Content farms have their advocates and naysayers, but regardless of which camp you fall in, it’s undeniable that they’ve rooted themselves into the business model of publishers and agencies. Reading Andrew Kaufman’s post on his experience as a former content farmhand, I picked up on a few key points (it’s a pretty long article) worth noting for both camps to think about.
Businesses are becoming increasingly driven to get involved in more large scale content creation, and no wonder. We recently covered the reasons why businesses incorporate content as a new marketing platform. Kaufman highlights how it isn’t easy to identify patterns that drive companies to do this, even less so in understanding why some succeed and some fail in the pursuit of ‘riding a new wave of content to profitability’.
One of the interesting anecdotes Kaufman talks about is his initial post-English degree dream of writing quality articles on various themes and topics, and the gradual realization that it wasn’t quality that boosted them in the internet popularity poll. Of course, now we recognize that this is the world of SEO content-driven traffic, where content farm companies may win, but users definitely lose and have to foot the bill of paying more time and labour in ‘finding quality content that addresses their intent in the quickest way possible’.
A summarized breakdown of the process of content creation would follow the lines of:
1. Synthesizing information from different sources – Aggregating blocks of information that can be translated into raw research.
2. Combining this into a reasonably coherent narrative – A trick in every English degree student’s sleeve, but intelligent curation tools now sift and automatically filter for, and thread by, relevance using detailed metadata.
3. Writing an ‘original’ article - As a result of pressure to write fast, attract an audience, and keep it short, the output often follows the “Top 10″ or “How to” format.
‘Quality Trumps Quantity’ Business Model Doesn’t Always Work
Of course, as Kaufman details, it’s always tough for any content writer to discover that the real purpose of churning out articles was less to enlighten and touch the hearts of many, and more to appease the gods of advertising: ‘I was trying to trick Google (and by extension, the reader), into clicking on my article, and hopefully an ad, instead of the site that would actually get the information they were looking for.’
This led to some structural changes in the way he and the companies he later got involved with planned on providing ‘spam-free search results compiled by actual humans’. But to do that would actually take much manual labour toward page creation in order to handle the millions of queries processed each day. Something had to give, and original strategies were eventually trounced and replaced by the great page view chase.
The important thing to learn from this, is that focusing efforts on Google search traffic is often easier than trying to coax people into coming to you directly for your content. Kaufman highlights how often businesses will discover a method that works, but the next step is to find a way to do it ‘quicker, cheaper and in greater quantities’. Essentially, quality and even accuracy is compromised in order to find exactly that. Still, that’s not to say the audience is stupid. Both they and the G giant will catch on, and eventually new technology will be introduced and bred to remove sub-par content that won’t lead search engines and users into the same trickery again.
At the end of the day, real value only comes out if your goals include not only terms of profitability, but also trying to endear yourself to an audience and winning trust. That means there needs to be a balanced diet of more content, but reliable, high-quality content too. The better your content, the more likely you will be ‘linked to, shared, tweeted, liked and mentioned-which are all factors that will increase your authority’. Compromising on quality may push you forward for a while, but eventually there will be a backlash. As Kaufman finished off, ‘it’s the experience of landing on a page and being able to locate the information or functionality you’re looking for in the shortest amount of time and in the most intuitive way possible’.