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The End Of Content Mills or Farms?

writers content mill or farmBill Swan sent me a guest post today telling how he’s made a good thing out of writing for content mills. He also sent me a link to an article on ZDNet called Google, content farms and one slippery slope. Larry Dignan wrote it a couple of days ago, sparked by Google’s own blog post, Google vows to work on spam-ridden search.

You know the problem. You plug in a search term and the first unpaid listings are of questionable or no value at all. Instead they are designed only to generate adsense income. Google says:

Just as a reminder, webspam is junk you see in search results when websites try to cheat their way into higher positions in search results or otherwise violate search engine quality guidelines.

The link in that quote points to a complicated, at least to me, description of how Google is trying to use statistics to reduce webspam. I think they’re probably making slow progress. But as Dignan points out, in many cases webspam is in the eye of the beholder. Oh sometimes it’s obvious, but not always. Some of those articles actually have some value.

Google is now targeting content farms – a link called low-quality sites points to a mercifully short and quite technical video on how they are trying to reduce webspam.

The terms “quality content” show up again and again, both on Google’s blog and on any reputable teacher of SEO – it’s simply a must over the long haul.

My hunch is this means we are gradually going to see many of the poor quality content mills or farms go by the wayside because they will cease to make money. At the same time, content farms that understand the business will begin to demand, better content from their writers. This will be accompanied, one hopes, by a raise in pay – slow, and not spectacular, still…

Google also makes it clear it welcomes input from users – that’s us. Their Web Search Help page has a place to ask a question – you can make a suggestion there as well. I know from my own experience that Google answers email when it is polite and well written – at least they answer mine.

What prediction will you make about content mills and farms?

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{ 22 comments… add one }
  • I have grave issues with how these content farms work; that’s why I gave them up and wrote about them at the same time. They look enticing early on, seemingly easy money for a little bit of your time, but then you get sucked up into a writing style that you’d never do on your own. That and the way they try to edit people into basically writing garbage and I was done.

    However, I don’t think they’ll totally go away, and I don’t think Google’s going to do anything about it overall, no matter what they say. Google’s already said that content is the key, and if nothing else those sites end up with tons of content. I may not necessarily like everything I see written, but if Google is suddenly going to be the arbiter of what’s good and accurate then it diminishes their status as a search engine one can rely on without bias, and Bing will suddenly start dominating the marketplace.
    Mitch recently posted..Does Your Profile Or Niche Turn Some People AwayMy Profile

    • The problem as I see it is Google, and other search engines, are pretty much how people find the content they want… sure, good content is necessary, but so is some sort of ranking so people can find you, or me.

  • Zach

    Hasn’t there been a market for boilerplate articles ever since the invention of the printing press?

    Without content mills, who’s going to publish articles about how to program a universal remote, or how to hook up a propane tank? The New York Times?

    As long as there is demand for this sort of content (and there obviously is), what’s so wrong with meeting that demand with supply?

    • Well, yes and no… before the net, before ehow and youtube and google… people asked each other those questions believe it or not, or bought a book if there was one… The Dummies and Idiot guides started I think just before the net took off.

      But note too that YouTube doesn’t pay and you can find out every thing there too.

  • Jessica Mason

    At the same time, content farms that understand the business will begin to demand, better content from their writers. This will be accompanied, one hopes, by a raise in pay – slow, and not spectacular, still…

    I hope you’re right, Anne. I often use the internet for info on how to do stuff and eHow is usually the first result and I always have to wade through all the 500 eHow incarnations of the question to get to some decent advice.

    I love about.com on the other hand. They pay their writers enough that they turn out quality info.

    The bottom line is that good pay for good writing is in everyone’s best interest.

    • Well, if you listen to the strictly pro business side they will tell you good writing for little or no pay is the best way to go. Not all, but some for sure.

  • So often, I see About.com bundled into these content mills threads. That is painful for me to see, since I work for them and worked for years trying to get hired there.

    I do not write for SEO(much to my PV’s detriment). I write about what I love. My articles could be and probably should be optimized for search, but that is a whole new area that I feel uncomfortable with. This is why I am not making a living just working there.

