I’ve read speculation that the farmer update is based on prominent adsense adverts – but Google makes its money from Adsense and won’t be compromising its adsense revenues. I’ve also done a comparison of Farmer Update winners and losers, and winners also have prominent advertising.
Farmer Update losers are more likely to display text adverts, whereas Farmer Update winners are more likely to have Image adverts – but this is probably more indicative of advertisers targeting these sites individually with Image adverts.
According to SEOMoz the farmer update doesn’t have anything to do with off-page SEO factors. I’m not going to put an opinion forward on this because I haven’t seen enough yet. What I will say is that Farmer Update Winners have far far far more social interaction and social interaction elements on the page, whereas farmer update losers have little or no social interaction.
Across the board the usefulness of content is much higher on Farmer Update winners sites – I doubt Google can algorithmically identify how useful content is, so it’s possible factors like images on the page and bullet pointed content may be weighing in.
The Farmer Update may not be entirely algorithmic… here is the thought process behind this speculation. Small content farm networks owned by good SEO’s have experienced traffic growth. If it were entirely algorithmic then we should notice the opposite, and the fact that small farms are seeing traffic growth could be the result of competing results from the big sites being nuked.
Also no algorithm will be able to identify the usefulness of content, this would have to be a human review process. Since Google already does human reviews and has been for years, chances are good that Google decided to look at the top 10,000 odd websites and manually assess each based on the criteria of:
3) User Interaction (Be that comments or social media interactions)
A recent interview with Google’s Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal seems to back this up very strongly.
“Then we asked the raters questions like: “Would you be comfortable giving this site your credit card? Would you be comfortable giving medicine prescribed by this site to your kids?”
Another very interesting quote is below:
“What we heard was scrapers were sometimes outranking original sites, and we actually made a change to improve that.”
This seems to suggest either when content is re-posted it is devalued, or when content is re-posted it adds value to the original source.