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Google Farmer / Google Panda Update: UK Website and SEO Advice

Published on March 18, 2011
Tags: SEO

When you search for information on Google, you might find from time to time that the search results aren’t exactly what you’re looking for. You sometimes find yourself faced with web content that is below par and nowhere near as useful as you might expect. Google recognises that this is a problem, so this is why they’ve introduced what is known as the Google Farmer (or Google Panda) update.

What exactly is the issue?

The content issue is largely caused by what are known as ‘content farms’. These are clusters of sites that have low quality content but often do well in search results because they optimize keywords. Then, the more people that click through onto these results assuming they’re relevant to their search terms, the more popular they become, even though their content is lacking.

There is also an issue with websites that produce only small amounts of original content. Sometimes these are legitimate sites, with RSS feeds that are fully authorised, but other times they’re sites that have simply copied information from elsewhere. 

Google wants to improve the quality of the sites it shows you when you search for something, hence the introduction of the algorithmic change known as Google Farmer (or officially inside Google, ‘Panda’)

What is the solution?

While Google isn’t officially targeting the Farmer update at the issues described above, the changes they are making primarily affect content farms and sites with ‘shallow’ content. They’ve done this by tweaking their search engine algorithm so higher quality results feature higher up on their lists. This change has only taken place in the US so far, but it’s reportedly had an impact on around 12% of US search results and is currently undergoing international testing, so it should be rolled out around the world, including the UK, soon.

Another update has also gone live to deal with the websites that have high quantities of copied content. This hasn’t had such a wide impact as the Farmer update, but reports suggest it’s definitely made a difference.

Are there any issues with the update?

On the whole, the Google Farmer update is positive to the Internet user’s experience as it makes it more likely that web users get good search results that are relevant to what they’re looking for and that are of good quality. Sites with low-quality content are more likely to fall down in the rankings as a result, which is a good for web users and website developers who put a lot of effort into their sites, as these will naturally benefit.

One issue that does arise, however, is the fact that websites are constantly under development and so might register as being ‘low quality’ for a time, affecting their search results. For example, if a website is trying to start a debate amongst its users, it might just post a short piece of holding text on a page to start things off. Until people comment on the page, though, it could be viewed as low quality by the search engines.

How can this be avoided?

One solution here is to block pages until you’re certain they’ll pass the algorithm’s analysis and to put as much effort as possible into generating good, useful content. As a rule of thumb, make the text on each page on your site unique and at least 300 words long. This means that when the Google crawls the pages, they’re more likely to prioritise them in search results. If you keep your websites up to date and filled with high quality information, the site will also be scanned more regularly, meaning that any changes you make will be picked up more quickly and therefore your search engine positions will alter faster.

You can also make sure you don’t have too much advertising on your site. Of course, advertising can be a good and practical thing to have your site and just because you have it, it doesn’t mean that the site will appear to be ‘low quality’. However, too much advertising can make your site appear like a content farm, lacking unique content, and detracting from any content there is on the page. If Google sees your site in that way, then the results could be damaging to your positions.

One of the main things you can do to make sure your websites benefit from the Google Farmer update is to make sure you tailor your content for your users, not the search engines. It can be all too easy to structure content around certain keywords that register highly in search engine results, but as Google makes more and more changes to favour high quality content, this strategy is increasingly risky. Make sure your users are getting useful, relevant content that’s tailored to their needs and you should have no problems in getting the results you want to achieve.

A final thought is that of writing the site text itself. We have come across numerous ‘professional’ website design companies where the site text has been lifted word-for-word from our site. And, of course, we know we wrote the original text! Upon contacting the directors of such companies, very often they claim that the authoring of the site text had either been outsourced or an employee of the company had been given the task of producing it. So, if you’re responsible for your company’s web site, make sure that whoever you get to write the text does so by writing unique text and not text taken from other sites (which in itself is a breach of copyright anyway).

If you’d like further advice on the Google Farmer update, have noticed a drop in your own Google rankings, or just need general web design advice, please contact us today for a free, no-obligation discussion.

By Chelsey Evans

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