Content Farms – What You Can Learn and Apply

While Google has taken action against content farms, from a strategic perspective I still think there are lessons that every publisher can learn from the content farm model. If you haven’t already seen it, please take a look at the leaked AOL document on content farms.

… AOL sees content as a commodity to sell ads against …

The first slide worth taking note of is slide 15 – content generation process. Basically, the slide goes through the decision process for determining how valuable a piece of content will be and determines if it gets created and who creates it. They use keyword/news tool to determine a piece’s “demand” and, depending on how valuable it is, it goes to low cost, in house, or vetted freelancer. Evergreen content, which will generate long term value as opposed to short term content, gets special consideration and special “SEO treatment.” To be honest, you should be doing this with your posts/content already. The pieces which will generate the most revenue or most links (see building links with encyclopedic content) should be produced by your best writers and be fully optimized with the best SEO Tools.

Slide 17 talks about the day to day creation of content. The key takeaway here is “how much” will it cost to produce this content, how are we going to monetize it, and what is its monetization potential (see adding revenue streams into your website). Slide 20 breaks down the decision process even further. As you are going down this path just be careful you don’t fall into the pageview journalism trap: once you do, you sacrifice quality for quantity, and chances are good that you’ll never make it out.

Google is a willing complicit conspirator in this low budget content creation process…

The next slide worth noting is slide 30, which talks about scaling the content creation process and how to promote the content so it gets maximum exposure. It’s a whole lot less shoot-from-the-hip and a whole lot more planning than you may be used to, but it’s a good starting point for developing your own plan. Slide 36 is the last slide that I think is noteworthy. It goes into detail about recruiting outside writers into the network or promotion strategy and how guest posts are a win-win for both parties.

On the opposite side of the coin, it’s important to see what someone who lived this plan has to say. Paul Miller was an engadget writer who recently left and had this to say about AOL … “AOL sees content as a commodity to sell ads against.” As the bar to becoming a publisher constantly lowers (a concept discussed in some detail in Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky), it becomes easier for low budget publishers to eek out profits, but high cost publishers can’t break even unless they cut production costs to the bone. Or, put another way, a $5 piece of content is going to be a lot easier to monetize than a $30 piece of content, no matter what level of traffic you have.

While it’s easy to blame publishers like Demand Media and AOL, don’t lose sight of the fact that Google is a willing and complicit conspirator in this low budget content creation process. By creating adsense and making it possible for anyone to monetize a website without needing to hire a sales staff, to pick up the phone cold calling advertisers,  or to pound the pavement, they brought monetization to great, unwashed masses. No single product has created more pollution on the web as Google’s Adsense program has. They may have started out the with “don’t be evil” mantra but, like so many before them, they have become what they set out to destroy. They are the virtual drug dealers of the 21st century, selling ads wrapped around other people’s content, creating information polluted ghettos, and they will become the advertising equivalent of a drug lord poised to rule the web.

So what should you takeaway from this post?

  • Use keyword or demand tools to help you decide which pieces to create
  • Create content based on monetization potential and link building potential
  • Send your content out to the appropriate writer based on monetization and link building potential
  • Evergreen and SEO flavored content should be given extra consideration
  • Have a plan for promotion
  • Beware of falling into the high volume, low quality, page view journalism model runs on the Genesis Framework

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