The Real Problem With Content Farms is Google

It should be scary when Google can make much of your revenue stream disappear overnight!

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The business of content farms like Demand Media is creating content in the form of articles and videos that search engines will crawl and feature prominently in the long tail of search results. Demand Media and all content farms’ Achilles’ heel is that much of their Internet traffic and revenue relies on Google. With Demand Media this is a subject that many investors are concerned about because they are about to launch their IPO. 

What should be scary for Demand Media and content farms in general is the notion that Google could turn off or drastically turn down the traffic spigot at any moment. Over the years, all website owners held their collective breath upon every Google update of its algorithm, hoping their site would be favored. We have all heard stories of sites that have disappeared from the top Google results for their keywords or have even been removed from the index entirely. This happened to tens of thousands of harmless Internet directories a couple of years ago.

Could content farms be next? And what Google does the other search engines tend to follow, which makes content farms highly reliant on the good favor of Google. A very scary business model indeed!

Could Google possibly make changes to its algorithm that will slow down or even shut down content farm traffic? Well, Google answered this question with an affirmative just last month. At PubCon, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, said, "There is a debate going on internally at Google over whether they should consider content farms web spam." The key is how Google would determine what a content farm is. Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt says a lot of people think their content is auto-generated. "That’s just wrong," he says.

So if it is not "auto-generated content," is it still a content farm?

Interestingly, there have been article submission sites around the Internet for years. The first email newsletter to power itself from article submissions was InternetDay back in 1997. Since then hundreds of article submission sites have launched with some becoming hugely successful companies such as EzineArticles.com.

In recent years there have been many other ventures launched based on the content farm strategy, such as AOL’s Seed.com and Yahoo’s Contributor Network. Barry Diller is also reported to be starting a new content farm called The Writers Network. With all of these big players in the content farm business it may be hard for Google to crack down. Also, since Google makes hundreds of millions of dollars on AdSense from content farms, does this protect them from losing Google traffic?

One thing is certain: the future of content farms depends on Google.  What are your thoughts?

The Real Problem With Content Farms is Google
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  • Guest

    This is why Google is a joke. Why not let the algorithm take care of itself and let sites land where they land? – “Everything can be solved with the algorithm” Those were your exact comments Sergey at the SES roundatable in 2000 or did you forget?

    Now google targets websites and domains imposing double standards on everything they do.

    I suggest demandmedia become a big adwords supporter. The sites with big adwords budgets seem to stay on top in organic.

  • Guest

    Close down such sites or at least let Google ignore them. All rubbish and only moneymakers. After linkfarms nowadays content farms represent the dirt of the internet.

  • http://www.finder.co.uk Martin

    In the hotel sector sites I used to see in the search results and found very useful have seemingly disappeared from Google, to be replaced with a Google map and links direct to the hotel’s own site. Sorry Google, that is not what many of us want. We want the directory sites that list all the hotels and have some sort of amenity search mechanism so we can isolate out hotels with parking, or restaurants or a swimming pool etc. We are being told that the new search is better for the public. Well it isn’t it is worse. It is, I assume, better for Google. Like the man says forget the fancy stuff and get back to the algorithm and useful search results.

  • Guest

    some timely thoughts ….

    we need more search engine start up competition – Goog has a practical monopoly and has gone corp ugly

    we need to look at creative ways to help sites build other funnels – funnels that fit a real business model and do not evaporate in one day’s algorithm change as their latest roll out hurt brick and mortar local service business with specialty sites that were of value to local users and valid –

    Goog over reacted with untested policy and rules in Places

    Goog opened the door for other SE”s with the 3 oack / 7 pack / Places fiasco

    it may be the best worst thing to ever happen to us

    it is time to move beyond Google – they can not be depended on for fair, rationale non competitive decisions and policy as they monitor, stat, evaluate, target your hard earned app and market and shut you out of their system and go for your business – not a good partner business model – again time to move to something else

    any ideas out there?

