Google rolled out a new algorithmic change last week that’s being labeled the “Farmer Update.” This update–one of the largest in recent years–was to target quality results in their search against content farms. Content farms are sites that publish multiple articles a day that are light on content, but keyword rich and seo’d to the max. By doing so, they tend to dominate search results and yield higher click-thru rates on their included site advertising. The more pages of theirs appearing in search results, the more visitors they get to their sites. The more visitors, the better chance that ads will be clicked, therefore making the site a commission.

Who are the perpetrators?
Controversial “content farms” such as Yahoo’s Associated Content, Demand Media (the parent of eHow), and AOL’s Seed, including the now owned Huffington Post.

Is it really a killer?
No, but a Google engineer told Harry McCrakin that the recent changes are among the most significant Google has ever implemented in one fell swoop: 11.8 percent of queries will get meaningfully different results than before.  Findings show that big-name sites such as Amazon, eBay, Wikipedia, and Walmart.com are coming out on top while sites such as TheFind.com, BizRate.com, ShopWiki.com, EzineArticles, HubPages, and Associated Content aren’t fairing nearly as well.

What’s considered good or bad content?
We recommend that all of our clients stay involved in social media and blog regularly. Google loves fresh content. But when does frequent updating become too strong and look like a farm?  Some clients who aren’t used to blogging will make the mistake of posting multiple small updates in a single day about a popular subject in the media, then launching into a hard sell of their products.  This scenario isn’t likely to make friends with people who read your blogs or the search engines since it could be mistaken as a farm.  Worse yet, Google’s new algorithm is fairly objective in how it decides a site is important, only rating content is–at the same time–a subjective process.  As for figuring out how Google arrived at these changes, they aren’t saying.  To do so would be to invite others to try and figure out how to manipulate the system.

Like paid links and that whole ugly debate–I say buy them, just don’t get caught–Google also added a plugin to their Chrome browser that allows consumers and competitors of yours to add a personal blacklist.  Realistically, we see this as a way to report content spammy sites, but I would venture to say that your competitors could mysteriously fall in to this category, too, right?

Who else is in the fight?
While Google does have its share of a 70%ish market value, there are other search engines that deserve your attention and they’ve been combating content farms and ucky spammy search results for a while now. Take a gander at Blekko, Duck Duck Go and Topsy. If you’re concerned with rankings and competitive analysis, I’d really start to use Blekko–big fave of mine since November.

What to do if you have a penalty?
You’re probably hurting right now and should have someone working on it. Correcting the situation could be a handful.  Fortunately, we can advise on strategies, so consider contacting us.

Take Away…
Stay up-to-date on changes in Google, search engines and other competitive strategies–even if they aren’t always ethical. Knowing both sides of the fence helps and identifies parameters in which you can operate, obviously still within ethical boundaries. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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