Developing a Content Strategy to Avoid Being “Farmed”

Fahrenheit Marketing
Fahrenheit Marketing in Design

There’s a brand new saying in the SEO community and if it hasn’t been taken, Fahrenheit would like to trademark the following phrase … “you got farmed.”

This is in response to the new Google algorithm update that essentially pushes down what they term as low value content which is the traditional output of so called “content farms.” Google has not been very forthcoming about details only saying that the update is an attempt to push down low quality content and promote more “valuable work.” If your business has seen a drop in traffic as a result of the change, we recommend the following tips to avoid being “farmed.”

Don’t steal from the content bank
The old system of content creation, especially in QDF industries was:
Site A publishes an original story with juicy gossip about a top celebrity
Site B publishes a summary with a small plug for their gossip news service
Site C copies most of it verbatim then adds a few sentences
Site D rewrites it completely and passes it off as original work

This led to SERPs being filled with mostly rewritten content and often the original work would get lost in the shuffle. Google is now trying to sort all of this out by trying to find and credit site A while regarding site B, C and D as lower quality derivative works. So does this mean that you should avoid writing about stories and content that already exists? No, so long as you’re work adds to the collective value.

Some of our blog entries cover news reported on other sites but what we try to do with our news blog entries is summarize the story or issue, credit the source and then expand on it with original analysis, authoritative opinion or ideas. Often the original news will make up 30 percent of the post with our commentary accounting for the other 70 percent which adds the collective value of the work rather than taking away from it with a bland rewrite.

Set a minimum word count
250 words is the standard length for most article sites but if Google is using an arbitrary number around that level as a negative factor for the quality of content, it is probably a good idea to set the minimum post and page length to 300 words to avoid being near that line. Not every blog entry or page has to comply with the minimum (ie contact us pages, if you find a cool video and want to share it on your blog, or brief company updates) but any content that you want search engines to really value on your blog or main site needs to meet the minimum length.

Its not that quality work can’t exist under 300 words but Google might take the opinion that great, in-depth content on any particular topic is going to exceed 300 words.

Don’t reach the minimum by writing junk
Improving the length aspect of a page can be done in one of two ways, writing authoritative detailed content or adding an extra paragraph of two of passive voice opinion writing. From what I know, Google automatically parses out words like the, and, or, I, etc … so writing two extra paragraphs of junk might not even make a difference in the total word count. Furthermore from a user perspective, your visitors can instantly tell when they reach a turning point in the content when its obvious something was tacked on to fill white space or improve article length.

Avoid keyword repetition
Keyword density has always been a factor in producing SEO friendly content but I suspect that Google is now looking for even more “natural looking content.” Obviously Google can’t penalize you for using a keyword in the title, description and header but using it repeatedly in every paragraph might raise a flag. Run each page through a tool like Webconfs Density Checker and try to make sure that no keyword is used more than 5 percent of the time. It’s an arbitrary number but anything more than 5 percent is where you generally encounter spam.

Avoid writing unrelated content
The Austin Toros, our NBADL team, recently lost a double overtime thriller to the New Mexico Thunderbirds 119 to 117. The Toros play in Austin and our company is based in Austin but that doesn’t mean their is a quantifiable relationship between the two. Stay on topic with posts and a good rule of thumb is that if you find yourself trying to explain how one piece fits with the other, it probably doesn’t fit in the first place.

Review previous entries
If you had a popular post that has seen a recent drop in traffic, time may not be the only contributing factor. Look at your blog as a whole and update entries that could stand to gain from new and original content.

Consolidate ads
If you’re site is covered in ads, you may want to look at reducing ad areas or consolidating sections. I know that ads are important for revenue but Google might be measuring instances of ad code and where they are found throughout a page.

Wisegeek.com, one the sites hit hardest by the change according to Sistrix devotes most of the above the fold space to ads.

Control your spam
One ranking signal Google could use when evaluating quality is how well a site owner controls spam. Obviously we don’t advocate turning off comments completely but a quality blog post isn’t full of junk comments like “nfl replica jersey said Hi nice site! Keep up the good work!” Training moderators on how to recognize spam comments is something often overlooked but very important.

Update 5/10/2011 – Google has admitted that their “Panda” algorithm is manually run meaning that even if you redevelop your content and Google re-crawls it, you might not see improvement until the Panda program is rerun.


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