The Farmer Panda Impact On Links Nobody Is Talking About

I’ve seen a few hundred articles and columns and blog posts about the GFP update, ranging from small SEO blogs all the way up to the Wall Street Journal.

The primary focus of all these articles has been two-fold. First, those who are operating what was deemed as “shallow” content have taken a hit in their search rank. Good. Second, some sites that never were content farms and had original content were caught up in the algo tweak and became collateral damage. Not so good.

Having lived through every Google update, I’m not going to pile on with another I told you so post. All I’ll say is after 16 years and hundreds of clients, I have seen zero negative impact to rankings due to the Farmer/Panda update.

Mostly it has been positive. The reason is because I have never utilized the shallow content approach to any of my content or linking strategies. This doesn’t make me any smarter than any other link builder or SEO.

It’s just that any time I look at a potential linking or content strategy, I always ask myself if that strategy would make any sense to implement if there was no Google. If the answer was no, then I didn’t implement it. In other words, I never let the engines be the driver of my linking strategies. Your content drives your strategy, not Google, not Yahoo, not Bing, not Blekko, not any engine.

The result of this approach is that when used properly on behalf of truly top shelf content, improved search rank happens anyway. I’ve said before that “high search rank is the result of meritorious content well linked“.  This is even more true today than during my first campaign for Sea Ray Boats in 1995.

The Secondary Impact On Links

While the update itself was not aimed squarely at links per se, you must remember that those millions of “shallow” pages were often created in the first place with the goal being to populate those shallow pages with anchor text links to other websites, in hopes of improving the rank of those sites being linked to from that shallow content.

Think about the residual effect on links when shallow content is blown up. The links on those shallow pages get blown up as well.  After all, if a page is crap, aren’t the links likely to be crap as well? Or, if not crap, then at least less likely to be sending signals of merit or trust?

To put it another way, let’s say your site does not engage in content farming. You have a legitimate site, perhaps an ecommerce site.  Since links can be tough to come by for such sites, maybe you engaged in link building via link placement within shallow content sites (maybe you paid for them, maybe you swapped, maybe you sponsored it, whatever).

If the link profile for your site is populated predominantly by sites that were deemed as shallow content, then isn’t it fairly obvious that a secondary impact of Google’s Farmer / Panda update is sites with links from shallow pages are going to see their rankings drop as well.

Of course they will.

I think this is part of the reason there has been an outcry from sites who are saying they were unfairly caught up in the Farmer/Panda update.

The truth may be that you are not content farming, but if your links live on hundreds of shallow or content farm content pages, you are going to be a casualty, and that’s about as simple a way as I can put it. I’ve said forever that as far as links are concerned, you are known by the company you keep. Your inbound links tell a story. If your company and story is shallow, your are going to pay the price.

This doesn’t mean your situation is hopeless. What you need is a solid merit based strategy that does not include potential farms. If you have solid content, and if you are not a farmer yourself, then you can recover. Just get some help from someone that knows what they are doing.

It’s not by accident that I have never contributed content or links to any content farm. I know them when I see them and it’s always about intent. My antenna is just the residue of staring at millions of URLs over the years across thousands of spreadsheets. When you know the signals, farms are easy to spot. You can do it too. If you’re willing to learn.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column | Panda Update Tips


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Marjory

    Hey Eric,

    This seems very logical to me but I was wondering, do you have any specific examples that indicate that this has had an immediate effect on links coming from content farms?

    It’s not that I don’t believe you. In fact, it seems almost inevitable that this is going to be a secondary outcome of this. It’s just that I’d really like to see a real world example, just to make me more certain that I’m (you’re) right. :-)


  • Michael Martinez

    Well, there has been some weeping and gnashing of teeth in a few spammy \SEO\ forums where cheap link building tactics are often advocated. I have seen certain article and blog networks named a couple of times each as having lost value but who knows? One link spammer started a test and cut it off after something like 48 hours because he saw absolutely no movement in the SERPs from the thousands of links he was building.

    Problem is, all those spammy links were placed using non-unique anchor text. Those people have no way of knowing if their links are working or not.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Hi Eric,

    Great points about the update and lack of trust from these type of content farms/sites that provide low quality links. I agree with you that much of the white hat basics (good quality content/linking, etc.) still very much applies today (proof in point with this update) as they did 10 years ago. Sometimes, I speak with clients who think SEO and link building is this magical and mysterious thing that is way to complicated to understand…that is simply not the case. Much of the SEO 101 concepts do need to be applied to most websites and much has evolved over the years but much has remained the same.

