Content Farms & The Death of Remarkable Content

July 13, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

Yeah, let’s go there.

Over at SEO Book yesterday, Peter Da Vanzo wrote a punchy post about how when it comes to content farming, SEOs Get It, Journalists Don’t. Honestly, I’m not so sure SEOs get it either. But let’s back up.

In his post, Pete wins everyone’s heart calling out the Internet Content Syndication Council (Really? That exists?), which has been circulating a ridiculous document entitled council to counter Web content generators growing clout (PDF). The document claims that content farms are stealing journalists’ jobs and lowering content standards on the Web. Ken Zinn, digital Marketing Manager at P&G, is quoted saying he’s skeptical of the quality being produced by content farms and doesn’t want to “sponsor content that was produced by someone who just has a high school education”. There you go, folks, further proof fear forces everyone (men and women) to act like catty little girls.

Pete does a good job nailing Zinn to his pre-historic cross, arguing that it’s not the elitist wordsmiths that deem quality on the Web, its users. They judge quality and Google judges relevance. If the journalists are scared because they can’t hang in this new era, then perhaps we do have a journalist overpopulation problem. You won’t find me disagreeing there.

My discomfort with content farms doesn’t come from a place of envy or me being scared for my job. I’m not scared. My discomfort comes when it encourages site owners to slap “good enough” content on their site. Because while “good enough” may be “relevant” and do it for search engines, it rarely does it for users. Especially today when links and attention are getting harder to come by.

Earlier this year, Michael Gray showed me all I ever needed to know about content farms when he wrote a Textbroker.com copywriting services review. Textbroker.com is similar to lots of other content programs where they offer “affordable content” at fixed, value meal prices. Michael shared his experience being very happy getting back content that was “good enough”, even if it wasn’t “flagship quality writing”.

It’s that lowering of the bar that’s hurting your rankings, your sales and your customers.

I’m not saying that all of your content needs to be laugh-out-loud funny or be works of great literature, it doesn’t. But before we cry out about the death of natural link building, let’s also take a look at what we’re producing. In some cases it’s not that marketing or social media is cannibalizing the link graph, it’s that we’re putting red bows on crap and calling it content. Funny, I haven’t heard The Oatmeal cry out that Twitter is stealing his links. Sure, great content doesn’t stand alone but it’s a lot easier to get links and promote good content when you have remarkable content to promote.

And that’s the problem. Content farms rarely (if ever) create the kind of remarkable or “flagship” content that people link to. They create content that is, by the standards of a blind, deaf and dumb search engine, simply, “relevant”. There’s a huge difference.

Everyone knows that the first step to natural link building is producing something worth linking to and that means not relying on content produced by content farms. And if you’re going to start playing the game of balancing with which pieces of your site are worth investing in and which 80 percent just have to be “good enough”, than you should also invest in some padding. It will help when you fall head first down that slippery slope. While you’re at it, why don’t you also decide which one of your children you’d save in a fire? If pages of your site aren’t worthy of more than a $2.20 investment then save both your customers and Google the trouble of having to wade through them.

The sad truth is most of the content on the Web doesn’t deserve to be linked to. And that’s not Twitter’s fault. It’s funny to me that we can have simultaneous conversations about the death of links and the mass farming out of content and no one draws the line between them.

If you want links, you need content that is remarkable in the eyes of your customers, not content that meets “good enough relevancy” standards. That content should be found as the clever 404 page people love a wacky product page, a press release that’s actually interesting, etc. And it should appear throughout your Web site.

I can tell you that Outspoken Media’s SEO copywriting services focus on providing clients content that is remarkable, not just relevant. And it’s that way because we write content with for users who are discriminating and who we want to read, link to, share, tweet, and pass on the content we produce. We know that that’s how companies build their business and, to inspire that reaction, you have to be more than just relevant.

It’s pretty simple: you can farm out your content or you can invest in it. If you’re going to farm it out, do yourself a favor and see if you can get some fries along with that $2.20. That way you’ll be getting something of near-true substance.

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