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Content marketer or content farm? Check the approach.

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about content farms, the low-rent district for content marketing. Google has avowed a crackdown on content farming, threatening to lower their rankings in search results. In case you don’t think content farms can have much effect on search results, you should know that just one company many claim to run a content farm, Demand Media, is said to publish one million new pages each month. But what are content farms and what are they doing that is so wrong?

Some content farms “create” scads of content, mostly by lifting it from somewhere else. They don’t copy entire articles, just a paragraph here and a sentence there, stitched togtether just enough that it is semi-readable and semi-original. Google reserves a special level of ire for this faux content that exists just to hijack searchers from what they were really looking for. Nobody can easily defend these tricksters stealing content from others and passing it off as their own.

The Very Best of The Farm

Image via Wikipedia

But many content farms, Demand Media among them, claim that these accusations paint with a broad brush, and that they do not steal any content, instead paying writers (small amounts) to create truly original content. While most forms of spam are relatively easy to identify, in some ways Demand Media is doing the same things that other content marketers do. Content farms are creating content to be attractive to search engines, just like any reasonable SEO marketer or content marketer. It’s these operations that say they are not copying content that pose a more interesting question–what’s the difference between these content farms and legitimate content marketers.

To me, it is in the approach. Content farms are much more about quantity than quality. Hack writers are paid minuscule amounts to churn out page after page of low-quality content filled with search keywords, all to rank highly in search results. I don’t know whether that description fits Demand Media or any of the other content farms that Google might be cracking down on, but it’s telling that a subjective measure of quality is sometimes the only thing that stands in the way of being dubbed a content farm when you think you are a content marketer.

So let’s look at our content farm checklist. Oodles of content. Check. Low-paid writers. Check. High search rankings. Check. So the biggest content farm of all time is…Wikipedia? Nope. It’s all about the approach. Wikipedia, which pays its writers nothing, is all about high quality standards. Searchers actually are happy to get a Wikipedia page. Some seek them out. The difference is all about content quality.

Wikipedia is trying to maintain enduring, authoritative content that satisfy searcher needs. As I’ve written before, if your attitude is that you are willing to do anything to attract those Google searcher clicks, eventually your technique will stop working. Unless what you are doing also works for searchers and for search engines, eventually the search engines will shut it down, as Google is trying to do with content farms.

So what about newcomers such as Qwiki? It has nicely crafted slide shows with a computerized voice reading perhaps not the best content about loads of subjects. The productions values are high but the content itself might not be the most informative. I’d say the jury is out on this one. Let’s see if people like the content, because that is the only real distinction between a content farm and a legitimate content marketer—so long as no one’s material is being stolen.

Content farms benefit only the SEO marketer, not search engines or searchers, while truly quality content marketing benefit everyone. As you make your content marketing plans, it pays to notice the difference.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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