A few weeks ago, Google started targeting so-called content farms, or websites with supposedly low-quality content and highly concentrated keyword density. Google first addressed the issue by releasing a Chrome browser extension that lets users block unwanted domains from search (and which returned the unwanted list to Google for further processing). Now, Google has made some algorithm adjustments that are aimed at lowering the ranking power of content farms. But this came with some collateral damage.
While Google keeps its search and ranking algorithm a closely guarded secret, the recent adjustment seems to be a major tweak, judging from how drastically different the search results are compared to the previous weeks. Google started applying the new search algorithm in its US datacenters, and is slowly rolling this out to the rest of the world. What this means for many webmasters, bloggers and website owners, though, is a drastic change in their traffic levels -- and sometimes more important, revenues -- because of the change.
Who Got Hit?
The Google algorithm change targeted content farms, all right. Based on historical data, most of the top-affected sites include familiar names in the content-mill industry. But the change also meant bad news for other website owners. Members of the popular Webmaster World forum have been complaining that Google is essentially killing their businesses.
Practically anyone can be negatively affected by the latest algorithm change -- even websites that use legitimate optimization methods and websites that offer good content, but are somehow branded among these content farms. What, then, can a webmaster do to survive the latest Google crunch?
Tip #1: Focus on Loyalty
The problem with search-based traffic is that it tends to be volatile. Consider your website's mix of direct, referral and organic search-based traffic. If a big part of your traffic comes from the search engines, then you can expect big changes whenever the algorithm changes, or when people start searching for different keywords. An average website will usually have about a 60:40 ratio, with search making up 60% of traffic, and 40% coming from direct and referral traffic.
Build up on the direct and referral portion of your traffic, and you can at least be assured that your readership keeps getting back because of loyalty. This can be done through subscriptions, memberships, emailed newsletters, community and the like.
Tip #2: Watch Your Link Neighborhood
Google's ranking algorithm takes into account a host of factors, and this includes websites that link to you and also websites that your site links to. This is one reason why some sites have strict linking policies (i.e., they don't want you linking to them). While you don't have control over the sites that link to your site, you will definitely need to watch where you link to. Even linking to a URL that hosts malware will place you on Google's badware site list.
If you suspect that links on your site have led Google to penalize you, it might be time for a cleanup.
Tip #3: Write for People
The main reason content farms have been branded that way is the quality of their content -- or at least, as perceived by readers. Most are probably over-optimized with a certain keyword density, and are often optimized for machines rather than people. Remember, what Google wants is to have helpful pages appear on top of their search results. Optimizers will often tweak sites for better readability by search bots.
Look at how your site is designed. Does it focus on readability? Or, is it peppered with ads? Look under the hood. Are you stuffing keywords in hidden places and metatags? Perhaps you should overhaul your website's information architecture.
What is Quality, Anyway?
One gripe that webmasters have with Google's latest crackdown on quality is subjectiveness. What is a quality website? What is quality content? Does your webpage need perfect grammar, diction, punctuation and spelling to qualify as good content? Or, is it the discussions and the subject that matter? Of course, this can be subjective, but the point is to minimize fluff and to focus on being informative.
One thing's for sure. Google's latest algorithm change will affect a lot of sites, and will continue to do so. Going forward, optimizers, content aggregators, and content farmers will likely move on to different strategies that will put them at an advantage. Rather than game the system, though, why not focus on long-term strategies that will ensure your website's traffic and visibility so that you won't be on the receiving end of a Google ban or penalty?