Content Farms & The Death of Remarkable Content


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 copywriting services review. 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.

Your Comments

  • Hugo Guzman

    Back in the day, my job entailed creating NFL and college football related content that could compete with the big boys (, ESPN, CBS Sports, CNNSI, etc). I quickly figured out that:
    a) a lot of their content was regurgitated AP fodder
    b) most of the rest of their content was rehashed news
    c) very little of the mainstream content was truly unique and remarkable

    Therefore, my little niche site focused on creating unique, one-of-kind articles. Sure enough, we quickly figured out that the writers that could do that had their content:
    a) rank really well, both in Google as well as Google News
    b) attracted loyal and returning readers

    Therefore, I have no doubt that you are right on the mark.

    That said, I do believe that automated/farmed content will continue to persist and perform well. Moreover, I think that as artificial intelligence improves, you will start to see automated content that is, well, unique and remarkable.

    We’re not there yet, but it’s only a matter of time IMO…

    • Lisa Barone

      I think you present a nice little case study there for while SMBs should be paying special attention to content.

      I agree that automated content is going to get better and seem more “human”. Will it ever step up and replace a real, breathing person? I mean, have you seen Splice? That stuff doesn’t usually end well.

  • Joe Hall

    I agree a thousand percent with your thoughts on content farms and crap hat content creation. But, doesn’t it give you a certain amount of relief in knowing that you are basically competing against a bunch of morons? I mean doesn’t that make your job easier?

    • Lisa Barone

      I don’t know that it makes my job any easier, I do think remarkable content stands out when it’s left shining in a sea of crap. Like I said, I’ve never been worried about my job.

  • Daniel Redman

    On the other side of the coin, It seems like SEO’s and Webfolk alike have already commoditized clever content. For better or worse, SEO’s ride entertaining pics, vids, and articles through social bookmarking channels like wet, homeless, destitute Pwned Unicrons. So what’s the better of two evils then? I suppose you are in support of creativity rape if not the content farms?

    • Lisa Barone

      I’m…not even totally sure how to respond to that.

      If you’re talking about SEOs using cheap linkbait to get attention, well, I’m not really a fan of that either. I’d rather the content have substance because, in the end, that’s what really serves users. Not monkey’s riding on an elephant’s back while wearing a funny hat.

      • Daniel Redman

        I’m with you. Balance is the king/queen of content.

        …and if that monkey doesn’t return my hat, big trouble.

  • Eugene Mandel

    First of all, “Internet Content Syndication Council” – this is hilarious! :)
    Won’t content that is not good enough die on its own since visitors to the websites that publish will not appreciate it? I remember looking at a website that offered very cheap original content writing services. It had several levels of quality. The lowest (and cheapest) one was “legible”. Really, you want “legible content” on your site? :)
    Seriously though, do you consider automatic tools that find the best selection of content a “content farming” technique?

  • Graywolf

    Back when I worked in an engineering firm, one of the two old men who founded the company shared a bit of wisdom with me “Son … you don’t build an outhouse with a micrometer”.

    The way I see it we do need to thin out the herd of journalists, they got fat and lazy due to the lack of competition, and now to use a cliche, they are protesting because someone moved their cheese. Rather than fear the growing wave of second tier writing they should embrace it. Nothing makes a something exceptional standout like an abundance of crap.

    There’s more crap than ever in music, TV, movies, online writing and journalism. Heck everyone and their brother has written an SEO, marketing or social media book nowdays, the bar to entry has been lowered to the point that almost no effort is required to get over it. But just because someone has written/published a song, youtube video, movie, or book doesn’t make them talented.

    In the past it required enormous capital to publish in any medium, so only the best stuff got published. Now the economics of publishing are changing and there’s nothing we can do to reverse it. So you either embrace the cheap content and don’t build your outhouse with a micrometer … or if you’re good … really good … you create content that really IS BETTER … not that just cost more.

    • Dawn Wentzell

      But creating exceptional content takes work. You can’t expect them to do that when it’s so much easier to just regurgitate whatever is hot on social media or the latest from the AP or Reuters!

      • Graywolf

        If you try to market the “B” stuff as the good stuff then yea we’ve got a problem, but if you keep the “B” stuff as “B” stuff and don’t expect people to treat is “A” quality material there’s no point.

        To put it another way you don’t pretend your toyota camry is a rolls royce, and you realize you don’t need a rolls royce to drive to the supermarket or train station every day.

