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.