What is Google’s Farmer Update?

Oh dear.

Dr. David Banner: physician; scientist. Searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have. Then an accidental overdose of gamma radiation alters his body chemistry. And now when David Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs. The creature is driven by rage and pursued by an investigative reporter. [Banner:] “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

You see where this is going.

Eh, well, Farmer McGee pissed Google, and the hulk went, as the younger folk declaim it, ‘large’.


E-I-E-I …. oh

End of February last, Google made a major change to its search algorithm in a bid to clamp down on web sites with poor quality content which rank highly in searches. The algorithm update is designed to ensure that its SERPs aren’t dominated by low-quality content farms which specialise in producing rivers of search engine-friendly pages.

Hence the term ‘Farmer Update’, because search experts (Danny Sullivan blessed the baby algorithm with the term ‘Farmer’) believe it is targeted at reducing the visibility of so-called ‘content farm’ websites which operate by generating masses of low value online content specifically created to achieve high rankings. However, and not to be outdone, Google, shortly after the initial naming ceremony, itself has named this update the Panda Update – presumably on the basis of

a.    “that’s the product of our corporate loins” and/or

b.    eats, shoots, leaves…

Our goal is simple: to give people the most relevant answers to their queries as quickly as possible. This requires constant tuning of our algorithms, as new content – both good and bad – comes online all the time.

Yerra gawd luv them.

Pulling Weeds from the InterWeb

Early analyses of the Google ‘Farmer‘ update show that some recognisable names whose content used to appear prominently on the first page of many Google SERPs have been knocked back. At the moment this update is active in the US-Index, more countries are about to follow.

  • wisegeek.com
  • ezinearticles.com
  • suite101.com
  • hubpages.com
  • buzzle.com
  • associatedcontent.com
  • freedownloadscenter.com
  • essortment.com
  • fixya.com
  • americantowns.com
  • lovetoknow.com
  • articlesbase.com
  • howtodothings.com
  • mahalo.com
  • business.com

Rounding out the top 25 are a number of other recognisable names, including articlesbase.com, merchantcircle.com, findarticles.com, examiner.com and answerbag.com.

Some quick facts we know:

  • The initial update happened Wed 23rd Feb in the US only
  • There was another smaller update on Tuesday 1st March which gave some sites their traffic back – in a war of attrition, always there do be casualties…

Right, so: a new algorithm – the Farmer/Panda update – targeting ‘scraper’ sites has gone live.

‘Scraper’ sites are those widely defined as not having original content but instead pulling content in from other sources. Some do this through legitimate means, such as using RSS files with permission. Others may aggregate small amounts of content under fair use guidelines. Some simply ‘scrape’ or copy content from other sites using automated means — hence the ‘scraper’ nickname.

In short, Google is going after sites that have low-levels of original content.

Obviously, it’s still early days and there will certainly be a lot more analysis of the impact of the Farmer update in the weeks to come, but given how hard some of the most prominent content farms have been hit, it would be surprising to see a sudden reversal of fortunes.

That’s bad news for the content farmers whose crops have been uprooted by Google.

Pure Manure – or what the Farmer algorithm will mean for your business

Here’s what the algorithm change will mean for you and your business:

1. All pages need to be high quality content

The higher the proportion of high quality pages on your site, the better you will rank. Original content is king. Sweating your web pages means redirecting, or removing entirely, those poor quality pages and replacing them with well-written, useful content that appeals to your end user.

2. Social validation will be more important than ever

Social validation is the trust we have in content or a brand based on what our friends and networks tell us. Google will be looking at how your content is shared and ‘liked’ to ascertain whether or not people thought it worthy of recommending to their friends. You can help this by making social sharing easier (add social share buttons to your site) and by providing useful content that people will want to pass on to their networks. Sharing is caring – whooooddagguesstit?

3. Article marketing will get creative

The Farmer/Panda Update means the common practice of seeding content through ‘content farms’ will be devalued and sending out the same press release or article across the web will be counter-agricultural. Back to the grind of quality link-building, then.

Cultivating ‘quality content’?

For Google, this will most likely be defined by the following attributes:

  • Good click through rates – after all, if people click it, it must be useful, right?
  • No ads above the fold – you may have noticed that a lot of sites which are based on advertising will advertise to you before you even start scrolling. That just tells Google that they’re only after your traffic for advertising purposes.
  • User engagement – as I mentioned, this will be about social sharing and external links to your pages.

External Links
Google’s Farmer update: who was hurt the most?
Google Farmer Update: Quest for Quality
Finding More High-Quality Sites in Search

Some Google Farmer LinkLuv
The Provenance of Panda
What is Google’s Farmer Update?
What is Google Page Rank?

John Hargaden is CEO of wevolution digital, your full-service digital marketing partner focussed on growing your business online. Case Studies.