Content farms are loosely defined as websites with a business model of  publishing vast amount of content with the intention of gaining high search engine rankings. We’re talking hundreds of articles per month. Often times the quality of this content is low. The strategy works because once you have a very powerful website, each page inherits value from the overall site. For instance, if the Wall Street Journal would write an article on riding bikes, they would very likely jump to the first page on Google just because the article was published on their domain. Alternatively, if a little-known site wrote a very similar article, it may not show up at all.

In the view of the search engines, namely Google, these major publishers were exploiting the search engine algorithm, or system they use to rank websites.

Why does a lot of content = success? Churning out mass content, then getting that content to the first page of many highly searched terms, like “how to ride a bike” results in a lot of visits from search engine viewers. When you insert ads into the mix, the result is advertising revenue. Lots of it. As an example, Demand Media is one of the largest content farm websites – is worth an estimated 925 million dollars.

Why does all this matter? Because of this situation (and/or the resulting negative press), Google “fixed” the problem, by making a significant change to their algorithm. By significant I mean 11.8% of every search query. In comparison the “routine” updates their algorithm goes through on a monthly basis affects very little results at any one time – probably less than 2%.

This one is huge. I can’t even begin to speculate how many websites and people this has touched. If you’re interested in exactly what they did to change the system, you can read Danny Sullivan’s summary. He’s the authority in our book.

Moving Forward

The point here is that a tactic being leveraged has been targeted by Google and some really big players have been de-valued. Do you have to worry about your site falling into the “content farm” classification? Probably not. But what is important here is the overall implication to this significant update – that low quality content is not a viable long term strategy. Here are some estimatesthat show just how much of an impact this update may have made.

To avoid your content from being considered low quality, Google simply recommends that your content be as “high quality” as possible. Google also states that having low quality content anywhere on your website, can hurt your rankings, as well. What exactly does low quality mean?

  1. Make sure all grammar, spelling, punctuation is accurate, and take sincere note of sentence and paragraph structure. Does the structure flow in a way that is easy for the user to read? Google has quite a few linguists. I can see more focus by Google being placed on the readability and quality of content in the future.
  2. Where did you get the facts for your content? Are they from valid professional sources, or from another site that might be considered a “content farm?” Linking to trusted sources is a best practice.
  3. Offer other types of media – images, documents (pfd, word, etc) and video are all forms of content that would help add layers of quality to your content.
  4. Most importantly, is the content at all useful? Does it give insightful and helpful information, or does it tell the user something he or she probably already knows? Make the content compelling to give the user a reason to read the whole article.

How This Update Affected Our Sites

Most of our sites are actually doing better! Since the huge content sites were knocked down a peg, we’re seeing more of our content (blog posts) ranking in how-to type queries that in the past we weren’t seeing. Here’s a typical example, comparing before/after the change:

Traffic up 23% for this particular site! The majority of the increased traffic has been irrelevant (like general roofing DIY traffic) however we have seen some jumps in conversions, meaning the sites have seen improved rankings for highly relevant (keyword + market) queries as well.

(note: the chart does not reflect a significant amount of time – this is because the update just happened, and this is all the data we have so far)

In Closing

With Google’s increasing algorithmic sophistication, the best policy is to create high quality content that people will find valuable. this is not a new concept by any means, however the update was a great reminder that:

  • search engines are becoming more and more sophisticated
  • doing what’s best for your users is the best policy

If you’d like to find out more about internet marketing, please feel free to contact us!