There has already been plenty written about the Google Farmer (or alternatively Google Panda) Update over the past few weeks. The decision to batter so-called content farms algorithmically with lower visibility based on the quality of the content that was being published was met with a completely mixed response.
On the one hand, you had the owners of certain businesses claiming that they had been unfairly treated by Google, and been unduly penalised in a way that was going to materially affect their businesses. You also had a fair number of business owners suggesting that the worst offenders had been overlooked, and that the SERPS were no better after the update than before.
For a while I’ve not just been proposing a user-centric approach to search marketing, I’ve been demanding it. It’s a natural conclusion of any socially aware strategy, and one that is utterly incompatible with any approach that puts profit above customer satisfaction.
Why Content Farms Are Bad For Users
One of the biggest challenges for any online business is that you never get to have a face-to-face experience with customers, and as a result of this, there is a tendency to treat them as data points from within your analytics software. There is a painful disconnect between the user who buys from your website and the person who is going to enjoy using your products.
A lot of content farms treat the user experience as if that was the only time they will visit the website. They engage for the shortest time possible, and the only refinement that is placed onto website design is all intended to push a user back off the website.
One website that suffered badly as a result of the Farmer Update claimed that their traffic had dropped by 75% as a result of Farmer. On every page of that site there are 3 Google AdSense Link units, 3 Google Adsense Ad Units, and 2 Chikita Mini Malls. That’s a lot of advertising around 250-500 words of content. It’s pretty clear that the purpose of those pages is no to answer a user’s question, it’s to act as a stepping stone. To grab traffic from search and then arbitrage it by sellling it on at a higher price.
When a content farm is ranking well in Google, it acts as a stepping stone from Google’s search results to a page that should probably have ranked in the first place. That’s a crap user experience.
Why Content Farms are Bad for Advertisers
If an advertiser is having to pay a 3rd party for the click that they should have got from Google initially, that’s bad for them. It means that every sale that they make costs them more than it might have otherwise done if their page had been ranking in Google’s natural results.
There might be an argument that it costs the advertiser less to bid for a keyword via the AdSense network than it does in the normal PPC results, but I’m prepared to disregard that and refer you back to point one, that it is a poor user experience to visit a site via an intermediary. Also, a well constructed PPC or SEO ranking page that would have presented the user with what they are looking for, rather than a more generic page would generally have a better conversion rate.
Let’s put it in Pictures
This is a good user journey:
This is a user journey that includes an excursion via a content farm:
Draw your own conclusions
Say What You Like:
There was an article on Search Engine Round Table that claimed that 40% of SEO professionals had seen their rankings suffer from the Farmer Update. Well boo-hoo. Optimisation means to improve I fail to see how publishing a content farm is improving or optimising. Fair enough most SEO people will concentrate on improving their own clients’ rankings, but polluting the SERP with a low quality 3rd party sourced article is not Search Engine Optimisation, it’s Search Engine Opportunism, and to be honest, it pisses me off as much as the people who queue jump at the station.