    Anyway, like Marjory I too would like to see specific examples that you might have come across that illustrates your point(s). On a side note, I have not seen any website (that I own or my clients) that have taken a hit as a result of this update…

  • Elisabeth Osmeloski

    Marjory / Nick –

    In Vanessa Fox’s recent article,

    She uses the example of HealthCastle – towards the end, she discusses how the links that site had previously acquired from Suite 101 have now likely been devalued and are contributing to their issues.

  • John Doherty

    An insightful post that no one had yet written. Thanks for writing it!

    I think you’re right about it’s possible to recover, though it’s going to take a lot of work. And I also respect you for not putting links on content farms and taking the easy way out! I do the same thing, and hopefully it pays off in the long run for me as it has for you.


  • traiann

    I have asked the same question to the Google officials on the same forum talking about content farm penalties. Are those links pointing out from blog farms going to be devaluated? I got no answer, and what’s worse, I still see the same sites rankings almost purely based on sblogs and other farms.

  • Rick Vidallon

    BRAVO ERIC. Good to hear you say build good content first and foremost! I have always beleived that if you got something to say, then people will listen. Same goes for traditional print; good editorial columns enjoy large a readership, and crappy ones don’t. Great books make the best sellers list and crappy books end up in the bargin bin.

  • Alireza Sefati

    Good article… I was actually thinking about this too…it seems that a lot of my “guest blogging” links were dropped in terms of ranking. And this makes perfect sense. The content and the sites which the links were linking to my site lost value so that also means that links and anchors coming from those content isn’t as valuable either.

    Kinda smart by Google if you ask me

  • Marcus C

    I think there is an important distinction to make here.

    First, I agree that the amount of value these links hold is less than it was before the update.

    Second, I disagree that there is a “penalty” associated with having links from content farms.

    At the end of the day spammers will continue to use these tactics because this update just means they need more links than they needed before, and since they are using tools to do it in the first place, what’s it to them to just add more? Nothing. It’s easy.

    If there was a penalty you can bet they would build a lot more links using content farms, but instead of pointing them to their own site they would point them at their competitors.

    All the whining has been the loss of some rank when this was the ONLY tactic employed when getting links for your site. If you diversified you survived just fine. I’d like to think people learned their lesson with this update, but since the above points are true, I doubt it will change things much.

    To Eric’s greater point, if you build links for people and not search engines then you never have to worry about these things.

  • seowebcoil


    if i send 100 crap pages to content farms & link my friends site – will he drop in google’s SERP???

  • BeelineWeb

    Hi Eric,

    Nice commentary. The “if there was no Google” approach is always a good one that many (most) forget to stop and think about. We were hit hard by the updates, a lot of our content is stolen so we are taking measures to prevent this as well as cleaning up anything that we feel is low quality content. It is difficult for us to obtain quality links, but we continune to produce great content that we are starting to promote socially so the links should come. We need engines like Google to help people find our content so quality links, as you know, has more benefit than just SEO.

    Great post. Thanks Eric.

  • Christopher Skyi

    “I always ask myself if that strategy would make any sense to implement if there was no Google”

    Yes! If there’s ever a question about what marketing strategy to take, what SEO type task to do, ask yourself if you would do it if ranking and getting an inbound link where not factors. If so, it’s probably a very good this to do it. The end result of all marketing efforts should be quite personal, everything done for the benefit of your one typical customer.

    When people are on camera for the first time, they freak out because they feel how can they talk to a million people. The trick is to pretend you’re just talking to your best friend, one on one. That’s how marketing should be, one on one. If the search engines are the target of your marketing efforts, that’s like trying to talk to a million people at once.

    However, this doesn’t mean one can forget about search engines obviously. Because search engine algorithms are not yet as smart as a human being, a SEO helps search engines understand both the meaning and purpose of a web page by using very simple techniques with technical names such as “on-page optimization,” “meta data,” etc. Once a web page is “understood” by the search engines, they can then more easily decide where to put (“rank”) the page on their search engine results page.

  • IStudio

    Sage advice Eric — and nice to hear it come from someone who has been around as long as I have…. Remember, when there was no such thing as SEO — just common sense! ;-)

    I have several top ranking sites that I’ve never stressed about links over — for the very reasons you mention. It’s when you take the quick and easy approach that thing become risky.

    When you focus on providing what your target market *desires and needs* combined with the best personalized experience and support — you’ll find you are too busy to worry about links.

  • Michael Martinez

    seowebcoil: “if i send 100 crap pages to content farms & link my friends site – will he drop in google’s SERP???”

    There is a pervasive myth going around the link building community that pointing bad links at someone else’s site won’t hurt them. The truth is that Google is trying to undermine such attempts at Website character assassination but there are still ways to pull it off.

