Google’s Quality Update & the Demise of Poor Content
Greg Slama Associate Director, Search Marketing
March 12th | 2011 By
If you have landed on this post, you have likely heard about the Google algorithm update. It has reportedly already impacted about 12% of all Google queries! The change was largely focused on low quality, mass produced SEO content, and was aimed at ‘content farms’ which have been littering search results for quite some time. This change has been met with praise and dissent – but those on the wrong side of this coin should not be surprised. The signs were there.
The demise of low quality content has actually been part of the Google plan for quite some time, but up until now only smaller sites not built to withstand algorithmic shifts had been feeling the impact.
Now Google is adjusting the algorithm to target the typical profiles of sites that are using dubious SEO tactics to try to get a competitive advantage in search results. Inbound Link buying schemes have been the focus over the last couple of years and recently two major sites where dinged for engaging in these activities – JCPenney.com and Overstock.com. Although Google does work to remain neutral, it is clear that they are observing specific behaviors and reacting to keep manipulators out of the index.
Most recently they are moving on to target content farms, many of whom have been immune to prior algorithm changes. Below is an explanation of the update from Matt Cutts of Google’s Anti Spam Team:
Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. 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.
My take is that they are approaching this with two business objectives in mind:
So will this spell the end for content farms? In my point of view, yes – for those that remain pure content producers for the sake of mass. In fact, many have already seen a significant change to their online visibility as shown in seen in this Search Engine Land article by Danny Sullivan.
I do expect many who have significant financial backing to evolve and focus on quality content with social value or look to purchase premium web properties to supplement traffic loss. Demand Media’s recent IPO is likely to put them in a position to do just that.
Some companies have already been forced to react to the abrupt change in traffic – Mahalo, a human-powered search engine announced a layoff of 10% of its staff and temporarily halting freelance content production.
It appears that some content producers who do not necessarily match the ‘spammy set’ were also impacted. A recent FastCompany article discussed CultofMac.com, an Apple fan site which saw a significant downward shift in traffic coming from Google. But they have since seemed to recover. It is likely that the algorithm went through various corrective tweaks to induce the desired outcomes over the days after launch.
As it appears, content farms as we know it are officially dead. Those who will survive once the dust settles will be the sites that are able to evolve and produce unique, relevant content which has social value. Search engines are using social queues more and more as a method of identifying value but this will likely fuel the next wave of SEO manipulation.