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Demand Media Deletes eHow Articles, Edits Others in Quality Clean-up Initiative

Takes new measures to boost quality post-Panda

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Demand Media Deletes eHow Articles, Edits Others in Quality Clean-up Initiative
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It’s a big day for Demand Media, with that earnings report and all. It will be very interesting to see how the stock goes.

We had the opportunity to chat with Larry Fitzgibbon, Demand Media’s EVP, Media and Operations, and Jeremy Reed, SVP, Content & Editorial ahead of the company’s earnings call and they shared some news beyond the financials with us. They all have to do with increasing the quality of content on the company’s properties (namely eHow).

For one, the company is totally ditching its writers’ compensation program. The shut down of the program was actually announced last year, but today, they announced that they’re shutting it down entirely. Some of the content will get taken down, and some of it will be put back through the Demand Studios editing process. In some cases, Fitzgibbon tells us, writers had solid content, while in others had content that just didn’t “meet the quality bar” on editorial guidelines. This program dates back to shortly after the company first acquired eHow. Much of the content has remained out there in the wild – in search results – not doing much in the way of positively influencing perception about the site’s quality.

The company has been rigorously trying to get that perception up, and while it’s not always immediately clear whether a piece of content came from this program, the perception should indeed be raised, if less-than-stellar content appears less frequently in Google’s search results. The site was of course already hit by the Panda update, and this is no doubt a move aimed at improvements in that area – at least in part. The company would not comment on the Google side of things specifically, but you can put the pieces of the puzzle together.

eHow recently launched a redesign with a new “curation layer” aimed at providing feedback from users to the company so content can be further analyzed in terms of how helpful it is, and then either be removed or put back into the editorial process for improvements. They didn’t have any numbers to reveal, in terms of just how much positive/negative feedback they’re receiving, other than to say, “We’re getting hundreds of thousands of pieces of feedback.” Fitzgibbon did comment that they don’t necessarily look at it as positive/negative, but just useful data and “feedback that is actionable”.

Now, Demand Media’s philosophy is geared more toward making sure the “right people are writing the right content”. This is line with recent partnerships they’ve made and job postings they’ve put out. As previously reported, they have partnership with celebrities like Rachael Ray and Tyra Banks for food and fashion content respectively. We recently looked at a posting calling for qualified business writers.

The company is also looking at new formats for eHow, they tell us. An example would be an interview-style assignment for a writer, which would bring in some expert content without necessarily having to form a partnership like those with Ray and Banks. Think about an interview with a prominent wedding planner to provide tips on the subject.

Over time, perhaps we’ll gain more clarity in terms of how effective these new strategies are. We’ve speculated before that Google’s domain-blocking feature may have contributed to recent declines in search visibility. We’d be very interested to know how this works, when sites take drastic measures to improve quality after that.

Update: On the earnings call, the company announced that eHow has seen a 20% decline in search referral traffic since Panda.

Demand Media Deletes eHow Articles, Edits Others in Quality Clean-up Initiative
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  • Steve Reyes

    Trying to determine where the content is on this page is difficult. What’s next? Interstitials? Self starting Videos and audio?
    Wow

  • http://forexinternationaldesk.com Forex Trade Secrets

    Google Panda update should be welcomed with both hands, if it can clean sweep the web with web sites who buy 1000′s of links only to be found by google, disappointing and wasting a searchers time.

  • Stephanie

    This article mis-stated what actually occurred, and why. The buyout of the eHow library was a business decision to maximize profit. The event needs to placed into historical context to gain better understanding.

    The WCP was grandfathered into Demand Studios following their acquisition of eHow. The eHow site was composed of material written by anyone who wished to write, with a split of advertising revenue between the article writers and the host (eHow). It was unregulated user generated content, or user participation. A minimal, very minimal, editing was employed.

    When Demand Studios purchased eHow they immediately shut down the WCP. Material already published was put through several purges and then left to be. Writers continued to receive revenue. The content varied in quality.

    The change is being touted as a desire to improve the quality of material. However, this is a deceptive perception/spin on the reality of the event.

    This was a business decision motivated by a desire to follow the more profitable business model. The grandfathered WCP program was a profit sharing model. The writers of the large WCP library received perpetual profit sharing on their publications.

    While the terms of the BUYOUT of the WCP library (called the WCP “closure”) varied, generally the buyout offer consisted of approximately four month’s of the author’s share of earnings in exchange for their sale of the ownership of their published material. In other words, take an evergreen article that would earn $240 in one year. Do not take into consideration future decades of revenue on the material. The Demand Media buyout offer was for approximately $50.

    Demand Media is closing their profit sharing business model in exchange for this more lucrative model. While certainly editorial concerns came into play, it needs to be considered that this could have been dealt with simply by a mild web format adjustment which clarified that the grandfathered WCP material was from the original eHow user participation format, not the professional publication format of Demand Studio.

