May 20, 2013

The Failure of Content Farms

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When content farms like Demand Studios, Suite101 and Associated Content soared in popularity a couple of years ago, they thought they had it all figured out: Pay people abysmal rates to churn out “content” that was little more than keywords strung together to support advertisements. In this model, words are merely a commodity, valued only for their ability to get someone to click on the page, but with no real intent to educate, inform, entertain, inspire or accomplish any of myriad goals good writing is meant to do.

“I was completely aware that I was writing crap,” one former Demand Studios contributor told MediaShift. “I was like, ‘I hope to God people don’t read my advice on how to make gin at home because they’ll probably poison themselves.’ ”

Thankfully, Google fought back by creating an algorithm to bring useful articles to the top of the search results and push down the drivel, making it tougher for content farms to get the pageviews they relied on.

While Demand Studios claimed these changes caused “no material impact,” the company's stock has fallen considerably. Associated Content is no more. And The New York Times Company, former owners of About.com (which relies on a high volume of content, but is debatably categorized as a content farm, given that its articles are vetted and writers paid more than bargain-basement rates), sold the struggling site last year for about $300 million — a huge loss from the $410 million The New York Times Company purchased it for in 2005. Google has made it clear that it will do whatever it can to continue to filter out low-quality sites from its results going forward.

Concepts like content farms will always try to game the system — and some may succeed — but the best opportunities for reaching an audience are still found in providing substance. A few paragraphs whipped up by someone not getting paid enough to spend time actually researching or putting thought into the words published doesn’t cut it.

Mario Medina

Mario is the Creative Director of madison/miles media. He has a wife, two kids, a dog, a fish (but it might be dead — hard to tell) and an unhealthy obsession with Batman.