Content Farms Vs...

Feb 3rd

Is the following an SEO strategy?

  • Research keywords
  • Select keywords that have existing traffic
  • Write pages based on those keywords
  • Publish pages
  • Get those pages ranked against those keywords

How is this different to what a Content Farm does? So, if Content Farm pages are undesirable, so too is SEO content?

Low Quality Content?

Perhaps people take issue with low-quality content.

The problem with arguments about quality is that such arguments are subjective. Is Wikipedia quality? How about the Huffington Post? Wikipedia is full of inaccuracies, and the Huffington Post is not above fixating on trivia, like what - or who - Charlie Sheen did in the weekend. These exact same criticisms are often leveled against Content Farms.

One could argue that those two sources at least attempt to provide a high degree of quality, most of time. However, quality is in the eye of the beholder. eHow may not be to everyone's taste, but it isn't true to say eHow is all worthless, to all people, all of the time. Perhaps some people don't want to wade through the dense academia of Wikipedia. They simply want someone to tell them what that weird spot is on their cat's mouth.

How One Content Farm Describes Other Content Farms

What is a Content Farm, anyway? Is a magazine a Content Farm? Wikipedia's own definition of a Content Farm displays the same level of trite fluff often found on eHow:

  • "The articles in content farms are written by human beings but may not be written by a specialist in the area" The same could be said of many newspapers, websites and magazines. So what?
  • "Content farms are criticized for providing relatively low quality content as they maximize profit by producing just "good enough" rather than best possible quality articles". If that criteria was applied to all publishers, most would disappear overnight.
  • "A typical content writer is a female with children that contrasts with sites expecting voluntary unpaid contribution for the sake of idea....." . Seriously, WTF?

Economics Drive EVERYTHING

Now, I'm not saying I like the fact that Google searches often return fluff content. But that problem is a direct result of the economics of the web. It's difficult to publish "quality" web content that provides a return to the writer, so it shouldn't come as any surprise that publishers either drive down the cost of production, erect pay-walls, or simply never publish in the first place.

Who Hates Content Farms?

Criticism regarding Content Farms appears to be coming from two camps.

One camp consists of professional journalists and established publishers. This is hardly surprising, as the Content Farms are undermining their publishing model. If the reader doesn't care much about standards, then it's difficult to charge a premium for them.

The other camp is SEOs, which is odd, given that Demand Media appears to be built around an applied SEO model. Perhaps some people just don't like the competition.

I guess the important aspect, as far as SEOs are concerned, is how Google defines a Content Farm, and what they intend to do about them.

"As “pure webspam” has decreased over time, attention has shifted instead to “content farms,” which are sites with shallow or low-quality content. In 2010, we launched two major algorithmic changes focused on low-quality sites. Nonetheless, we hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content."

Matt's definition of spam has been reasonably consistent over the years, and is detailed on Google's Webmaster Guidelines. The interesting bit is Google's definition of "low-quality content". Well, it would be if they would tell us, but they don't.

Six of One, a Half Dozen of the Other

Put it this way. Any algorithm that takes out Demand Media content is going to take out a lot of SEO content, too. SEO copy-writing? What is that? That's what Demand Media do. As I outlined in the first paragraph, a lot of SEO content in not that different, and any algorithm that targets Demand Media's content isn't going to see any difference. Keyword traffic stream identical to title tag? Yep. A couple of hundred words? Yep. SEO format? Yep. Repeats keywords and keyword phrases a few times? Yep. Contributes to the betterment of mankind? Nope.

SEO's need to be careful what they wish for.

Barry reports Google hasn't rolled out their Content Farm algo, if indeed there is such a thing: "After we spoke with Matt Cutts today, we learned that the new algorithm that went live last week is related to blocking low quality content scraper sites and not content farms".

Watch this space :)

Published: February 3, 2011

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Comments

February 3, 2011 - 10:49am

Who's to say users don't find eHow content valuable? Just because I, or Matt Cutts, or anyone else thinks it's crap....

Sounds like an awful lot of hot air perpetuated by people trying to score points with industry opinion, and followed by people who would rather bitch and moan about why their site doesn't rank than pull their fingers out.

Don't like Demand Media? Fine, just push it out of the SERPs with your own "quality" content...

February 3, 2011 - 12:08pm

The conversation about eHow seems to focus on the quality of individual articles. And at that level, I agree completely that quality is in the eye of the beholder (at least for the most part). But to me its the "duplicate" content on eHow that's a big issue missing from the conversation. Want to know how to open a bank account? eHow has you covered and then some in the following articles: How to Open a Bank Account, How to Open Bank Accounts, How to Open a Second Bank Account, and hundreds of other articles with small variations in the title. I suspect Google can handle this aspect of eHow pretty easily, but search for "how to open a bank account" and eHow holds places 2 and 3 with the first two articles listed above.