    Generally speaking, I think what most if not all of us want to see is that these crappy links simply pass no value at all, with no site’s being harmed in any way — including ranking for expressions that they don’t want to rank for.

  • Bob Bigellow

    Wouldn’t this leave open the possibility of another kind of “Google Bomb”? Rather than someone trying to make certain profile page popular for the term “miserable failure”, couldn’t a huge network of spammy content farm websites intentionally damage the credibility of a particular website merely by linking to them without their knowledge or permission?

  • Bob Bigellow

    Sorry. My bad. You can disregard my post. I read ALMOST every comment here before posting. I seemed to have specifically missed the posts that pertained to exactly what I was asking.

  • alfonsan

    I want to remember the difference between devaluation and penalization, and those sites were devaluated… That means that links from those sites count, but not as they used to. Shall we expect those sites to be spammed even more with longer and complicated articles?

    Second question, Blogspot is another content farm, there are hundreds thousands of blogs created only to send links to their websites in all kind of linkwheels, are Google devaluating themselves?

    And finally another question, what happens to the high quality articles included in those content farms buried now. Choose whatever long tail keyword about a topic you are passionate about, check google’s top ten results, now move to those content farms, even if they have thousands/millions of crap articles, there are still better ones than G’s first page too many times. Is it possible for an algorithm to tell you whats good content and bad content?

  • Joe Youngblood


    I completely agree. I wrote about this to webmasters at the Digital Point forums. The rhetoric coming from Mountain View seemed aimed at killing the value to the website allowing the junk content to be posted and not at the links from authors contributing. Remember Google likes links, it’s sorta their thing. So if this wasn’t link sales or the likes then of course they aren’t going to go after the links directly.

    In my own work I noticed one article that was page one for it’s title got buried to page 12. The content is still indexed. but not seen as quality enough to be within view of a normal searcher. That particular article is no longer counted as a backlink in Google Webmaster, a solid indicator that while Google kept it in the index the new algo is skipping the link.

    I have an opposite example where the article moved up one position on page 3 and the link is still indexed. Both examples are on the same domain, one that was hit hard by Farmer. That begs the question: Where does Google cut off the link indexation?

    Also think about the long term effects of the Panda update. If your website lost 84% of it’s traffic how long could you sustain your operations? I know most of my clients would be shut down within months. Lead gen sites could turn to PPC and run a learner company, but advertising based companies will have major issues. So on the horizon line we could see hundreds of thousands of pages vanish from the internet as these sites collapse and shut down.

  • Joe Youngblood

    @Michael Martinez – it is NOT in Google’s best interest to simply kill all link value from one site to another, they didn’t handle blog comment spam that way and IMO that was far worse than this. I have always practiced high quality content creation focusing on fact based articles thousands of words long and wish sites like Ezine had allowed for citations and credit links, not just credit links. There is a strong feeling that Google did however find a way to examine the content from a domain, perform analysis on it for avg content depth and maybe even grammatical errors (could reason to be USA only at first as this would take tweaking per nation) and then say if this site is ~% junk we’re going to devalue all of the content here. Then take that plus other algorithmic signals per each page like always to see who really deserves to be up top. Unfortunately that catapulted YouTube and eHow in some quereies.

    If that’s how they did it, and I hope it is, we could see much tighter rules for contributed content on sites like Ezine.

  • Michael Martinez

    Joe, all I can say is that you may not be seeing some of the battles in the link war that I have been watching (and, as a forum operator, participating in). This goes well beyond Google’s index. It is directly affecting hundreds of thousands of Websites and Google needs to take some SERIOUS action to ensure that the most easily obtained links do NOT pass value. Websites are hurt in many ways by Google’s trust in links.

  • highwayfive

    Its common sense to think the links have been devalued but I think that they never had a high value before unless you spent alot of effort in cross linking from other resources to your articles, hubpages etc…

    I think the trick as it has always been is to get variety into your link profile. I site that hasn’t been worked on by a professional “seo” would have a mix of links from different sources including a fair amount of no follows.

    I would like to think that google is clever enough to pick this up. A variety of sources and domains is key.

    Although Panda doesn’t seem to have hit the UK yet all my rankings in have held or improved post panda :)

  • F.M.C.

    One of my sites lost 45% of its traffic. Here’s the thing, it was a WordPress blog. Nine out of ten of my WP blogs have experienced traffic drops since the Panda update.

    All of my sites have original content and 99.9999% of the articles are over 500 words each. It’s pathetic what has happened.

    There are eHow articles that rank above mine where the authors don’t have a clue what they are writting about. Yes, this is happening in three niches where I am an authority on the subjects.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide