Sounds like a game out Zynga's Farmville, but unfortunately it's much more serious for publishing sites that have been labeled "Content Farms" by the search giant. Content Farms as defined by Wikipedia is used to describe news aggregators that employ a large staff of freelance writers to generate content that is designed to "satisfy algorithms" resulting in higher rankings on Google SERPs (search engine result pages).
Based on what has been determined to be a rise in such activity, Google has altered its search algorithm to demote what they have determined as "low quality" sites. According to many SEO (search engine optimization) analysts, this move was caustically termed a "farmer's update."
The obvious debate which has surfaced hinges on how 'automation' can distinguish a "low quality" from "high quality" site? Particularly since Google notes that there was no human intervention. "Our recent changes to help people find high-quality sites are entirely algorithmic and we have not taken manual action, nor will we take manual action to address particular sites. Instead, we will consider feedback from publishers and the community as we continue to refine our algorithms to improve our search quality at scale."
Traffic to some Web sites has decreased by 40 percent. Others like TheTeacherscorner.net, a 13-year old site indicates their ad revenues have dropped by 50 percent even though the publishers of the site assert they receive "several million monthly pageviews and thousands of pages of original content for K-12 educators."
Is there any recourse for publishing sites that feeling they have ended up on the wrong side of these changes?
Well, Google has opened up a forum titled: "Think you're affected by the recent algorithm change- post here." According to a PCMag.com report, in less than 24 hours of the forum going live, over 130 complains were received (today, as of this posting there are 777 complaints filed).
However, reporter Sara Yin did note that since there was "no whitelist nor blacklist for sites affected by the algorithm," don't expect any "individual exceptions."
Yin then counters this point by noting that a prominent publishing site was able to turn the tides. According to a Wired post, the Apple blog, Cult of Mac recovered from their losses when Google reassessed their Google ranking position and de-classified as a 'content farm'.
In turn, i4Unews.com's Webmaster was quick to seize this opportunity for his site and others that may have wrongfully gone under the chopping block. "I see Google has 'fixed' Cult of Mac. I would really appreciate the same treatment as we are hurting to the point (we) have to fire staff."
Since Google changes its algorithm over 500 times a year, it's hard to say if this recent algorithmic shuffle will stay in effect for an indeterminate period of time - or whether complaints and blogs like this will provide Google with the necessary input to reassess this drastic move.
While it's important to weed out the "copy and paste" scrapers that exist in the blogosphere, it's just as important to allow reputable bloggers to be heard, who present a point of view and are adding to a newsworthy discourse.
In my humble opinion, I think a clear message has to be sent to Google's Almighty Algo that it needs to add a "human" component to their critical decision-making. An algorithm that cuts reputable publishing sites' revenue streams in half is unfair and should not be dismissed so lightly. To shift the blame to "automation" is like relying on the Wizard of Oz for guidance. The Almighty Algo behind the curtain needs to be exposed and explained to those that have been affected by this pernicious "farmers' update."
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