Did Google’s Algorithm Update Go Far Enough on Content Farms?

Is Google's Search Quality Better Now?

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As you probably know by now, Google has implemented a new algorithm change that the company says impacts 11.8% of their queries. While Google would not come out and say directly that the update is aimed at content farms, this is widely understood to be the case. 

Are you satisfied with Google’s Update? Tell us what you think

What Google did say, is: "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."

Google has referred to content farms in the past, as "sites with shallow or low-quality content," and also recently said, "attention has shifted to content farms". 

There was some confusion the last time Google made a major update (last month). People originally thought that was about content farms, but that turned out not to be the case. Everything seems to indicate that this one is really targeting them.

Now, the first words that come to mind when you hear "content farm" are likely "Demand Media". It makes sense. Do a Google search for "content farm" and almost every result on the first page will mention the company.
Content Farm Usually turns up where Demand Media does

Demand insists that it is not a content farm, but was quick to release a statement following Google’s update. In that statement, EVP of Media and Operations Larry Fitzgibbon said, "As might be expected, a content library as diverse as ours saw some content go up and some go down in Google search results. This is consistent with what Google discussed on their blog post. It’s impossible to speculate how these or any changes made by Google impact any online business in the long term – but at this point in time, we haven’t seen a material net impact on our Content & Media business."

I’m thinking it’s probably too early to tell. Google just started implementing this update on Wednesday. Let’s see what their traffic’s looking like a month from now. Two months from now. A year from now. 

A lot of Demand’s eHow content is still ranking high. The "level 4 brain cancer" result we recently looked at, for example, is still ranking. Danny Sullivan points to an example that dropped though. Sullivan, who spoke with Matt Cutts about the subject, says he wouldn’t confirm or deny that eHow was part of the list of sites that were impacted (Google says 84% of the top several dozen domains reported to be blocked by the recently launched Chrome extension are also impacted by the algorithm change – Google is not using data from the extension to influence the algorithm at this point). "These are sites that people want to go down, and they match our intuition," Cutts is quoted as saying.

To me, it sounds like it is targeted toward content on a page-by-page (or article-by-article) basis, as opposed to an entire domain – hence some eHow content going up and some going down. In fact, Cutts indicated in the past that it needs to be done algorithmically rather than through human intervention, like other search engines (Blekko and DuckDuckGo) have done. To me, that would seem to suggest their not just going to knock down eHow as a whole, but maybe some of the lesser quality stuff (though there’s clearly still work to be done here). 

Based on the fact that so much content of questionable quality still remains ranked highly, following Google’s announcement, Kara Swisher at AllThingsD goes so far as to suggest Google’s update is more PR than anything. "Perhaps I’m being cynical, but the noisy search algorithm changes, while welcome to those using Google, also have a pretty clear goal to burnish the Silicon Valley company’s image," she says.

Of course there is still that element of revenue to think about too. 

Demand Media says its other means of traffic are growing – social media, for example. While it’s unlikely that their social traffic is anything near their search traffic at this point, this should still greatly benefit the company in search too. Let’s not forget that Google is also rolling out its social search update, which will inject content shared by users’ friends directly into the search results mix. Other search engines, including Bing, are also doing different things to make results incorporate more social data, then there are other tools out there like Greplin and Wajam (with more to come, no doubt).

Demand Media actually already has a significant advantage in social search, being the biggest supplier of videos to YouTube (which is also often touted as the 2nd largest search engine). Demand also gets the advantage of turning up in Google’s universal search results from videos. The company has also mentioned having an increased focus on video.  

If Demand Media is forced to rely more on social than organic search, that should force quality, because people are far less likely to share crap (unless they’re making fun of it). Demand has also been talking up a "curation layer" for its content that is working on, which would allow readers to indicate whether content is good or bad. They would then work on fixing the stuff deemed bad – so they say, at least. 

Google says, "Our goal is simple: to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible. This requires constant tuning of our algorithms, as new content—both good and bad—comes online all the time." That’s probably why they want to deliver their own results more, but people have a problem with that too. They’re even under government scrutiny in that department. 

