Here’s my take on the recent “farmer” update that Google rolled out.

Ezine and Wisegeek got burned, big time. But, I’m seeing many examples of them still holding top spots for their most linked to pages.

This is telling me…

  • This isn’t a sitewide penalty or ranking ability dampening. Otherwise NONE of their pages would be ranking #2 for something like “What is a credit check?” behind a federal bank’s website.
  • Pages with their own links are still holding strong.

So, this leads me to the conclusion that the update was primarily focused on the importance of domain authority in certain content heavy sites.

Sites like WiseGeek etc were able to rank in the first place simply because they were large sites with tons of incoming links. This authority gave them an instant leg up in the SERPs, because a page published on a trusted domain will naturally outperform a page published on a new/un-trusted domain with all other factors being equal.

WiseGeek could then leverage their built in domain authority and internal linking power to rank for tons of keywords – all they had to do was identify the targets and publish a targeted page. It looks like this is the area that was scaled back in the algo, as pages with their own external links are still hanging in there, while ones that had little to no external link love went down in flames.

For content farms, most of the internal pages have little to no external links. You can’t publish 100+ pieces of content each day and also build links to them all at the same time, it just isn’t scalable (save forum profiles, blog comment spam, and maintaining their own secondary link networks and other low quality links). Previously, with the focus on overall domain authority, they didn’t need to. Now, it doesn’t look like that’s the case.

Now, earlier I said “for content heavy sites”. I feel like there has to be a tipping point for this adjustment to hit your domain.

For example, product pages on e-commerce sites with little/no external links will still likely be fine for searches on the product name due to domain authority and internal links.

I’d wager this tipping point is likely based on some combination of…

  • Manual reviews/public outcry about content quality/Chrome spam reports.
  • Number of new pages of content being added. (If you’re adding 100+ articles a day, expect to be under a microscope)
  • Ratio of new pages vs. new links. (If you’re adding 100 pages of content but getting 500 new links each day – you’re likely to be much better off than adding 100 new pages and getting 4 new links)
  • Tin-foil hat here, but Google can tell if an Adsense unit is above the fold, since as an advertiser you can select just that inventory. 3-4 Adsense units above the fold = suspicious and deserving of a run through another set of quality checks.

So, some takeaways if my assumptions are correct:

  • Deep links are now more important, especially if you’re produce content at scale.
  • Video/photo/e-com is likely to get a pass in the “thin” page filters.
  • Design/ad placement becomes more important as Google takes push-button complaints via Chrome more seriously (if your awesome, original content still looks/feels like spam, you’ll still get reported)