A session at the ongoing SMX West, 2011, included Associated Content's founder, Luke Beatty. The session's main focus was on what useful lesson can be learned from content farms. It also discussed the steps that the sites that took the Panda's (or Farmer update) blow to get their lost ranking positions back. Vanessa Fox's, Searchengineland, post reports comprehensively on the session and its coincidence with a post update in the Webmasters thread by Google.
The discussion has been summed up by Vanessa as:
- “Substantial low quality on a site can cause the rankings for the entire site to decline (even for the high quality pages)
- Evaluate your web site for poor quality pages (not useful, poorly written, non-unique, or thin) and remove them
- Overall user experience is likely to be important: design and usability, ad-to-content ratio, brand perception
- Look at both content and page templates (do the templates overwhelm the pages with ads? Provide a poor user interface?)
- After ensuring all content on the site is high quality, focus on engagement and awareness (through social media and other channels)
- Diversify into other channels and even within search, look beyond web search at Google News and “one box” style results such as blogs, images, and videos
- We can potentially learn from content farms, particularly in how they pinpoint what audiences are interested in and what problems they are trying to solve as well as how they harness crowdsourcing.”
The first line – Substantial low quality on a site can cause the rankings for the entire site to decline… is interesting. It sounds like Google is leaving no room for even a minutest of low quality presence – not anywhere! Be top-quality or suffer low ranking? On the other side, the coincidental Google Webmasters thread update hints that their recent (Panda) algorithm update targets sites with low quality such as “shallow or poorly written content, content that’s copied from other websites, or information that are just not that useful.” Also, a low quality part or page of a site can impact the overall site's ranking. Therefore, such pages, if found, should be done away with to improve the site's ranking.
The day had many discussions that were interesting as much as they were educating. Following Vanessa's post, some notable ones are Matthew Brown of AudienceWise, Luke Beatty and Perfect Market's Tim Ruder's. Brown agreed that Google didn't say that they were particularly after content farms, rather all types of websites were affected by the updated algorithm. According to him:
- The quality of a brand is based on the brand's authority and people's perception of it (the brand).
- If there are enough quantity of low quality content, it could drag the whole site down, regardless of quality content on other parts. This way, even smaller sites could be affected based on the ratio of quality content pages. He also advised that “links to pages throughout the site vs. to the home page and the ratio of content to ads on a page” should also be considered.
- Brown said that factors such as brand awareness and credibility (inclusion in Google News, lots of links to internal pages, and substantial social media sharing and so on) could be the reason that some sites that befit a content farm status didn't lose their ranking. He also said that the design and user experience of a site could also contribute to its quality, citing ehow.com (who didn't beep under Google's scanner although some called it a content farm). Brown recommends that sites impacted by the algorithm should get rid of the low quality pages, building out brand signals and working on promotion and engagement. He emphasized that quality matters and not quantity.
Luke Beatty pointed out “that while 2/3 of their content has seen significant declines in Google referrals since the algorithm change, 1/3 of their content has seen increases.” Here, it is good to remember that the updated algorithm impacts ranking and not indexing, hence, studying indexing numbers isn't the best way to calculate the impact.
Tim Ruder had a different point of view. “He said that the quality of most mainstream media is high, but the economics are challenging. Ruder pointed out that mainstream didn’t seem to be impacted by this change, although they produce many articles a day on their sites. But they focus on quality.” However, with online media rapidly growing and gaining audience and print media's revenue declining, change seems inevitable. Print or traditional media could in a way learn from content farms as the latter seem to understand “what people are searching for and the language they use.” which learnt and applied could result in better engagement of readers.
A panelist said that marketers are there to provide marketing for their clients (not ensure the sites are high quality). Vanessa opines that “SEO goes beyond just marketing. SEO is also about understanding what your audience is looking for and meeting those needs.” Recognizing your audience's requirement and providing it sounds practical for an SEO. What is your take on it?