Archive for February 26th, 2011

26
Feb
11

Google Puts Content Farms Out to Pasture

Google has pulled the trigger on a major algorithm update and busted a cap in an entire industry, the Content Farm. In case you don’t know, a content farm usually refers to a domain that exists solely to generate high-ranking pages for high-search keywords by cranking out minimally useful (if useful in any sense at all) content. Sometimes this content is scraped (stolen) from other sites, sometimes it’s written by freelance “buck-a-page” hacks, and sometimes is near-gibberish generated by computers stringing random words together. The reason these sites flourish is that their pages have tended to rank very very high for a very very high percentage of searches.

Here’s one of the most profligate: eHow. In pursuit of total web dominion, eHow has built a megalith site of over 20 million pages.  What? TWENTY MILLION FREAKING PAGES? About everything. They do web research to mine high-search keywords, and then build very minimally useful content pages around the terms. But the site is so huge and so interconnected and so competent at SEO that they rank first page for an unbelievable percentage of the keywords they pursue.

It’s not really spam, really. I mean, there is some sort of content there, right? Problem is, they (and all the other content farmers like them) have made searching the internet just that much harder for everyone. Want to know how to unclog a drain? Search for “unclog a drain” and you’ll find the first page of results a virtual sink-full of virtual content-farmed pseudo-content that you will have to stick your arm into all the way to the elbow in order to fish out one useful bit of knowledge.

Well, Google’s not happy about that. So Google made a little change. The Farmer Update.

This update—said to affect as much as 12% of all searches worldwide—will definitely make an impact on searching the internet, particularly for the content farmers cash crop, How-To information.

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.  —the Official Google Blog

But there’s a potential boll weevil in all this: Google claims to be devaluing “low-quality” content. Which, in cases like eHow, is pretty easy to spot and pretty hard to argue with. The bug is what (and who) actually gets to define “quality”? Does Wikipedia, with almost 70 million pages of diverse content, make the cut? Or get the axe? Do blog sites like WordPress, with 300,000,000 pages of stuff ranging from the sublime to crap (like the blog you’re reading right now) get penalized across the domain just because 80% or so of what’s there is “low-quality”?

Time will tell, and webmasters will yell, and SEOs will prosper. And as for the content farms, those who get rich dealing manure can’t really complain when they find themselves upwind.

More on the Google “Content Farm” Update

Official Google Blog: Finding High Quality Sites in Search
Google Breaks Up Content Farms
Google Tightens the Screws on Content Farmers
Google Goes After Content Farms with Update
Google Forecloses on Content Farmers
Legit Sites Could Get Caught in Google’s Content Farm Crosshairs
Seeking to Weed Out Drivel, Google Adjusts Search Engine