Some people are calling this the Farmer Update, while others are referring to it as Panda. Either way, it had a noticeable impact on Google search results.
This update was launched around February 23. Google announced the update in an article called Finding More High-Quality Sites in Search just as the dust was beginning to settle and the SEO community was trying to determine the impact.
The name Farmer Update was initially coined because the update targeted low-quality content farms, which are sites that churn out thousands of poor quality articles with the goal of producing enough content to rank well for a range of search phrases. Many of these sites contain spun content, which are articles taken from other sites that have had a few words changed in an attempt to make the content look unique. Most content spinning programs produce gibberish content that may look like nonsense or a very poor use of English.
Some poor quality sites employed hundreds of writers from countries where English is not a primary language who each wrote dozens of low-quality articles every day for as little as $1 each. The goal of these sites was not to produce high-quality content, but rather to create content mass that drew in users. The sites made money through advertising, which very often was Google AdWords advertising. For a long time, many of these sites ranked very well, but not after the update. According to a report from Sistrex, some very large sites saw more than 90% of their Google traffic drop off.
Other sites hit were autoblogs and sites that primarily used duplicate content, or content taken from other web sites with or without the site owner’s permission. We have been warning web site owners about the perils of duplicate content for many years. While duplicate content did have a negative impact on a site’s rankings, the duplicate pages were typically not filtered out of Google’s search results for several months. This means that sites could game Google and basically could drive traffic until Google’s filters demoted a page in its search results. These sites could get away with this by continually adding duplicate content to their sites. Older pages would drop out of the rankings, but there was always new traffic from newer articles. The aftermath of the Farmer Update changed that. Once a site hits an unknown threshold percentage of duplicate content, it is now doomed as far as Google traffic is concerned.
The moniker Panda soon replaced the name Farmer. It appears that this may have been Google’s internal code name for the project, although the name Farmer seems more appropriate. According to Google’s announcement, almost 12% of the sites in Google’s search results were affected by the update. That represents a lot of spammy sites that were demoted in rank.
While the update did clean up Google’s search results considerably, there is always an amount of collateral damage with each major update. Many sites that were not intentionally trying to game Google’s search results were demoted in rank and lost considerable traffic. What do you do if your site was one of them? First and foremost, make sure that all of the content in your site is unique. Never use content from another web site. This includes product descriptions from manufacturers’ web sites. Write all content yourself or hire a copywriter to develop content for you. If you have duplicate content on your site, either remove it or rewrite it.
Sites can recover from the Panda/Farmer Update, but it may take time, which means at least a temporary loss of traffic. This is an update that has changed the way that many sites need to be developed. If you keep the lessons learned from the Panda Update in mind, your site should do well in the future. If you ignore the lessons, your site will likely fail.