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Farmer Update Fail? Why Google Hasn’t Changed

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.

Tourist Hoards waiting to go up the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

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: – 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, 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 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.

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 …

36 replies on “Farmer Update Fail? Why Google Hasn’t Changed”

(sorry, copied from my FB in case you didn’t find it there)

that’s quite sad …

I can feel the pain that the guy over cure-back-pain must be going through …

you mention something that I was pondering about these days:
“get a real job and contribute to society of something”

I was asking myself: “how many REALLY smart people make money in the internet instead of producing value to society?”

I’ve wondered the same about a friend who was a great IT manager who left everything to become a fullt-time stock trader=/ … Another guy that won’t be producing any real value and will just be using money to make more money …

I’m not free from guilt either. I’ve pondered about this lately and have been taking measures on what direction to take to actually feel good and proud of what I produce … to really create value instead of being another text aggregator …

just digressing on a friday night 😀
have a good weekend lis 😉

Frankly Bruno – very few of us contribute to society – IT manager (good or otherwise) certainly don’t – the great ones just cause less pain to their staff than the other sort – but hey I’m just a cynic who got out of IT because I was tired of lying to users (“learning a new computer system will be great for your job and your skills enhancement – yeah right). I’m pretty much happy if I am doing no harm – that’s about as good as it gets unless you are going into nursing or something like that – you know all the underpaid jobs in society LOL. My goal in life these days is to gainfully employ someone bring me drinks on the beach 🙂

Hi Lis,

I’m just one person and have no idea how the billions of KWs are affected. But when looking some of the keywords that I’m already familiar with I totally agree with you. For instance take

They say that “we review and you choose” …. or what ever that they say, but just have a look at their site and all they have in their site is nothing but pure Amazon reviews (heck I do use amazon reviews but I re-write them with informative content at least). And guess what they have a PR of 7! and ranks really high.

And did you notice that ehow has changed their theme. Don’t what they’re up to now ;-).

In my humble opinion, I think Google has gone too far with some of the multi-billion dollar “business partners” to the point that when they define quality… they are forced to consider the interests of “those partners”.

Although I’m not judging Google… out of greed I have written some shitty stuff too so I’m not better, but doing my best to correct them and hey! still it is not a guarantee even if you provide the best content that you won’t be affected…

Did you know that Frase Cain has also lost %71 of his Keyword rankings (found in the official Google thread) with all that really good quality articles :(. Anyway great analysis btw, enjoyed it pretty much and you put “*uck” in bold and big letters… that takes courage ;-).


Hell I didn’t know Fraser had been hit – will check it out – yeah I don’t know how much of this is incompetence and how much is corruption – end result is about the same though

Actually, Fraser said the 71% figure from Sistrix is dead wrong and he hasn’t had a significant drop in traffic. There’s still a lot pandemonium over this update.

You know, if I were totally honest with myself, I’d say a lot of my sites’ content is similar to the MFA or they started that way and now I’m cleaning up. It has good grammar if long winded and doesn’t get anywhere. Also, after reading that other sample article circling around on how to get pregnant, I actually saw no problem with it either!

So clearly, my standards is off. But, I will have to say after reading your statement from your previous post: “Are they trying to destroy all of us who want to make a few dollars of passive income a month?” I’m left scratching my head. Again, if I’m honest here, comparing one of my sites to my competitor who I was actually beating, I didn’t deserve to be number one. Do we deserve money if we are the middleman? What value to we provide? That’s what I’m asking myself – to fill a hole in which the top dogs aren’t fulfilling so I can’t get called out. Not that I’m being altruistic or anything, but I’m trying to protect my account/sites from irate competitors.

So yeah, the farmer’s update has scared me straight and even if Google does revert back to before, my conscious couldn’t take it anymore.

Oh I can assure you Mariam – some of my stuff is worse than the site I linked to! Though in my defence I have never gone after anything medical related – and my earthquake stuff is all real info (and a public service they don’t make me squat). Yeah I like Google’s take on it – and I also think finding a monetization other than Adsense is a good start …

Hi Lis, I actually did ok from the update. My main niche sites all gained some which more than outweighed what I lost from hubs. Squids are still making the same so its business as usual here in The Sunny Place.

What is irritating me is the American dollar. Its sliding down against the euro again, meaning less euros for the dollars I make. Come on Mr Obama, get your house in order!

I’m just glad Google can’t play sillybuggers with the dollar like they do with their search index or the USA would soon be a third world country with a f’d up currency that is valueless.