    • Supreme

      The problem with Google is its users – you are a gluten for punishment.

      Its time for a Google boycott!

      • Guest

        that was exactly what I was seeing.

        if we all just jump every time they say too then they get the idea it’s business as usual for them – if we start a serious accurate professional backlash protest – expose them for what they are really doing – educate the public at street business level – show them alternatives – the same way us street level designers and support persons helped to build Google over the last 10 years – THEY DID NOT GET TO WHERE THEY ARE WITHOUT THE 100’S of thousands of street level support businesses, designers, SEO and web service persons and company’s helping to promote them and their “tools” so it is time we said enough and fought back in an intelligent and professional manner.

        what is the battle cry?

  • http://www.fareastsails.com Guest

    Content farms and superficial web pages to draw traffic and alter the workings of an algorithm is a waste of effective business time which should be devoted to make better products more efficiently.

    Google needs a lot more competition. Internet users need clean searches on products not dozens of pages about 1 company.

    Any advertiser paying for position should also be able move back a negative page should some
    one write one. Any maker of great algorithms should undertand a basic bell shaped curve and undertand that 2 percent of your customer will hate you and 2 percent will think you are god.

    Nevertheless, Google takes a bad web page and trashes paying customers – go figure.

    Anyway – the market is ready for a new Google and new MicroSoft – both forget their customers.

  • http://worldenterprisevideos.com John Willman

    Google has and will constantly evolve. Those of you whose businesses are effected positively will think Google is doing a good job, and logically the opposite is true. But the time is over for additional search engines to magically appear in a result of a search when you’re not looking for another search engine. Most people want direct results, and for that Bing has answered the call early. If they please most of the people most of the time they’re on the right track, if not, then they’ll change. Searchers are even now quite aware of the paid placements and are avoiding them like the plague. People are becoming a bit more educated and for that your service must improve or it’s lost like trying to charge for free information like a lot of the bankrupt early web businesses tried to do.

  • http://www.Gorilla-In-a3PieceSuit.info Terry Clark

    Yes, we should have seen it coming years ago when advertiser’s were losing their google accounts (adwords, adsense) for no reason and without warning or an explanation. If you made a million dollars today with adwords or adsense even if it was on the up-and-up… And you did everything google wanted according to their policy, they still would claim you did something crooked and cancel your account before you can blink.

    Even worst, you won’t get that million dollars you’ve made that’s sitting in your google adwords or adsense account. You can try to sue, if you can stand to go toe-to-toe with them and have some very deep pockets. But I don’t see that happening, you’ll be tide up in so much red tape before you see a cent of that money!!!

    Google (a.k.a Juggernaut) isn’t the mild manner company any more now; It’s a “Gargoyle” without mercy or pity.

    Yes, we made a monster by giving google everything they wanted “Billions”…they are all filthy rich men 20 times over… And how do they repay us back; Can you say, “Google Slaps” or they maybe should’ve called it “Google Pimp Slap” – I woud have known where they were coming from at least. Did we get the memo years ago? Google has a different agenda, their doing whatever they dame well please…And it’s nothing you can do about it!!!

    Note to all advertisers: If you think google is the only game in town, than think again – Can you say “FacebooK” – this is one company google fears the most and can’t buy; Oh they attempted, but without success the owner of Facebook isn’t selling and to make matters worst Facebook has cheap “Adsense” this has got google shaking in it’s boots.

    I know we all put our faith in Google and spent 100s… if not, 1000s with them, but in some point in time we have to cut our ties and move on. Are you going to just sit there and wait and see what Google if going to do again? They already made their move…We have to make ours, it’s that simple!!!