    Why can’t google or whomever we are using to search with, put a filter in so that if we dont want Demand studio or eHow sites, we can just filter that or tick off the boxes so those links dont end up in our search results? Wouldn’t that be a simple solution?
    Amy Jeanroy recently posted..Ginger In The NewsMy Profile

    • Totally agree… I wrote for about.com for years and they are not a content mill… herb gardens… I’ll have to pay attention to that since I do do some gardening.

    • The technology already exists to screen out the mills of your choice, on Blekko. Google needs to get cracking or get left behind.

      And in any case, it raises big questions about the future of mills.
      Carol Tice recently posted..What Freelance Writers Should Really FearMy Profile

    • I write, or is that wrote, for a content mill, Helium.com. They recently demanded that we all write better articles, with no spelling errors, and no grammatical mistakes. But they lowered the already horrid pay rate. They demand research for articles paying the lowly sum of 2, 3 or 5 bucks. Then you must compete with other writers for this seriously low pay.
      Helium is obviously trying to become a better content mill.
      There are now tons of these sites on the Internet; Demand Media, Helium, Squidoo, Best Reviewer, E-how, Yahoo, and Associated Content.

      • One of the problems with the ‘net is there’s no editing. Even when I was an about.com guide we had no editing. It all moves too fast. When you combine that with texting I don’t know where we will end up. But demanding better writing for less pay is a formula that’s unlikely to work. Residual income may tempt some and I’ve made small amounts of money with revenue share, but you’ve got to trust the company.

  • Sarah

    People have been doom and gloom predicting about content farms for well over two years now. It has yet to happen.

    What it actually is: a scare tactic. It’s a way to attempt to scare people who write for content mills that their income may suddenly vanish overnight, which isn’t going to happen.

    Every writer should diversify their money making egg basket, of course. But the doom and gloom tactics are silly.

    • Not sure I agree – seems to me I’ve seen a slight increase in prices and frankly fewer blatant content mills – they are still around for sure, but the landscape seems to be gradually changing.

  • I don’t think content mills will go away over night. They find other search engines and post jobs on them. I’m not sure I’m liking Google’s ‘domination’ or ‘holier than thou’ attitude when it comes to the internet. I’ll stay tuned to this story.
    Rebecca recently posted..Is Black Swan Based on an ArchetypeMy Profile

    • Agree… I know it seemed like suddenly we had content mills spring up, but it wasn’t quite that sudden… they will slowly disappear, evolve, and who knows what.

  • Everybody should hang onto their hats for more on this story…Demand Media’s IPO is finally supposed to go this week. And the clamor to fix Google is only growing…and competitors like Blekko are coming to eat their lunch if they don’t get it together.
    Carol Tice recently posted..3 Reasons Why You’re Not a Top-Earning BloggerMy Profile

    • Yeah, the Demand IPO should be interesting. Looking at Blekko now.

    • With Demand now public I got one question – does this slow down or speed up Google’s “need” to smother content farms?

  • Great minds, Anne! I just posted about this today.

    I predict that before these places go out of business altogether they’re going to lower their pay to their contractors. I know – how can it get any lower? But these guys aren’t going to give up what they think is a great deal. They’ll move on to other search engines, lower the rates they pay, and continue until it’s no longer profitable. Then writers who took these non-writing jobs will be left with a pile of clips that clients don’t want to see and no idea how to move beyond that point in their careers.

    Build now. Actively seek new opportunities with clients whose business models do not include insultingly low payments and loyalty as long as a pencil point.
    Lori recently posted..Content Farms- Is the End NearMy Profile

    • Geeze Lori, and I didn’t get to your blog yesterday… rushing over to read… I don’t understand the definition of news aggregator – HuffingtonPost has a ton of original material based on other reports… and links to others… what’s wrong with that, their point of view? That doesn’t make sense to me.

  • I still have mixed feelings about google. They kind of get to set the agenda when it comes to certain things and technology trends. Hopefully the death of the low quality mills does indeed lead to better pay for the writers who stick around.

    I’ve never liked the ads where they ask for people to rewrite articles to get only SEO hits. I’d say that’s kind of junky content.
    David Gomez recently posted..MSNBC fires Olbermann- Has Comcast-NBC merger claimed its first victim TG DailyMy Profile

    • I was totally pro google until they caved or decided they wanted a two tier ‘net – with wireless probably becoming more expensive as a result… writing the right algorithmic must be quite a trick.

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