    What happened at Demand Studios in regards to their takeover of ownership of the eHow library was not a quality clean-up initiative, but an abandonment of the original eHow profit sharing business model in favor of the more profitable full ownership model. Attempts to place it in the context of quality clean-up misunderstand reality.

    • http://www.kennyscashblog.com kenny

      Exactly right, it always money, with the sheer amount of traffic e-how demands from search I am sure they themselves couldn’t give a rats ass about quality and are just using these terms as an excuse to steal their writers content. It should have been a 12 month min payout and all authors should have had the option to remove their content from the network.
      Even with a search drop, profits will rise with this new model as paying out writers is over.
      At leaset web 2.0 properties like hubpages offer a real chance of making money on anothers web publishing platform.
      These sites in my opinion should have an instant down rank because any really talented writers and professionals out there would already be working on more lucrative projects, which stands to reason that sites like this are full of amateur writers with big dreams and little understanding of the quality needed for some searches (medical-legal etc) these types of articles should not be ranking above sites with PROFESSIONAL advice, I only wish google had let a bigger panda loose as the change makes little difference to the overall search quality.

      • Kathy

        I used to write for DS, but when they put through their “Writers Development Program”, which stated that writers in this program will be limited to titles they can claim to three and those articles would go through some ‘senior editor’ for purposes of constructive criticism and positive feedback.

        Many writers didn’t get a chance to go through this development process and were let go, with the statement that past writings weren’t up to par. It’s this bogus situation that angers me because at least a show of some business ethics mean something to me I had submitted an article while supposedly going through this WDP, it was sent back for rewrite. I corrected according to the editor’s direction and sent it back. It was rejected because of a typo. I had typed feet instead of inches, something that an editor could have noted, but corrected. The editor said it wasn’t noticed. Anyway, so much for the editing staff.

        They boast of extremely educated and talented, experienced editors that are suppose to do just that..edit.

        My experience with those editors and I’m sure other writers for them would agree, leave much to be desired. My guess is their problems may not be with writers, it’s their editors, who aren’t paid much to begin with and have to work under strict rules and often moonlight as writers. Complaints in their forums from writers often stated their article that was on the eHow site was full of mistakes, with facts and grammar, with changes coming from the editor, not the writer.

        At any rate, for a company, regardless of stocks, making a billion dollars a year, yet pay writers an average of $15 per 400-500 word article, do you really wonder why they may lose in the long run?

        Do you really think they are going to get quailfied writers for the amount they are willing to pay?

    • Janet

      The biggest problem with your scenario is that Demand Media purchased eHow in May, 2006. DMS launched the WCP for eHow after it merged the site with weHow in 2007, and shut down the ability for writers to add new content directly in April, 2010, definitely not immediately after DMS acquired eHow. The content buyout offers went out in May 2010, and every writer can remove his/her own content until May 31, 2010. After that, eHow will remove all content written by writers who don’t accept a buyout offer. The buyout offers vary widely, with many people not receiving an offer at all. Others received offers that were the equivalent of up to 10 months worth of their usual revenue share earnings.

      Is it a business decision? Of course. But the ability to directly edit articles, removing excess keywords and making sure that all content on the site conforms to current formats and standards is at least as important as not having to share the revenues from the articles that stay on the site.

      • Stephanie

        Hmm,

        I went and researched it, and you are correct actually in regards to when Demand Media bought eHow and the WCP. I had not been aware. However, the buyout offer was May 2011, not May 2010.

        I do still assert that the main motivation of the buyout of the eHow library was not editorial control and conformity, but the cessation of the profit sharing business model. The WCP was a different animal from the Demand Studios professional publication platform. It was user participation, which by definition is not professional publication. Demand Studio bought out the eHow library to maximize profit, both to abandon the revenue sharing model, and to convert user participation into professional content.

        Of course I am somewhat unhappy. I just had to delete off material increasing in profit 6% monthly, which would have earned me (not impacted by google changes, the changes INCREASED my revenue) probably $15,000 plus over the next decade, for the ludicrous and insulting total of $550.

        An offer of $550 vs $15,000 expected future revenue, for material increasing 6% in profit monthly, positively affected by google changes. You see my stance.

  • Sue Hamilton

    The eHOW content on the subject material with which I am quite knowledgeable* is absolutely dreadful, bordering on criminally negligent! The authors list virtually NO experience in the areas about which they write, parroting “factoids” from other lousy websites…the classic game of “telephone”…and the editors are as useful as tits on a boar!

    Fess up, from top to bottom it’s all about the money and has nothing to do with accuracy.

    *And don’t suggest that I become an eHOW contributor. You people can’t afford the truth!

  • http://www.gomodern.co.uk/ Jane

    By ‘put back into the editorial process’ I think we mean rewritten (spun) by an in house writer so the original writer gets no credit. Not nice.

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