In February 2011, Google made big news in Internet marketing circles by making a massive change to its internal search engine algorithms.
Originally nicknamed the “Farmer Update” and later officially named “Panda” , this update it was at first rumored to be designed to weed out websites or blogs that Google considered to be “content farms”.
But Panda “accidentally” mauled more than it’s intended targets…
According to Wikipedia, “…the term content farm is used to describe a company that employs large numbers of often freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines. Their main goal is to generate advertising revenue through attracting reader page viewsas first exposed in the context of social spam.”
Why Content Farms were BIG Money
Hmmm… let me tell you want a “content farm” is in simple terms anyone can understand. Okay, say I’m a website publisher with a blog on caring for sick cats. In the past I wrote all my articles or blog posts all on my own.
After writing I would post them to my little site. Now in order to make some money I started placing various clickable ads (using Google Adsense) all around my site. Over time I noticed that I made about 10 cents in ad revenue per page.
That’s 10 cent per published web page per day. So with only about 10 published web pages, I roughly make about a $1.00 day or just $30.00 a month. Nothing spectacular, right?
But say I worked hard and eventually got about 1,000 published pages uploaded to my not-so-small sick cat website now. That same 10 cents per page now adds up to about $100 dollars a day or $3000 a month!
Now what if I could have someone else (hundreds of people in fact) write 10 or 20 pages of material for me a day.
Say I hired a team of just one hundred freelance writers who could create 30, 000 pages a month for me (100 writers x 10 “article-pages” a day x 30 days).
That same tiny 10 cents a day is now worth $3000 a day or $90,000.00 a month. (30,000 pages x $0.10 per page x 30 days). Ka-chang! Yes, the cash register just went off in your head, right?
I was once a cog in the content farm wheel
Well don’t jump out and starting hiring folks to build your own “content farm” just yet. It was the gold rush to this type of business model of uploading content low quality content just for the ad revenue that has probably derailed your small business website during past few months.
See, once website publishing companies, both large and small, started hired cheap freelance writers to churn out hundreds of rather low quality articles as quickly as possible, the Google’s search databases starting filled up with tons of junk and spammy web content.
I know…I was one of those thousands of “freelance” writers. Until recently I wrote hundreds of SEO articles for online media companies. If you wanted web content on your site, no matter how unusual or weird the subject matter (sorry no porn, please) I was your girl.
I wrote all kinds of stuff, some that was very bad and some that was pretty good. I’m especially proud of my “Trek to the Everest Base Camp” piece.
Check it out here… http://www.basecamp.com/ Yes, I wrote that entire front page. Not bad for a woman who is scared of heights and who has never been farther overseas than a small military base in Germany.
Content Farming and your small business website
Now I didn’t tell you all about this “hidden” world of internet marketing to entice you or scare you off, but to let you know, that you as a small business owner can be negatively effected by things that happen online — things you have absolutely no knowledge of or understanding of.
See, when Google released the Panda update, they were trying to kill off or at least hurt the larger “content farms”. One such farm is Demand Media which sold shares of their newly minted public stock offering for some $76.5 million bucks.
Yes, there was big, big money was being made around content farming and Google used it Panda update to punish those it felt was taking unfair advantage. But unfortunately for small time operators like us got caught in the crossfire.
See the Panda update ended up changing the search traffic on an estimated 12% of all US websites.
This means if your small business website didn’t have a lot of other websites linking to it or had lots of “low quality” web content (i.e. had articles that were 400 words or less) or has web copy that is heavily laden with keywords (search terms people use to find you) or promotional words like “selling online”, “make money online”, etc. then you probably got hit too.
Why Panda Mauled Local and Small Business Websites
Even the Wall Street Journal ran a story on an ergonomic furniture dealer called Ergo In Demand (www.ergoindemand.com) which suffered a 40% drop in sales.
As a result according to the WSJ, “…Online ergonomic-products retailer Ergo In Demand Inc. in Central Point, Ore., reduced its 17-person staff to five, moved to a 4,500-square-foot office space from one more than double in size and cut $4,000 in monthly software subscriptions”.
Basically because of Google, this small business owner has to let 12 people go. Not due the economy directly but due to Google’s heavy handiness.
In the WSJ report, still another small business owner claims…””We got caught in the fire,” says Mitchell Lieberman, chief executive of One Way Furniture Inc., an online furniture retailer in Melville, N.Y., that had revenue of $17 million in 2010…”
“…His company’s website, OneWayFurniture.com, saw its Web traffic from Google drop as much as 64% after the changes. Part of the problem, Mr. Lieberman suspects, is his company has relied on manufacturer descriptions for the 30,000 products it sells. He says many of his competitors buy from the same manufacturers and use the same write-ups….”
“…Mr. Lieberman has started paying free-lance writers to create original, more detailed product descriptions.”
And Yes Panda Clawed Up My Clients Too!
Now I think the problem is as much about short web copy length (less than 400 words) as originality. I have personally written 100% unique copy for several local business clients. At least 2 have mentioned they believe their sales have been directly affected by a decline in search engine traffic.
In both cases while the copy I wrote was original for each website,yet none of the copy was long (over 400 words).
Plus both sites were written in a punchy, promotional style similar to that found in any traditional advertising sales letter.
I did things this way since both sites; one an art gallery and another a real estate agent are in the business of selling products.
First they changed their Google Adwords program in 2010 to squeeze out the little guys, now this? Apparently Google doesn’t like individuals, especially small business website owners to try and sell things anymore?
Now Google is a private company, and how they run and measure relevancy of websites in their massive databases, is their business. But as the saying goes, if you have great responsibility, then you need to take extra care with those responsibilities.
I don’t think it’s fair that Google has penalized small business owners because of what a few giant media content farms are doing or have done in the past.
Google should be more aware of the negative effect they can have on legitimate website publishers who aren’t gaming the system or involved in unethical practices.
Just honest business people working trying to make a living, trying to market themselves online. Whatever anti-small business trend Google is on, they need to wise up and be more careful about what they are doing.
Monopolies, even benign ones don’t last forever…should we start calling the folks at the search engine “Google Dearest” after Joan Crawford’s evil mother figure.
But on other hand, this should be a lesson not only to me as a local internet marketing specialist but to small website publishers everywhere not to depend on Google as their sole source of traffic.
- Don’t focus all your marketing efforts on Google. Use other channels of communications
- Branch out into Social Media
- Get permission and use email marketing wisely
- Use direct client communications and follow-ups to build lasting relationships
- Just because something’s free, doesn’t mean, it can’t be taken away.