Now I need to get back to work and write some more original content for the s-o-b bastard mo-fo scrapers to steal and make money off just like always… yeah I know, sarcasm and the lowest form of wit and all… I just can’t help myself 😉

I like your article on Google’s new changes and unfortunately it is putting a lot of hard working people who use the Internet to make a living “Out Of One”.Getting afraid that with all of Google’s changes that this will eventually piss everyone off with Google and shift to other search engines and then see where “Google’s rankings” will go then.

Kenneth c Young

I think I have been relatively lucky so far. I don’t have my own sites and so all of my earnings come from what Google would probably call Content Farms (Hubpages, Webanswers etc). However, I have still seen a drop of about 10%-20% in the amount of traffic I am getting, which if translated into earnings will be a relatively considerable amount. Still, I am more of a glass half full guy and so I am aware that it could be much worse!

Great post as usual Liz,

I think the million dollar question is “What is Google trying to do?” Who are they trying to please, or scare, by this update. And what were the actual results. I am no expert in anything. I try to write posts that have good information, and I have learned a lot about the subjects along the way, and my income is up since the sky fell last week. But there are apparently a lot of people who this is not the case for.

I think we can expect some changes to their algorithm because people are getting good at gaming it. I mean in all honesty, you can rank for what ever you want as long as you have enough links pointing to your sites. Ezine and Hubs were both used a lot for links, maybe that is why they were penalized? I really don’t think the original intention of Google’s algorithm was to give the person with the biggest budget for outsources the highest ranking.

But, I also wonder if Google just really doesn’t know what to do. You can see this from the fact that the search and adsense arms are at odds most of the time. Adsense says to put a big block of ads at the top center of your post and then Search takes your ranking away if you do. But it is the same company.

As far as I can see, unless I am just really lucky, this change didn’t do anything other than create a lot of fodder for a whole log of bloggers to write posts. So maybe they did accomplish what they wanted by whipping up a bunch of fury and scaring a whole bunch of small operators away from trying to make a living online. All I can really do is get back to work on posting.

But, at the same time, I am working on other monetization ideas other than Adsense so in the end will this fear they instilled just end up costing them money?

I think that Splork, the master of gloom and doom, got it right with his post back in September:

Google will always do search, but that’s not where they’re putting their best brains anymore. They’ll continue to squeeze money out of the web as long as they can, but they don’t care about the search results unless they start to bleed users out to a competitor and thus lose ad revenue. In other words, it doesn’t matter if their results suck, as long as the public perceives that they suck less than Bing.

My students don’t use Google unless they’re working on a research paper. Left to their own “devices” (bad pun), they use Facebook to find out about stuff they already know, or they use apps on their phones. The web is too much like a library for them – too much information, too much work to find it, too boring. Google is a library. Facebook is the pub.

Search traffic is wonderful stuff. Dave wrote a post about how lucky we are to have it, and how it could all go away in a heartbeat.

Google traffic is the closest thing you can get to free advertising. In the past, all you had to do was feed it content to munch on, and it would send you money. I don’t know what the future will bring, but I also know that really wonderful things like free advertising seldom last.

I also know I’m in this game to stay. I was a dead tree publisher before I learned SEO and started doing websites, and I’ll still be publishing after the next big change comes.

That’s a very interesting observation Loreecee – but on FB I tend to find the search is crap – unless I already know the answer -my new phone though does have some cute apps and I definitly think that’s a growth market

I kinda agree. I think there’s either some new person at Google wanting to shake things up (i.e. power struggle), or the company want to be seen (by general users) to be ‘cleaning up’ the serps and changing for the future.

I’ll just be treating it like I did the MayDay update – tweaking my portfolio a little but continuing pumping out both crappy and original content sites.

My own site(s) (including the new niche ones I’ve started), didnt really get hit a few % variance because of the normal ‘dancing’ though thats expected. Saying that I am not trying to stay more ‘on topic’ and am syphoning some of my more ‘untargeted’ posts elsewhere.

It will be interesting to see in a fortnight after the ‘dust has settled’ what the actual fallout was and how much was scaremongering.

On a side note didnt know Grizz had a new site, better go and subscribe.

do please try to keep up Dan – BTW I had to dig you out of Askimet – bad boy!

As I always say, somebody at Google should talk to somebody who was in upper management at AT&T during the 80’s and Microsoft during the 90’s and see what happens when you think you’re on top of the world and can do no wrong. Then there’s a change in Washington, your friends in the administration are gone, and suddenly you’re deep, deep, trouble.

