Google Farmer Update: Early Returns
So, the manure has hit the rotary blades, and we’re starting to see some results from Google declaring war on so-called “Content Farms” in 2011. (When even mainstream news media hears about it, you know it’s big.) Various pundits and industry experts had ideas on what content farms are, but until we saw the traffic shake-up, we couldn’t be sure how Google defined them.
Of course, I hear the little Michael Martinez devil’s advocate on my shoulder screaming “insufficient sample size, short-term data is inferior to long-term data”! but with that caveat, we’ve already got some apparent results.
Squidoo users, for the most part, haven’t seen any changes in traffic:
Hubpage users are feeling some pain (it’s all over their user forums), which is reflected in the Quantcast traffic data:
Go play with Quantcast to test your own favorites. Some aren’t available yet (ehow, ezinearticles), or are CLOAKED (mahalo.com, surprise surprise) so Quantcast can’t measure them.
For the big picture, see Danny Sullivan’s “Number Crunchers: Who Lost In Google’s “Farmer” Algorithm Change?” on SearchEngineLand, although Squidoo is too small a squid to have attracted detailed stat analysis by the experts, unfortunately.
My own traffic stats reflect what Quantcast saw: in fact, my traffic has been increasing slightly since the change (repeat: limited sample size) not dropping.
So what does this all mean for Squidoo users, most of whom publish on a variety of other platforms as well (including Hubpages)?
I’m not surprised to see a few shellshocked Hubpages users appearing in the Squidoo forums trying to figure out what’s going on. Please, be gentle. (a) I have no doubt Google will continue tweaking the algorithm, so we’re not out of the woods quite yet, and (b) we know all too well what it feels like, from the Squidoo slap of summer 2007.
But that was a very brief problem quickly corrected when Squidoo instituted new anti-spam filters to keep out the worst offenders, after which Google took the penalty off, whereas this one is probably here to stay. Still, that example should give Hubpage users hope: new policies or adjustments to Hubpages can get it back in Google’s good graces.
What Is Squidoo Doing Right (as far as Google’s concerned)?
I’ve been puzzling over WHY Squidoo seems to be unaffected by the Farmer Update. Obviously, I would like to think our high-quality articles are recognized as exactly that. We’ve got thousands of pages with unique content that members have put their heart and soul into. But it is an open publishing platform, and despite all the spam filtering, there is still some less-good stuff on Squidoo. I was concerned it might eclipse the good content in Google’s eyes. Good news: it didn’t.
So the question is, why did Google (apparently) decide to leave Squidoo alone?
All of the following is SPECULATIVE, not based on numbers. I throw these ideas out here, but I do not have the skills to measure whether these really are factors Google is looking at. However, here’s some possibilities:
A Good Bounce Rate
One thing jumped out at me when I was playing with Alexa:
Squidoo’s bounce rate is better than the others.
Now, the question is, does the Farmer Update actually use bounce rate as a ranking signal (one of the factors it measures when trying to decide how to rank a page in search results), or is Google measuring other stuff which happens to be reflected in bounce rate?
I don’t know, but I have a feeling that Squidoo’s lensrank algorithm, which rewards pages that get more clickouts, sales, ratings, and user participation, may help: pages that satisfy people get more payout, so members make more of them, so the bounce rate on Squidoo is lower than on sites which use different metrics to determine who gets paid.
Squidoo’s Crackdowns on Spam, Copied Content
Possibly, Google has noticed that copied content and spam appears on Squidoo and then DISAPPEARS, as members report and flag plagiarized content and spam that violates Squidoo’s Squiddont policies. Again, this is pure speculation, but perhaps Google has some way to measure the rate at which copied content and links to bad neighborhoods are removed.
If that’s so, the Squiodoo slap of ’07 may have helped: Google already knows that Squidoo takes action when spammers attempt to flood it with junk. Also, Squidoo has continued to tweak policies and filters to address problems. (For example, while Wikipedia is Creative Commons, Squidoo removed the Wikipedia module in 2010, because too many people used Wikipedia material AS their content rather than to SUPPLEMENT their content.)
Yet this doesn’t explain why Squidoo would weather the Farmer update better than Hubpages: I don’t know the details, but Hubpages does remove copied content when it’s reported to them, and they’ve got strong filters, too.
Relevant Outbound Links?
I have observed one difference between Hubpages and Squidoo, though this is very anecdotal and should be taken with large grains of salt.
I’ve written a number of original hubs (1000+ word essays) on Greek mythology using my own photos of Greek art. For the image credit, I have one link to my Squidoo lens about my trip to Greece to prove they’re my own photos. I have no commercial capsules. Every hub has been flagged and locked as overly promotional. I must be missing something blindingly obvious, but whatever it is, it seems to be related to Hubpages’ policy on links.
Squidoo, on the other hand, permits up to 9 outbound links to the same domain. (This limit is dropped once you’ve made “Giant Squid” by writing 50 good lenses, vetted by the Giant Squid organizers to make sure they’re good). Links CAN be spammy, but they can also point users to just what they’re looking for. Squidoo treats clickouts as a major lensrank factor, as I noted above. The net result may be that Squidoo lenses have more relevant outbound links than Hubs do, if Hubpage writers have to be more cautious about what links they use to support their articles.
Google does measure what pages link to, not just what links to them. This could be one factor in the Farmer update difference between Hubpages and Squidoo.
NOT Chasing the Long Tail
The worst content farms are those which research high-traffic keywords, then pay people to write articles on them.
Squidoo doesn’t do that. It lets you post on almost anything but the most spammy topics. It then pays those pages which get traffic, yes, but also clicks, sales, and a host of other factors which measure reader interaction.