  • http://www.bruceclay.com Bruce

    If you dump a zillion pages onto the internet that are written by non-experts about a topic they are not passionate about and where the author is unknown to the community the article addresses, these pages – while content – will not be liked. Yes, you can artificially create links to these pages, but likes will become the measurement of success, especially if liked by recognized experts. Much like PageRank was meant to be all along

    • Rich Ord

      Hi Bruce — Thanks for commenting. Do you think article factories like Demand Media which pay people mildly and the hundreds of free article submission sites will all be penalized by Google eventually? If it’s just based on likes, thousand of keywords (on niche topics) will still be free for content farms to dominate. The paper by the college professor or the expert blog on a niche topic will still be buried unless they are savvy with social media.


      Rich Ord
      CEO, iEntry, Inc.
      Publisher of WebProNews

  • http://www.giorgioshouse.com Ana

    If you search on Google now the first 3 results are from Adwords. The next 12 are from Google Map (which I guess in a while it will cost a lot) and then finally the “real” web results. I don’t believe to much to the Google “Alghoritm” I mean…If you pay more, you get more.

  • Guest

    As a full time writer for Demand Studios, I can honestly say that the majority of content we produce is helpful, constructive and well written. When I think of content farms I think of sites I see daily, in looking for research sources, that appear to have been written by English as a Second, third or fourth language writers who do not understand English syntax at all. They are awkward, filled with repetitive phrases and offer little or no information. Each article I write is submitted to a copy editor and either approved, sent back for rewrite, or rejected. WE strive to provide quality content. I think Google would be foolish to make a move on DS as we are the leading source for how-to info and host a ton of Google ads, which they get paid for last I checked.

  • http://priorityresults.com/blog/author/jlarranaga/ Jlarranaga

    How do you really define a content farm in the first place? Is it by the quantity or quality of the content?

    And who decides quality better than user herself? If the content is good people return to it and if the content is spammy, they won’t. I like the suggestion above by Terry Clark — the Facebook Like button is already creating a rating system for content.

    The best search engines are humans, right?

    • Guest

      You know EXACTLY what a content farm is. Every one does.
      I am very tired of people in this industry playing the semantics game.
      What ever happened to honesty?

      • Guest

        Now, that’s the problem, isn’t it? It’s too easy for people to invent pejorative terms and shout them out in a debate:

        “Why, that website is merely a MFA website!”

        “Why, that blog is nothing but a spamblog/splog!”

        “Why, that website is nothing but a Content Farm!”

        “Why that Google is getting too big for its boots and might need the type of reality check that Ma Bell got in 1984…”

  • http://www.sherwoodpainting.com Mike

    The real problem with content farms is they were created to work with the aloghoritms that Google use as the largest search engine. Content farms will just have to adjust their content and way of being optimized to comply with any new realities that Google may impose on them.

  • http://mlmwatchdog.com Rod

    They spent too much time competing with each other and not staying focused on producing quality content so they satisfy searchers. They need a Watchdog and if it is not Google being the bad guy the other search engines will step end because of lousy search results. They aggravate me when I am on a serious search.

  • http://www.patantconsult.com/ Carla Lendor

    Google is all about money so it this certainly makesl little business sense given that millions of these pages are part of the adsense programs. There are many so called content farms with greaat content in much the same way there exist big name sites with fluffy contentj case in point this article (lacks depth) so don’t be so quick knock back the ‘content farms’. At the end of the day the average user has more to lose if such a decision takes effect. If this is all about the user then let them decide what is great content vs lousy content. As it is the big guins dominate the SEs irrespective of whether or not they have great content.

  • http://reliable-seoservices.com/ Reliable

    I am really concerned after reading the articles. What will be the future of content farm or top article directories ? Before marking them as web-spam, Google should consider a lot or should initiate a public debate. Millions of people interest is anyway depend upon Google so G should take any step very carefully.

  • downtownjed

    ,Are you ready for this? Contrary to popular belief, your META Keywords tag is ignored by Googlebot. Google finds their own keywords and doesnt rely on what YOU want google to see. Secondly, Google looks for Links to and from your site. They want to see your site pointing to quality websites and they want to see HUNDREDS of QUALITY websites pointing back to you. This is one area where SEO systems can’t help you with at all. Thirdly, you have to put these together: QUALITY content that actually ANSWERS questions and QUALITY backlinks get you ranked. That’s it. Pump out garbage content and you have garbage results and bite the hand that’s been feeding you. Smart, real smart.

