On the evening of 24th February, Google Principal Engineer Matt Cutts promised that a newly tweaked search algorithm that impacted on 11.8% of search queries (an absolutely massive change to the way that search works, in other words) would "reduce rankings for low-quality sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful" while at the same time producing "better rankings for high-quality sites with original content and information". Nobody would argue that these are good things, exactly what most of would want our favorite search engine to do, in fact. So what went wrong?
Well the main thing would appear to be that neither Cutts nor Google has delivered upon the promise that the Farmer Update, as it has become known, would reward high-quality sites. I appreciate that everyone will have a different definition of 'high-quality' content which depends entirely on what it happens to be that they are searching for, and what their expectations are of the resulting hits. However, most people would be more likely to reach a consensus concerning low-quality content, much of it produced by the so-called 'content farms' that churn out huge quantities of poorly put together advertorial driven by whatever keywords happen to be hot at the moment. Yet early analysis of the impact of the Google Farmer Update by search marketing number crunchers at Sistrix would seem to suggest that many of the well known names in the content farming business, far from being hurt by the change have actually benefitted from it.
Google is not only judge and jury when it comes to deciding what you really want to search for, it's also just become the executioner for those sites it deems unworthy. Unfortunately, things get worse when you appreciate that Google is more akin to a secret military court than anything else: not only is the definition of low quality content unknown, but the evidence (in the form of that search algorithm) is a secret. Not only does this mean that innocents get caught in the crossfire, but those sites which are so impacted have no real idea of what they have done wrong or how to put it right. Is a ten paragraph article always better than a one paragraph one? No, of course not. Is a complex analysis of a problem always better than a simple explanation? No, of course not. Should a site be punished because other sites have copied their original content? No, of course not.
But just look at some of the well known sites which have, according to that same Sistrex analysis, been hit by the changes: the British Medical Journal (a highly respected and long standing medical resource), the Cult of Mac (a busy and very popular Apple news site) and The Well (which pretty much invented online social networking more than 20 years ago). Oh yes, and DaniWeb itself - the IT based support and discussion community where you are reading this. According to DaniWeb Founder and CEO, Dani Horowitz, US-based traffic dropped by close on 70% overnight as a result of the Google Farmer Update after the entire site appeared to be lumped in with the useless content farms by that new algorithm. Not just individual pages or posts within the DaniWeb forum, mind you, but every keyword, site-wide, demoted in the eyes of Google search ranking.
Yet DaniWeb is about as far away from a content farm as you could imagine. We are a community discussion and support forum stuffed full of original, in-depth, helpful advice and editorial. DaniWeb itself employs no underhand black hat SEO techniques, it doesn't even meddle in the grey hat stuff. A team of volunteer moderators across continents works around the clock to ensure that any spam, and all forums and websites which allow user contributed content will attract spam, is deleted as soon as it is spotted. The same hard line applies to duplicate content for which we have a zero-tolerance policy. The trouble is that DaniWeb cannot stop others from copying our answers, editorial and claim that content as its own - yet as the original source of this material we would appear to be getting punished as hard as those who steal our words.
One thing cannot be denied, and that is with this Farmer Update Google is seriously hurting genuine producers of useful original content while at the same time giving third party content publishers a ranking boost. How that is meant to improve the quality of search is, frankly, beyond me. So, Matt Cutts and Google, if you are reading this maybe you would like to comment as to why innocent providers of high quality original content are being treated so badly? Maybe you could let us know why sites that copy original content are now ranking higher than the sites from which they stole those posts?