Old Mahalo Had a Farm SE SEO

Don’t feed the pigs excrement

I was thinking about the recent farmer update and around some of the things said and around how the algo might work and how new or existing farmers might keep on feeding the pigs and chickens.  A side win is that it also helps one to refocus ones efforts through prudent little implementations and tweaks that might help engagement and perhaps insulate from similar future changes. You can never afford to sit on your laurels in someone else’s playground. We might think that this web thing is open and accessible to all, but for today at least Google still is the defacto gateway and for that reason alone any business intent on getting traffic from them, would be foolish not to sit up and take note.

Are the Sheep Happy? Be a good Shepherd

Kates’ post here http://www.distilled.co.uk/blog/ppc/google-bounce-rates-the-untold-story/ reminded me of past considerations of bounce rates and the masses of misunderstandings that were out there around the issue. I’d both heard and read people going on about bounce rates as a quality metric as if it was some one size fits all thing that applied carte blanche to every web page out there. As Kate rightly says different pages have different outcomes. If user A gets what they want, and leaves within a short time, then the less informed amongst us might be forgiven for sniffing and thinking, crap page, hit and run, poor user experience.

Yet of course this is patent nonsense as the page in question might just have exactly what the user wanted, requiring no more time or interaction on the page other than the hitting of the red x or the back button. Some sites  like blogs, often have a one hit wonder effect, be they shared through a social network or arrived at through a search engine query. The user visits with the express intent of reading about that particular issue and that’s that.

They don’t want to go deep and read about a lot of  indirectly related topics as their focus is elsewhere. Old style forum threads in comparison have much lower bounce rates, due in the main to things like pagination or general time difference between search indexing and user visit. Lots of page visits of very small time samples followed by rapid exit might be a signal of a poor user experience. OTOH, it might also be the obverse (photo gallery for example) . The truth is that unless, there’s some like for like standardised similar type site to compare it’s very difficult to determine algorithmically, what is and what isn’t a poor user experience based upon single metrics like bounce or time on site.

There are lots of other examples, that have differing outcomes most of which I’m sure the experienced Internet user has encountered at one point or other, and I’ve kind of veered off the main point a little as this isn’t directly related to the content farm thing; at least not in the totality of reasons why you’d get your arse kicked in this update but it does nonetheless, bring to mind the core of what you should be considering when bringing people to your site and making them happy. Give them a shitty user experience where they don’t want to come back againor begin to rank for everything they want and they’ll start to complain about it. If they complain enough in sufficient numbers, then sooner or later you might just be toast. Thinking about shit like the above, get’s you back on track.

Elsewhere on the farm..

A thread at webmasterworld http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4276279.htm cites the Cutts and Singhail http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/03/the-panda-that-hates-farms/all/1 post on Wired which is full of interesting little nuggets.

From an algo watcher perspective it’s fascinating stuff full of little clues and perhaps the odd red herring, yet much as I snark the truth is that in many ways it’s full of things that should really be common sense to the accomplished Webmasters of this world. A look at the list from Sistrix http://www.sistrix.com/blog/985-google-farmer-update-quest-for-quality.html shows the various winners and losers.

Outside quality raters were involved at the beginning

…we used our standard evaluation system that we’ve developed, where we basically sent out documents to outside testers. Then we asked the raters questions like: “Would you be comfortable giving this site your credit card? Would you be comfortable giving medicine prescribed by this site to your kids?”

The cynic in me had already covered the ground of hmmn, how many low quality type Q and A sites are out there and how long would it really take a multi billion dollar corporation to task a team of individuals to seek out and identify crap sites, or sites that were clearly just taking the piss a little with ads and stuff like that.  How long would it then take to run the sites through a bunch of  quality raters http://www.beussery.com/blog/index.php/2008/03/new-google-spam-recognition-guide-for-quality-rater-reviewed/ and score them across the various metrics? So this kind of re-inforces that as fact :)


Excessive ads were part of the early definition

There was an engineer who came up with a rigorous set of questions, everything from. “Do you consider this site to be authoritative? Would it be okay if this was in a magazine? Does this site have excessive ads?”

If you look at some of the sites involved prior to getting Google thumped, you’ll see that a lot of them were indeed rife with adsense and ads from other networks (some still are) . It wouldn’t be so difficult to have a script look for such instances and then determine a threshold above which, you get issued with a nice pair of lead boots to weigh you down.

The update is algorithmic, not manual

…we actually came up with a classifier to say, okay, IRS or Wikipedia or New York Times is over on this side, and the low-quality sites are over on this side. And you can really see mathematical reasons.

This part is of course all the more interesting as it more or less says that here are a bunch of sites with lots of quality signals and on the other are sites with not as many.  I’m not going to sit here and dissect the strategies of all those bumped, but there really is gold in them thar hills. Sure there are anomalies. Mahalo has been hit despite a big PR push on it’s recent change in approach. The powers that be IMO have decided that a continual get out of jail free card just wasn’t in their PR interests. EHow, that much maligned repository of textual verbosity has also survived the cut no doubt someone demanded that their media http://www.demandmedia.com/ was worthy of a little more time http://www.fastcompany.com/1723737/did-demand-media-ipo-just-in-time.

Some people (aka spammers) will no doubt have seen the opportunities that these ructions present and will have been up bright and early repositioning downgraded content into new loftier place holders. Lessons will have been learnt, content will take account of things said by Messrs Cutts and Singhail and the show will roll on. Only time will tell if Google has done enough to slay the beast of public scrutiny, these things come in cycles and for now at least the monster seems to have been given a bit to chew on.

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2 thoughts on “Old Mahalo Had a Farm SE SEO

  1. Terry Van Horne

    Hey Rob! Ya’ still got it! Great run down I couldn’t have said it better myself! Looking at some of these sites reminded me of the directory clampdown after Florida Update. There was obvious similarities in the monetization, use of machine generated pages exploiting obvious openings for manipulation of the link algos.

    Always a joy to read yer analysis mate! Gotta get ya on the podcast ;-)

    T

    1. robwatts Post author

      Cheers T :)

      Good point, I hadn’t retrospected but yes there are parallels for sure – a solid idea is mimicked, gets diluted, owner gets too greedy, adds little value, fails on quality, users get pissed, power to rank is reduced.

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