There are a lot of companies out there who’re in the same position MCI was in during the 1970’s. They waited until AT&T overplayed their hand and sued, winning a whopping $1.8 Billion settlement. If I owned a niche shopping search or a major article site, I’d be on the phone to somebody like David Boies.

On another topic, I liked your line about “go out and get a real job”. I got into online marketing because companies like Google wouldn’t hire “old fuddy-duddys” like me to do software and web development. I could, I guess, get a ‘real’ job being a greeter at WalMart, but for now, I’ll do Internet marketing and some consulting work with companies that don’t have a problem with age and experience, thank you very much Mr. Google.

American politics either scares or fascinates me – I really am not sure which – but with people like you Frank I sure has hell know more about it than I ever did! But I take your point – there was life before search, there will be life after – do kids know how to find books in a a library anymore?

It is very ironic that the new update smacked sites that are listed as “adsense success stories” or super clean (supposedly) site buildit sites.
However, I think there are indicators now built into the algo and those sites tripped them. The indicators to the algo go straight to the grammar, usage and style of the writing.
Right or wrong, it is effecting many.
It really effects those who don’t build links to their content… those are the ones who get lost amongst the scrapers.
I have never been concerned about scrapers because my content has so many links to it that theirs is drowned out.

That is a million dollar gem -that acutally makes a huge amount of sense -“folksy, non standard writing style” plus scrappers plus no links … hope everyone building a “Fraser style supersite” reads that!

I honestly don’t understand all the ramifications of this new google update. But what I do know is that my wife works very hard –and enjoys doing so by the way, at developing great content on her origami site based on over two decades of experience with that art. Why is her pagerank zero?

On the other hand, I have a much less active web coaching site that barely gets 15 visits a day –it’s a little painful to admit that, and that site has a pagerank of 2.

Any thoughts? Thank you!

Does she swap blogrolls in her niche? That’s what worked for me – but the bigger question is why do you care about PR – there is no correlation with either trust or rankings

I’m not sure what you mean by swapping blogrolls Lis. Would that be exchanging comments with others in a niche? As for PR, I’m really more puzzled than anything else. Why would a site with good content and 600+ visits a day, and a continuous upward trend be ranked at zero? I realize there is little point in worrying about it too much but it just seems so arbitrary. Maybe related in some way is that she has an alert for ‘origami’ and yet her posts never’t show up as an ‘alert’ even with the Volumes column for that alert, in alerts management, set to ‘all’.

Hey Lis,

The issue that most webmasters have is complacency. After all, when you are used to bringing in a few thousand from adsense month in and month out, it is easy to think you have arrived.

My question is what if the person from had found a way to grab a portion of the traffic over the past few years? What if she/he had been able to curate those relationships with those who visited the website? What if he/she had networked with others who had websites for high impact link built-for-traffic leads? What if he/she had used Facebook to target those who lamented the problems that she/he had experienced? What if she/he had become a mainstay in a forum and generated more credibility than “I rank in google search”?

I know that all of those take time but the effects of just implementing 1 or 2 of those very things could’ve served as a buffer between google and the website. The effects of suddenly not mattering to Google would have been lessened. A monetary crunch? Sure…but he/she would probably not have to worry about paying the mortgage next month.

Google search is great. Getting ranked is great. But relying solely on it for income is not. And just like the previous major updates that wiped out dreams of smallish webmasters in a matter of minutes, it should serve as a wake up call that relying solely on ONE third party for traffic and money is a very bad business decision for long term income.

If cure-back-pain had spent just a little time building a list for instance, over the past two years and just converted 1% of that traffic to the list, they would have a list of 12,000 people to market to outside of google’s reach.

While that isn’t the 50,000 monthly searches, it is something….just something to think about though.

To be fair to the owner of that site Leo he does have both an aweber sign up form and a facebook page – its quite likely though that as part of the SBI! way of life he’s never been exposed to the concepts that you have that he’s actually running a business 🙁

It’s sad about the scaper sites, IMHO – still floating at the top of the food chain. It’s enough (almost) to make me buy a scaper plugin to join ’em – but not quite. It still strikes me as a lame business model and I don’t play around with money testing junk and banking my family’s future on crud…


You bring up some interesting / sad facts. Like AsktheBuilder…not a funny reality – that guy’s site is quality, Google needs to (and will) tweak their algo and get sites like that back up where they deserve.

Right now I’m not affected. I’m still building links the way I always have – using quality spun articles that win Pulitzers in the sewers. (quality!)


