Last month, Google launched an algorithmic improvement designed to reduce rankings for “low-quality sites,” which Google principal engineer Matt Cutts defines as “sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites, or sites that are just not very useful.” The objective is to provide better rankings for high-quality sites, defined as “sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.” The update, called the “Farmer update,” has been called the most consequential update of the last decade… and has left some sites in the permanent dark, while others have climbed toward the light at the top of the list of search rankings.
So, what does this mean for the future of Search Engine Optimization?
We have had some of our Information Systems faculty chime in on Google’s new update—what it means for SEO strategists, and how to make sure your business’s website is not left in the dark.
Content Farms: The Telemarketers of the Internet
By Robert McQuaid Jr., PhD
Associate Professor of Information Systems
Google’s recent modification to their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) algorithm is well intended to reduce rankings of websites whose sole purpose is to create advertising revenue by offering low-quality content while optimizing SEO ranking criteria. The goal of the content farm is not to produce particularly valuable content to the individual searching the web. Its sole purpose is to capture as many click-throughs as possible to maximize SEO linking and click-through criteria. Freelance contributors, many of whom have no particular expertise in a topic area, are paid $0.05 to $15 per piece to create content. The new algorithm is intended to have the same impact as the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry. It reduced the phone call clutter and improved the chances that, when you answered your phone, it was actually from a legitimate caller – even possibly a legitimate telemarketer!
By John P. Durand, MBA
Practitioner Faculty of Information Systems
Charla Griffy-Brown, PhD
Associate Professor and Discipline Lead of Information Systems
This is certainly not a new problem for Google, only a new battlefront in a 12-year-old war with SEO firms and novices wishing to game the system and improve their organic positioning. This gaming has ranged from link exchanges and farms, keyword stuffing, manipulation of human versus machine readable code, abuse of CSS styles and HTML tags, and now, most recently, content farms. Google’s point of differentiation has always been the quality and relevance of its search results. Therefore, the need to exclude content farms from their results page was clear. There will certainly be collateral damage to some websites that follow legitimate and acceptedSEO techniques. However, this has been the case time and time again as “Google giveth and taketh away.”
Practitioners would be advised to keep it above board, continue to generate unique and relevant content and strive to make their site code “search-bot friendly.” Google provides a set of tools for webmasters to manage their visibility and crawler errors and register sitemaps – this is a great place to start. “Content is King” has long been an axiom for SEO practitioners – Google is simply pointing out that it needs to be “unique” content in order to legitimately rule the top spots on the first page.
Referee Says “It’s Good!”
By Michael L. Williams, PhD
Associate Dean of Full-Time Programs and Assistant Professor of Information Systems
This is a mission-critical decision for Google. It has established and maintained position in the market by consistently returning high-quality links to almost any search term. Any frequent Googler, however, has noticed a steady increase in the frequency of “junk links” from content farms over the past 18-months. I believe this algorithm modification is good for users, and critical for Google’s business. If you question the negative impact of junk links to Google’s core business simply review the stock price performance of Yahoo!, Lycos, and Alta Vista.