Mar 08, 2011

PR Newswire’s Site SEO & the Impact of Google’s Farmer Update

On February 24, Google announced a major update to its algorithm.  Nicknamed“Farmer,” the change was, according to the Google blog “…designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful,” in other words, ‘content farms.’  In the same post, the company noted that the change should provide better rankings for higher quality sites, rewarding those that feature original content.

In the days following the change, Wired.com reported that Google is continuing to tweak the algorithm because of some unintended consequences of the Farmer change, quoting Google Fellow Amit Singhal:

“…Any time a good site gets a lower ranking or falsely gets caught by our algorithm — and that does happen once in a while even though all of our testing shows this change was very accurate — we make a note of it and go back the next day to work harder to bring it closer to 100 percent.”

“That’s exactly what we are going to do, and our engineers are working as we speak building a new layer on top of this algorithm to make it even more accurate than it is,” Singhal said.

The SEO blogs are full of speculation regarding the exactly what new or adjusted parameters Google is using in its algorithm. The high number of advertisements on pages, a lack of valuable content above the fold, the number of links from social media and social networks have all been raised as potential factors in the way Google is now ranking on its results pages.  In the Wired article linked to above Singhal describes how they asked external testers questions about what makes web sites valuable, and that the patterns in the testers’ responses have been codified within Google’s algorithm.  What is clear is that this was a major update for Google, and given their understandable reluctance to reveal details of how they rank sites in the search results pages it will be a while before its impact is better understood.

As reported elsewhere, PR Newswire’s own website traffic did take a hit on February 24th and is running at around 20% below levels from before the update, although some of this drop is cyclical as we have just come out of a busy U.S. earnings period.  Our Google Page rank has not altered, our ranking in Google News appears consistent with before the update, and traffic to our customers’ IR Rooms is  unchanged.  As you can see in the graph at the top of the page showing data from the independent analytics company Hitwise, PR Newswire is still generating considerably more search clicks that its competitors.  Maintaining high visibility for PR Newswire.com is something we take very seriously, and we’re in contact with Google regarding the drop.

If you’re interested in more information about the Farmer update (also called Panda by Google) here are links to some great posts trying to unpick the results.  We’re following the conversation closely, so if you have a view feel free to post it below and I’ll be glad to respond.

Related Links:

Google Farmer Update: Quest for Quality – Sistrix

The ‘Panda’ That Hates Farms: A Q&A With Google’s Top Search Engineers – Wired

What Google’s Crackdown on Content Farms Means to You

Google’s Panda/Farmer Update – What To Do About It – Distilled

Correlation Between Google Farmer Update and Social Media Buzz? – Zen

Author Rod Nicolson (@rodnic66) is PR Newswire’s VP of User Experience Design & Workflow.

UPDATE: The post has been updated to show the most recent search engine traffic. The original graph used in this post can be seen here.

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