Google’s Farmer Update Plants User Behavior Seeds
Over the last 10 days, the world of Internet search has swarmed around any source for news on Google’s “Farmer” algorithm change that affected nearly 12% of USA search results. Any company generating its revenue by producing low quality content rushed to wrestle up new rank and ad revenue data and discuss the damage.
As Aaron Wall pointed out, not every “content farm” got the ax. As Wall discovered, it seems illogical that ehow.com would come away relatively unscathed while similar sites based on the how-to articles model tanked.
Websites that Google continues to cuddle include Facebook, Youtube and EBay. Research by Sistrix.com shows a list of some well known domains such as ezinearticles.com and mahalo.com suffering huge losses in keyword rank.
Can Searchers Rejoice?
In our normal day to day romping on the Internet, we give little thought to what’s happening behind the scenes unless a search result leads to a “scraper” site or a search result doesn’t match what we’re thinking.
Google’s usability and human factors people are determined to understand how we interact with websites once we find them. Did we click on a search result and then back right back out? Why? Our tastes and preferences matter.
If Google learns that a high number of searchers are landing on a page and leaving immediately, this is cause for investigation. If the web page itself is considered useless by humans, it will have no use to a search engine.
There are still mysteries to solve, such as how to understand the person doing the searching. One way that Google tries to learn our online behavior is by asking us to log in to a “Gmail” account or “iGoogle” homepage.
This allows the search engine to learn about us and with their various tools and settings; we can communicate our likes, dislikes, search patterns, hours of use and much more. However, in my house for example, my laptop is often the quickest to get to, so it’s used by several types of users.
A search for “bat” displays what could easily be Google’s attempt at solving a search by my daughter, who is a bargain hunting bath and body products fanatic. It could also be a befuddled search by me, who thinks the word “bat” can only mean one thing and I expect that thing to appear first in the list of suggestions (which it didn’t).
My sons, however, would smartly and knowingly search for “baseball bat” and from there look for brands and their preferences.
How did Google know I wasn’t looking for the tiny flying bat that hangs upside down in caves? Someday, perhaps Google will know which of us is doing the typing, no matter who is logged in.
What Do Search Engines Want?
We could debate that question of course. However, I’ve been saying for years that search engines want to deliver truthful content when we ask for it. I believe that one of the reasons websites like Facebook, EBay and Youtube will continue to be favored by search engines is because engines know we favor them the most.
Facebook is where we find our friends and family. When someone posts a link in their Facebook profile to an article or video, we trust that link because we know the person showing it to us. Our “tweets” are indexed because of the links in “retweets” and our comments may contain keywords. Not only that, Twitter and Facebook are where we share our feelings.
This is a critical difference between content that is true and necessary versus content that’s untrue and manufactured to fit certain keywords.
As website users, we’re more inclined to interact with web sites that have human oriented content, such as what social network sites offer. Forums haven’t died yet. The top ones continue to deliver credible content because community members enforce accuracy. Search engines understand where credible content can be found and will reward those pages.
Truth In Wording
One of the advantages of truly understanding information architecture for both search engine optimization and user experience appears during the selection of keywords and navigation link labels.
A website owner who is intimately involved with their topic, customers, readers or community knows exactly what terms belong on their site. Websites with authentic content contain something more motivating then “About”, “Contact”, “Services” and “Solutions”.
To avoid being a search engine casualty, your content writers need to know the proper terms to use, the right language and even slang, taxonomies, accurate classifications and, most importantly, what their readers will believe, bookmark and talk about. Consistency, good grammar, and web design indicators that convey trust all matter to persons searching for quality information.
One of the most insightful indicators of what we’re thinking about and what we want to know more about comes from “signals” that come largely from social conversation types of sites.
The social sciences find a bonanza of sentiment, both positive and negative, in places like Twitter, blogs and forums. Knowing this, new kinds of spam can be found in comments and promotional link drops in Twitter and forums.
User generated content such as blog comments, testimonials, product feedback, ratings, voting, “retweets”, forums posts, social site “status” updates and more are still sources for genuine signals for natural content.
To boost authenticity of your site, be sure interactions are moderated to weed out spam and inaccurate information that can decrease the quality of your web property.
The Authenticity Of Emotions
To help gauge information behavior we look at where people post their opinions on events. Everybody knows where to look for what’s new. Communication practices have changed over the centuries.
We no longer sit around a fire telling stories and the days of sitting at the table sipping coffee and reading the Sunday newspaper are slowly becoming history too. What gets us charged up is where we can vent or watch as others do it for us.
Blogs are great resources to seek out topics that are important to us. Sometimes it’s the blog owner who writes compellingly on interesting topics. Maybe it’s a group of individuals with talent who not only write but are able to get readers to share and express themselves.
Ongoing conversations and regular blog posts create activity which is measured as traffic to your site. Regular traffic is ad revenue, brand recognition, creating human relationships and building trust foundations.
Many of you can see in your logs that when you make a new post or add new content to a site, there follows a flurry of activity such as subscribers coming for a look. Regular patterns that show posting consistency are valued signals to search engines that “something” is happening.
A fascinating study on Twitter sentiment tracking found that certain announcements such as a death of someone famous, an illness, divorce or news of political unrest generates volume spikes with often higher amounts of negative reactions than positive.
We saw this play out during the Oscars awards show. Many people experienced the event in more emotional ways while following along with Twitter. If you couldn’t catch the TV broadcast, Twitter users were watching and sharing their own reactions and feelings.
Google’s plowing under pages that are no longer useful may be painful for some domains, but for people who use search and those who place user behavior as a priority, the new garden of fresh authentic content that ranks well now will be a welcome improvement.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.