Summary of Content Farm Session – SMX 2011

Content farms are receiving much attention in 2011, especially after the Google “farmer” algorithm update (which didn’t really affect the major content farms- more on that later).

Here’s my summary of the Content Farms session for SMX Advanced, officially titled: “Content Farms” Or The Smartest SEOs In the World?

SMX West Content Farm panelSession Speakers:

  • Luke Beatty, Yahoo!
  • Matthew Brown, AudienceWise
  • Byrne Hobart, Blue Fountain Media
  • Tim Ruder, PerfectMarket
  • Matt McGee (moderator)
*note: Gil Reich, Answers.com (couldn’t speak because he Answers.com is in the middle of being purchased – too bad, he would have added more energy to topic)

Matt McGee introduces content farms which don’t really have a universal definition. Content farms have received much attention as poor quality pages in search indexes. The new algorithm affects 12% of search queries.

First up, Luke Beatty of Yahoo (VP & GM – creator of Associated Content, now called Yahoo Contributor Network). His presentation is titled. “Evolution of Crowdsourced Distribution

They have 400k writers. Some content solicited, other unsolicted. Their content is now pushed throughout the Yahoo network.

AssociatedContent.com 93% remain indexed in Google, 1/3 of content receive more Google referrals, but 2/3rds receive less traffic. Content living on other Yahoo properties seems to be doing fine. (NOTE: Quantcast clearly shows Associated Content suffered around a 50% drop in US traffic)

In 2005 they wanted to provide context for contextual advertising. In 2008 they created context for hyper-targeted display (companies like ACE hardware wanted thousands of articles on power drills).

Today, in general, 70% of content is crowd sourced Source:EMC). 30% of content people consume on a daily basis is created by someone they know (source PEW). They think of themselves as the content version of ebay.

Next up is Tim, the CFO of PerfectMarket. He didn’t bother with creating a powerpoint presentation (going old-school, reading off paper notes), but he did bring a video clip from SNL (reporting on the many spellings of dictator Muammar Gaddafi). He believes traditional media could learn a lot from content farms. Content farms have data to help them understand each topic & amortize it over long periods of time (he thinks Demand Media does it over 5 years).

Tim’s company sees over 5k unique articles written each day. He notices that traditional media tries to predict what people might want to know without using considering search data. Content farms care about durability of content, where newspapers care about getting the content out on a timely basis (the daily miracle). The time is now for traditional media to become more like content farms.

Next up Mark of Blue Fountain Media. Starts off with cocky statement: Google “website design company” to find us. How did we get to the point of paying someone $15 to write and article about “How to Pour Water into a Glass Cup.” The new content model is “Demand” Media. Give people what they want – by buying data and owning domains to capture search data. Ads are highly contextual. Demand Media is making $13.46 per 1000 pageviews (up 26% for 2010).

Ridiculous economies of scale. Best monetization strategy out there for old domains or celebrities Demand media has sites anchored by Rachel Ray, Lance Armstrong, and Tyra Banks. He predicts Demand Media will roll out a finance site (Suze Orman?).

Who wins with content farms?

  • Anyone with more money than time.
  • Anyone with Absentee Landlords (SF Chronicle doing)
  • Non-traditional employees (stay at home moms)
  • Searchers looking for long tail terms
  • Shareholders of content farms.

Losers:

  • Anyone with more time than money
  • Traditional media
  • Active bloggers
  • Anyone trying to get into the SEO industry
  • Searchers looking for head terms (Google can’t tell what content is of higher quality, so mega content farms win).

SEOs are now “old media.” The revolutions is to create “content factories.” Efficiency = a “Red Queen” scenario. Responses from SEOs: complaining to everyone. Better response: shoot for quality (Google will figure it out in the long-term), sneak by with Social Media, & email. You can pay for ads on the amateur content farm site.

Next up is Matthew Brown. “Strategies in a Post Farmer World” (finally some entertaining images ina presentation).

Matt thinks it is the biggest algorithm update since Florida. How we got to content farms: Domain authority, for example, NY Times created many topic pages that were thin on content.

The recent algorithm is a response to these types of pages. Farmer is a sitewide  filter on domain authority, which affects all pages on the site (even the strong terms). Possible signals:

  • quality vs quantity ratio
  • small sites that with few quality pages
  • sites overloaded with ads

Survivors have brand signals or enough juice to override the farm factor.
How to look better:

  • Google news inclusion probably important
  • Articles getting on reddit, digg, tweetw, likes, etc.
  • more deep links

Don’t bother complaining in Google Webmaster Tools, time to cowboy up. Look at templates. eHow has ads in the right. Clean up your site. Build out brand signals. Small publishers can be nimble. Large sites need to tighten their focus. Scale promotion of the site.

