Google made waves last week with a pretty major update to their algorithm. Perhaps you read about it? At least 12% of all search queries had their results affected by this update. The goal? To remove some of the so-called "content farms" from the top of the rankings. In the process, though, it appears that several quality sites were impacted negatively as well.

The Google Content Farm Algorithm Update

A "content farm" is, according to Wikipedia:

"a company that employs large numbers of often freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines. Their main goal is to generate advertising revenue through attracting reader page views."

Now, that's a hard thing to quantify. I've seen several people call Mahalo a content farm, or But how about Demand Media? Where does one draw the line between content that is useful to users and content that is not? Just hiring freelance writers to pen articles for a site doesn't make that site a content farm? Nor does the act of placing ads on a site.

So the reason we have some legitimate sites caught in the update is because Google has basically applied a mathematical solution (algorithm change) to a subjective problem (what is the website's motive for publishing the content?). In creating their "new results" omelet, it looks like they broke a few eggs.

Legitimate Sites Penalized

The Wired article points out how Cult Of Mac--a popular blog focused on Apple products--lost its good standing in the search results after the "content farm" update. Fortunately for them, however, they've been reinstated.

There are other examples in that article as well, including and site that focuses on all things related to military life.

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How To Request Reinstatement

If your site was negatively affected by the algorithm change, and you're convinced your site is legitimate, there is hope. Search Engine Round Table has put together a handy how-to article on what penalized site owners can do.

It seems that after some prodding from search expert Danny Sullivan, Google has opened a thread in their support forum, asking for examples of sites that might have been unfairly penalized. You should go there right now (after you're done with this article, of course) and submit your site.

On that forum page, Google says:

"According to our metrics, this update improves overall search quality. However, we are interested in hearing feedback from site owners and the community as we continue to refine our algorithms. If you know of a high quality site that has been negatively affected by this change, please bring it to our attention in this thread. Note that as this is an algorithmic change we are unable to make manual exceptions, but in cases of high quality content we can pass the examples along to the engineers who will look at them as they work on future iterations and improvements to the algorithm. So even if you don't see us responding, know that we're doing a lot of listening."

So, don't expect to have a Google engineer read your entry, and then go straight away to manually fix your site's rankings. It's not going to happen. Instead, it sounds like Google is hoping to find common denominators between the "legit" sites that were impacted, so they can further hone and improve their algorithm.

While Google's secrecy regarding their algorithm can be maddening, it's encouraging to see them offer a way for site owners to communicate on this issue.

  • Ronnie Bincer

    It appears that if you do more "referencing" of other sites now-a-days that you might get better rankings. Before I used to try to keep all links on my site, now I may do more off-site references to establish my site as "learn-ed"

  • Thailand Reisen

    Our site has been affected, but in a positive way. So we won't exactly complain ;-)

  • Guest

    Goes to show you that you must pay attention to BOTH on-page and off-page optimization techniques for your SEO to hold any water, else you're apt to get Sandboxed over night.

  • Jonathan Cohen

    "Just hiring freelance writers to pen articles for a site doesn’t make that site a content farm?"

    No, but paying them so little that terrible content is a likely result, does.

  • schreiner

    I don't know what happened but my two websites each moved up a page, from low on Page 2 to high on Page 1 and from the middle of Page 5 to high on Page 4 respectively.

  • lorrainegrula

    Seems to me that definition of content farm just does not cut it. They hire writers? So what? They write copy that is optimized? So what? It didn't specify that the copy had to be BAD. I personally have really enjoyed every single article I have ever read on, they were very informative! Having said all that, my site seemed to have benefited from the changes. Traffic went up about 10%.