Google Declares War On Content Farms, What's Demand Media To Do?

from the the-markets-are-changing dept

Today we have a guest post from Chas Edwards, Chief Revenue Officer at Pixazza, who's been thinking quite a lot about various content-related business models lately, and wrote the following in response to the recent news of Google's algorithm change

Recently, Google announced changes to the PageRank algorithm that will affect nearly 12% of search results. According to their post at Google’s blog, Matt Cutts and Amit Singhal say the changes are “designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites — sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.”

Presumably this will have an enormous effect on content farms such as Demand Media and Yahoo’s Associated Content. So what’s a content farmer to do?

A few days ago I wrote a post expressing my hope that content farms might grow up into something useful and generally less sucky. Maybe I’ve been reading too many happy-ending fairytales to my daughters. But when I pull back from the actual content from Demand or Associated that makes its way to my search results (which is usually quite bad), I see a platform — and platforms, theoretically, are things on which you can build something lame or something good. If the content farmers help individuals with knowledge find questions (search queries) that need answers (topics too niche for large or mid-sized publishers to cover), it seems plausible that some individuals might create useful content.

My argument, though, misses at least two important points, which Glenn Fleishman and Jeff Jarvis helped me think through.

From BuzzMachine:

“Why do people write on Huffington Post? Because they can. Because they give a shit. Because they like the attention and conversation. Because they couldn’t before. Why do they sing their songs on YouTube? Same reasons.”

Jarvis’s argument is: When we’re doing work, we expect to get paid. When we’re doing something for the love of it, we’re motivated by passion and the opportunity to be heard. When we’re doing it for love, in other words, we often create value for free. Quality content is traded for distribution to an audience and for a chance be an authority.

In a Twitter exchange with Glenn Fleishman, he said “The more you spend, the better content you get, up to a point.” His site, Wi-Fi Net News, was one of the first 10 sites that teamed up with Federated Media back in 2005. So my question back to him was: “But what about WFNN in the early days when the money wasn’t great but the content was?”

Glenn Fleishman tweet

Aha. It’s about ownership. Glenn is specifically referring to IP ownership (his words, his URL, his business), but there’s a different kind of ownership too — one that Jarvis is getting at. I’m willing to contribute (to the best of my abilities) good content, free of charge, to Twitter, Quora or the Huffington Post even though I don’t own the IP or the business. I’m willing to do that because I do get to own the authority. Those platforms publish my by-line, picture and bio, so if someone out there thinks I’m smart or funny, I own that goodness. I’m not making money, but I get credit. I work hard to create value because, if I’m successful, that content distributed on those platforms polishes my brand and my reputation.

Even if Demand Media keeps most of the money they’re making from their websites, they might dodge the Google bullet if they can improve content quality by giving their contributors a sense of ownership over what they create. And then they marry the handsome prince!



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    kindslon, Feb 28th, 2011 @ 5:21pm

    Get the point

    I agree with Google's approach. Stop farming the content. Create your own. The content that is good and relevant will be "farmed" by the search engine and presented to you without any 3rd party which tries to spam you with tons of extra ads. Eliminating such extra layer is appreciated, good job, Google!

     

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  2.  
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    David Sarokin, Feb 28th, 2011 @ 6:12pm

    Chas...you're missing the point.

    You seem to have given this a lot of thought, but I'm not sure you're quite up-to-date on what's been happening. Google's algorithm hasn't hurt Demand. It actually improved the overall ranking of their key property, eHow.

    Why? Because Google eliminated much of the crappy results, which gave more prominence to the good-quality work from...guess where?...eHow!

    That's right. You may not like their material, or -- as I suspect -- you just may not be very familiar with it.

    But as one of their freelancers, I can tell you that Demand puts a high premium on well-researched, well-written content. Why so many talking heads have this knee-jerk reaction about Demand producing low-quality material is a real mystery. Go read 10 or 20 eHows at random, and then tell us what you think.

    Hope to hear back from you with a more informed and informative point of view.

    David

     

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  3.  
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    scram, Feb 28th, 2011 @ 6:14pm

    Re: Chas...you're missing the point.

    Nobody likes you. Please go away.