        • Rob Woods

          I have to agree on this point there’s a place for rockstar content and a place for a greater quantity of pedestrian content. What you do with the content varies greatly based on the type. You don’t spend your time, energy, and social capital trying to push a “B” piece out through every social network, Digg, etc. There’s an awful lot of Big Macs out there for every Filet Mignon, but Big Macs still sell.

        • Lisa Barone

          The problem is that with the total lack of A stuff, C stuff is what’s being promoted and pushed and ribboned. I’m not saying you’re entire presence has to built on rockstar content, but the standards for even your “average” pages has to be higher than what it is. And the standard that you need is probably going to cost more than $2.20 per 100 words.

          $2.20 doesn’t even get you a Toyota Camry. It gets you a Big Wheel. Is that really what you want to race with? Not only will it not get you to the supermarket, it won’t get you out the driveway.

          • Graywolf

            until REAL quality, not perceived relevancy is rewarded, people will continue to produce crap content.

            While adsense may have made it possible for amateur webmaster to pay for and support the hobbies they love, it has done far more damage allowing clever and technically proficient people to make a profit exploiting the holes in the the algo.

            Sure it would be nice if people didn’t put time and effort into polluting the web with crap, but to ignore thousands of years of human history where people have always taken shortcuts if there is money to be made is naive. For a company like google to have created adsense and not expected it to be abused like that is just as naive. For someone who has some of the brightest minds in the country and the largest concentration of PHD’s they often show a lack of common sense and experience. Want to slow down the spam don’t allow adsense on any websites that don’t pass a human review and meet quality standards. Then institute a yearly review of websites that are running adsense.

            No one creates crap content because they love it, they create it because someone rewards them financially for it … in this case google is the financial enabler

            • netmeg

              Google still hasn’t figured out the whole people thing. They have never been able to come up with an algo for people that makes sense. Huge issue, and it’s only going to get worse.

          • @TheGirlPie

            Well, actually, a child in a Big Wheel WILL get out of the driveway — and get run over by real traffic headed to a swell destination. If I might stretch the reference a bit… (swell post Lisa.)

  • Halfdeck

    Let me nitpick for a minute.

    Peter gets it wrong by saying Google looks at relevance, not quality. Google looks at A LOT of things, including relevance, geolocation, personalization, variety of results, query type (transactional, informational), site authority (can anyone say May Day) and last but not least, IMPORTANCE. Of course Google can’t judge quality of the written word but it doesn’t mean Google doesn’t try. PageRank was, after all, designed to be a quality metric.

    That said, I agree we should optimize for PEOPLE, not Google. Websites don’t link, people do. Get people riled up over what you write and yes they will not only link to you but maybe talk about you loud enough for the big dogs to take notice. The end game is generating sales by dominating mindshare and visibility on the web, gaining and maintaining eyeballs and people’s attention day after day, not just by ranking for a set of keywords on Google.

  • Shane Arthur

    Content farms create content fodder for content cattle.
    F them and the downward pressure they put on people trying to improve remarkable content (proofers, editors, etc). It’s hard enough out here.

    Put another way, dress your content in knee-socks people! It’s sexier!

  • Todd Mintz

    I agree with Michael that there is a place for “unremarkable” content the same way there is a role for unremarkable products of all shapes and sizes. It in no way competes with the sort of premium content that you create but I can easily see (in non-customer focused situations) where it can have positive ROI.

    And yes, as Hugo says, it will get better as AI improves.

  • netmeg

    Nothing makes a something exceptional standout like an abundance of crap.

    Exactly. I actually think of it as a huge opportunity. For some of us. When the Grand Shaking Out occurs, I know which line I wanna be standing in.

  • dianeski

    HATE that content-farm crap! Like most moms, I have occasion to google medical-related stuff (for information on symptoms, meds, whatever). Whenever I look up this stuff, it seems as if the entire first page of results = site after site with copy so poorly written I can hardly even decipher it.

    Seriously–what do they pay these poor writers? It must be pennies. You get what you pay for. And, if you pay pennies, you get crummy grammar, twisted syntax, and laughable typos.

    This situation also makes it harder for SEO copywriters who value their craft. I keep thinking about quitting my corporate-slave job and freelancing. But then I see the crap that’s all over the Web, read about the lousy pay, and figure, “fuhgeddaboudit.” It’s not worth it these days!

