How I Really Feel about Content Farms

Last week, I read SEOBook’s PeterD’s blog post about Content Farms.  At first, I rushed to comment, to add my two cents, and then I realized…. this was not a pithy 2 sentence comment. This was a  blog post.

What is a content farm?

A content farm is a site that seeks to generate content for the sheer sake of pageviews and numbers of clicks. It doesn’t care about comprehensiveness of coverage, style, writing abilities, or often, accuracy.

Generally speaking, content farms don’t pay much, if anything at all, for their content. And they usually make money based on ad impressions (eHow), or on reselling content to websites that need text (ezine articles).

Some of them have higher moral codes than others. Wikipedia is frought with inaccuracies, but the values behind the site are those of sharing a wealth of knowledge, not about commercialism or income.  Others just crank out articles by the boatload based on search term popularity, like Demand Studios.

Writing for Content Farms – Grey Area?

I’ve written for content farms. Most SEOs have, because it’s an easy form of relevant link-building known as “article marketing.” For free or close to free, we’re willing to write a few paragraphs on a subject in order to get a relevant link back to our target page, right?

I’ve written for Seed, Constant Content, Ezinearticles and Demand Studios, and I still write for Suite101.

I’m not entirely certain Suite 101 qualifies as a content farm – there are editorial standards, writers choose our own topics and do our own SEO analysis, and there is as much emphasis on writing quality and style in the community as there is on getting search traffic. But I’ve heard other folks refer to it as such, so what the heck? I’ll lump it in there too.

I don’t write for these places just for article marketing. At first I did it for SEO training, trial and error at SEO copywriting, and to build a portfolio.  For a while, I did it with the vague hope of making some money at it, but these places pay so little, it’s not worth it – if that’s truly your only motivation.  And sometimes, I’ve written for these places just to test them out. Just to see how their model works, and what I do or don’t like about it.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Most writers hate content farms because they encourage fledglings to accept a pittance for the same work the pros charge premium rates for.

Seed and Constant Content pay the best, but the project buyer can turn down your work and keep looking for others. Meaning you can spend an hour or two on a piece, and have it rejected without any information as to why that was the case.

Demand has a few pay models, but they still don’t amount to very much. And frequently, writers who picked areas they are experts in get saddled with editors who are literaly clueless about their topic. The editorial process is frustrating and time consuming, meaning that writers are spending even more of their valuable time on a pittance.

Suite 101 can pay out. For prolific writers, and writers who focus on hot and high-bid topics, it can pay very well. For me, not so much. It’s enough money for me to get someone to mow my lawn regularly and pay for a creative writing course online.   I also write about bizarre topics and shoot for the long tail. So sue me.

Why SEOs hate content farms

Mainly, because they are cheap competition. Coming up against a content farm in the SERPs feels like it would if I had to compete in a wet T-shirt competition to win a new job.  Demeaning, sleazy, and I’m so much more qualifed than juggs over there….  While we focus on a positive user experience, and having great content and a solid architecture, content farms just rely on sheer volume.

SEO and Gambling on Content

Last night, I had a wacky dream where there were three web content strategists competing on some sort of game show.  They had to pick titles of content and see who could get the most valuable content portfolio, but all they could see were Jeopardy-like 2-word titles.

They were gambling and guessing their way through content strategy. And the winner took home the pot because of one factor alone: luck.

I woke up scribbling a post-it note to myself to write about gambling on content. Because unless you’re doing keyword research, looking at insights and trends, and watching your own analytics to see what your visitors are looking for, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Taking a shot in the dark, and hoping something sticks.

Me, I am not so much of a gambler. In fact, I don’t even play the lottery because I prefer to have a dollar in my pocket than dream about lightning striking someday.

Web content costs money. Whether it’s in resource time to write and edit it, or freelancer hours to translate it, or the time and money to negotiate using someone else’s content. Why would you fritter that away on the hopes that luck will win out and you’ll have what people are searching for?