Google announced what may ultimately be one of the biggest changes to their algorithm yet.
From the Official Google Blog: "Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking-a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries-and we wanted to let people know what's going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites-sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful."
Notice the language being used. Specifically, "...reduce rankings for low-quality sites..." That means it's not only individual posts or pieces of content will be penalized for being deemed "low-quality" but entire websites. The announcement also mentions "low-value add for users" and sites that "copy content from other websites." The target? Content farms, to start. These sites exist and profit based on volume. The more content produced (often for a pittance) the better they do - or did.
To most observers and users, this focus on volume resulted in millions of low-quality pieces of content cluttering the search engine results pages (SERPs). The writers producing content for these content farms are paid largely based on views. No indexing in Google, no views. No views, no pay. No pay, no writers ... and no content.
Sites such as Yahoo Contributor Network and those of Demand Media (including eHow) fit the bill, to be sure. But one must wonder if others sites such as Examiner.com or pure user-contributor sites such as Yahoo Answers will also be affected. (Read Website Magazine's in-depth review of Yahoo Contributor Network.)
The update will also impact Bing and every other search engine. Simply put, if Google's results get better in the eyes of users, Bing and the others cannot afford to be viewed as having inferior results.
Without question, the focus is now on producing original, quality content. So-called scraper sites are doomed. But even bloggers need to be careful about posting content that could be considered "low-quality" or that which could be viewed as being a simple re-publishing of existing content. In other words, if you don't have anything original to say about an existing story ... be careful. Now more than ever, the focus seems to be shifting toward quality, not necessarily quantity.
In all, this update should be a good thing for the Web - both for users and those who work tirelessly to produce quality content.
The first priority for every business is to keep a constant watch on your analytics. Are your numbers slipping for keywords of which your site previously ranked highly? Are overall numbers dropping? Hopefully not. But there are some things that can be done to ensure your traffic does not suffer.
Be aggressive about building your user base. Search is powerful but it's not the only way to ensure visitors to your website. Build a strong following on social networks and work hard to increase email sign-ups and newsletter subscribers.
Solicit quality inbound links. High-quality links will remain a pivotal factor in search engine rankings. Be diligent about networking with like-minded content producers and work to get links - quality links, including those with keyword-rich anchor text. In no way is it recommended to purchase links.
Produce varied forms of content. Search engines like a little variety. In addition to a company blog, consider producing video for a YouTube channel, a photo log on Flickr, or a podcast on iTunes.
Hire a good writer. This public call for quality content might warrant the hiring of a skilled writer for some businesses. Well-written, compelling content tends to attract links, garner social mentions and spread through online communities. Remember that today's skilled writer also knows how to create SEO-friendly content.