  • Shane Arthur

    Anybody who purchases content farm fodder deserves to have their spouses purchase “how to be a sub-par spouses” ebooks, deserves to have their kids purchase “how to be sub-par children” DVDs, deserves to have their government purchase, “how to raise taxes on content farming advocates to take away THEIR slim margins, and prove their point that it’s too hard to have efficient, exceptional government service” courses. After all, being all of the above is tough work. We can’t expect that.

    • Graywolf

      if there was no need for sub par content then everyone would own a rolex right? Cause clearly there’s no need for sub par watches like a swatch or timex right?

  • Shane Arthur

    Won last theng,

    Sup-par contentt iz totalle fiine. There’z absolutlee no effxt on uzer experienzz. Anybode who sayz it iz iz a foool.

  • dianeski

    There’s another angle, too. What ever happened to craftsmanship? What ever happened to caring about quality and taking pride in your work? What’s wrong with striving for your personal best?

    I would be so embarrassed to just churn out crap. I think I would try to craft the copy even if I were being paid a pittance. (Yet another reason why I should remain a corporate slave instead of freelancing. Freelancing would put me in the poor house!)

  • yankeerudy

    “The sad truth is most of the content on the Web doesn’t deserve to be linked to.”

    Wow, that’s a powerful but true statement. Nobody’s ever going to accuse this blog of having “good enough” content, Lisa.

  • Peter Young

    Hi Lisa

    Agree with a lot of your post, but also have to take into account a lot of Michaels points in particular his relating to the utilisation of sub-par content. Whilst I know which I would prefer to utilise (and do within my day to day role), there is no doubting sub par content still ‘works’ and as such does have a place to many within their SEO campaigns – particularly when these services are often then outsourced to other organisations and the issue multiplies itself. After all not everyone has the time to go in and savour the bottle of champagne all the time, sometimes you just want a quick “dirty” shot.

    That said that your quote

    “The sad truth is most of the content on the Web doesn’t deserve to be linked to.”

    could not be truer.

  • Michelle Robbins

    So I’m not going to agree that there is a place for sub par content. Pretty much ever. And I’m speaking from a user of the web here, not as one involved in search. Because of content farms (and yes, they are getting better as far as readability) I have had the most insanely ridiculous time finding an iPad case ever. I’m not a novice at searching – but you spammers are really good – so wading through all the nonsense is tiresome.

    Speaking as someone in search – yes, this is pretty much the fault of Google. And marketers willing to pay some person overseas $1.00 an hour to fill the web with garbage. Sure, it’s cheap and it works. But so is McDonald’s – do you feed your kids that crap? And I have to say, in the hours and hours I’ve spent searching for specific products over the last couple of months, I’ve come round to really feeling sorry for Matt Cutts and his team. They’re pretty much tilting at windmills at this point.

  • dianeski

    Michelle, I totally agree. Crappy content can actually frustrate users. Not to mention derail, mislead, and misinform them.

    Recently, as part of my research for some apparel copy I was writing, I googled “ergonomic seams.” I wanted to know what the heck they were for. (Our merchandiser had told me, but I had forgotten, and I was too embarrassed to ask again.)

    Well, I found some information, all right, on one of those “tips” sites. Only problem was — it was wrong. Not only poorly written but wrong. It claimed the purpose of ergonomic seams was to reduce chafing. Nooooo, that’s the purpose of flat-locked seams (which can also be ergonomic, of course, but they don’t necessarily have to be).

    Ergonomic seams are supposed to facilitate freedom of movement plus give you a sleeker look. I found that out later, after I had dug a little deeper. But, if I had gone with this “tips” site (one of the top Google results), I would have misinformed our customers.

    That’s the problem with the utter lack of quality control on the Web. The Internet’s supposed to be an endless treasure-trove of information, but you can’t necessarily get a straight answer. Or an intelligible one. Or even a correct one. Searcher, beware!

  • Charlie Gilkey

    I don’t comment as much as I’d like to, but I had to on this one. This is a fantastic post, Lisa!

    The sad truth is most of the content on the Web doesn’t deserve to be linked to.

    I wholly agree, and not because I’m worried about job security. I think this goes beyond content farms and also dips into the often-touted advice about blogging (and web-content, in general) that pushes people to write short, listy posts targeted to an aspirational and entry-level audience. Your post weighs in at 800 words, so it’s a good middle-weight, but its context would leave most casual readers behind. Yet it’s exactly what needs to be said.