    42% of searchers click on the number 1 result from Google. 27% on the second result. 80% will click on the top seven results, leaving only 20% for the thousands of us who are struggling to get to the top 7, NOT TOP TEN people! YO! I improved my content and I got backlinks over time to one page of my site and I am in the top seven, but still not making the cash yet.
    There really is no “problem” with google. Google’s algorithm is desigeed to search their database of “indexed” sites to find “the best” and closest match to your search query. There are thousands of new websites appearing every month and because some freak decided to sell his article, blog, create a site “system” there are now thousands of articles and blog entries per day that the “monster” google really wants to search and index and put in the top ten. But googlebot, the web crawling spider, can only do so much on one day. And only 10 results fit on a page.

    Now this Demand Writing thing wants to go public. DID YOU CATCH THE I.P.O. THING OR NOT? IPO stands for Initial Public Offering and means that when it goes public, they start trading on a stock exchange, they will have millions of dollars to spend on advertising and building their “Content” generator into a monster, devouring all our small businesses and stuffing their pockets with cash, laughing at all you misinformed, newbie user types to wallow in your poverty.

  • http://blogg.idg.se/sokoptimering/ Sokoptimering

    Google cannot change its algorithms overnight and they won’t. Every major change must be made over a significant period of time to keep the balance in shape. Google must care about its users and people that are dependent on it. It is a ecosystem and sudden chaos won’t help any party. But we can all agree that content farms are exploited to the maximum and what value do they add. How many users are willing to browse through millions of crappy articles that are only published for SEO gains.

  • http://freelancewritingnet.com WritingExpert

    It is glaringly obvious that because of Google’s monopoly, content farming will eventually be relegated to the proverbial cyber dumping heap. I am in agreement with one of the writers above for an alternative to Google. Why must everything be about them and not take into consideration people and other website owners who go to extremes to ensure that their content is relevant, fresh and informative. Hands off Demand Studios, because they are providing an honest income to many a freelance writer.

  • Looking Confident

    It is in Google’s ‘interest’ to index ALL such content, as Google (itself) will then, only be A PART of the more efficient (global) RTB auction marketplace, where it’s advertisers will then have to compete with others on an ‘equal’ footing, across the web.


  • http://tothefuturewithlove.net/after_the_pink_goat Free Goat

    I think before all of you going crazy against Google, you should consider what exactly is a content farm. In a content farm you gather articles and eventually you combine them in some smart way to obtain some result. Usually Google ranking but that’s a detail. Since people use that detail to abuse Google algorithm, they see the whole process in wrong direction.
    If Google “hated” content farms, it would have acted against them firmly. And the didn’t. Why?
    First, there is the economic point of view – content farming is part of Google’s economy and even if some people use it and abuse it, Google isn’t getting poorer. Which must tell you that the real abusers who profit are very small percentage. The rest are those from which Google profits.

    Second, content farms cannot be easily defined as such.
    Because all human knowledge is a content farm! We gather information from everywhere, accumulate it, analyze it and eventually, we come up with something new. This is how our brains function and this is how normal users, not abusers create content. In my website, I also use excerpts from other people’s content to create my own articles. I’m not doing it to abuse the system, I’m doing it to provide my readers with useful point of view. Could Google tell what I’m doing is actually wrong? I think not. And if I’m not wrong, copying of parts of articles in blogs isn’t illegal. Then, if it’s valuable and legal, how Google could tell otherwise? And how could Google make a difference between “good” content farms and “bad” content farms.

    So, I think it would be crazy to imagine that content farms can stop being indexed, ever. Not if their only sin is “farming”. What could happen, however, is that Google could change their algorithm so that bad farming doesn’t lead to good rank. Which could throw out of the business people writing articles only for keywords, but it could also put into business people writing valuable articles. And I think it’s about time money transfer from users and abusers, to creators.
    Note: I don’t like Google’s dominance. At all!