Interestingly enough, Google’s main rival, Bing, has been involved in cultivating that, despite showing its own content frequently itself. Perhaps Bing realizes that it will, to some extent, impede Google from providing the kind of quality search results it wants in some scenarios. 

Still, no matter how many algorithm updates Google implements, search results will never be as good as they otherwise could be, as long as their omitting Facebook data. Bing is trying to get a leg up on Google by integrating Facebook, but Facebook itself could be where the power really lies. Google should be concerned about Facebook changing its mind about not wanting to be in search, for reasons discussed here

Many publishers have been praising Google’s actions on content farms. Pam Horan, president of the Online Publishers Association tells WebProNews, "The OPA commends Google for their recent algorithm change that will reduce the rankings for high-volume, low-quality content sites to recognize the value of high-quality, originally-produced content by professional media brands. This is encouraging for web publishers who pay highly trained professionals to write quality stories and for consumers who look to Google to give them access to the quality content they are searching for across the digital landscape."

"We believe this change will enable more high-quality content to populate the top searches, and addresses recent efforts by content farms and others that have been working to ‘game’ Google’s algorithm for better positioning," she adds. 

If nothing else, perhaps the PR motivations Swisher spoke of are paying off. 

We’ll simply have to reserve any judgments on Google’s search quality as affected by this update, until we’ve had more time to naturally encounter more quality or a lack thereof.

Have you noticed a change in Google’s quality since the update? Let us know.

Did Google’s Algorithm Update Go Far Enough on Content Farms?
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  • http://www.hawaii-aloha.com Guest

    We are a small travel business that got hit and we’re not a content farm, we blog every day, we do podcasts and create original content and videos about Hawaii, so how come we got hit? 70% decrease in traffic in one day!!

  • Guest

    We are a health site with high-quality, professionally-written editorial content and product reviews. The site and content is very respected in our industry, and we have a large community of active users. We are about as far from a content farm as you can get, but we’ve had a 35% traffic drop on Google since the update. I hope Google makes some tweaks soon, because they seem to have missed something with this latest change.

    • Guest

      Our site experienced the same. Original, well organized, quality content on a website that has been online for more than 11 years, yet we have been dropped from all page one rankings which we’ve been able to occupy for relevant keywords for many years. We do, as many, many sites, implement adsense. I’ve read that can be part of the issue, though it makes no sense since isn’t that what google wants – to monetize their search?

  • http://signature.eu.com/ web marketing kent

    Small, independent website owners with a limited marketing budget will get hit hardest. Bigger companies can emply agencies and throw a lot of resources behind a penalised website to make up for lost ground. Whilst it’s sad the Google have to keep culling websites, if we’re honest, theirs a lot of dross out there. Google’s focus is clearing on creating a better end-user experience by improving the quality and usablity of their search engine and SERPS. As a Kent SEO company, I’m used to dancing to Google’s tune and whilst they’re not going to tell you everything Matt Cutts and the team are open about their motives

  • http://SelfHelpHotline.com Adam

    And what is wrong with a “content farm?” People have taken the time to research and consolidate pertinent information on a particular topic so that I don’t have to. I think it’s one of the wonders of the internet, and am sorry to see this action taken against them.

    • Chris Crum

      You’re leaving out the “shallow” and “low-quality” elements.

      • http://www.butteredham.com/blog/ Guest

        Apparently so is Google, in many cases.

  • http://www.debtfreedomtips.com Steve C

    Conceptually I’m struggling with the new algorithm. How does Google determine which content was original and which is duplicate? If two sites show duplicate content, how will Google determine which was first? The first site crawled? The site with the highest pagerank? I often post articles on eZine and also have the same articles on my website, but if eZine is crawled first will my website get punished? Also, isn’t Google itself just a content farm, with all search results being based on other pages?

