Last week Google took some wind out of Demand Media's sails. It's a victory for those who value high-quality content and a blow for the legions of sketchy SEO companies and their customers. The lesson for marketers is: Quality content matters, and strategies for gaming the search engines will produce nothing of lasting value.
After a crescendo of criticism over declining search quality, late in February Google introduced a change to its algorithm, dubbed Farmer/Panda, aimed at devaluing low-quality content such as that produced by "content farms" -- as exemplified by Demand Media's eHow. Initially the change affected only searches conducted from the US. While some content farms dropped in the rankings, eHow was more or less untouched, and even seemed to rise a little. Last week, however, when Google rolled out the change to all English-speaking searchers globally, Demand Media
took a huge hit, according to early reports.
Sistrix, a company that has been tracking the impact of Google's changes, says that eHow.com dropped 66 percent in its Visibility Index. Demand Media's stock has also taken a beating, dropping about 10 percent over the previous few days and another 10 percent on Monday morning. Google's announcement of the global rollout adds an interesting detail to what the company has done:
We've also incorporated new user feedback signals to help people find better search results. In some high-confidence situations, we are beginning to incorporate data about the sites that users block into our algorithms.
In other words, Google has gone hardcore on site quality. In addition to asking users about what goes into a quality site when developing the Farmer/Panda algorithmic change, Google is now incorporating direct feedback from users who are voting on site quality. These votes come via the Personal Blocklist plugin to the Chrome browser; Google is factoring in responses from users who say "I don't ever want to see this site again in search results." Increasingly, users seem to be saying this about eHow articles that cost $17.66 to produce.
In response to all of the above, Demand Media issued a press release and followup blog post early Monday afternoon, saying, essentially, "They never laid a glove on us." The company reaffirmed its financial guidance for 2011 and said that the outside analyses of the impact on traffic from Google had been vastly overstated.
As of this writing, Wall Street isn't buying it. The stock is bumping along near its low point. Whatever the truth of the effect of round 2 of Farmer/Panda on traffic to Demand Media's properties, I'm guessing that the smart money will be on Google succeeding over time in reducing the visibility of the content farms.
For marketers looking to build sustainable value through their Web presence, the way to do that is with quality material that delivers tangible value to the target audience. This can and should be bolstered by organic SEO, and not by the kind captured so well in this recent tweet: "SEO: An industry based on yelling 'NEW JERSEY!' -- then hoping someone mistakes you for Bruce Springsteen. For a second."
— Keith Dawson , Senior Editor, The CMO Site
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