Raise your hand if, while performing an online search, you have ever found yourself on a webpage that is hosting low quality or regurgitated content that is of dubious origin and surrounded by a ridiculous amount of links. Congratulations, you, along with everyone else who has searched for something on the internet, have encountered a blog farm and, even without an SEO background, can probably articulate why content farms became a primary target of Google’s Panda update.
Unfortunately, whenever the world’s largest search engine makes an algorithm change, bad things can happen to good sites, and sometimes the distinction between a reputable site and a content farm is not always obvious. Even if Google gets it wrong sometimes, the implosion of blog farms is a good thing for everyone, including SEO professionals.
Before we can fully appreciate why, we need to be able to discriminate between content farms and trustworthy sites that, at first glance, may seem to share some traits. For example, a site that aggregates or syndicates content is not the same as a site that duplicates content by scraping other sites with bots or plagiarizing them with humans. As the internet has evolved, original reporting has diminished in favor of an accelerated and mercurial news cycle. It is not uncommon to see the same information presented by a number of well-respected websites with the distinguishing characteristic being the author’s analysis of the story. Similarly, there are several sites that host legitimate syndicated content, which technically is duplicate content but contrasts starkly with what you would find on a content farm. Ultimately, the difference between the two is quality, but quantifying something so subjective can be a tricky business. While it may be difficult to define, there are also some telltale signs that clarify the matter.
Links are the most conspicuous element of any page. The quantity and the quality of those links will quickly reveal whether or not you are on a reputable site. If a page seems geared towards driving traffic to a high volume of other sites, especially if those destination pages appear to be doing the same thing, you have definitely stumbled upon a content farm.
Some of these sites have 100 or more links embedded, but there is no magic number that signifies you have entered blog farm territory. Truly, it is about proportion, and if the number of links looks excessive at first glance, it probably is. You also need to factor in the quality of these links. Content farms exist to manipulate page rank via short cuts such as link stuffing. If you are being delivered to high quality, valuable content then you may need to rethink your initial evaluation. When content is swarmed by links, however, it is unlikely you will be pleasantly surprised.
The simple mechanics of writing are another excellent tipoff. A page riddled with spelling errors, grammatical mistakes, and typos is a strong indication of a low quality page. Poorly written content that does not engage or inform the reader in a meaningful way is also a hallmark of blog farms. In fact, some pages are so poorly put together that they do not even make sense when you read them.
It is pretty easy to assess a page accurately when the use of language is not compelling and the same keywords are inelegantly crammed into the text repeatedly. Keyword density for a particular word or phrase over 10% is highly suspect. While a clear metric like that is definitely useful, it is hard to miss the needless repetition of words and phrases associated with keyword stuffing.
Unfortunately, stolen or scraped content may not be evident immediately. If you are doing a comprehensive web search, however, it is likely you will come across the original source of the material as well. Legitimate sites will always cite the source or properly attribute quoted material, as well as provide links for their readers. Sadly, the same cannot be said for blog farms. Often, they will repost the content in full without properly crediting it or cannibalize a high quality article into something devastatingly inferior. This blatant disregard for the work of others is truly appalling and should be penalized heavily.
It is difficult to have any sympathy for sites that exist merely to drive traffic to other sites. When a site cannot be bothered to present itself in a professional manner or contribute meaningfully to the conversation, it wastes your time and makes navigating the internet needlessly cumbersome. One the other hand, some excellent sites may suffer some collateral damage initially. As unfortunate as that is, legitimate sites should be able to regain their foothold relatively quickly by improving components that are currently undermining its success. Penalizing blog farms and rewarding unique, high quality content deters unethical SEO tactics. Furthermore, it urges us to heighten the quality of our sites, and that is a win for us all.