Oh, and just in case you wanted to become a cop in Chicago, eHow has you covered there, too: How to Become a Police Detective in Chicago, How to Become a Detective in Chicago, How to Become a Police Officer in Chicago, Illinois, and my personal favorite, How to Become a Police Officer in Chicago.

February 3, 2011 - 12:15pm

I would say that if your pages don't contain quality information, then people won't miss them anymore than they'll miss content farms. Links I can get from Google.

February 3, 2011 - 2:20pm

A lot has been said about ehow in the last couple of days. I've noticed, however, that not much has been said of places like ezinearticles.com or any other article "repository."

What happens to those sites? I would bet top dollar that they are in the cross-hairs of any and possibly all algorithmic factors placed on content farms. As an article marketer, I am concerned.

website-articles.net has taken a proactive approach. Kind of funny when you read the Notice at the top of the home page. But it may be a smart move.

Waste of time? Needless worrying? Maybe. But why take any chances. If the SEs are going to start penalizing pages (or even whole domains) for publishing questionable content, then the answer is simple...don't publish questionable content!

Cheers

February 3, 2011 - 2:34pm

I think content farms like Demand are glared at by SEOs because of the double standard that seems to be in place - they are allowed to do things at scale that go against Google's TOS, while others can't, and expect the same free pass. This results in an uneven playing field, weighted in favor of the farms.
And thinly written content is a shade better than the scrape and mulch approach, or spun/Markov crap - though it is sometimes hard to see the difference.
I think as long as there is money to be made in there somewhere, there is always going to be someone willing to drop (or rather, never adopt) any issues of quality, and look to scale it as far as they can.

AdWords is why this cesspool is so out of hand. AdWords allows you to create nothing, and if you can make it generate $10-20 a year, you're in the black - so everything else is gravy. That's a very low bar, and of course it will result in hundreds of thousands of sites trying to "set-it-and-forget-it." The web is being fattened on auto-pilot.
If AdWords had not made shit pages so profitable, this angst angainst farming could focus on something else.

I also think if AdWords changed their requirements, it would likely have a much more immediate (and voluntary) impact. If shit pages weren't profitable anymore, people would move on to the next profit scheme. But they are.

The main problems with quality content to me, are time and money. It takes a lot of both to develop good content, while there is no guarantee it will work any better than hiring one of Wikipedia's mother-writers (really?) who you can pay pennies on the dollar, and be live in days. Given this becomes a leap of faith, that good=effective, taking the shortcut is often going to pan-out as a better business move, at least on paper. And while it may not work for a site in the long run, many sites today are not trying to make the long run - they are trying to make hay while the Google sun still shines.

February 3, 2011 - 3:02pm

Very refreshing take, Aaron. The only real difference between Demand and the average SEO-friendly publisher is scale, and that's not their fault.

To me, they're sort of like Wikipedia only with a more capitalistic leaning.

February 3, 2011 - 5:01pm

Very refreshing take, Peter!

February 3, 2011 - 5:21pm

Wow!

I've been lazy about learning all this super important SEO stuff, slacking off letting my partner be the pro, but all of this is so integrated with the marketing and I'm glad I found this place to keep up to date and ninja on what's going on at the moment with Google and everything else search.

Glad I dropped in!

February 3, 2011 - 6:05pm

SEO's need to be careful what they wish for.

I've been thinking that all along...

I get eHow results all of the time, the majority of the time they answer my question sufficiently.

If I had a complaint it would be what marty pants already mentioned above:

I think content farms like Demand are glared at by SEOs because of the double standard that seems to be in place - they are allowed to do things at scale that go against Google's TOS, while others can't, and expect the same free pass.
February 4, 2011 - 5:40pm

Lets not forget about low quality Youtube videos that show up high in the search results. There may be no greater junk content farm than Youtube and sometimes it seems especially easy to rank a video. I think all this noise is more about scaring than actually acting.

February 8, 2011 - 6:41am

Just saw the other post where you talked about being the first to the party, rather than being the last. Hmm...I would agree with you that most of the web content DON'T offer value! So, if somebody takes down DS content, they are going to take a lot of other blogs as well.

It will make the world a better place of course, but SEO is far harder objective!

