Last Thursday, Google released a new update to their search engine aimed at knocking scrapers and content farms down in the rankings. Unlike most of their changes, which make minor tweaks and are rolled out with little fanfare, this one is major, affecting the results of nearly 12% of all queries. The change is currently live only on the US servers, but will likely be rolled out to the rest of the world in the near future. So what is a content farm, and how does this affect you?
A scraper site is one that (usually automatically) copies content off of other people’s sites for display, while a content farm generally has a large number of people rewriting content from other sites (usually badly); as such, it will have a lot of original content (helping it to rank highly with Google) without providing much value to users who would generally be better served by going to more authoritative websites.
Think back to the last time you tried to look up something technical with Google. Chances are, the first page had a number of spam sites that pulled in a lot of content (either word for word or rewritten) from legitimate sites, but didn’t do a very good job of answering your question. Google doesn’t like this – it makes them look stupid.
Unfortunately, the new tweaks aren’t quite precise enough yet, so while they have gotten some of the really bad sites, they’ve also hit some more legitimate sites. For example, Hubpages has long been one of Google’s favorite sites, making it relatively easy to rank a page you put there; I know several people who’ve started making several hundred dollars per month within a few months of putting articles up there. Once the changes took effect, traffic to Hubpages dropped close to 90%. Will it stay that way? Probably not – Google will keep tweaking – but the people making big money through hubs are going to be very annoyed for a month or two!
On the other hand, if you have a legitimate site with good, original content and a lot of incoming links that aren’t from content farms, there’s a fair chance that your site wasn’t affected by the change, and may even have improved in the rankings. At the moment, it’s mostly the really big sites that are benefiting from this – think Amazon, Home Depot, etc – but it shows that Google is having at least partial success in promoting legitimate sites; now they just need to figure out how to find smaller sites that are actually better matches than the big ones.
So what does this mean for you? If you’re working on building websites that are a legitimate resource and actually help people meet their needs, you may be seeing some fluctuation in your ratings but probably don’t have much to worry about. If you own scraper sites, on the other hand, it might be time to move into a more legitimate line of work!