By Marcus Tober
In a major update Google changed its algorithm last Thursday to tune down content-farms. Nearly 12% of all search results on google.com were affected. One thing is almost certain: this was an algorithmic update!
Here at Searchmetrics we gather a lot of data from the Web. Over 55 million domains and 25 million keywords are continuously monitored, and all this data is then analyzed on a weekly and monthly basis. Over the last week, we’ve been intensely tracking the recent “Google Farmer Update” and algorithm changes to see what effects it is really having.
Visibility: The Organic Performance Index (OPI)
As you may know, following the big media buzz around the JCPenney.com story in the New York Times, on 2/24/11 Google made some changes to its search algorithms to try and stem the ever-increasing presence of farmed content on the search engines results pages (SERPs). Being touted as the “Farmer Update”, Google has noted that this change has noticeably impacted 11.8% of their queries.
For purposes of this analysis, we used our own Organic Performance Index (OPI), which is calculated according to a keyword’s search volume, position and the statistical value of traffic distribution.
While speculators are calling this the “anti-Media” update and content heavy websites are quickly trying to pass themselves off as “anti-OnDemand Media sites” one site, eHow, is actually benefiting. Originally being fingered as a site that would be impacted by this update, eHow has actually gained 14% in visibility in the days following the change.
With its nearly 80% increase, the biggest winner in terms of traffic and percentage change is wikihow.com. A remarkable increase considering that in contrast to Wikipedia, wikiwho.com appears to be a classic definition of a content farm. Similarly, Yahoo! Answers experienced an almost 30% increase, in contrast to answers.com and answerbag.com, a site that experienced an almost 60% loss. Statistics such as these are clear indicators that the update must indeed be algorithm-based, fully automated and not carried out manually.
The results displayed are from data that we gathered between the 02/22/2011 and the 03/01/2011.
We analyzed 39 so-called “content farm” domains. We also looked at reputable, content heavy sites such as Facebook and the Huffington Post for comparative purposes. Overall, there was a 57% average drop in our OPI.
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge)
The biggest losers in percentage were:
Download all data in Excel-format.
The biggest losers in terms of absolute visibility were:
Who are the winners if the content farms are the losers?
It’s very hard to categorize the winners and losers. Obviously, it’s similiar to the Mayday update from last year where we saw that the loss of visibility was spread around a large number of different types of domains. Nevertheless, there are winners, notably the news portals like msn.com, mashable.com, zdnet.com and wired.com.
So Far, only US Google.com searches are affected
An analysis of similar domains with a .co.uk extension on google.co.uk index showed that there was an overall slight increase in traffic. Thus, as of yet, the update is only really effective on google.com and still has to swap over to Europe. However, the UK counterparts of domains like hubpages.com or mahalo.com should be prepared to see changes.
Now what to do?
Although eHow.com has always been taken as an example of industrial low-value content, they have actually gained visibility following this update. While the content may be of questionable value, like how to buy a teddy bear, user criteria such as bounce rates, visit duration, and social reach, for example, have obviously been part of the quality guidelines of the update. We also believe that if pages that are genuinely visually attractive to a user, the page will be spared by the Farmer Update. Meaning that ranking is going to come down to how a user values a page, as opposed to just what content is on it.
Was Demand Media really not affected?
Some still question whether Demand Media has in fact been affected by the Farmer Update. In looking at popular Demand Media sites livestrong.com and answerbag.com, we think the answer is loud and clear.