As a professional writer, there’s a lot I could say and a lot that I want to say about the issue of content farms and its effect on search engine relevance, SEO, and branding. But I know me. It would get angry and passionate and people would accuse me of ranting. So I won’t. The fact that content is the red-headed step child of the Internet is just something us writers have to accept. For all its importance, as vital as it is, writers will never earn the respect they deserve. Not when you can buy a batch of 100 unique articles for less than a McDonald’s value meal. Oreo McFlurry and chocolate chip cookie included.
However, there is something I did want to comment on.
Earlier this week Danny Sullivan shared a great recap of the talk Mahalo’s Jason Calacanis gave on “Ending the Content Arms Race” that took place during the FM Signal LA Event. It’s a good read.
Jason made some interesting remarks during the event. They were interesting because though Jason was up on stage pleading for an end to the content farms race it’s no secret that Mahalo has repeatedly been bashed for being a content farm. He can cry innocence but Mahalo’s bread and butter is creating 1,100 pieces of useful content a day that ranks without providing much value. According to Jason, Mahalo will be changing its ways and working harder to improve things and that’s great. I guess competing with Demand Media had become too difficult. So now they’ll just try and turn the tables and pretend we were blind to what they were doing. Fantastic PR spin.
Jason’s comments also made me incredibly sad about what content is on the Web. Sad that this is where we’re at and this is what’s accepted as passable. It doesn’t matter that content is one of the best way to build trust in your brand, we’re content to produce low quality crap, in mass, and plop it on a high authority domain to rank. And brands, the people who put it out, and consumers are okay with that.
But, oh wait- consumers AREN’T okay with it. And neither are the search engines.
Last month Matt Cutts took to the Google blog to talk about Google search and search engine spam. The post came in response to recent digs that Google was allowing more spam into the search results and it was creating a relevance problem. It was noteworthy that it wasn’t “traditional” spam that people were complaining about. It wasn’t the keyword-stuffed pages, content scrapping or anything else we’d normally refer to as bad behavior. Instead, Matt and users were both talking about content farms. Demand Media-type pages that flood the search results and leave users to scroll up, down and sideways wondering where the real content is.
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.
Google hears the feedback and they’ll now be forced to deal with it. They’ll have to deal with it. As Jason said in his talk, Demand Media has made Google look stupid and now they’ll pay. Because the other option is to keep letting the quality of their search results deteriorate and Google’s not going to do that.
It’s time for Google and for Bing to ‘blekko up’ and and remove these pages from the search results. Is it extreme? Maybe. Will highly SEO’d content also end up taking a hit? Maybe. But we have to clean things up. There’s no other option.
But a lot has to happen for things to get cleaned up.
- As a brand or business, it’s up to you to provide content that truly is worth of ranking. Content that provides value, that stands on its own, and that a user will identify as being relevant to what they’re looking for. Look, I’m not saying you need to hire the next Shakespeare to write thousands of pages for you, but you can’t hand someone a kitten and call it a jaguar. We can tell the difference between real content and fake content. Maybe it’s time to get away from the quantity approach and start creating subscription-based quality platforms. Stop playing catch up with the guy next to you, what are you really providing?
- As an advertiser, you need to look at where your ads are going and at what type of content you’re supporting. If it’s crap, stop it. Why would you put your brand on content that’s simply going to annoy people? Brand association fail.
- As SEOs, if content is King, then put your money where your mouth is and use real copywriters. People that don’t get paid $.50 a word. If we ban content farm sites from the Web, we’re going to be left with a lot of content holes that need to be filled. There’s an opportunity there to create content that will rank on merit and be worthwhile. Embrace it or hide from it. Your call.
- The search engines need to grow some balls and stop these worthless sites from showing up. Because you know what? It’s embarrassing to the engines, their algorithms, and the people they represent each time that these pages do. If this is the content “most relevant”, we’re all doomed to hell.
Will any of that happen? Some of it simply has to because it’s time to end the content farm race. Not because Jason Calacanis can no longer keep up, but because we’re flooding the SERPs with crap and real users can’t find anything. As SEOs, you should care. As users, you should care. Google’s just learned they have to care. And with that comes motivation to fix things now. Because you don’t want to be on the wrong site of the fence when the gauntlet is thrown down.
About the Author
Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.