Content Farms – The Who, What, Where and Why

The name “Content Farm” kind of describes it perfectly. What a strange concept, isn’t it? Or maybe not. Spammers and BlackHat SEOs have been auto generating low quality content for long tail search engine rankings for a while now. The content farm technique arguably takes this a few steps further by creating better quality (note – still questionable quality), user friendly content for the exact same reason.

Essentially certain companies have hired thousands of writers and video content producers to churn out content that is determined algorithmically:

The system starts with an automated process, crunching data and running it through an algorithm to identify story ideas that have the best chance of success. The algorithm factors in audience type, ability to attract advertising and potential for traffic. Source

The whole “Why” of the situation is pretty much easy to decipher. After all, there are over tens of billions of searches every month. That traffic has some serious value, especially for Informational Queries.  After all, more than 80% of searches fall within this category.  It doesn’t really matter if these sites aren’t selling anything, they are monetised either via affiliate links within content or by display ad revenue, selling value by every thousand impressions. Tell me numbers, you say? How much do they really make? At last estimate, one such network reported revenue of  over £$200 million a year. EDIT NOTE: I screwed up the currency quoted. Thanks to Gil for picking up on that.

Quality based content farms aren’t a new concept either. Answers.com and  About.com fit the bill and have been milling the content out for years. And google adsense revenue finances many of these sites. I would also argue the case for Mahalo and MoneySavingExpert being included in the label of content farms . MSE had over 71m  Page Impressions December 2009, while Mahalo averages 15Million unique visitors and over 1Million Adsense Clicks a month.  However, I doubt that the writers / developers of this content are paid anywhere near that in perspective:

Demand pays from $0 (with revenue sharing) to $100 per piece; it averages at $20. Copy editors make $2.50-$3 per piece, which works out to $15-20 an hour. He said these people like to wake up and know there’s work they can do—there are 100k assignments waiting for takers right now—while they wait for old, human editors to respond to pitches. He said they also like being paid twice a week. Kydd said Demand employed 4,500 creators (text and video) and 400 copy editors in the last 30 days. Source

What Do You Think Of These “Content Farms”?

McDonaldisation of Content – Is it a Pretty Picture? Photo Source http://www.flickr.com/photos/seeminglee/611540734/

Boutique content sitesThe rise of content sweatshops like Demand Media will keep putting pressure on content producers who actually offer value. It’s McContent versus the mom and pop diner. Who wins? You make the call (I hope I’m wrong, since I’m the latter). – Ian Lurie, Conversation Marketing in 11 Marketing Trends to Ignore in 2010

So what really scares me? It’s the rise of fast food content that will surely, over time, destroy the mom and pop operations that hand craft their content today. It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, force fed to us by the portals and search engines.Michael Arrington, Techcrunch in The End of HandCrafted Content

…algorithm-aided human writing will meet human-aided algorithmic curation; quality will rise – Jeff Jarvis, via Twitter

I am not sure what stance to take as yet, however I must admit to lean towards Ian and Michael. Niche content has been a great opportunity for small businesses, and these moms and pops stand to lose out to assembly line content.

How To Create Your Own

Ok, don’t take this tongue-in-cheek approach too seriously, but you can build your own content network too at a fraction of the cost. Yo may not have a “Content determination Algo”, but you do have access to a number of free SEO Tools that can help you determine long tail content. At the same time you can get poor / average quality content as well. The example below describes how to put it all together.

(I am running a test using this technique on Sookie Stackhouse Novels)

I want to create a content rich site geared solely for search engine traffic. The site is focussed on Plumbing. Lets take one of my favourites long tail content research tools : Google Suggest

Google Suggest Long Tail Content – Plumbing

Aha! I now have nine possible topics that I should optimise for. So what do I do next? Well I have the list, now I need someone to actually write the content. So I use any of the services that help me do that at a very low cost. Some that I have used are below:

  • Textbroker
  • Mechanical Turk
  • GetaFreeLancer

Typically you can get a 200-400 word article under $4(!). So for 9 articles I would expect to pay around $30-$35.All I need to do now is sit back, wait for the content, approve it and add it to my Plumbing Content site. Of course, as an SEO I know the importance of page titles, URLs, Headings etc, and use all of that to make the content as possible a match to search engine requirements. I havent tried it, but have been reccomended Content Now as a low cost resource as well.

There you go. I have my own long tail research tool, and my own content mill, all on a budget!

Read Write Web have  a series of decent posts on Content Farms:

The posts below are for suggested by Gil Reich, who works at Answers.com:

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