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.

On Link Building

One of the most challenging parts of Search Engine Optimization is getting inbound links back to the websites we’re optimizing. Google wants links to happen naturally, yet still encourages us to link build by consistently rewarding the sites with more links with higher placement.

So, how do we encourage natural links back to our sites without resorting to black or grey hat techniques? Without buying them? Without link exchanges?  We get creative and we work hard, that’s how.

Step 1:  Create and Sustain Quality Content

Once you have quality content, and you’re updating it on a regular basis, you’re done, right? Nope. This is just step one. Creating “link-bait” or pages that inspire bloggers to link back to you is the basic “if you build it they will come” strategy for links. And ghosts of baseball players don’t blog.  Sorry.

That being said, if you have nothing of value available, then link building is for naught.  So the better phrase to describe this strategy is: if you build it, you, and everyone else, will have something worthwhile to link to.

Step 2:  Join the Discussion

This is where the hard work comes in. This is where hours of what looks like “socializing” online create valuable links.  follow bloggers who talk about your topics. Not all of them, just the really stellar ones.  Comment on their work, regularly, with insight and care, and become a member of their little “in crowd”. Then, when they talk about something and you have something relevant to add, email them with your link.

  • Reintroduce yourself “I’ve been reading your blog for months, and I love the way you write about this topic. I log in as “Dude1234″ when I make comments.”
  • Introduce which post you’re talking about “In your latest post, you talked about this, and it happens to be my area of expertise. Here’s my website, and the specific page that will provide some insight. “
  • Offer something “I don’t know if you’re interested, but I’d happy to sit in for an interview with you about this topic to clarify it for your readers.”

This blogger may or may not link to you right away, but you’re a member of their community, and eventually they will use you as a linkable source for information.

Forums are the same way – show yourself to be a member of the community, and only link to your personal website in your profile and signature lines of your posts, never in the body of your posts.   Yes, this seems like a sideways approach, but this is what natural links are all about. Getting the name out there, without being pushy or acting like a spammer.

Step 3:  Give Stuff Away

The next step is a lot less subtle.  Just approach bloggers with a gift. A contest they can run on their blog with a prize at the end (I see this with food bloggers all of the time).   A PDF of valuable information if they sign up for a newsletter.  A freebie of your product to review. Or better yet, if you run a local brick and mortar business, you might want to consider hosting a blogger event.

Please Note: Do not ship out free review samples of your Evergreen Scented Dishwashing Liquid to every blogger you can find online.  Research, people! Research!  Find the bloggers who would be likely to review that kind of product on their blog, and be sure that they are willing to do product reviews.  Read several entries of their work, and ensure that they are relevant, well spoken, and that there are people reading and commenting on their blog.

I’ve focused this article on bloggers, but it works with other online journalists as well. Article content can be tricky to come up with on a regular basis, and offering a free interview or product is often a welcome way to break the ice.