Love them or hate them, content farms are a reality on today's web. Thanks to the strength of the search economy, savvy upstart publishers realized that there was money to be made mass-producing search engine-friendly content on the cheap.
But content farming's success may have been its downfall. As the SERPs filled up with articles of dubious value, search engines have fought back. Some went so far as to ban well-known content farms from their indexes.
Banning large, prominent sites is, for obvious reasons, a challenging proposition for Google. But it too has fought back hard against content farms using ts algorithm.
While the verdict is out as to whether it's changes are improving search quality on the world's largest search engine, it appears that some content farmers are adjusting their businesses.
Last week, one of the largest companies engaged in content farming, Demand Media, posted a message to its freelancers:
In just a few years, we've worked together to grow the eHow.com library to an astounding 3 million articles. While eHow has been the main publisher of content produced by DMS writers, we've also developed other writing outlets on our own properties like typeF.com and LIVESTRONG.COM as well as through partnerships like Chron.com and USAToday.
With our eHow.com library already so comprehensive, we saw the opportunity to shift our focus to more targeted categories and other forms of content such as slide shows, video series and feature articles. Good examples of these new formats can be found on eHow and LIVESTRONG.COM.
The message goes on:
Looking ahead, as we continue to publish articles for eHow and our other sites, we want to be sure we are building on what already exists, not replicating it. This is not to say we will stop assigning standard titles in How to and Topic View format for eHow.com. But it does mean that we will have fewer eHow.com assignments for the foreseeable future.
Translation: there are only so many 'How can you pour a glass of water?' articles to be written, and we're cutting back on the amount of work that will be available unless you happen to be one of the "best" writers or editors, in which case Demand somewhat ambiguously says it "will also be putting additional focus on helping you grow within your fields".
Not surprisingly, many of the Demand Media writers (and former writers) who took to message boards to discuss the company's message didn't have a positive take on it.
The "gravy train", as one writer referred to it as, would seem to be coming to a halt for many of Demand Media's freelancers.
There are probably numerous reasons for the changes Demand Media is making, but Panda's likely influence shouldn't be ignored.
Google doesn't like content farms, and while that may not necessarily mean that Demand Media is public enemy numero uno, one thing is clear: past is not prologue when it comes to how Google's algorithm will treat your site.
In less than a year, some publishers have gone from the top of the mountain, to the bottom of the valley, to even higher peaks as a result of Google's increasingly frequent algorithm updates. For a company like Demand Media, which famously amortizes the costs of content creation over five years, Google volatility is not a helpful thing.
Demand Media, obviously, can't simply close down the farm. But it's clearly rethinking its approach. "We are also excited to completely execute on our vision of having the most qualified writers and editors working on titles within their areas of expertise," it states in its message. As part of that, it wants to ensure that "every article is written and copy edited by a qualified professional with background, knowledge or experience in the topic".
This effectively serves as a not-so-subtle admission: in an effort to boost how much content it harvested, it was previously more lax on its quality standards than it realistically has to be today.
That's bad news for freelancers who were getting paid to knock out articles of questionable value, but long-term it could be good news for content farms and the internet at large. After all, if content farms produce better crops, content farming might not leave such a bad taste in the mouths of consumers and Google's engineers.