There have been a number of great articles written in the past week covering Google's recent algorithm change that many are referring to as the "Farmer" update for it's negative impact on the search rankings of so-called content farms. At RKG, we thought we could add to the discussion by focusing on the performance of these sites as Google Search Partners since the primary goal of a content farm is to generate ad revenue and AdSense is often a big part of that equation.
Looking at aggregated data across our client base we are able to compare the traffic our paid search ads generated on individual partner sites before and after Google's algorithm change (specifically looking at the periods of 2/17 - 2/20 and 2/24 - 2/27 and using data from both Google Content and Search). We're not labeling all of the sites below as content farms; rather, we are focusing on them due to their size and because they have been getting the most attention with respect to this change.
Our results are in line with the general consensus that certain sites like Mahalo and EzineArticles took a major hit to their traffic share while similar sites like eHow and About.com were unscathed:
The traffic declines we see appear less severe than the now ubiquitous Sistrix data on "visibility" suggest they might, but that may be an apples to oranges comparison and we assume that these sites do generate a meaningful amount of traffic outside of search.
We also took a look at the performance of these top sites to see if the value of their traffic to advertisers, indicated by their sales per click (normalized here to the average search partner), correlated with the drop in traffic they saw. While all of these sites performed far worse than the Search Network overall, we see no evidence that within this group there is any link between sales per click and the change in traffic share.
While Google's official announcement of this change doesn't specifically call out content farms, it's quite obvious that they were the prime target, so many are understandably miffed by some arbitrariness and inconsistency in the impact, and there are reports now that Google is making tweaks that are restoring search rankings to some.
For paid search advertisers, lower traffic volume from poor performing sites should improve efficiency on the Search Network, where we have little control over where our ads show. On the Google Content side, advertisers should already be taking advantage of the ability to block ads from showing on individual sites, so the impact should be less significant there.
In the end though, assuming Google doesn't completely reverse the changes due to complaints, the overall impact will likely be very minor with sales per click from partner sites improving in the low single digits. It's a start!
3/2/11 Update: An interesting wrinkle not addressed above: We see a better correlation between the amount of traffic a content farm generated before the change and how it was impacted. Google’s calculation may be to keep the two or three largest farms in the mix while cutting off the smaller ones. This way, they preserve a good chunk of the content farm traffic, and its revenue, while making their results appear less cluttered.