Still waiting to see what’s any different in it for me. Nothing so far. I guess that means quality on-page factors still (usually?) count.

Maybe that guy with back pain site needs some help – I’ll be sticking up a few links from my various health sites – go back pain guy !! (Was it a guy?) I suggest everyone does likewise – nice article BTW – did you read that big article in SearchEngineLand ? Seems that eHow has actually gone UP the rankings – couldn’t be that Google got a shed load of shares in the recent Demand Media IPO could it ?

After going through about 3 sites mentioned here:

I notice 2 things:
1)These sites have excessive amount of links on their site, be it internal or external. I remember somewhere that there was a mention that you shouldn’t have more than 100 links. If you just glance through one of the sites real fast, you would consider it spam because of the number of links.
2)All these sites have their content copied. Like you said, these sites probably get penalized for having their content copied.

Back in Oct, my main site got hit and lost ranking. I notice the above things. Got more than 100 links and content copied. I even rank below the copy cats when I do a search using some of the sentences from my article (in quote). I did 2 things after that and that’s to reduce the number of links to below 100 and rewritten the pages that got penalized.

You will know if your site got penalized if you do a search with any sentence from your article and you rank below the scrappers or can only be seen if you click on the “repeat the search with the omitted results included.” link at the bottom of Google search.

Once I did the above, you know what happened? The penalty was removed and I got my ranking back! When the site got hit, it has just passed the 100 links mark just a few days before. I guess because of that, the penalty somehow removed my site as the originator of the articles and it has become the copy cat instead.

These are just my observation and hopefully what works for me will help someone out.

@luna, I hope it can be that simple. look at wikipedia, goes many links has it got and how many people scrape it?

It sounds to me that, in the case of the back pain site, it might be possible that the site did not have enough inlinks and authority to be discovered first when the new articles go online. So if a scaper could get the article copied and lived and then indexed before the original author, this could make Google think the scraper was the original author. Then again, I just checked and that site has PR 4 – so there goes my idea, it should be impossible for a scraper to pass off as original author.

Also, I suspect updates will be made to bring back the cure back pain site.

I have noticed increased organic traffic in all 6 websites I look after actively. I’ve taken screenshots of the Google Analtyics / Traffic Sources / Search Engines / Organic / Google report, for the period February 1 2011 to March 29 2011, with “compare to past” ticked, and they all show improvements, take a look
My improvements in visit numbers are: +33%, +58%, +31%, +13%, +43% and +49%. These are really quite large increases in organic traffic, so I’m pretty happy with how it went!

Hi fellow Kiwi Tom! I don’t usually allow links inside comments – but your screen shots are very interesting.

RE the backpain treatment query – its the same load of crap I’m getting in the US data centre today (30 March) – given that this was a highlighted site reported promptly on Google’s own site I thought they might have fixed it by now – apparently not.

Yeah my experience too is that my sites are doing fine. But reporting only traffic is a bit misleading – sometimes it can be about more people searching than your actual rankings – for example one of the sites you quote is – you have a big surge of traffic after 22 Feb – but given the Christchurch earthquake I’m not surprised that more people were searching on terms I’d imagine a youth mental health helpline would rank for. You’re also comparing the pre-Christmas/post-Christmas shutdown – to late summer, kids back at school, time to plan a holiday period of Feb/Mar. Not saying you might have benefited from the update – but I think you need to filter out some other factors e.g. how is you comparison compared to last year at the same time?

Personally I generally monitor rankings more carefully than traffic- rankings I can control – traffic I can’t for example my Wellington Earthquake went from 400 page views to over 6000 – in a day. Why? There was a minor shake in Wellington – about a week after the big Christchurch quake – I didn’t feel it but I noticed it because of the number of comments on the article LOL – totally out of my control (though I did write the article last May just in case Wgtn had a quake)

Hi Lis,

I have much sympathy with the person who owns the back pain site, it is soul destroying, and has happened to me, 52 pages, every page between 1 and 3 in the SERPS, of 100% original content, 5000 hours work and my income down the toilet, while the crappy sites are unmoved.

Right from the start, I have been totally straight, I have never deliberately done anything to try and cheat the search engines, I have followed their guidelines to the letter, and now this.

This update has really upset me, so now I say, f*ck you Google, I am going to blackhat my way to the top, and use every dirty, cheating trick I can to set up thousands of sites and spam your f****** search engine full of crap like I see ranking in the top spots, and just to speed up the process I will be using several dozen outsourcers.
My apologies Lis to you and your readers for the profanity, but I am so angry.

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