  • http://www.greenteethmm/com/ Ian R Thorpe

    If the informtion I am reading about the latest Google update and other comments coming from the Google World Domination Corp are correct it seems they have completely dismissed the idea of the web as an enertainment medium. I know the science lobby have been whining about ‘junk science’ on the web but there is no greater source of junk science than the science lobby.
    Do we really all want to spend our time searching for helpful hints and timsesaving tip or reading up schoolkid science.

    I get the impression that Google’s definition of ‘quality content’ is that which brings them the most revenue while the type of comtent they are seeking to marginalise is whatever threatens to take revenue from them (Demand Media etc.)

    As an independent site owner who does not run a money making site I have found over the last few years I was putting more and more effort into attracting traffic leaving me less time to generate and post good quality, interesting content. If others like me have experienced this it makes Google’s talk seem rather hollow.

  • http://www.esearchfor.com Guest

    Google is like Big Government – both hate small business. Fortunately, my technical background will allow me to get around any problems Google causes my clients – but I regret having to use my time to counter their arrogance.

    • http://www.1hostpro.net cristi

      when u have the power to do what you want, when u want u do…so it google…Google know 90 % of internet bussines depend of him and he make the law how he want when u come to ,,his hands”

  • John

    This is crap and we will end up with nothing but huge companies showing up on the first page of pretty much every search…..I for one am doing some writing to my congressman and senator….It needs to be time for major anti trust problems for Google

  • http://www.amorenlata.com/ Manolo Sex Shop

    receipt of information everyday and I am very interested WebProNews articles and this has gone far and I think this ultomo google change can harm many small businesses do not have bad intentions, of course I’m interested in getting help to position my web, my email is olin@amorenlata.com’m from Spain.



  • http://www.gbepackaging.com GBE Packaging

    When customers search Google for the lowest prices on duct tape or corrugated boxes Google thinks they want a utube video on someguy wrapped up in duct tape or a site that has all the bells and whistles but also not the lowest prices. If we all did what Google demands to get good ranking and and serps then we would have to more than double our prices. We refuse to place the BBB logo on our site because again a mounthly fee is involved that would have to be passed on to the customer. With all the lawyers out there standing around with their hands in their pockets why do we not file a class action lawsuit on Google as they certainly do not care about providing the searcher with what thyey want the lowest price. We used a standard template with no bells and whistles because our customers would rather save 10 cents per box than have a fancy website with millions of cool facts. We are a distributor not an educator and since we only offer the lowest prices for packaging supplies well do you not think that the people who buy packaging supplies each day would want us on top and not the companies that paid more to designe and charge 40 to 60 % more for their packaging supplies. Big business will always pay and charge what they want but Small business had better start doing something about Google or we will all be left with one thing to do. Find a good alley to live in!!!! We thought lowering prices would get the word out but Google is going out of their way to bury companies like us and you!

  • http://www.timekapsule.com Rick Vidallon

    Helping is helping to fill the World Wide Web with a growing cesspool of useless content.

    Today we have all these reputation companies, web developers, web writers, and SEO teams creating useless content and useless links to fight back against all these complaint websites. Even the complaint websites are getting in on this action and offering removal fees at up to $2400. There are even negative posts on competing complaint websites saying negative things about the other. I have found postings of people complaining that they paid to have the posting removed and once removed another appeared the next day. Sounds suspicious?

    My Suggestion
    Google employees and their engineers can, and should, come up with a professional way to handle these unprofessional complaint websites. Here are a few suggestions:

    a. Any complaint website that does not display the full name, email and phone of the person making the complaint should get pushed back in results. Or at least display an email that is tied to where they are a member.

    b. Any companies having an A+ rating with the BBB should algorithmically negate or receive a push back of any complaint websites targeting them.

    I think this makes sense and sounds doable. I truly hope this posting reaches a Google decision maker who wants to see search queries cleaned up, more relevant and increasingly useful.

    At this writing it is well worth mentioning that Yahoo and Bing do not rank these type of complaint websites as relevant in searches, not nearly as much as Google does. As a developer, I believe this speaks to inherent flaws in Google assigning so much value to back links.

