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Google “Farmer” Update Feb 2011 Compliant Search Engine Optimization

Google recently made a significant update to the way it ranks websites. While the SEO pundits are busy debating this or that aspect of the change, website business owners nervously check their site traffic to see if they’ve been singled out as a “low quality” website. To be specific Google started rolling out the update to all data centers on Feb 23rd. Since then dozens of top SEO’s have posted their opinions and research shedding some light on the mechanics of what Google announced to be “a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries”. Here are a few of my favorites.

What the “Farmer” (as named by Danny Sullivan) or “Panda” (purported to be the Google internal name) update means for your website seo varies widely depending upon your industry and the strategies you’ve used in the past to promote your website. If you checked out the links above you know that many former juggernauts (think ezine, article dashboard,) have been reduced to squeaky hamster status. If your SEO campaign was heavily focused on content and link distribution through article directories you may want to develop a broader strategy. After reading pot pie girl’s breakdown and examining my internal statistics I’m pretty warm to the notion that many article directories took the biggest hit in the most crowded niches. Considering the sheer volume of content for spammy topics like male enhancement, credit cards, acia berry, if Google most heavily penalized content in these spammy topic areas, that could easily represent a significant portion of the overall loss.

It seems that most the loudest critics of the “Farmer” update are webmasters operating a website which is primarily monetized through PPC or CPM advertising. Websites like EzineArticles stick out, but hundreds of niche site owners, like a car review site, are falling victim to large traffic losses in the post Panda era of SEO. Trolling the Google webmaster forum I notice many of the website owners bemoaning the “Farmer” aftermath operate sites which attract large volumes of non-commercially motivated search traffic. Some keywords I’d categorize as non-commercially motivated include “dodge charger reviews” “cure back pain” “bathroom insulation”. These search terms indicate more interest in research, or what other people are saying than a direct intention to buy something.

Sites which focus on monetizing organic search through ad revenue, rather than selling a product or service directly, can be subject to both volatility and algorithm changes that often occur in organic search. This points to the unsustainable nature of businesses which rely on free traffic as their only source of income. When it comes to ad revenue resulting from non-commercial search traffic, the Google gods certainly giveth and taketh away as they please. While it is important to recognize new problems and opportunities resulting from this latest update, “Farmer” doesn’t materially change the way we do search engine optimization. Focusing on creating high quality, keyword relevant content, and earning links from authoritative sites is still the foundation of any successful SEO campaign, but long term success hinges on your ability to convert traffic from diverse sources into leads and sales.

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