Search has become an enormous global market, and Google is very much interested in maintaining its current position as the industry leader. This interest has translated into a lot of efforts around improving Google Search features-wise, but customer loyalty also matters to the internet giant – and this is where the recent Google vs. content farms campaign comes in.
Content farms – or sites with “shallow or low-quality content” such as eHow and numerous other ones – have an unpleasant tendency of climbing their way up the result rankings, and Google finally began to take this topic more seriously. The company’s first move was to launch the Personal Blocklist Chrome extension, which enables users to block irrelevant search results. Blocked entries are also sent to Google, who will use the user-submitted data “study the resulting feedback and explore using it as a potential ranking signal for our search results”, as principal engineer Matt Cutts put it in a blog post.
The new Chrome extension however doesn’t represent the first time Google reaches out to the public to improve its search results, nor is it the first time the internet giant is trying to filter out spam search results out of its SERPs. Either way though, Personal Blocklist is one very significant piece in the Google vs. content farms puzzle, with the second one being an even bigger update arriving about a week and half after the extension’s unveiling.
In an official blog post published in late February, the internet giant announced it has updated its search algorithms in order to improve ranking accuracy and “reduce rankings for low-quality sites”. The update which was rolled out in the U.S only impacts 11.8% of Google’s search results, a figure that adds up to trillions of queries. Moreover, Google says the algorithmic change addresses 84% of the dozen most blocked domains from the Chrome extension, and that it plans on rolling out more updates as well in the near future.
Now that we’ve covered the grounds on what Google did, we can start into how the update impacted the thousands and thousands of content farms out there – and it certainly did.
SEO consultancy company Sistrix studied the change in traffic from result rankings and click-through rates, and revealed some very interesting findings in a recent report. The report lays out two of the largest content farms on the web, eZineArticles.com and Suite101.com, lost more than 70% of their keyword rankings and more than 90% of their ‘visibility value’. Yahoo!’s AssociatedContent.com also took a major hit, but the notorious Demand Media’s most prominent content farm eHow seem to have got away it. Furthermore, eHow even gained SISTRIX value and rose to 310 from 270. This is fairly surprising considering the $1.5BN-valuated Demand Media have been widely criticized by countless commentators, and was presumed to be one of the companies which will be most affected by Google’s algorithmic update.
Whatever the reason may be, Google seems to have skipped Demand Media. Nevertheless, not just content farms took the hit – innocent sites as CultofMac.com had also seen a significant decline. In an interview with Fast Company, founder and editor Leander Kahney said his site’s daily traffic was reduced by over a third after it had been removed from Google News, though everything restored to normal within a few days after the update.
Google’s campaign against content farms may just turn to be beneficial for its users, but it does raise some questions about the number of non-spam businesses which may be affected. Moreover, some concerns have been raised regarding whether or not Wikipedia may be affected in light of the ambiguousness of the term ‘content farm’, but such scenario is highly unlikely. For reference, here is Wikipedia’s definition of a content farm.