    At a certain point, “good enough” and half-baked, listy content just becomes noise. There’s a lot to be said to investing the time, energy, attention, and money into creating quality, remarkable content – better to have one influential, well-ranking post/page than a handful of posts that play the game but do nothing to change it.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this. You’ve invested wisely. ;p

  • Graywolf

    just because google spits something out doesn’t mean it right. It’s like your eight grade math teacher taught you just because it came out of the calculator doesn’t mean it’s right. You need to use your brain and a little common sense.

    Scary but true fact the barrier for entry in wikipedia is verifiability not truth. So if you are willing engage in an editing war and know how to invoke the 3 revert rule to your benefit you can get some really interesting and verifiable information locked in … it doesn’t have to be true just verifiable.

  • @TheGirlPie

    This bright post makes me see an opportunity for two new site Badges or designations:

    The dubious title “Internet Content Syndication Council” in the Red Circle/Slash ~
    A badge proudly citing “100% Organic Human Content” — !

    Designs by @SparkyFirePants or @gapingVoid come to mind off the top of a late-day brain, but I’m sure you have many fine Readers who could submit badge designs to you, Lisa, for Outspoken’s pick of top Finalists for your Readers to vote on, eh? (Sure, in your “spare time” ~Ha!)

    Keep up the good works,

  • Peter

    Thanks for the reply, Lisa.

    There was a time, in the deep distant, past – erm, 2001 – when journalists and established media elite were laughing their heads off.

    At bloggers.

    Why would anyone, they reasoned, read the work of amateurs? Their content doesn’t even pass through an editorial process! There isn’t even an editor! There are spelling mistakes! Factual inaccuracies! And they spend all their time telling people what they had for lunch!

    Can’t possibly last.

    Then YouTube arrived. Shaky camera shots, poorly lit scenes, inarticulate presenters. Low quality? Well, one woman’s low quality is another woman’s useful, quirky, engaging and fun.

    And what about those sites at the top of the search engines? They’ve been SEO’d? Why should some lone person, sitting in their bedroom, producing basic content, appear at the top? Only established, corporate, big money sites should be at the top, surely? ;)

    I think arguments regarding quality, or lack thereof, are a bit of a red herring. The attack on low-cost content is the same as the attack on blogs years ago. This is about power. It’s about established media attacking the amateur. They attack Demand Media now, but if they succeed, they’ll surely be coming for the rest of us who exist outside the “approved media establishment” next.

    But I don’t think they will succeed.

    What some in the media have yet to learn is that the end user decides what is useful, not the writer. It’s Google’s job to present the user with information they might find useful, and sometimes the answer may well come from Mahalo, and not CNN. It might be a basic list, not a ten-page article that has passed editorial.

    All depends on the user :)

  • Vince Giorgi

    Thoughtful post, Lisa. For those of us who seek to make our livings planning and creating original content for others, we’re at the mercy of clients and their target audiences, it seems.

    If a marketer sees no brand- or business-building value in establishing a distinctive and compelling presence and voice online, then they’ll probably opt for lowest-price content churned out in mill or factory fashion. If their target audience doesn’t base its willingness to engage, buy and be loyal, at least in part, on the “special-ness” of the content and experience they receive from a brand, then lowest-common-denominator content will suffice for them, as well. Full circle, that marketer will be rewarded for having made a low-cost buying decision.

    Could be there’s a Pareto principle in here somewhere. Maybe only 20 percent of brands and their customers are going to care enough about higher-quality, more original content.

    For a long time, boutique clothing retailers, hotels and mom-and-pop eateries have scratched their heads as they watch folks stream into big boxes and chains across the street. To someone’s point earlier, could be the marketplace dynamics around content aren’t all that much different.

    Maybe that means content providers who aspire to deliver a better breed of content — truly original and valuable content — need to be like organic farmers: Focused on selling to only that subset of the marketplace which values what they produce. And committed to proselytizing (and proving?) why original, high-quality content is ultimately better for all of us. As individuals. And as a society and an economy.

  • Linda Parkinson-Hardman

    I write a lot of content for The Mowgli Foundation – in fact at least one blog post every working day of the week, plus tweets, linkedin discussions and facebook entries etc ….. and the subjects I write about are around mentoring and developing entrepreneurs. In fact this week my theme is Social Cognition – not your average sort of blog theme I grant you.
    In order to generate that content I need inspiration, because as an information scientist I’m aware that my content needs to be a. unique and b. relevant and appropriate for my audience. But I often find it hard to find the inspiration and I keep on coming across the same old, same old all the time.
    When I do find great content that I particularly like, instead of farming it myself and rewriting it, I retweet it, add it to our delicious account, embed it in a post or link to it as a news item. This way the good content as you say ‘rises to the top’ and the authors get the credit and the bad … well, hopefully at some point it will float to the bottom never to be seen again.

