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How Much Content is Too Much?

Every Piece of Content is a Needle in An Ever-Growing Haystack

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As you probably know by now, AOL has purchased The Huffington Post to further bolster its growing content business. HuffPost co-founder Arianna Huffington (now Editor-in-Chief of all AOL Content) said following the announcement, that earlier this year, the company was looking to expand local sections, launch international sections, add more original videos, and additional sections that would "fill in some gaps" in HuffPost’s current offerings. This would include things like cars, music, games, and underserved minority communities. 

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WebProNewsThe Huffington Post produces 300-500 articles per day. Should we consider that a content farm?

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Where have I heard that "filling in the gaps" before? Oh yeah, it was Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt talking about DM’s strategy of filling in the gaps in Google’s index (we believe it’s gone well beyond filling in gaps to over-saturation at this point). 

In fact, that’s not the only parallel one might draw between Demand Media and The Huffington Post. Demand upon filing its IPO a couple weeks ago, also expressed interest in growing internationally. As far as original videos, DM is already the biggest supplier of videos on YouTube. Like HuffPost, Demand is also looking to expand into more and more verticals.  Of course with AOL’s buyout, HuffPost is by default expanding into many more verticals. 

Arianna Huffington Now Running Content at AOL"By combining HuffPost with AOL’s network of sites, thriving video initiative, local focus, and international reach, we know we’ll be creating a company that can have an enormous impact, reaching a global audience on every imaginable platform," Huffington said. "Let’s go down the checklist: Local? AOL’s Patch.com covers 800 towns across America, providing an incredible infrastructure for citizen journalism in time for the 2012 election, and a focus on community and local solutions that have been an integral part of HuffPost’s DNA. Check."

"Original video? AOL’s just finished building a pair of state-of-the-art video studios in New York and LA, and video views on AOL have gone up 400 percent over the last year. Check. More sections? AutoBlog, Music, AOL Latino, Black Voices, etc, etc, etc. fill gaps in HuffPost’s coverage. Add all that to what HuffPost is doing with social, community, mobile, as well as our commitment to innovative original reporting and beyond-left-and-right commentary, and the blending will have a multiplier effect."

In a recent article, I asked, "What if content from one company dominated search results?" Well, what if content from a few select companies did? Is that much better? If DM’s eHow has the how-to genre covered, than AOL/HuffPost surely has current events covered. Search for "justin bieber super bowl commercial", you’ll find The Huffington Post among the top results. Search for "who won super bowl", you’ll find The Huffington Post. Search for ‘jane harman resigns,’ you’ll find the Huffington Post. Search on tech related news topics, you’ll often get TechCrunch or Engadget results. 

Now, let’s be clear. I am in no way comparing AOL’s content to that of Demand Media’s. Clearly there are a lot more quality issues going on with eHow than Engadget, for example. The best result may very well be a TechCrunch article or a Huffington Post article on any given topic. Sometimes, the same might even be said for eHow. 

The problem is simply that we’re bound to see variety in search results dwindle further and further down. What percentage of first page results is going to come from either Demand Media or AOL? Right now, I’d wager that it’s pretty high. Throw in a few others like Yahoo and Examiner, and it’s even higher. In the era when just about everyone has the ability to contribute content to the web, it seems that only a select few get to reap the search traffic benefits. At least for now. That means users are seeing less options (without digging too far). 

We have still yet to see what Google has in store in the way of content farms, but we know that it is indeed "shifting its focus" to these kinds of entities. We know the recent Google algorithm change was not directed at content farms, so the spammy sites with unoriginal content that got hit by that are not what Google considers content farms. Content farms are something else. The phrase "content farm" can cover a lot of different entities depending on who you ask, but the poster child, and the one company whose name comes up nearly every time the phrase is mentioned (including in Google’s top results for the query) is Demand Media. But Rosenblatt says the company is not a content farm. So what is? Associated Content? Suite101? Seed.com? Huffington Post? None of the above? All of the above? 

It’s unlikely Google will single out a company or domain. Blekko has taken this approach, but Google’s Matt Cutts has indicated that Google will not approach the situation with any human editing, but is looking at an algorithmic approach. While the definition of content farm may vary from person to person, Google has actually attached a definition to it, so as far as Google results are concerned, that’s the definition that should be paid most attention to. That definition is: "sites with shallow or low-quality content."