- Ron

February 8, 2011 - 7:14am

Let me put this straight then where are sites where you get info rich articles that give right ful insights to searchers...No there are not every article site whether they get submissions from expert are SEOd to divert traffic to their sites. Now since it was not scalable they never became demand media. What demand media does is paying with loopholes that Google algo has. Anything that is not caught by google anti-spam team is legal & relevant.
No major site in www has provided articles that is info rich for readers. Every other site has UGC that is created to target particulr keyphrase. Its google to be blamed not demand media, tommorow you might find other you does the same if not demand media. Content farming is there since the emergence of search engines. Previously it was scattered now it is lead by demand media.
Google cannot sit back with its age old page rank technology and think they are masters of search. they should innovate & improve their search engine's quality.
Moreover DO NOT FORGET EVERY RESULT IN GOOGLE FOR COMPETITOR KEYWORDS is DOMINATED by content which is SEOd by people like us. So google is not smart the way it is potrayed. It shows results what SEOrs like us want to show them.

Cheers,
Lalit Kumar
Ten Years in Online Marketing

March 2, 2011 - 11:05pm

You missed an important third camp who have spoken out actively against content mills. And frankly it's about time the SEO community has caught up (despite the delay I'm glad to see it covered so thoroughly here).

That third group is professional freelance writers. Many of us have been speaking out against Demand for YEARS now, both for their exploitational practices in soliciting cheap labor (sometimes with downright lies) to quality issues with their content (which affects not only searchers but the reputation of writers who choose to associate their otherwise quality material with so much from the "unwashed masses" on these sites).

Here's the thing. Google doesn't need an algorithm update. They need to manually penalize Demand, and they need to do it yesterday. They need to hold these larger content mills (not sure when the media decided to rename them "content farms") to the same standards they've held independent site owners to for years.

They'll manually penalize a site because someone reports them for selling under an ad model G doesn't approve of, but they won't penalize sites that openly admit to being major MFA outlets? Give me a break. The CEO himself blatantly says it's about producing content based on ad rev; not true value for readers. If it were the other way around you wouldn't have 5+ articles on the same topic spinning keywords in slightly different ways to maximize income ad revenue. You'd have one higher quality article giving readers what they need -- not competing with yourself in rankings, monopolizing the top 2-3 spots with your keyword spam.

Google can say it's not about the money until they're blue in the face. But until they step up and hold these cash cows to the same standards as everyone else, I hope they don't expect anyone but the utterly naive to believe them. Attacking scrapers and lumping them into the "content farm" label was little more than a PR stunt on their part to pull attention away from the fact that they've yet to deal with one of the biggest search engine spammers and MFA sites around, even though they know darn well who the rest of the world is talking about when we say we want "content farms" dealt with in our search results.

While I think Google's new extension is a step in the right direction, the fact that they overshadowed it with this announcement of an unrelated algorithm change speaks volumes. They want to look like they're doing something even though they're ignoring the simplest solution -- treat eHow like you'd treat any other MFA site and take the ad revenue hit if you really care about quality. Maybe then they'd actually deserve to save face instead of just playing the spin game.

March 2, 2011 - 11:14pm

1. I think it's important to note that the freelance writing community is very different from the journalist / publisher community mentioned. The first are directly solicited by the mills looking for cheap labor while the others are worried more about competing business models. The freelance writer group I'm talking about isn't as concerned with the journalism vs Web content side of the debates, because we understand the difference and are affected in different ways.

2. I mentioned some of the lies and half-truths used in recruitment over the years. Here's an article I meant to include which lays several of those issues out. It's about pulling people in by any means possible and once they're stuck in a rut quality is hurt because to make ends meet they learn they have to churn out content faster and faster. - http://allfreelancewriting.com/2010/05/25/specialties/web-writing/demand...

3. I mentioned interviews with the company's CEO where he admits to ads being the priority (as opposed to true value, leading to multiple pages on the same material with different keyword spins, etc.). Here's a good example in a video during a SXSW interview. The comments of interest are from 2:30 - 2:50 in the video. (And interestingly, he's out of touch enough to think that this MFA style model is "brand new" when it's anything but -- mistaking his newer tools for a new publishing model.) - http://allfreelancewriting.com/2010/05/25/specialties/web-writing/demand...

March 2, 2011 - 11:15pm
March 3, 2011 - 3:28am

You go girl! :)

Good stuff. Now only if Google can "fine tune" that content mill algorithm to actually target the leading content mill! ;)

March 3, 2011 - 6:19pm

Sadly, as much as G's mouthpieces say they treat all equally, I'll believe it when I see it. Somehow ezine's garbage content survived when they went after duplicate content and link selling (which is what you do -- buy links with your content they get to monetize). And more recently it's eHow. I wish I believed Google cared about quality and not the ad revenue. But going from attacking independent sites with ad models of their own that you don't like to letting eHow stand its ground after an update like this makes me think otherwise. Still holding out hope. Just not as much as I used to.

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