Much ado about nothing: Google targets content farms in a recent algorithm change

That's my kind of farm!

I’d like to contribute my personal two cents to the hot topic of the last week: Google’s Content Farm Algorithm Change.

The Background:

Google makes algorithm changes a few times per week. Usually their effects are pretty small, but this latest change was relatively big. Google makes a big show of it and lots of webmasters feel wrongly targetted.

But why should this algorithm change be any more public than the others?

I believe Google intended to make a big public statement with this change. It was a PR move as much as an algorithm change. There have been grumblings over the last few months that Google’s results are bad and getting worse. The allegation is that SEO’s are building pages specifically to rank high, and they are doing so successfully. The grumblings got loud enough that Google’s Search Quality group stepped in and made some comments.

The Algo Change:

So Google made a big scene with a ‘Content Farm’ algo change. The search results shift and push ‘content farms’ out of the top rankings.

What exactly is a content farm anyways? We might want to define ‘content farm‘ because good SEO writing looks surpringly similar to what everyone is calling a content farm.

SEOBook.com make an excellent point about the similarity between content farms and all other SEO writing:

“a lot of SEO content in not that different, and any algorithm that targets Demand Media’s [an alleged content farm] content isn’t going to see any difference. Keyword traffic stream identical to title tag? Yep. A couple of hundred words? Yep. SEO format? Yep. Repeats keywords and keyword phrases a few times? Yep.”

What makes these guys a content farm and the rest of us just followers of Search Engine best practices? Is it funding? Our SE ranking success? At what point does a ‘well-SEO’d site’ turn into a content farm?

A Mental Experiment:

Let’s do a mental experiment.

Let’s imagine for a moment that these content farms aren’t stuck in ‘content farm mode’. They can change their content at any time and are well-funded enough to make that happen at the drop of a hat.

And let’s, for a moment, refer to them as ‘Highly Agile Content Producers’. Why would we call them that? Because these are organizations who know very well what Google ranks well. They also write to capitalize on that knowledge. So that makes them smart, and since they tend to stay at the top over hundreds or thousands of algo changes, that implies they are agile.

Finally, let’s imagine these content farms have been prepared for this change for a while. Maybe they are surprised that Google, in 2011, still ranked crappy formulaic articles above everything else. But they didn’t change their content because it was working. Maybe they breathed a big sigh of relief when this algo change happened and now they are ready to unravel the new algo.

You’ve probably already realized where this mental experiment is headed: What we call ‘content farms’ are just highly agile, well-funded, organizations who are excellent at producing content that search engines like. And I’m sure that any CEO worth his salt saw this change coming for years.

The Conclusion:

When all the dust has settles, I suspect everything will return to normal. Google gets to make a show of how they are concerned about Search Quality and all of the ‘content farms’ re-write their content to rank again. Commenter James Bauer at sistrix puts it this way:

“Kudos to the changes. But like many Google changes in the past, marketers will soon “discover” the new algorithm and employ immediate changes to “beat” Google at their own game. Google will change the rules again. And the entire cycle repeats itself. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.”

If you were keeping track of the rhetorical questions, you’ll notice that there is one outstanding. It’s “At what point does a ‘well-SEO’d site’ turn into a content farm?” Unfortunately, I think the answer is: “When you do a good job of it.”