  • A Demand copy editor

    You’ll wish to fix the grammar errors in your content: affect/effect “list of sites that were effected”
    and they’re/their: “as long as their omitting”

    • Rich Ord


  • Researcher

    My site features original / quality content on research. It has no paid links, it does not sell any links or products, but provides unique information only. My visits plunged close to 50% after the recent 24/25th Feb-11 update, which has never happened in its 10-year history. If that algo change was aimed at removing link farms, it failed miserably.

  • Guest

    I was hit very hard as well and every bit of our information is handwritten by customers. No link farm here but see at least 70% decrease in one day :( It took me years to get where I was and in just one day, the G takes me down for doing nothing wrong.

  • http://ilookchina.net Lloyd Lofthouse

    I did notice a slight drop at Alexa for the ranking of my Website/Blog and “iLook China” is not a “content farm”.

    I write about China and more than 90% of the posts were written originally by me often spending several hours a post doing research and adding a unique spin to sometimes old/new news or history.

    I also have a few guest posts mostly from expatriates living in China.

    However, I post daily

    • http://ilookchina.net Lloyd Lofthouse

      I noticed that others have mentioned they also do not run ads on their Website/Blogs. “iLook China” runs no advertisements. I make no money directly from this Blog, yet my ranking still dropped after Google changed its alogorithm and the daily visits have also dropped by at least 25 to 30%.

  • Blackhat Marketer

    I’ll just stay quiet. VEEEEEERY quiet is all I got to say.

    Blackhat Marketer

  • http://www.mutualcashmoney.com/ Money Mutual

    Google always develop their search engine. This’s bad news for spammer

  • http://www.urbaninsuranceagency.com Larry Lubell

    Empty sites that offer little more than LINKS to other sites, should be dropped in rank because they are just pathways to get people to sites that the people should have been able to find quickly and dirrectly.
    Content farms, spinning the same 300 word “Article” 30 different ways are also wasting space and peoples time.

    Google has a lot of MONEY, let them spend some of it and answer the phone. There are so many companies that are pushing their rank up by making up hundreds of FAKE REVIEWS. This is a big problem in the insurance industry.

    I know most of our local competitors, maybe I shouldn’t say this but, almost all of them are nice people and play by the rules. I have found it’s the affiliate sites; the ones that don’t sell insurance, but just make money off clicks, that are the ones with the hundreds of FAKE REVIEWS
    Often the same review copy and pasted over and over. Companies that set up 5, 10 or 20 sites using fake addresses (Empty lots, Housing projects, Etc) just to come up in local listings.

    Google is better than Yahoo, that does not even pretend to care.

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com CaptainCyberzone.Com

    Is not Google’s “Images” searchable databased component a “content farm”?!
    I think that Google should take a serious look at their “ranking” plan/format and see how’s it’s been scammed, i.e. ‘link-to-site farms’, etc. and honestly rank sites according to the best ‘question:answer’. This was the beginning plan was it not?!
    And REMEMBER: Do No Evil (but then again, if you are evil to begin with then doing ‘good’ would be doing ‘evil’ to you).

    • Guest

      You’re close, but not quite right. Content farms are sites that server solely to link to other sites, to drive up the other sites in search results. I’d say Google pretty clearly does not exist for this purpose.

      It *could* be considered a “low quality” or derivative content site, which Google’s other algorithm update was supposed to penalize, however.

  • http://www.making-websites-made-simple.com David Lockett

    This latest move by Google reinforces the need for online publishers to focus increasingly on the creation and publishing of high quality, original content.

    Web publishers not only need to learn how to create and manage html pages, they also need to learn how to identify appropriate publising themes, plus create and present high quality content around those themes.

    The publishing of high quality printed books took hundreds of years to evolve, and it is only during the past forty or so years that book publishing has achieved the very high standards with which we are now familiar.

    Likewise, websites have evolved rapidly during the past twenty years, although their evolution still has a long way to go before truly satisfactory standards of page content and presentation are achieved. The only way to make progress in this area is to study the work of those who are already achieving solid outcomes online, and be open to implementing new ideas and techniques in order to evolve into truly successful online publishers.

