Google Tells Authority Domains, “You Can’t Vote for Yourself Anymore”

Google algorithm changes are always a big deal to people who make money online — a change in the criteria Google uses to rank sites could result in a huge financial loss for website owners.

At the end of February, Google rolled out what’s being referred to as the “Farmer Update” where they set out to limit the impact content farms have in the search rankings.  As most of you know, I use sites that could be labeled as “content farms” as part of my backlinking strategy, and I’ve been pretty successful with that approach.

Since I’ve been pretty transparent about how I rank niche sites, I’ve gotten a lot of emails asking about the impact of this algorithm change on my sites.  There’s a TON of misinformation out right now about what this change means for people building niche sites, so I’ll try to clear the air a bit here.

What Are Content Farms?

First, some really quick background: Content farms are sites that accept user generated content  (UGC) — some pay for it, others (like Ezine Articles) get their content for free, using a backlink from their authority domain as enticement for submissions.  The articles they receive are almost always keyword-rich, usually targeting longtail phrases.

These sites have a lot of links already pointing to their domain and to subpages of the site (usually added by the authors who publish articles on their sites).  They also have a TON of content that has no external links pointing to it.  This is a big deal.

Why Links Matter

Google relies heavily on links to rank content in its SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).  Links are basically votes — indicating that the source providing the link thinks the site they are linking to is good.  You need links from other sites in order to rank for anything even remotely competitive.

Eventually, these links to a domain pile up and Google starts to consider the domain a trusted authority.  At that point, they stop saying, “Other people have told us this piece of content is good, so we’ll rank it accordingly,” and start saying, “So many people have vouched for content across your site, we’re going to start taking your word for it that your content is about what you say it’s about… and that it’s good.  Enjoy all the longtail traffic you can handle.”

For some sites that makes sense — sites that are true authorities in their field.  For user generated content sites, it’s a dangerous proposition.  The content farms started flooding the search results for low-competition terms and the quality of Google’s search results suffered.  Google lives and dies by its search quality — if people start having a bad search experience, they could lose search marketshare.  That’s why they had to implement this fix.

You Can’t Vote for Yourself Anymore

What Google has done is ratchet back the domain authority for a lot of these sites.  They basically said, “We can’t really trust you to tell us what your own content is about and whether or not its good.  If enough people tell us your content is good, we’ll rank it… and we’ll probably leverage your domain authority then.”

An article on Ezine with 10 backlinks to it is still going to outrank an article on my family website with the same 10 links.  But an article on Ezine with 0 links is much less likely to outrank the same article on my family website with 10 links pointing to it.  Google is demanding validation for UGC.

But What About the Juice?

A lot of you might be thinking, “Crap.  I used Ezine in the past to rank sites… now I’m screwed.”  I know a lot of people are thinking that because I’ve received a ton of emails basically stating as much.  I’ve read a lot of articles on other sites saying bum marketing (article marketing, blog commenting, etc) is dead.  Couldn’t be more wrong.

Just because Google has decided to send less traffic to content farms doesn’t mean that they have devalued the links on those sites… in fact, they haven’t.  Sites that I have that received the vast majority of their links from article marketing have been completely unaffected by the algorithm change.  And I’m far from the only one — I’ve talked with a bunch of other folks in the IM space and their situation is the same.

UGC sites still pass juice.  If you’ve been using article marketing to rank in the past, you can still do so now.  Don’t go back the drawing board.

…and Maybe Content Farms Aren’t Getting Hit So Hard

Still don’t believe me that you can still rank with article marketing?  Prepare to have your mind blown, because Google’s still sending TONS of traffic to content farms that have minimal domain authority, unimpressive link profiles, and lots of duplicate content.  How do I know?  Because I launched my own.

Back at the end of January, I picked up an expiring domain and put an article directory script up.  I then added a plugin from a popular link-building platform to accept article submissions from them.  Here’s a look at the traffic pattern since then:

Article directory traffic growth

Yeah, that’s almost 40,000 visits — starting with only 37 visits on February 1 and ending with 4,379 visits on March 14.  During that time I built a total of 0 backlinks.  I didn’t even log in to the site.  And lest you think the traffic was obtained through social media, ppv, or some other shady method, here’s a breakdown of the traffic percentages.  You can clearly see the site is living off of organic traffic.

What’s It All Mean?

The sky isn’t falling.  Google didn’t burn the SEO handbook.  What worked last month will still work today.  Just get out there and build links, make your sites more valuable, and cash in (either as long-term holdings, which I’m doing more of now or as quick flips).

  • Jason

    A year later I found this very nice post. Very briefly, could you update on what you’ve learned in the past year regarding this update? Also, how’s that article directory going? Thanks 🙂

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  • Wow – great post Eppie. Thanks a lot.

  • James

    I also put up an article directory on a recently expired domain late last year and been seeing traffic climbing steadily since then. The article directory is specifically financial in nature so I have been spending time weeding out the non-financial article submissions, which takes quite a bit of time.

    Do you think traffic would be impacted one way or another if I didn’t manually review submissions and just let all the articles publish automatically?

    • You could potentially pull some additional traffic from the off-topic articles, but you’d sacrifice your user experience. I’d say that you’re probably best suited to continue publishing within your niche. My directory was launched on a generic domain name — it was a simple brandable name, not related to any specific topic. That’s why I allowed articles from all categories in my experiment.

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  • Excellent post Eppie. Good to know others are having the same experience with Article marketing.

    • Thanks, Luke. Less than half of the way through March and I’ve already almost doubled February’s earnings for my AdSense sites, which get almost all of their ranking power from article directories. Traffic is continuing to climb and there are still tons of people who are fearful that article marketing won’t work because of Google’s latest changes.