Has Google’s Farmer Update Improved Search Quality?

Google’s quest to provide better search results continued last week, as the company released what many are now referring to as the “Farmer” algorithm update. While Google didn’t come right out and say that this update was designed to weed out content farms, their official blog did note that the latest algorithmic improvement was designed to reduce the “rank of low quality sites – sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.” In theory, this sounds great – less crud clogging up search results is always a good sign. Unfortunately, many arguably useful sites have seen drastic drops in their rankings over the past few days, some with devastating effects. Worried that your site might be put out to pasture as part of the latest update? Here’s a quick overview of what you need to know about Farmer.

Expect Rank Changes

“We can’t make a major improvement without affecting rankings for many sites.” Google admits that the Farmer update has had a significant impact on search results. However, the search engine giant insists that the update will provide better rankings for high-quality sites, those sites with “original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.” High quality sites with unique content and relevant information will thus be rewarded as part of this algorithmic update. So in other words, if ever you needed a reason to start blogging or posting useful, original resources to your website, Google just gave it to you!

What is a content farm?

The jury is still out as to whether or not the latest update to Google’s algorithm has actually improve search engine results. While there are many spam-centric content farms on the Web, there are just as many that offer solid, if not generic, content. Take eHow.com, for example. I often refer to the website for simple instructions and step-by-step home improvement guides (I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not overly handy). Sure, the information on this site isn’t super unique, but the way it’s presented is extremely useful. Is it a content farm? Yes, but I wouldn’t consider it to be a haven for spam. So how have sites like this been affected by Google’s update?

Sistrix.com, ran some reports to see how some of the most prevalent content farms have been affected by the change, and the results are quite staggering (view the report here). While eHow wasn’t included in the study, big names like Article Base, Buzzle, and eZine Articles were. All of these sites were shown to have taken a hit in keyword rankings, with considerable losses. It’s being reported this morning by Mashable that Mahalo.com, which started out as a search engine, but later turned into a content publisher, has halted all freelance content production and have been forced to lay off nearly 10% of their current workforce. This isn’t surprising, considering the Sistrix report notes that the company lost rankings for nearly 70% of their keywords virtually over night.

In short, it looks like Google has finally found a way to weed out content farms – but is the change too extreme? While Mahalo’s practice of creating hundreds of landing pages is certainly spammy, it can be argued that the information provided on the site is original and useful.

Have you noticed some useful farm-like sites disappearing from your search results? Are you happy about the change, or worried that the affects might hamper your search ability or search-generated business? Share your thoughts below!

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