  • http://www.replicacafe.com replicacafe

    One of our ex websites unexpectedly appeared on the top search results. That website was dropped out of Google index in the past and then the domain name was confiscated by court, and currently there is no content at all. Who can explain what the hell is that. I have doubts that new G algorithm is perfect

  • Guest

    How much would you spend for me to have fun and enjoy you site? More than you can make. Twice what you can make. This week Google took more money out of our pockets again by changing the rules. Are we in the age of musical rules.

    Oh but millions of sites made up with just adsence ads is quite alright as this makes Google millions yet this is all you see in searches and none are relavent.

    What about Google Adsence and adwords, Millions upon millions of sites with nothing but google ads with any kind of content so that these pages that help no one except the person that made them will pop up all the time and you may find what you want once you have clicked on several ads and made Google Money. Time to wake up people this is the way they dumb down the search engines so they are only good for one thing. Paying for you serp. Sponsored links. When sponsored links are the only relavent thing that shows up on a search well the results are obvious.

    If you think the internet is there for useless videos and to waste time then maybe you should not voice your opinion as you are a meat popsicle in most peoples opinion that work 20 hours a day to make the world a better place. If we all did what google wants you could not afford to buy anything we would sell as we would have to charge our customers for this latest move by Google that reinforces the need for online publishers to focus increasingly on the creation and publishing of high quality, original content.

    Web publishers not only need to learn how to create and manage html pages, they also need to learn how to identify appropriate publising themes, plus create and present high quality content around those themes.

    Some people use the internet for work or to get products. I think we need to decide what is the internets priority. Work or play. If you use the internet for play or entertainment I envey you. You have time to waste wow I have not been able to waste time for years I need to work to pay the out ragious gas and electric bills in Wisconsin to the tune of $800.00 a month for heat alone. Im sure it has nothing to do with the millions of bonuses they pay the boards of trustees.

    When we run out of money we will just close as we really set out to fail. We had hoped that a company like the Google internet police would come along and protect those poor people from low cost products on the web. Its time we get companies like Bose that do not discount anything and thay can afford to create the wonderful webpages we admire. Why sure there are cheaper speakers out there but why would I want them. It took decades to learn that the companies with the best deals do not advertise or else they would not have the best deals. Some people will never realize this and that is why they are defending google. Legos makes lots of money yet will not donate one penny to disabled children. Look at their website and see your future. They spent more money on their website than you made in your liftime. That should make you feel like the failure you are but some of you will not get it. One TV commercial package cost more than you make in a year and this is what you want on the internet. If google only lets companies that spends 6 figures on there websites on the top pages then all of the companies that discount or charge less will close. You can pay full price to all the manufacturers and they can price products like GAS with all the fee’s and charges added in so you can pay them.

    Better think now before its too late. They have plenty of human operators and reps to take adsence orders but not to see if a site is legit.

    You will wake up one day in an alley one day if this continues and then please remember this post LOL

  • http://www.esc-creation.com Johar

    I hope google not make Mistake about their do this update, i hope this update can effect only content farm, google should be have trace who wite that have use copied content, and who has original content. That use original must be more higher position in search engine, some time i saw this mistakes in google result.

  • http://www.streetmodifier.com Mustang Parts

    I imagine there will be an adjustment to the Algorithm so that site’s that are not content farms will not be affected the way the are now.

  • Bob

    When we have programmers thinking they are God and can determine whose content is copied and whose is original, it tells us that Google’s programmers are a joke and out of touch with reality. Maybe not the programmers but the head of the team is. The ton of complaints about legitimate sites being confused with content farms, etc. doesn’t tell us anything good about them.