    When I look up sail boat racing, I dont want to read a world champion bsers guide to sail boat racing on ehow. I want bob the boat builders blog.

     

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  4.  
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    kindslon, Feb 28th, 2011 @ 6:36pm

    Re: Re: Chas...you're missing the point.

    Scram. No one is trying to rid you of bob the boat builder blog. They try to get you there faster than before, without hundred of intermediate pages trying to sell you some random boats.

     

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  5.  
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    RD, Feb 28th, 2011 @ 6:43pm

    Re: Chas...you're missing the point.

    "Go read 10 or 20 eHows at random, and then tell us what you think.

    eHows?? EHOWS??? AAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    you ARE kidding, right? that is just about the single most WORTHLESS site on the entire internet. they pollute EVERY search with their "how to" crap and EVERY single one of them is like this:

    How to get a safe deposit box:

    1) go to a bank
    2) apply for a safe deposit box
    3) use safe deposit box
    4) dont give your safe deposit box key to anyone

    and its ENDLESS, mindless, OBVIOUS garbage like this EVERY damn time. STOP POLLUTING MY SEARCHES WITH CRAP THAT DOESNT ADD A SINGLE THING TO LIFE ON EARTH!

    Thank you.

     

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  6.  
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    kindslon, Feb 28th, 2011 @ 6:54pm

    Re: Re: Chas...you're missing the point.

    oh smokes, RD. are they so bad there at ehow? never dug there. but you are distracting the conversation from its point, which was Google's new algo, remember? try to focus on the point, will you? this discussion will turn totally useless otherwise.

     

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  7.  
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    david sarokin, Feb 28th, 2011 @ 7:09pm

    Re: Re: Chas...you're missing the point.

    Here's one of my eHows:

    http://www.ehow.com/how_2254361_make-money-internet.html
    How to Make Money on the Internet

    It's not so bad. Really. You'd be hard-pressed to find an eHow article that looks anything like your safe deposit box example.

    If you do come across one, perhaps you can post it here so we can have a look. Thanks.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2011 @ 7:40pm

    Re: Chas...you're missing the point.

    "Because Google eliminated much of the crappy results, which gave more prominence to the good-quality work from...guess where?...eHow!"

    Aw, what a pity that when they asked I told google to never ever show me ehow results, I'll never know what good-quality work I'm missing.

    Unfortunately, because I'll never know about the good quality stuff, I'll just remember the crap and smile to myself anytime I do a search knowing with certainty that while I will get crappy results sometimes at least none of them will be ehow crap.

     

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  9.  
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    reader, Feb 28th, 2011 @ 8:26pm

    Fleishman is patently annoying, he somehow believes he provides value by providing a weekly list of updated Mac apps, and pedestrian "overviews" on how to use Safari and iTunes, and the exact same observations about "Mac culture" that Jon Gruber does (equally annoying).

    Even his tagline is saccharine and overly cute "Apple news for the rest of us" Guess what Glenn? I hardly put myself in the same group as you, despite loving my triple-boot Macbook. Fleishman's a self-promoting tool, who actually provides almost no value.

     

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  10.  
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    zipgoods, Feb 28th, 2011 @ 8:26pm

    ah

    how?

     

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  11.  
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    Black, Feb 28th, 2011 @ 9:32pm

    Re: Re: Chas...you're missing the point.

    Yeah that's absolutely right! eHow is crappier than other websites. Go read some articles on websites like Buzzle or Associates, and then some eHow. Match the creativity, and the style of putting through the info. Well, speaking of content, eHow does the same shit what other websites do, that is getting info from other original websites. But then if websites like Associates and Buzzle and others are on the list, then why not eHow. Thumbs down to Google. Guess won't be working with it anymore.

     

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  12.  
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    opit (profile), Feb 28th, 2011 @ 10:23pm

    Working with Google

    Time was when bloggers used human assisted search. These days that means online communities like Facebook.
    There's still a lot of fragmentation, even without allowing for the darkweb - or Java. I expect many have no real concept of how to Search until they hit YouTube.
    Dogpile or Info.com aggregate more returns than plain Google anyway, and when I use DeepSearch I get returns from my Diigo library plus other assorted info.
    Time was blogging was about where to find good content. Wikis, Twitter and RSS have only added more fuel to the fire.