  • http://www.daronet.com/campaign/campaign.asp daronet web solutions

    Actually when thinking of it, google invented the black hat techniques such as link spamming, auto-generated-link software etc by declaring the importance of inbound links. moreover, useless content spread around the web is also google’s blame.

  • Grunge

    Reading all these comments takes me back to the time eBay went rougue and ignored the people who made it the wealthy company it became. Sounds so much like those emails, so similar in nature, so always true no matter what company it is. Get too big for their breeches and they forget the loyalty of those people who were there from the beginning to help them attain thier formidable status, because in the long wrong no matter what their motives, no matter what it is they attempt to achieve or dispell or change or cut out or fight against, it is always the little guy who suffers through it all. Losing a website’s high ranking that was honestly worked hard to achieve because gawdalmighty Google could care less, is a daunting disheartening fact of life for the little guy trying to make an honest living on the net. They cannot see the individuals who they hurt and cause to suffer. They only see the big picture, never the individual pieces of the pie which make up the greater part of that entity.
    Such a sorry state this has become when we go through this same exercise with virtually every internet company which grows into a monster. They get so Greedy they no longer care about people they hurt, theirs is only to get bigger, richer, and more powerful and be damned who’s blood they have to swim through to get there.
    Do you remember a time when the Internet was a vehicle even the poorest of individuals could use to try and make something of themselves? Along with companies like eBay and others, Google no longer believes in free enterprise or the little guy.

  • Guest

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    Yao Guan Ju said that currently this factory already declare to recall November 1 hereafter produce of all dessert products.If the consumer purchased these products, should immediately pack product is sealing completely to get rid of inside the container.Person once the food that Chanel Shoes took a meal a golden color staphylococcus pollution, will cause disgusted, vomit, stomach acute pain and diarrhea, Tory Burch Shoes usually in several days can from more, but the crowds, such as old people and child…etc. probably needs to hospitalize a treatment because of dehydrating.(Responsibility editor:Zhao Ting)Win the wide December 28 news in net Peking reports according to voice ?Yang wide news ? of China, January 8 is the birthday of positive gold boon, but has a capacity load gold the railroad train of the positive boon birthday gift to suddenly derail recently, been a counterforce by the external world doubt BE.

  • http://www.sitetruth.com John Nagle

    Cutts said Google was going to crack down on content farms in Febuary 2010:


    And in August 2010:


    and now in December 2010, we hear it again.

    Cutts doesn’t seem to be concerned with search quality any more. His blog said he was taking a month off to write a novel, and he hasn’t mentioned search issues since. Meanwhile, Google has a job opening for the “Program Manager, Evaluation, Search Quality”:


    Apply now! Google needs you.

  • http://bestaffiliateniche.com/ BestAffiliateNiche

    Content Farms are only take-aways from the content owners. Google has created a monster with their backlink requiring strategy!

    So many crap sites go up just to get a much needed backlink so Google will pay attention to them. A GREAT Site, full of original content (like mine are), are hugely ignored unless backlinks are present. It just seems like if they want users to find what they’re looking for, they wouldn’t FORCE people to create small sites to use for backlinks and concentrate more on the content of a site. Just my 2 cents worth. . .

  • http://egoistphilosophyblog.com Keenan

    Should Google crack down on content farms? An interesting question. How do you penalize sites that have spammy content without penalizing sites with actual useful content?

    More interesting, what do you do for people who are struggling with new, useful businesses trying to rank? Owners of newer, smaller, legitimate sites may have a hard time getting enough links to matter without content farms. In other words, cracking down on content farms may impose yet another barrier to entry for small business.

    In my experience, Google doesn’t really think the barriers to entry matter, so I expect the larger sites to not only hold their current positions, but to overwhelm competitive SERPs. Whether this is bad or not depends on who you are, but it does make a little sense from a user standpoint.

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