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Google’s “Farmer” Algorithm Update – The Search Agency POV

Posted on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by Print This Post Print This Post

Categories - SEO

On February 24, Google announced a significant change to its organic search algorithm that, according to Google, targeted the search rankings of Google-identified “content farms” in an effort to improve the quality of Google’s search results. In a <

a href=”http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/finding-more-high-quality-sites-in.html” target=”_blank”>blog post published on February, 25, Google’s Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts state that “this update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites — sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites — sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.” Dubbed the “farmer update” by Danny Sullivan, it went into effect on February 25 and was said to impact approximately 12% of search queries in Google’s results. Currently, this update is limited to the U.S., but is expected to roll out globally during 2011.

Initial Impact

Based on an initial audit of daily rankings data for approximately 2.3 million keywords, we have found:

  • Most decreases in top-10 rankings correlate

    with increases in rankings greater than 10. This indicates that rather than not ranking at all, keywords impacted by this update are being ranked lower in the SERPs.

  • Retail/Shopping aggregators with thin-content and content portals are among the most negatively affected by this update. Those retail/shopping sites with user-sourced content (i.e. Yelp's reviews) appear to have been less negatively impacted than ones with no user-sourced content.
  • Although short-tail keywords are statistically most commonly affected, long-tail keywords are close behind… the average variance between the percent change in short-tail versus long-tail keywords is less than 10%.
  • Major e-retailers and most recognized major online brands have gone generally unaffected
  • Popular scraping targets (those originators of original content) are seeing their top-ten Google-rankings increase by an average of about 12%, presumably as the scraper sites that used to outrank them for their own content are being pushed down by this update.

Next Steps

As with most changes to the Google algorithm, positions tend to jump around immediately after implementation. For the majority of sites seeing some kind of negative impact, The Search Agency recommends the following course of action:

1. Do not make any drastic changes to the website as a whole. Minor changes are fine, but do not start completely rewriting content, removing pages, etc.

2. Pull a baseline rank report for the 30 days prior to the algo change/position change to establish previous average position. This is the baseline.

3. For two weeks, track daily positions for keyword set to monitor fluctuation in rankings. This is necessary to see if rankings go back to normal after a few days.

4. During this two-week tracking period, the team should begin analyzing possible issues that may have led to a drop in rankings (on-page content, keyword usage within content, link profile, crawl paths, originality of content, etc.)

5. After the two-week tracking period, pull the average position of ranks for each keyword over the two-week period and compare this average to the baseline average.

6. If the difference in the averages is significant, continue tracking but begin making changes based on analysis and continue to track and analyze positions.

Bottom Line

Our initial audits confirm that the sites most likely to have their rankings negatively impacted by this change include content farms, scraper sites, and sites with fewer inbound links, or links of questionable quality.

Never has the old adage “content is king” been so relevant to SEO conversations. With the Farmer Update, Google is drawing a line in the sand on the importance of unique, engaging and valuable content, showing they can both recognize and act upon duplicate and low-value content sites.


About Rick Egan

Rick Egan+ works in SEM, SEO, Display, Social Media, Landing Page Optimization and Digital Strategy, at The Search Agency - 11150 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite 600 Los Angeles, CA 90064 as a VP, Group Account Director - Website: www.thesearchagency.com

Rick Egan works with partners to lead their Digital Strategy efforts. Working with a team of cross functional team of search marketing experts who manage overall marketing strategy and execution for client search marketing initiatives. Prior to joining The Search Agency he ran several startup ventures where his responsibility included Marketing, Finance and Operations. Other experiences included ten years with a fortune 200 healthcare company as a Senior Product Manager developing products such as mail based health programs for diseases such as diabetes, heart health and health risk appraisals. He also spent two years as the product manager for their medical provider website portal where the site was transformed from an information services site to an interactive site focused on making it easier to do business with the company. Rick has a Masters in Business Administration and has been involved with the internet and internet technologies since 1999.

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6 Responses to “Google’s “Farmer” Algorithm Update – The Search Agency POV”

  1. Caleb says:

    Thanks for the article i don’t think Google will ever release their full algorithm. I feel the users have always and will always drive the organic listings. Quality and informative sites will always prevail.

  2. Rick says:

    Agreed, Google is not likely to ever release their algo unless a court forces them. Quality sites should continue to do well but the Farmer update is evidence that over reliance on SEO on Google can be problematic and a well rounded search marketing plan is always the best option.

  3. Tom Atkinson says:

    I have noticed increased organic traffic in all 6 websites I look after actively. I’ve taken screenshots of the Google Analtyics / Traffic Sources / Search Engines / Organic / Google report, for the period February 1 2011 to March 29 2011, with “compare to past” ticked, and they all show improvements, take a look http://www.funk.co.nz/blog/seo/google-farmer-update
    My improvements in visit numbers are: +33%, +58%, +31%, +13%, +43% and +49%. These are really quite large increases in organic traffic, so I’m pretty happy with how it went!


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