Seems simple enough. This would indicate that as long as Google sticks to its word, and is able to do so, Demand Media, AOL/HuffPost, and any other company churning out content will do just fine as long as they are able to actually churn out quality content. The question is can they continue to do so on a large scale that meets the grand visions that these companies have? Maybe they can, and everyone will benefit. Search engine users shouldn’t have much of a beef with the saturation of search results if the quality is always there, but that may be easier said than done. Quality is in the eye of the beholder though. It will be interesting to see how Google’s idea of quality matches up against users’. Lately, it seems it’s not always matching up so well. It often does, but it often doesn’t. 

As companies are rushing to create ways of filtering out the noise of an ever-increasing amount of content, the search space may become more competitive than it’s been in a long time. Bing is trying its hardest to give Google a run for its money in search market share, but companies like Blekko and DuckDuckGo are bringing different ideas to the table. It’s unlikely that you’ll see either of these achieve Google-like domination of the market, but I do think they represent a bigger picture view of the space, illustrating that that there is room for more ideas based on different concepts. Search is becoming more diversified. Google may dominate the market for the foreseeable future, but people will do more of their searching across multiple properties.  They won’t go to Google for every type of query. 

There still remains tremendous potential for social media in search. We’ve barely scratched the service on where this could go. Facebook could become a much larger player in the space. Google is making moves that could make it a much more effective search engine in terms of using friends to filter out noise. Bing has already begun doing this. Blekko and DuckDuckGo are taking different approaches to filtering out noise. 

Infinite content makes search more important than ever, and it’s entirely possible that there’s just too much for any one search engine to handle effectively – even Google. That doesn’t mean that Google has to give up on its mission of organizing the world’s information. It does mean, however, that users are forced to find the right combination of tools to help them organize their world’s information.

Do you rely on one search engine or a variety of tools to help you cut through the noise? Tell us about your habits

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  • http://www.divorceguide.com laws about divorce

    The main thing that I want to know is, when they say that Arianna will become the editor of AOL media, meaning that she will retain editorial control of HP, is that a lifelong appointment; will she get to choose her successor? As long as she remains in control of the Post, to me it retains its integrity. If the AOL honchos ever take control of the content on HP, then it will just be another part of the MSM.

    As far as the “red tide,” I don’t necessaril

    • Chris Crum

      Good question about whether she’ll be able to choose her successor.

  • Frank P

    For a while, one could consider most of AOL’s content relatively neutral. With Arianna coming in, AOL will shift further to the left. But to the incestuous media, that’s just ‘mainstream’. The irony is how Fox News gets beaten up for biased, yet the rest of the media universe plods along with the left as if that’s the normal state of this country. Poll after poll show that Americans as a whole are right of center; it’s no wonder that networks like MSNBC and CNN see their viewer numbers decline each year. It will be interesting to see what effect this will ultimately have on AOL.
    You can count me as one less ‘viewer’.

  • http://www.arcanasphere.com MrAndrewJ

    At least Demand Media pays their contributors.

    You should look into what the HuffPo pays for cartoons and original articles. I will be severing all ties with AOL and deleting all of their software from my computers. Their willingness to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to a company who paid their workers $0.00 is beyond contemptible.

    If Demand Media is a content farm then the HuffPo is a content plantation.

  • Guest

    So let’s review for a moment what makes a site popular and therefore rank high on Google. From my experience it would be a few important factors. # 1- trust rank and # 2- having the keyword in the url and title . In order to get trust from Google you will need other trusted sites linking to you, and the reason they link to you is because you have great content (according to what we have learned from Matt Cutts).
    In the case of the Huffington Post, the formula is simple, they have a high trust rank, they put out content that is more than 100 words (and this would also apply to most of the other sites that have been mentioned), and they rank for that keyword that is in the url and title, simple.
    When a website has the trust from Google (Huffington Post – Demand Media) the formula for more traffic is more content.
    If I know how this works, so do other sites that already have the ability to churn out content on a massive scale, and the trust to go with it. The real question is what will this do to smaller websites (less than 1,00 pages), that may have great content, but less trust rank than the big boys and girls? Does Google even think that this is a problem?

