Google’s Farmer Update: Defining quality
In the weeks since Google released what has now become known as the Farmer Update, much has been written about how websites can best respond.
The Farmer Update is just the latest change to Google's search algorithm, the mathematical formula with 200 or so factors that determine where web pages rank in search results.
This particular change, designed to reward sites with quality, original content, has permeated beyond tech blogs and SEO forums and into the mainstream media. A quick Google News search for "Google algorithm change" returns results from the usual suspects (Search Engine Land, Mashable), but also regular news providers (LA Times, Washington Post).
The update has only been applied to the US so far and has, according to Google, affected around 12 per cent of search results, which is pretty significant given the billions of queries Google handles every day.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the change and the reason it has been picked up beyond the technology sphere is Google's attempts to measure quality mathematically.
Of course, the quality metric isn't new to Google's search algorithm. The reason inbound links are given such weight is that they are seen as one site endorsing another site's content – a subjective judgement translated into a scientific formula.
This Blogstorm article provides a great insight into the quality aspect of the Farmer Update with some interesting suggestions about how metrics like click-through rate and dwell time could help differentiate between high and low quality content.
Google is taking feedback on board from website owners who have lost rankings as a result of the change and it remains to be seen whether some of the well-known sites that have been hit will bounce back.
However, Google is broadly standing behind the changes and has said that data from its manual site blocker (a Chrome plug-in that allows users to manually boot low quality sites out of their personalised results) is correlating with the new algorithm.
Clearly there's more to come on this, especially when the changes are rolled out to other markets. Only time will tell whether the impact will be sustained and lead to a shift in behaviour from website owners and content providers.