Content farms are to online media what tabloids are to print. Neither journalism nor advertising, they are a trashy and addictive product, sussing out what we really want in order to give us something we don’t really need—and, in so doing, telling us something important about ourselves.
Annie Lowrey and Angela Tchou, Slate, Content Yawn: What content farms tell us about what we’re interested in.
Slate’s Chris Wilson and Angela Tchou created a bot that logged tags used on stories in Yahoo’s Associated Content. They harvested over a million tags across 250,000 stories.
As we walked among the pens, I saw once-proud Wikipedia articles with their references brutally amputated. I saw a scrawny post about cleaning silverware that was so infested with links that it was hard to tell where the content ended and the URIs began. Incomplete sentences huddled, shivering, waiting for a verb that would never arrive. It was obvious that few of the articles had even been edited, and none had seen the warm, clear light of a style guide.
According to analysis conducted by German Web monitoring company Sistrix, the impacts of Google’s Farmer search algorithm update has been a dust bowl for crummy content cash cows. Though affecting just 12 percent of websites in the U.S., according to Google, the changes have been immediate and blistering.
Among the top 25 spam sites, a traffic decline in the high 70-percent range is not uncommon. Ten sites on the list saw their traffic decline by 90 percent or more once Google closed the tap.
One of the hardest hit sites was Associated Content, which Yahoo bought in May 2010 for $100 million. Traffic to the site is down 93 percent based on data from the Sistrix database, containing 1 Million tracked keywords.
One name that is not on the Sistrix list is Demand Media, a company who many view as the archetypal content farm.
In the race to make money on the web, the intent and thoughtfulness behind content creation has been hijacked. A blogger’s intent to share an experience with her new digital camera has been replaced with the need to produce something, anything to match up to search terms for the purpose of serving ads. The result is higher velocity production of content to keep up with the flow of queries trending on Google. The outcome: hastily produced, low quality pages that are driven by the wrong motives.
When people say “Google is broken,” they’re really saying that Google has been fooled. We expect Google to sift through and separate content that is produced with “pure” motives and content that isn’t. Put differently: we want Google to prioritize and bump us up if we’re behaving like humans. If we’re behaving like machines, we should be punished for it.
Google, the governor of the web’s information, is being asked to get the house in order. We, its constituents, are demanding this icon of technological progress be less technological and more respectful of our own humanity.
Of course, this isn’t Google’s fault. Just as it isn’t the fault of Hostess Cakes to sell highly processed snack foods. When technological advances are introduced, we become enamored with them. Eventually, we awake from the trance and seek out authenticity and purity. We’re growing sick of highly processed, artificially flavored stuff. We want the real deal.
We want more human and less machine.
On the day of Demand Media’s $1.5 Billion Wall Street IPO, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land applies the content farm’s SEO-heavy editorial techniques to the front page of The New York Times.
One of the secrets to Demand Media’s success is paying close attention to what people are searching for and then writing articles to serve to order, especially articles it think will generate lots of ad revenue.
A real New York Times “Demand Media” edition probably wouldn’t have stories about Italy’s government or the Roman Catholic Church’s dispute with a Phoenix hospital. But the stories would probably be slanted toward answering questions, certainly. Indeed, the stories might largely be generated from what people are searching for, rather than what’s happening. Let the queries dictate what news to report!
Of course, that’s not a future I’d like to see. It’s something that gives many people chills, even if it’s already in practice in places like Yahoo News, which closely watches search traffic to determine what to write.In reality, a smart news publication would be doing both news coverage and “answers coverage,” repurposing its existing content into the type of high quality answers that people are really seeking.
The singularity draws nearer as two of the Web’s hottest trends—location-based services and hyperlocal content, merge, with a new tieup between Foursquare and Examiner.com.
In essence, Examiner’s 68,000 contributors, known as “Examiners,” will provide reviews and recommendations on nearby venues, restaurants, events, businesses and landmarks that will surface within the Foursquare mobile app when users following Examiner.com check in. Local tips will also be added when non-followers check-in nearby.
While content farms like Examiner.com flood the Internet with keyword optimized stories of variable quality, Foursquare has been pegged as an acquisition target for group deals sites like Groupon, which could then offer users targeted deals based on their location.