    • Chris Crum

      That is precisely the question: will the quality content from smaller sites get buried?

      • LBaillie

        “Will quality content from small websites get buried?” It already is…

  • Guest

    Google “How to Renew an Expired Passport” Here’s DM ideal model have multiple sites they own or partner own the first page.

    Search result #1 Ehow/Demand Media
    Search result #2 Ehow/Demand Media
    Search result #6 UsaToday/Demand Media
    Search result #10 Trails/Demand Media

  • http://www.thrive-quickly.com Wendell L Ferrell

    Do you think I have too much content on my website thrive-quickly. com? I was thinking about adding considerably more in order to help my visitors thrive more & more quickly. After all how quick is quick?

  • http://homemade-money-guide.com Sfaith

    I consider eHow, Associated Content, Ezine Articles, Go Articles, etc to be content farms. I don’t understand why they are so trusted by Google.

    When I am researching something online, I deliberately avoid these types of sites as I don’t consider them to be authoritative enough. I often wonder if other searchers are as discriminating about where they get their information from. I think if large numbers of searchers just skipped over them in the search results, they would soon lose their high rankings.

    It is a frightening thought that a handful of companies could effectively control what information is shared online.

    • http://cghearn.com cghearn

      I regularly avoid content farms like the plague. Half the time, it is nothing more than links to other articles or roughly thought through opinions..

    • http://www.brancosolutions.com.au Rodrigo Branco Matsumoto

      I also agree. The best thing we can do definitely is avoid using those websites. They only exist because somebody still accessing them.

    • LBaillie

      “eHow, Associated Content, Ezine Articles, Go Articles, etc…content farms”

      For me content farms are websites that copy /paste content from other sites and have no unique content or have original content of very low value, content-wise and form-wise.

      When I’m researching online, it’s amazing how the tops results all seems to be from these content farms, with the same exact information posted to each site. The top search engine results on Google are getting to be total spam and duplicate content.

      I will add about.com to that list above. The first link I actually click may be well towards the bottom of the page now.

  • StefTM

    Hi,

    I believe the web contents are not too much or too many. The problem is that a lot of these contents are just duplicated or SPAM.

    One month ago I discovered that some people I know in real life used in their website contents I created for another website (they happily copied & pasted my contents). They did not cite the source or the author and let their users believe they created these contents (and in my personal opinion they are not able to create any decent content at all…).

    So… at least be original!!

    I would have nothing to complain about publishing original and self-created contents.

    I think there is not a rule or a perfect definition of “good content” as that depends on “personal taste”. Instead, it seems that the problem is once again more how to protect original contents and ensure the author or at least the “source” is identified and rewarded…

  • http://www.hedgehogdigital.co.uk/ SEO Bedford

    Unfortunately right now there is little Google can do to avoid SERPs domination from these “content farms” it either does like Blekko did and simply erase these “content providers” from its index or come up a more sophisticated algorithm. Right now the content generated by these “farms” despite not being of the highest quality they are written to rank – keyword rich and some links pointing to it.

    Another problem is that some of these so called content farms are Google’s biggest advertisers (Demand Media) so it will be interesting to see if it is in Google’s interest to revamp its algorithm so their content don’t rank high anymore.

  • http://morganservice.net Don Morgan

    I don’t think there can be too much content. I use different search engines to do research and with all the results I get I can glean some useful info out of all of it and confirm by majority if the info is true.

  • http://botanical-journeys-plant-guides.com Sfaith

    I’m getting a little annoyed at how often eHow beats me in the rankings. Especially when tons of eHow authors cite my site as a reference. They don’t link to my site, mind you. They just list it as the place where they got their information.

    This is how eHow has become such an authority. Tons of pages, tons of links in and very few links out.

    They could at least give me a few links in exchange for helping them build their online empire.

    Sorry for the rant, had to get that off my chest.

  • http://www.cinderventures.com Women Divorce

    I am not so sure I would invest in a news company these days… But hey AOL has gotta do something. More of the same content is going to drive me crazy though. Content farms have just gotten out of control, even post-panda. I guess if they can keep it all original, it could certainly be worse.

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