Google announced it has cracked down on “content farms” that are full of trivial articles that yield unsatisfying results.

Their intent is pure: they want to get the best possible search results for their searchers – you and me.

But their method is open to debate.

They are the sole deciders of what is good content and what is bad content.

I’ll be the first to say there are good content sites and bad content sites. Good content sites give information.

Bad content sites have some of these traits:

A jumble of dozens of articles on one page.
– Very small type that can barely be read
– Zillions of hyperlinks leading to ads
– Many blocks of ads between paragraphs and alongside articles
– Misleading pages that don’t contain the content you were looking for
– No way to find the content easily, with a search tool or a menu structure
– A very obvious game plan to make money on ads and not provide real value to readers

On the other hand, there are many sites that would be labeled “content farms” like e-how, that actually provide good value. These sites have in common:

– Useful information.
– Links to related information
– A respectful number of ads
– Attractive layouts
– Easy to read fonts

While it might be easy to distinguish between these two examples, it could actually be harder than you think. That’s because I think the latter scenario is fine, but Google apparently does not. There are many good sites that display content that Google is about to ban. That raises the question: Where do you draw the line?

Is WebMD beyond the pale because they answer many questions in simple language?

Are article directory sites content farms because their missions is to act as a middle man where they post information articles with the purpose of being reprinted on sites that want content?

And just how much information should an article have for it to be considered “good enough?”

If you don’t know about a certain topic, then introductory level material would be great. If you have a Ph.D. in that subject, then this snippet would seem trivial.

For example, if your doctor told you had atrial fibrillation in your heart, that would be the first time you heard the term. He would probably explain it, but you’d miss out on half of what he said because you’d still be in shock. So you go to Google and type the term. You’d find dozens of articles and answers about this term. Nearly all would be written for the layman that you are. You’d probably walk away from the computer feeling that Google showed you good results.

However, if you’re a doctor looking of the latest research on a-fib, you might be disappointed. However, you’d probably modify your search to something more focused like, “What is the latest research on a-fib and diltiazem?”

Both responses are useful.

On the other hand, I recall reading an article on a shopping site that said, “Thanksgiving is a major holiday in the United States. It is marked by families getting together. Many people eat turkey although some families eat other foods. They also like to watch football on television.”

This isn’t news to me or you, but if you were a recent immigrant to the U.S., it would be kind of useful, don’t you think? They can dig deeper for info about the Pilgrims, Indians, recipes for cranberry sauce and the odds on the Cowboys game. But it is a start. I’d find it trivial (and so would Google), but to newcomers, it might be exactly what they need to read in exactly the right grade level of writing.

The question is: Is it too dumb?

That’s open for debate.

Google’s actions also raise a bigger question about where your content can or should appear – and the possible de-listing that could result.

Is your site in danger of being labeled a content farm because you might have printed an article from an industry leader? Or could you be labeled a content spammer because you gave permission to have your article printed on a website belonging to your trade association or even a newspaper?

Would you be guilty of content spamming if you posted an article on your blog, uploaded it to an article site, like and submitted it to your industry trade journal?

There have been debates about the “duplicate content” question for years. I think people decided they wanted to reach the readers of those sites primarily. They did not want to try to trick the search engines.

What does Google’s new policy mean for them?

I have no idea.

I always advise people to play by the rules, play it safe and play it conservatively. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of Google because the penalty is you might be blocked from their search results.

I respect Google for wanting to present the best search results. I certainly hate getting bad results. I must admit that Google does a great job whenever I search for something, whether it be info about a-fib, the latest iPad rumors or the cheapest place to buy a product.

So Google, keep up the good work. But please be clear about:

1. What is good content and what is drivel.
2. What is good syndication and what is spam.

Honest people with something to say need to know what we can do.

To see Google’s blog about this, go here: