Google Trying To Minimize Collateral Damage From “Farmer” Update

dynamite-helpGoogle is aware that some “good” sites have been hurt by the recent Farmer algorithm update and is working to fix the problem already.

That’s according to a story that focuses largely on Cult of Mac, an Apple-centric blog that lost 80% of its keyword rankings according to the Sistrix data that came out shortly after Google announced that the new algorithm had been launched. In the Wired article, Cult of Mac Editor Leander Kahney says the site’s traffic fell between 33 and 50 percent.

Google’s Amit Singhal tells Wired that the new algorithm’s effects are “widely positive,” but says that “no algorithm is 100% accurate.” He says Google won’t manually change rankings for any site that was wrongly caught by the Farmer update, but the company is already working on “a new layer” to improve it.

“Therefore any time a good site gets a lower ranking or falsely gets caught by our algorithm — and that does happen once in a while even though all of our testing shows this change was very accurate — we make a note of it and go back the next day to work harder to bring it closer to 100 percent.”

“That’s exactly what we are going to do, and our engineers are working as we speak building a new layer on top of this algorithm to make it even more accurate than it is,” Singhal said.

It’s possible that Google’s changes are already rolling out. Wired did its interviews on Monday, and Kahney contacted them today to say that his site is “miraculously back.” There are also anecdotal reports in the comments of our Who Lost In Google’s “Farmer” Algorithm Change? story from others saying they’re also seeing signs of recovery.

On a related note, if there’s any recovery for Mahalo — another site hit hard by the Farmer update — it will come too late for some employees. Founder Jason Calacanis announced today that Mahalo has cut about 10% of its staff due to traffic and revenue losses from the Farmer update.

(image courtesy Shutterstock)

Postscript: See our follow-up piece, Google: We’ve Made No “Significant” Changes To The Farmer Update.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Content Farms | Features: General | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • Douglas Karr

    I wish that Google would better qualify their stance. An aggregator site that doesn’t produce it’s own content is surely a strong target. However, some of the sites have acquired all of their content naturally or it’s written by internal editorial teams. My client, ChaCha has invested heavily, for years, to accumulate it’s valuable content. They also have QA and external feedback mechanisms. ChaCha’s site and service continuously improve every month… And so has their popularity. They also only publish a fraction of their data. They’ve been both accused by some and hurt by this algorithm change and I do believe the charge is misplaced.

  • http://mauricewalshe mauricewalshe

    Hmm I had a quick look at COM and they do republish a lot of content and the cms that runs the site is poor and failed a number of SEO 101 basics.

    I suspect they are a so so quality site that got tipped over the edge by this combination. Interesting to see that the site owner is living up to the apple ‘entitlement’ stereotype.

    And i would bet a case of moet that Jason made those people redundant so quickly for political chest beating reasons – than actulay as a considered response.

  • music_mag

    Great! I woke up this morning to find my site is outranked by scraper sites its own original content. The update has hurt the original publishers in our case. Take this article which got tweeted time and again:

    Now take this search result –

    See what we mean!

    It’s been a positive update in general, and its great google is being proactive on spam. However, we feel like the proverbial baby thrown out with the bathwater.

  • TFratzel

    I too have been hit hard by this new algo change. I’ve been writing content for over 5 years on a site that started as a blog and is today an industry leading source of information.

    My traffic took a 40% hit last Thursday when it rolled out. All of my content is 100% original and I work very hard creating content that my readers want. I have had thousands and thousands of comments thanking me for writing content that is useful to the average home owner.

    I’m sickened that google now considers my site a content farm when nothing could be truer. I’m also tired of all the comments on the webmaster forums saying that my site should be penalized due to the amount of ads. It’s hard to believe that I should be punished for trying to make money from my hard work.

    At any rate I highly doubt Google will do much to fix the problem. For me I see the cause as the following.

    The site has over 1,000 articles with very few organic links to them. You see my readers are ordinary folks that don’t own blogs, websites, etc that might link to my content. So I have a high ratio of articles to few inbound links. I’m sure that Google is using that ratio to trip this new algo.