    Google will never win this fight. All this talk and action about eliminating content farms, blackhat spammers, this and that to obtain better search results will never get anywhere and will hurt Google’s reputation more than it helps them. It’s like trying to grab and hold a river. Google will never win this war as it is hundreds of programmers against billions of tricks from spammers, marketers, blackhatters trying to game the system. The collateral damage is in the millions of sites I bet. They should let Google be the Google of 2003. Do you updates once a year or whatever but think them thru. What we have right now is a shaved head, big mouth bobble head knee jerk reacting to New York Times’ articles. Their whole anti-spam team should be fired for being so unprofessional and out of touch with reality. Legitimate sites are being buried and content farms are now at the top is all I’ve seen.

  • Well

    When are the lawsuits coming? There are obvious manual actions being done here like the J.C. Penny deal. G. can’t downgrade businesses on their engines because somebody posted links to their site. There are some antitrust issues there. And because G. has gotten away with it and nobody has challenged them in court, it doesn’t mean it is legal.

    We need an Union for the web. Some type of membership each site can pay to sue big G. when they are being unfair. To keep them on their toes. Thousands of businesses are being killed everyday because of these stupid algo. changes that benefit nobody but the bad guys and G. themselves.

    Please don’t come to me with silly, amateurish and high school dropout arguments like “It’s their business/engine and they can do whatever they like”. That tells me you should be prevented from running a lemonade stand. We are not talking about Yahoo, Bing or Bob’s tomato stand who can do that legally.

  • http://www.autoinsuranceforcalifornia.com Guest

    I have a new business website that I started a month ago and now I am confused about the right way to market it with all the changes Google algo has made. Some sites are saying article marketing is dead and others say backlinks are not good enough etc.. So what is the right way to market your website without Google whacking your rankings.

    • Guest

      I quit being the good guy long time ago. I followed Google’s advice to the T for years, Google whacked me really bad for following their SEO advice. I even had to file for bankruptcy. Then I came across a well known blackhat marketing forum. Been doing good ever since. Google seems to love blackhat tricks so I give them what they like. I’ve never made so much money since I went blackhat SEO. $15K/month + and growing.

      • Guest

        Didn’t mean “SEO” but “SEM” – Blackhat search engine marketing

  • http://www.clickherenowmarketing.com Mark Newman-Marketer

    All of us in the Internet Marketing Business has a keen interest in keeping up with Google changes, so that we can efectively market our business and clients.
    However, after reading many comments to this post my question is Why Slam Google? they are in the search business and clearly are doing their best to get rid of useless content sites that get in the way of high quality real content based sites.
    I do appreciate that like any changes there are casualties that defy explanation, Googles Algorithm will never be perfect because the web is ever changing and this is a complex subject.
    Out of interest our sites and those of clients that post regular content have all increased. All our sites are built on WordPress Platform and try to provide quality content.

  • http://www.notafanatic.com gringoperry

    On the one hand I am glad that Google is working towards improving its search listings, but at the same time I feel that it is going to destroy amateur bloggers. The algorithm may not have a broad enough range to effectively filter what a particular user wants to filter, meaning that they will not view content that they would have otherwise enjoyed, because it has been categorised as undesirable. I can say this for sure though; it will make me work 10 times harder on my content.

  • http://www.newsteptechnology.com new step

    I’m not sure what will happen with content farming websites such as Hubpages, ezine etc – hopefully they’ll rebound. I certainly hope so, since I have content there! I’ve had mixed luck with my hubs. Some in one Hubpages account are still fine after the update and a couple tanked. They are also in the same niche.

    Another area that has apparently been dinged that wasn’t in your article is exact match domains. Domainers might not like that!

    Amit Mani mishra
    google adwords professional

  • http://www.2stroke.co.za Drupal developer

    As well as hitting poor / low quality content, it’s clear the farmer update is going to further penalise duplicate content. In the case of scraping, I’m still unclear how Google establishes who was the primary content generator. Often, you’ll find the best content coming from smal, niche sites who may not be producing content for SEO purposes – merely posting interesting articles and case studies to their sites. As their SEO isn’t great, they probably won’t be trawled that frequently. Which means a scraper can rip their content, dress it up as their own, ping it, have it trawled and fool Google into thinking that they’re the oiginal creators. They get the kudos and the actual creator gets flagged.

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