With the Farmer / Panda update being rolled out just in the US so far, site owners in other countries are quite concerned about how the algorithmic update is going to affect their rankings and traffic. Indeed, the need to protect the original author of an electronic article was something that should have been addressed and resolved since a while ago but is the update just doing that?
Although the update has been publicly known as the one that would target content farms in particular, Google never mentioned the term ‘content farm’ so far. Instead, they have been talking about quality content which it is really resolve algorithmically as quality can be very subjective amongst different individuals. If content farms were into the cyclone’s eye the impact of the update should have been pretty much the same across all content farms. However, that is not the case.
Articlebase.com, hubpages.com and Ezinearticles.com have lost a great deal of their rankings, hence traffic while other similar sites such as wikihow.com, answers.yahoo.com and ehow.com have actually increased their traffic. Clearly, the update has not been fair with many websites and there have been lots of complains into their Webmaster central forum. Google are encouraging website owners to realise complains if they think that they have been unfairly treated, although manual action is not going to be taken, rather than some algorithmic enhancements.
Signals Of Low Quality Content (How To Escape Panda’s Wrath)
As some US sites have reported, the following may be signals of low quality:
- Poor web design. If you compare an article from Articlebase.com or Ezinearticles.com with ehow.com it is obvious that even though the actual content quality is very similar, the look and feel of the sites isn’t. Factors to pay attention with include:
- Excessive use of whitespace
- Narrow column width
- Lack of images
- Lack of headings (H1, H2, H3s etc)
- Excessive number of ads. As Matt Cutts confirmed ads alone aren’t a signal of low quality. However, pages with just ads or too many ads and a little bit of content wouldn’t be valuable to anyone, hence Google would treat them as low quality pages. Ads powered by Google make no difference and they are still treated as ads so watch out!
- Shallow Content or No Content. This is something to be very careful about. Matt Cutts confirmed at 2011 SMX West that if there are pages with very little or no content you should remove them. Alternatively, for pages that have no content for a reason (e.g. a product review page which hasn’t received any reviews yet) the best practice would be to instruct the search engines not to index the page using a <meta content=noindex> on these pages until they have unique and high-quality content on them. By adding a noindex the search engines will still be able to reach those pages but won’t index them. Thus, when the quality increases the noindex should be removed and the page will start ranking ASAP as the search engines already know about the page’s existence.
However, there are some objections here as certain types of sites rely heavily on imagery and lack of textual content. For instance, lets take as an example the content and structure of sites such as that of a modelling agency, a video artist, a flamenco dancer, a fitness blog, or this vintage jewellery retailer. What about this site which lacks textual copy but is full of high quality, informative and engaging videos explaining the difference between good and bad bacteria in the human body? Or, what about this HR Software website, which consists of a very informative video and a powerpoint presentation? It seems that all that content falls into the shallow content category but does that mean this is low quality? Many artists’ websites are great just because there isn’t any great deal of content other than an image of an artistic performance. Should Google maybe reassess their quality ranking factors as they seem to be harsh in these instances?
- Scraped Content / Machine Generated Content – This one is really to be avoided as this has been at the core of the Farmer / Panda update. Google favour the original authors but are really strict with content thieves trying to rank higher than the original author. Any scraped content appearing on a part of a site could bring a lot of trouble, not just ranking drops but even complete removal from Google’s index. Make sure all copy on your site is UNIQUE. Many website owners especially in e-commerce sites aren’t aware of this issue and may experience traffic loss as product pages have usually been scraped from the manufacturer’s site. Re-writing all these pages is also recommended otherwise you should expect traffic for long-tail searches as scraped content product pages will get de-indexed. For instance, this glassware retailer, may experience traffic loss for the wine glasses term if the textual content on the page doesn’t get updated on time.
- Article / Page length – Apparently, most content farms which experienced devaluations include posts of a similar word count (approximately 300 words). For all those familiar with Article Marketing it won’t be a big surprise Google decided to take some action on that. Varying the articles / pages / posts length is highly recommended but it’s not just about length of content but quality too.
- Syndicated Duplicate Articles – Links from hundreds duplicate syndicated articles are not valuable and are being discounted.
- Excessive exact match anchor text. Google have confirmed that they will start taking action against excessive numbers of backlinks with exact match anchor text. Again, don’t expect penalties but heavy devaluation. Varying the anchor text and building some brand links too is recommended.
Finally Google confirmed that there will be more algorithmic updates in the near future for low quality content, thus we should expect content farms to lose even more of their ranking power.