Feb 022011

graphic courtesy of ZDNet's Between the Lines blog

Demand Media’s successful IPO last week has certainly spurred a lot of media coverage around “content farms.” This Sunday the Washington Post had two separate stories in the Business section, one by Michael Rosenwald and the other by Rob Pegararo. Everyone is always looking for a shortcut, and in this case the victim is the search experience, which is the golden goose of online advertising.

A quick primer — content farms pay freelancers pennies to produce keyword driven content, which due to volume appears high in Google’s organic search results. This produces a great amount of traffic back to the farm, where it is monetized via Google AdSense. It’s a neat trick. Here’s a deeper evaluation from Bo Peabody of Village Ventures.

I’ll leave the financial viability questions to more business oriented authors. Same for the question of whether Demand’s successful IPO signals the official start of a new tech bubble. What really hit home for me was how abused the concept of the organic search result has become, both for the advertiser and the searcher.

I was present at the dawn of online advertising, as the 30th or so hire at Advertising.com back in the late 1990’s. We invented the online advertising network and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. (If you worked at ValueClick back then, go ahead and argue the point via a comment.)

Today I help all my b2b/b2g clients improve their SEO rankings around specific keywords the honest, old-fashioned way — regularly producing quality content, tagging it appropriately, repeat month after month. I’ve written previously about how effective that can be.

But that process isn’t always easy — it takes an investment in time and mindshare. So the content farms came along to say how they’ve figured out how to game the system, and all you need to do is pay them for a guaranteed stream of traffic, sales, leads, etc.  Businesses fall for it, investors (apparently) fall for it, and the search experience gets degraded. The same search experience that has created a revenue stream for hundreds of thousands of online publishers, and accounts for 99 percent of Google’s revenue.

Larry, Sergey and Eric don’t need this noise, even though as the articles point out Google gets a cut of the monetized content. They need to focus on how to address the threat from social search. I’m rooting for them to tweak their rankings and kick the legs out of the content farm business model. One clever algorithm deserves another.

  3 Responses to “Will Content Farms Kill the Golden Google Goose?”

  1. I’m sad to see that we’re in a content race to the bottom.

    The content farms will try to out-algorithm Google’s guys and only “win” be creating more one-click hits of pics of Charlie Sheen intoxicated or Paris HIlton doing whatever.

    And the content farms will lose the algorithm wars, so they’ll appease their investors by automating, cutting costs and creating yet more robo-dreck for the masses. Meanwhile, nobody will be able to get any insightful analysis of current events.

    Check out SAI’s publication today of Aol’s content farm strategy and playbook. Sad to see them so publicly declare that they’re just that. Hope they’ve uncrewed Steve Case’s original vision from the walls.

  2. Chris:

    Good post. I am heartened, however, that we have made much progress in the war against email spam; here’s hoping the same can be said of reducing the influence of content farms.

    First rule: never start a search “How to…”

    – Dennis

  3. […] SEO via accelerated content publishing combined with attempting to game the search engines.  As I’ve written about on content farms, that seems like a slender reed to build a business model on to […]

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