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Google “Farmer” Update: PPC Data and Impact

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.

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  • Mark Ballard
    Mark Ballard is Director of Research at RKG.
  • Comments
    10 Responses to “Google “Farmer” Update: PPC Data and Impact”
    1. Jeremy Brown says:

      It’s long past time that Google allow the capability to segment out Search Partners into separate campaigns.

      The same goes for blocking specific Search Partners.

      “Don’t Be Evil”, Google. More can be done to live up to your mantras around transparency and control.

    2. Mark Ballard Mark Ballard says:

      We would certainly like to see that as well Jeremy. Google has probably made a cold calculation here and determined their revenues are better off under the current network targeting scheme. Although it’s logical to assume that higher sales per click resulting from reducing poor quality partner traffic will lead to higher bids and spend, the macro level reality could be different. I’d love to see Google’s internal analysis on that…

    3. David Burdon says:

      Nice piece of research.
      It seems interesting that the major Adsense sites are unscathed. Ezine articles probably generates zip for Google whilst Ehow and About generate major revenues. Its amazing how quality and revenue generation are traded off. In the past year I have spotted several changes to Google SERPs that favour Adwords results at the expense of organic results.

      Lastly, I can see that there appear to be no changes yet in Europe. Ezine still features for some competitive SERPs.

    4. Tom Atkinson says:

      I have noticed increased organic traffic in all 6 websites I look after actively. I’ve taken screenshots of the Google Analtyics / Traffic Sources / Search Engines / Organic / Google report, for the period February 1 2011 to March 29 2011, with “compare to past” ticked, and they all show improvements, take a look http://www.funk.co.nz/blog/seo/google-farmer-update
      My improvements in visit numbers are: +33%, +58%, +31%, +13%, +43% and +49%. These are really quite large increases in organic traffic, so I’m pretty happy with how it went!

    5. Jack Jones says:

      Does anyone at your company know about the March 15th Google shopping drop in traffic at all?

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