Content farms are dead. Long live content farms. Well not really. May they never bounce back again. Please. Yet like every major update Google rolls out, some innocents were harmed in the making of this one. Don’t expect the ACLU or any human rights groups to come to the defense of them. It’s going to have to be us. People who know better. People who understand why they got hammered. You know – SEO professionals. What a crazy notion huh?
What it really comes down to is Google needs to stop deceiving site owners in competitive markets. Playing it off as though they can be a self-managed experience. Because they can’t. No matter how much Google, or SEO H8er web developers say otherwise.
It’s the age old story all over again. Site owners create sites, try to do what they can, maybe they even read Google’s webmaster guidelines. Everything seems to be working for a while. They get comfortable even. Happy. Ecstatic as the money rolls in.
Then Google takes action against spammers or against some other perceived problematic aspect of their SERPs. And inevitably, some of those otherwise innocent site owners watch as their sites take a nose dive. Money lost. Hearts broken. Chaos ensues…
No, this latest problem for some otherwise innocent site owners is not the first of its kind. Last night, Ted Ulle even pointed to a link over on Webmaster World about the legacy reality of this going on since at least 2002.
The Latest Victims
You can read all sorts of articles and theories and perspectives on the Farmer update. Lots out there already, just a week into it. Andy Beard has even come up with a handy Google Farmer Update Self Diagnostic Kit!
For this article however, I want to discuss what I found with my newest audit client. A legitimate site not breaking any “rules”. A Site that offers valid product offerings in a user friendly presence.
Some Legitimate ECommerce Sites Got Slapped Around
The day after the Farmer update was announced, I was contacted for help from a prospective client. In a panic. Sweat was dripping off the email they sent, they were so panicked. Eww that’s gross right? But seriously – that’s how intense the message was in that first email.
Can you imagine – owning an eCommerce site – one that’s your bread and butter – the life-blood of your income and the income of everyone in the company? It’s been online since 2005. Not the oldest site around, but old enough for argument sake. They sell products, of course. Thousands of them split out among 23 categories. Legitimate products you can buy in most malls in America.
All the right things
Verisign trusted site, SSL encrypted check-out, Shipping policies, privacy policies, return policies… So all around, they’re just store owners who found a very popular niche, in a fairly competitive landscape. They set up the site, and took the job of SEO serious enough that they’ve been doing it in house from the beginning. Well, they’ve been doing SEO according to what they THOUGHT was the right thing to do.
Unlike most of their competitors, they don’t buy links, though at one point they had a few “questionable” links on their own site that they got rid of when they found them to potentially be problematic last year. Since they offer some great products, over the years, they slowly built up over 43,000 inbound links. The hard way. And through community outreach and social media engagement.
So where did they go wrong?
So how did they get caught up in the Farmer update? From what I can tell so far (and I’m only part way through one of my comprehensive forensic audits) it was primarily an issue of replication of thin content, reinforced by poor site architecture and lack of refined topical focus. So it gave the appearance of being a content farm. At least to the cold-hearted, take no prisoners Google system of algorithmic cleansing.
Sure, there are other factors that contributed to the fall that just made it worse. Yet the most important factors are the same factors I advocate as best practices SEO every working day of my life.
Replication of thin content
This is not duplicate content within the site. It’s the “appearance” of duplicate content within the site, and duplicate content across many similar sites. We’re talking about the fact that they’ve got thousands of product details pages with very little unique content on those. The kind of content that doesn’t even form full sentences.
So most of those pages are more confused in topic specifics because of the navigation, sidebar and footer content on them. Content that shows up on every other page of the site.