight on the quality of external links, not just the quantity. Websites such as Yahoo Answers also include feedback from web users. For this reason, it may be important for websites to begin to encourage customer feedback and interaction on their sites, since this is something that the Google algorithm is looking for. Providing a forum for User Generated Content will also develop unique content other than what is written on the website, which can only further benefit organic search results.
A third aspect of this algorithm update has been identified to show that low quality content within a domain, that otherwise would be seen as valuable, can result in reduced rankings for the domain as a whole. If you identify that you have thin content within certain sections of your site but not others, you should plan to either remove that content in total or move it to a separate domain.
Google will continue to refine and update this algorithm but this change is definitely here to stay. The main purpose of the update is to provide a more content rich and valuable experience for Google users and there are bound to be glitches along the way. Many bloggers and websites hit by the recent change have made their frustration with the algorithm very public and are looking to Google for changes to be made in their rankings. Although this can be seen as a negative consequence for some websites, Google is certain that the algorithm will improve searches for users and will try their best to eliminate issues without making any manual changes to a single website's ranking. Some websites that had dropped significantly in rankings, such as Cult of Mac, have regained their ranking due to some of these alterations to the original algorithm. IMPAQT will be keeping up with further updates to the algorithm and how they affect sites in the coming weeks.
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