  • Glen Stansberry

    Great article Lisa! I love this line:

    The sad truth is most of the content on the Web doesn’t deserve to be linked to.

    Nail on the the head.

  • Joel Libava

    What IS amazing, are the folks that put out above average (at least) content on an almost daily basis.

    For instance; you.

    (Above average is not a slam.)

    The Franchise King®

  • Glenn Murray

    Hi Lisa. Once again, very nice post. Of course, as a copywriter, I agree with you. No surprises there. In fact this is an issue I’ve been bitchin’ about for some time. (No surprises there either!)

    The guts of my argument, like yours, is that the use of ‘sausage factory’ content for SEO is a short-sighted tactic. Even IF (as Michael said) it is actually still working, it won’t be for long. What would happen if Google’s SERPs were dominated by crap (aka content farm results)? Very few people would find them useful, that’s what. And what happens then? People go elsewhere to find info… Like Twitter and trusted blogs. And what happens then? Google’s sponsored SERPs listings attract fewer clicks, and Google earns less money.

    Of course, you might argue that Google will take this hit on the chin because the revenue it earns through the avalanche of crap AdSense sites will outweigh the loss at the sponsored SERPs listings. But I’d be very surprised if that were the case. I’d imagine the majority of Google’s share of content network ads come from sites like HotFrog. Reputable, useful sites that actually help their visitors. (Does anyone have any stats on this sort of thing?)

    In any case, if you’re so inclined, you can read more of my bitchin’ here:

  • Linda Parkinson-Hardman

    Hi Glenn, you make an interesting point there about Google and it’s plans for world domination. Sure they probably make loads of money through adsense, but that’s off the back of the fact that they are the preferred search engine for an enormous proportion of the worlds web users because their results are pretty much ‘ok’ most of the time and because they do favour ‘real time’ over farmed. If that were to change, I think you’d find the adsense crowd moving away from Google to another provider because they would be less credible, so ultimately Google would probably shoot themselves in the foot.

  • dianeski

    Spurred by this discussion, I’ve been noodling about this topic lately.

    ISTM we should keep two things in mind.

    1. Let’s face it, folks, we are hacks. (At least, we copywriters are; can’t speak for members of other Internet-related professions.) No matter what kind of content we write — blog posts, articles, ecommerce product descriptions — it’s commercial hack work. It ain’t freakin’ Madame Bovary. Therefore, we should (perhaps) keep the whole thing in perspective. Our prose is not deathless; it will not be preserved for the ages. It may attract quality links or convert customers or otherwise fulfill its commercial purpose. Nonetheless, it is what it is: ephemera. It’s even more ephemeral than dead-tree media: That can live on as bird-cage liner, at least.

    If we keep our craft in perspective, then we will realize that we don’t have to be neurotic perfectionists. We can live with B-grade copy sometimes (especially when that’s all we’re being paid for). It’s not worth knocking ourselves out for a pittance, especially when it’s just hack work anyway.

    2. On the other hand, there are basic, bedrock standards. There have to be. After all, we’re trying to communicate, right? Crappy copy, lousy grammar, twisted syntax — all these make our content less intelligible. And that pretty much defeats the purpose of communication. If the content is so abysmal that nobody gets it, then what’s the point?

    That’s why, while B-grade copy may be acceptable, F-grade copy isn’t. It has nothing to do with us vs. them (the prols versus the journalistic Elite). It has everything to do with fulfilling our commercial-hack purpose, which necessarily entails effective communication. Grade-F copy is not effective communication. Which means it’s not doing what it’s supposed to be doing. It doesn’t get the job done.

    So, IMHO, we shouldn’t have any illusions about our craft. (And neither should the dead-tree journalists, of course.) But we should recognize that it is a craft — which means there are standards. Not especially high standards, but still, standards.

    My two cents’ worth.


  • dianeski

    Glenn–Amen and hear, hear!

  • Peter

    I’ve seen sites consisting entirely of sausage-factory content – some of it semi-automated – earning 50K a month. I’ve seen sites consisting of well written copy earn nothing.

    There are some SEO strategies that require huge scale and cheap production cost. They are valid strategies. Much of this content doesn’t need external inbound links, or to be Tweeted, or Dugg, or treated with reverence, because it’s chasing traffic way out in the long tail where it faces little in the way of competition. It’s filling a gap others can’t, or won’t, do.