    So here I am, not a huge site like the one you mention, no connection to Google and the Google Bomb tore off half of my limbs! It sure will be interesting to see what happens!

  • ajkohn

    The wired article contains some interesting quotes and insight.

    First off, having Amit out on the front lines like this is a bit out of the ordinary. Sure, Matt’s otherwise indisposed at a conference, but … Amit’s usually not as public.

    Amit also states that they tested results in a different way this time. They used qualitative panel data from non-Google employees. Okay, as a marketer i know a bit about panels. So what was the size of this panel? How did you recruit them? Were they incentivized in any way? What type of bias did you identify within your panel?

    And the questions they used make me worry about how they have constructed these interviews and surveys. It’s amazingly easy to get the data you want from a survey if you provide the right context.

    Finally, the general sense I get from the Wired article is that Google is on the defensive, going out of the way to try to acknowledge problems but at the same time stating that the change was “very accurate”.

    The numerous sites that I’ve spoken with would disagree.

  • TeacherPaul

    Not seeing any improvement on any of my results yet, fingers crossed.

    Wish I had a friend of a national publication (Wired) to plead the case for my site…

    I think sometimes Google worries more about the metrics and not the people using the info. Bounce rates are the biggest culprit. Many times,when searching, I find answer on one site and then go back to search results to compare with other sites. Does that mean the last site I visited was the best? Probably not.

    I applaud their efforts, but the new results are really bad in our niche. You have to remember people are using these from all walks of life and motivations. Let’s say your a kid doing your homework googling all around the place to learn a formula or something. Will kids have the patience to read through material? Doubt it! They want a quick answer now. When somebody google’s to learn a problem and take the time to review all the material. The site might be good for one person, but not another. I don’t think they ever find an algorithm to do this.

  • DimWit

    Agree with akjohn, Google has started down a slippery slope with their stated emphasis on ‘quality’ as opposed to ‘relevance’.

    Amit’s statements about their validation techniques are very troubling and deserve some serious scrutiny (hint, hint).

    ‘Quality’ is soooo subjective, and this update appears to have applied a quality score to entire sites, rather than assessing quality on a per-query basis.

    Some queries will benefit from content that is ‘in-depth’ and ‘well-researched’ – but a lot of queries are relatively simple, like ‘Can I take my bicycle on a commuter train in San Francisco?’ Quality in that instance is pretty straight forward – but a number of QA sites (with the conspicuous exception of Yahoo Answers) have take a major hit because Google appears to have deemed content that is ‘thin’ as being of ‘low-quality’.

    Google goofed and they should turn their attention from what worked to what didn’t with this update – (long-tail queries?)

  • robdwoods

    It looks like CultofMac got caught in the duplicate content part of the new algorithm. A quick search of some random text from the site showed 9 other sites that have the same article indexed with CultofMac not ranking #1 for the article despite the fact that the date stamp in the SERPs shows the CultofMac version to be the oldest. I suspect that it’s the duplicate content part of the algo that’s being tweaked. The site also allows the category archives to be indexed so there’s dup content within the site as well as across sites. Also, many of the posts on that site have a high ad link to content ratio. Given what we know about the algo update I’m not surprised the site got caught in the changes.

  • Carlos Chacón l SEO

    No big changes on this “farmer update” (at least for now) but wondering if Google is loosing some indexation speed trying to care about other “issues” like this one. I do believe this changes heps to clean up the mess with “poor content” websites but not sure if this is going to help to show “better” results on SERPs.

    Just like DimWit said above: ‘Quality’ is soooo subjective, and this update appears to have applied a quality score to entire sites, rather than assessing quality on a per-query basis.

  • BeelineWeb

    We were hit hard. We’re not seeing any changes yet, although a few placements were reverting back to where they were this morning. As a result of the most recent update, our traffic is down by 40% in the past week. Our content is original which has resulted in a high number of sites in our industry stealing and scraping a lot of our content. We have found hundreds of sites that have stolen our content. Google in your attempt to clean up web spam (which we applaud) you have inadvertantly caused us to experience a major decline in traffic and business. I hope the situation gets corrected and soon.

    In the mean time, we are addressing what we need to and will begin reporting a number of sites who have stolen our content.

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