     

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  13.  
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    fairuse (profile), Feb 28th, 2011 @ 10:43pm

    Seek and you will find

    The search engine finds Stuff. Stuff is made attractive by people.
    If it isshiny to the search engine's eye it is important.
    Much work is done to make search engine fall in love with important:

    1. content is not important to search engine; waste product.

    2. people need to fit search engine with new reading glasses now and then.
    content colors them rose.

    3. if [find stuff] was easy a search engine would not be necessary.
    And as a by product no spam content that looks like important content.

    4. There is always a photo google find unix

    { it is search and no amount of wishful thinking will make it telepathic }

     

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  14.  
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    fairuse (profile), Feb 28th, 2011 @ 10:58pm

    Re: Working with Google

    My simple guess based on "nothing but working help forums since 19xx" --
    80% of the people who want "stuff" do not know to use any search
    more complicated than typing the word stuff and clicking an icon. ;-)

     

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  15.  
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    Not an electronic Rodent, Mar 1st, 2011 @ 4:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Chas...you're missing the point.

    The mind boggles. I'm rather hoping these were meant to be sarcastic because if these are instructions that people genuinely need then more people than I thought probably shouldn't be out in public without help.

    You've also got to wonder then at the specialism of a society where operating a computer to *find* the article is fine, but boiling water without said instructions is beyond you..... :-)

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Paul Keating, Mar 1st, 2011 @ 5:03am

    Busman's holiday

    This reminds of classes in business school in the 80's (dating myself). The issue then was finding key motivators - money being a short-term motivator at best because very shortly after we get a raise we feel we deserved it. Once we feel it is deserved, the motivation is lost. When people love what they do, they are truly motivated. The concept of the busman's holiday was the concept that a bus driver who truly loved his work would really "want" to drive his bus even on his day off.

    The quoted reason as to why people contribute free content is exactly that - they want to and their emotional desire is sufficient reward for them to perform the task.

     

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  17.  
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    Hay, Mar 1st, 2011 @ 6:52am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Chas...you're missing the point.

    I would agree with Anonymous and Black that a lot of eHow's content is in fact "crappy" to read and it's definitely not enjoyable. But that's also not what Demand is going for, they want to solve every search you may take with content. Is that going to net out in good results all the time? No. There are clearly topics where an expert or even a bit of character is needed, your sailing example is perfect, but how do you solve for when it doesn't require personality? Do you really want Pogue writing "How to put batteries into a TI82 calculator"?

    It puts Google in a tough spot, while the eHow does a great job of answering questions for things we don't really care about the writing quality of, how do you handle when they don't provide a "quality" answer to something that people are passionate about? Perhaps taking cues from Social will eventually be the solution. How many of your friends have ever shared an eHow article?

     

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  18.  
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    Sean T Henry (profile), Mar 1st, 2011 @ 8:17am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Chas...you're missing the point.

    I'm pretty sure all of those were written by high school students who had to create a how to for class then they just pasted it to ehow.

     

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  19.  
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    Sean T Henry (profile), Mar 1st, 2011 @ 8:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Chas...you're missing the point.

    One thing that I miss was the google down/up vote pages. I'm not sure that was its name but if you had a junk result you could just delete it or if page 2 had exactly what you wanted you could up vote it sending it to the top of your searches.

    If they brought back the down/up vote and added a feature to "stack" pages that would be wonderful. If you do a search for something and the first three results are the same you could stack them so it will only show the original page but allow you to see those who copied it.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Sam, Mar 4th, 2011 @ 7:48am

    Sorry, but I don't get it

    Sorry, but I don't really get the concept of content farms. How can you tell if a site is a content farm? I know Demand Media provides content farms, but does the tag 'content farm' apply to Mashable?
    How can Google see if the content is good enough? Like for instance, if you are Indonesian (no offence) and you write an article, but with easy words, is that regarded as bad content?

    Thanks in advance

     

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  21.  
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    lrobbo (profile), Jun 8th, 2012 @ 2:33pm

    Google still loving ehow and punishing the sites where the $10 work at home mum types steal the content from. Another case of a big huge FU Google!

     

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