Some members do use keyword research to choose their article topics, but Squidoo isn’t sponsoring them to do it or telling them to target a particular long-tail phrase. The proof is in the pudding: do those articles perform? The ones that don’t perform drop in lensrank, and drop out of the Squidoo Topics Directory where Squidoo concentrates its pagerank.
Meanwhile, a lot of internet newbies on Squidoo are just writing what they feel passionate about writing, and NOT using keyword research. That may be a good sign, in Google’s eyes: those certainly are NOT articles generated by content farm techniques! Instead, these pages are accidentally chasing the NEW Long Tail of SEO, related search.
Again, I’ve got the “Wait, why would Hubpages be any different?” devil’s advocate chirping in my ear. Hubpages members pride themselves on certain non-search-oriented content like poetry (cool!) which Squidoo doesn’t favor so much. Unfortunately, search engines don’t tend to favor creative writing either.
Squidoo does tend to favor pages that get search engine traffic. But it doesn’t tell us how to get that traffic. Instead, it gives us a fairly detailed traffic breakdown, including different kinds of sources (search engines, referrals, images, cross-linking from elsewhere on Squidoo), so we have to learn from the best teacher of all: our visitors.
UUU: Seth Godin Was Right(?)
Or else Seth Godin was right on, years ago, when he published this free ebook for Squidoo members as a simple guide to how to design Squidoo lenses:
Money For Nothing (And Your Clicks for Free)
This ebook spells out the “UUU” mantra of Squidoo, which a lot of members follow as a general rule of thumb.
All three CAN be measured, by checking for copied content, bounce rate (and/or social factors like Retweets), and update frequency. It’s possible that Google really is monitoring them, or something close to them, as part of its 200+ “signals” used in the almighty Google algorithm.
Just thought I should let you know that I felt compelled to start trying to make people read this ;D
Hi – I want to subscribe and I can’t see the email subscription link. Where is it?
Oh! Goodness, I didn’t have email subscriptions set up. I’ve just added one via plugin. Please let me know if you have any problems with it!
What do you know? I can read Greek!
The other thing I’ve been reading about is the implementation by Google of some mechanism which relates to semantics. Seems plausible.
Yes, I’ve been dipping my toes into the edges of the vast field of semantic search since last August. I’m still getting a handle on how the concept is actually being implemented by search engines in the real world.
I alluded to it here with “related search,” which I see as Google’s baby steps in true semantic search, but I’m always afraid of using the word “semantic” in a post because it requires me to stop and explain that whole topic. That “New Long Tail of SEO” tutorial I mentioned was my first attempt to explain to Squidoo members how to take advantage of semantic search to get more traffic — except I never mentioned the word “semantic,” because I didn’t want to scare newbies with jargon.
Really nice post here. I believe that Hubpages will rebound. I know that they are reaching out to Google to find out what the penalty was for. But making too many conclusions based on one change is really too soon in my book. I still get more traffic from Hubpages then Squidoo for about the same amount of articles.
Certainly life is never dull when you write online for a living.
Back again – just popped in to grab the link to add to a list of recommended links on my blog, and I noticed you’d already linked to me! So thank you ^_^
I had no idea you could use alexa to check a sites bounce rate. I am actually very glad that Squidoo is doing well ( so far). It’s the one remaining “article directory” of mine that did not get caught up in the sting operation. Hats off to Seth Godin. Perhaps he has some close friends at Google, but I think the more likely answer is that he knows how to build a quality site.. and he’s a good PR guy too.. which Google tends to like.
It’s not any personal relationship with Google, I’m sure: Squidoo is too small, and Google’s slapped it when they thought it appropriate. But this time it’s an algorithm change. Google insists they’re not targeting any particular site, just changing the algorithm to attempt to favor “high quality” content. Some sites got burned more than others by whatever they did. We just got lucky.
When all is said and done, although Hubpages took a tremendous hit, it looks like it may still have more global traffic than Squidoo, although now they are pretty close to the same. It seems to me that actually makes sense, since they’re not that far apart in approach.
The other thing I wonder is is how Alexa, and Quantcast, for that matter, are taking these measurements.
This is a great post. It explains what has changed so easily to this newbie at Squidoo. Thanks so much for writing it. I really hope Squidoo doesn’t take a hit.
Hey there – just popped back and swotting up – great that you take all this and break it down so I can at least understand it, a little more clearly.
i was gobsmaced the other day when the hubby arived home and asked me about the “content farms” and what was going on with google? I asked him why? and even as you clearly stated when the news grabs hold of it it is big news, then he proceeded to tell me he told the whole office to be quite whilst he listened as it could affect his missus business online, then he said do you know whats happening, and i said no but I know of a dedicatated lensmaster who is pretty good at keeping us all up to date! So even hubby says thanks too
I am trying to encourage more over here too!
Hope your well, and your info is always greatly appreciated
UUU hit the nail on the head. Seth’s belief in it still holds water today and will continue to hold water. The answer to “how to get that traffic” is to write as an expert or with passion. That, to me, is the biggest lesson to glean from the Google update.
Great information and insight. Hopefully Squidoo keeps chugging along.
Great article. I actually just started back on Hubpages and wondered why I kept getting a hub flagged as promotional, and my hub was way shorter than yours. So no wonder it would get flagged if your really lengthy one didn’t go through. Anyway, after that, I told myself that Hubpages is not worth it unless you just post hubs without any links and just hope to gain with Adsense and their own ad programs. For Squidoo, as long as you have a few modules and different elements in there and make it a bit long, they leave you alone and you can have links going pretty much anywhere. Thanks.