Looking for headless chook image – could only find hoards of tourists (close enough I think)! Thought I would do a follow up on my what is a content farm post – as the fall out continues on Google’s recent update – and just point out that human psychology is quite intereting and I am thinking that maybe Google has a number of psyc PhD’s amongst their software geeks.
Google Farmer Update – What Was It?
On or about 1 March in the US results (but will be rolled out worldwide) Google changed their algorithm – they made the unusual step of annoucing what they had done and Matt Cutt’s is quoted as saying:
This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
Google claimed to affected nearly 12% of the search results – but a number of us found either nothing had changed, or nothing bad had happened to our sites. As I said in my last post – I wasn’t see much evidence that they had succeeded.
The problem is of course the age old question:
What the Fuck is Quality?
Some people think this site is quality – some don’t – but I have no qualifications in making passive income online. In fact I didn’t even make much income when I started this site – but people thought this site was quality – because I was writing about my own experience.
Here’s another site which is really useful: http://www.cure-back-pain.org/ – the site introduces itself with:
I suffered with crippling lower back pain for 18 years of my life. I know what you must endure everyday while living with back problems. I have empathy for you. I understand because I was there myself. I have found my own cure. I now know how wonderful life can be without the huge burden of chronic pain. It is my most sincere wish that you might find lasting relief, as well.
I found the site because Google has started a thread asking people to report if their site has been adversely affected and think this is unfair – the owner of the site above wrote this:
I am so devastated. My main site and my life’s work, cure-back-pain.org was drastically affected. I am not a learned webmaster, I am a back pain patient and someone who writes to help others recover. My site is 5 years old and has often led in the rankings for my topic, back pain and back pain treatment. I was let go from my “dayjob” in the economic decline of 2008 and found a savior in the fact that I could make a living helping those who needed it most, so I turned to my site full time and found it very rewarding. I write all my own content and work my site 80 hours a week+. I do everything myself. I do not syndicate or outsource anything. All one has to do is read the letters in the Q&A section to see how much I am dedicated to my cause… I could not figure out what I did wrong to suffer such a decline in ranking and then started to research what may have happened and found that many excellent sites (and many not so excellent content farms) were affected. Eventually, I found some advice from my webhost and checked my site for stolen content. Guess what? I found TONS of sites stealing my 100% original and self written content! I am shocked and appalled. This probably has something to do with my dismissal as an authority in the topic I know so well…
I double checked the US SERPs for back pain treatment. At position #4 I found a news result – like who gives a shite if you are looking for treatment why would I care if Barcelona’s soccer coach has back pain??? I found results from webmd and emedicinehealth (also webmd I think), I found an about.com page which quoted scientific results. And I found this little gem on a classic Made For Adsense site:
The quest for effective back pain relief has thrown up some challenges in the modern world. As we move through the early years of the new century, the pace of life is becoming ever more frantic. With every passing day, there seems to be more to do than there ever was before. At the same time, there is little doubt that the pressure …
If I was the owner of back pain treatment I wouldn’t just be “devastated” I would be utterly and totally pissed off and disillusioned. Now we could have a debate about the sites not that pretty – its a standard Site Build It! template, but its the guy’s only income – and he has actually been giving Google exactly what they want – and the kick him in the nuts. But all is good – in this self-satisfied interview with Matt Cutts and another Google Engineer apparently:
However, our classifier that we built this time does a very good job of finding low-quality sites. Wired.com
In the words of the Speights Ad – Yeah Right. But of course I wouldn’t want to running off and saying that Google had stuffed up – that wouldn’t be scientific or anything -right? So I went to the home of all in-depth research in things of a darker nature in Internet Marketing – and found that the owner’s of splogs and autoblogs were very, very happy about the latest update.
I could spend hours going through that Google support thread and finding examples – you may have seen that even sites which are quoted as exemplars of Adsense publishers got slammed included Ask The Builder – page 2 of the thread.
On a skim – the sites I saw that were penalised were:
- large and generally old (5 + years)
- had had consistent rankings for quite a while i.e. their owners were comfortably making an income from them which they were pretty dependent on
- some were general sites but most were specialist
- most had good original content written by either experts or by someone with a passion for the topic
- high PR (5 and above) sites were affected
Now I hope, and this is sincere, that in many cases the sites in this thread will get reinstated – but the state of chaos currently gives us one clear point:
Google still can’t distinguish original content from scrapped content. If you are are an old, well-ranking site with content your content will get scrapped, copied and re-written – as of today – this may well result in your rankings dropping.
If those sites do get reinstated it will be manually – not algorithmically.
Some are already asking whether this Google update mis-fired and Leo points out the winners from the Farmer update are in fact the scrappers (at least short term). I agree with his recommendation though to build niche sites to fill the gaps. But as Griz points out – fly beneath the radar
So can you still make passive income online? I think so – from where I am sitting – actually looking at the facts, rather than the hype, Google is no closer to cleaning up its search results than it ever was. If I was starting today what would I do? Avoid the niches Griz mentions in his post, avoid having one huge site on lots of different topics, I’d build a bunch of niche sites across a range of topics, build back links to them – and see what worked. If I site started producing I would seriously look at taking Adsense off it and finding an alternative monetization strategy.
On the other hand you might just be so scared off by the latest furore in our little corner of the Interwebs – that you decide that you really should go out and get a real job and contribute to society of something – go ahead – but consider this – that’s probably exactly what Google wants you to do …