    Since the internet began, we’ve had people producing content of a wide variety of standards. This will always happen, regardless of what the self-interested standards police seek to impose.

    This is because the real reason any content succeeds has nothing to do with “quality” and everything to do with utility. The end user decides if a content has utility. If content is written to a high standard, but has no utility, it fails.

    This is not to say professional copy of a high standard doesn’t have it’s place. Of course it does. I agree with Diane in that the base-line of any copy is to be able to communicate. But I think it’s incorrect to say sausage-factory content has no worth because it doesn’t conform to journalistic, or professional copywriting standards. If the user is happy with the content, the content will survive and prosper, regardless of arbitrary notions of “quality”.

    It is not for the writer to decide what they user will find useful. That is the same conceit of established media, and the reason the established media is crashing.

  • Glenn Murray

    I agree. What we copywriters do is not there to be appreciated, it’s there to be used. So when I say “quality”, I don’t necessarily mean that it is a piece of classic literature; I mean it serves its readers well.

    Peter, can you point out a few of those $50k/mnth sausage factory content sites?

  • Glenn Murray

    Ha! Check this brilliant product description:!rOPneHUFRDgKqIhi5OY8RQ!/Bay-Rum. You reckon that came from a content farm? I think not.

  • Peter

    That would be telling. I always though the name was curious, mind….

    Start with DM and look at all their rivals. You can approximate income with a bit of research using SEMRush, and similar tools.

  • Scott Golembiewski

    I’d reverse the title of this post.

    Remarkable Content and the Death Of Content Farms.

    All the gadgets, badges, rankings, standings, metrics, funnels, follows, no-follows, alexa, celexa, compete, pagerank, paid links, keywords, copy, crappy, arbitrage, garbitrage, density, reciprocal, backlinks, alt tags, bouncerates, pageviews, alt, title, keyword, spam tags is a waste of time and it comes down to one thing.

    Write good shit.

    • Linda Parkinson-Hardman

      Yay, too true Scott. Yes, some folks get great rankings on farmed content but I’ll be that because they are emplying 100 and 1 black hat tricks to create an impression of credibility. Personally, I’d rather spend my valuable time writing something that inspires me and my audience to change than slaving over a hot keyboard doing stuff that’s boring, mind numbing and doesn’t enhance anyone’s life.

      • Scott Golembiewski

        Eventually the content farms lose though because they are writing for search engines not people. Once more and more people realize what a content farm is they’ll be less likely to link to it and their authority will drop.

        Google gives them trust because they are producing consistent content but in reality people are getting sick of seeing the same sites hogging page one search results and are beginning to look for new independent sites where there are true SME’s (subject matter experts) creating content based on actual experience.

        • Scott Golembiewski

          One other thing to point out is the comment system that the farms employ. If you notice on eHow for example, users are making these shallow comments on articles that look very much like spam in order to get the author of the article to reciprocate comments back to their articles.

          If you have an article on a blog that generates real dialogue like this one is, then it should outrank fairly easily.

          So in that regard, the real war isn’t about content its about context, and until they figure out a way to mass produce that, they lose.

  • dianeski

    but in reality people are getting sick of seeing the same sites hogging page one search results

    I think that’s definitely true. Personally, I get sick of seeing the same content over and over, especially when it’s cr*p. I find that, more and more, I go to page 2 of the SERPs and beyond in quest of more helpful information.

  • Henway

    While it’s true farmed content may never gather good links, it’s also misleading to say writing great content will automatically give you those links as well. There are tons of great content out there that noone links to. “Build it and they will come” or build it and they will link just isn’t true.

  • dianeski

    This is undoubtedly, true, Henway, but IMHO it’s still better to write good, useful stuff rather than cr*p. For one thing, no self-respecting writer wants to write cr*p. For another thing, it’s all about the user…we want to be helpful and useful to the user no matter what.

  • Henway

    @Dianeski No, I don’t think the world works that way. In a perfect world yes, but in this world there are mouths to feed and bills to pay. We can’t just write to satisfy “users”, and make them happy, while we aren’t getting compensated. Writing quality content takes time and investment. While I am not 100% for content farms, I am for this: creating fluff content to pay da billz, and support magnetic, high quality content that bring in visitors and building brand authority… OR writing fluff content initially to pay da billz, and using the money earned to eventually improve it. But if you get into the mentality of user first, you’re gonna be bankrupt. It’s NOT users first. It’s pay the bills first. Then satisfy the users so we can pay even more bills.