“How to tie a lure” (idea22 ranks with a page featuring a video), but has no external links. Some of the backfill sites are hanging on a thread.

Content Farm Q&A:

What are some of the things crowd-sourced content users should avoid?
Luke: avoid garbage SEO tactics – don’t hurt the existing user-base, focus on engagement. Don’t create content to create inventory, do it to create depth.

Are there other content suggestions outside of video?
Matthew: likes video best, but other things: optimized images, Google news, Google blog search to give Google indicators that you have other content.

What is Google’s role in all of this?
Bryne: Google created an algorithm that isn’t perfect. In quantitative terms, search experience is better after update according to Google.
Luke: Google is both the offense and the defense. Search engine and monetization. They are creating a game that people are playing all day long (referring to SEOs, content creators, and publishers).
Matthew: agrees that business model relies on trust and brand.

The design of the pages seem more important then the quality of the page.
Matthew: Matt Cutts said bounce rates have been long too noisy, but now they are starting to use user signals to try to make ranking choices.

What is the Y! Contributor Network strategy moving forward?
Luke: Service the best quality crowd-sourced content and push it into Yahoo properties. Not trying to compete with Yahoo editorial content, just trying to cover things like High School sports via UGC.

Yahoo doesn’t cover personal finance, but will via crowd-sourced content. They will be launching internationally over the next year.

If you were hit by update, how do we remove low quality content?
Matthew: not sure if there is any hope for recovering long tail traffic. Redirect, remove from sitemaps, 404 them or 410 them. Clean up templates. Add content to the thin pages. No one knows how long it takes to recover.

Should we avoid content farms now for link building?
Probably don’t worry if they still rank.

Is writing 20 similar unique articles with different titles, is that spam?
Byrne: not the user because they will only see one.
Luke: unless user see related content promotion on the page.

Was paid search part of the algo update?
Not sure, but assume it is unrelated.

Posted in SEO, UGC News | 1 Comment

Blekko’s Blacklisting Hole

Following up on my post about Blekko Banning “Content Farm” sites because a some of their users marked the 20 sites as not useful, I decided to take a look at how big of an impact these blanket blacklistings put in the Blekko search engine.

As I mentioned in the original post, I noticed the absence of sites like eHow actually caused many more “no results found” for specific searches that no other website took the time to write about. So I decided to see how detrimental the absense of the 20 sites might be on the Blekko search index.

Blekko’s Big Black Hole

Okay, probably not the most attractive headline, but Blekko’s sweeping ban on the 20 sites I list here does have a large impact.

I performed a site:sitename.com command in Google to see how many pages Google has indexed that Blekko is now missing out on. The site: command isn’t the most accurate, but its the best I’ve got and should give some sense of how many pages Google decided to keep in its index. Google’s approach is to determine which pages on these sites deserve to rank for certain queries, while Blekko’s new approach is to ban them altogether.

After totaling up all the pages in Google’s index from those sites, I see that there are at least 322 million pages missing from Blekko’s search index. 23.2 million alone come from Demand Media’s eHow.com.

It’s hard to grasp how large of a hole this creates in Blekko’s search index. Performing the same method I see that in Google’s index, removing 322 million pages is the equivalent of two Wikipedias! Or, looking purely at Blekko, it is the equivalent of removing all pages from their index that include the word “because” or “since” (177 million results for each).

Speaking of Wikipedia, isn’t that a user-generated content farm that Blekko might want to remove? And what about Yahoo answers? What about ebay? Heck, you might as well remove Facebook and LinkedIn as well.

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Blekko Banning Some Content Farm sites

A Techcrunch article plus a Beyond the Search Box live event both confirm that Blekko is now blocking certain “content farms” including Demand Media’s eHow. Here is a list of sites Blekko deams content farms that they have banned:

  • ehow.com
  • encyclopedia.com
  • allexperts.com
  • chacha.com
  • experts-exchange.com
  • naymz.com
  • activehotels.com
  • robtex.com
  • fixya.com
  • 123people.com
  • download3k.com
  • petitionspot.com
  • thefreedictionary.com
  • networkedblogs.com
  • buzzillions.com
  • shopwiki.com
  • wowxos.com
  • answerbag.com
  • freewebs.com
  • copygator.com

Clearly Blekko is missing some of the big content farms, but an interesting thing I’ve noticed is that searches for “How to ___” on Blekko suffer because of it. Site-wide bans don’t seem to be the answer as there are some decent results from some of those sites that now leave Blekko stuffed with smaller site garbage content or no content.

Here’s an example, “How to make a teeter totter”:

Google results:

Blekko:

Try your own specific how to searches and see what you find on the two different engines.

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Demand Media Stock Ticker Is One to Watch

User-generated content & “content farms” have a spotlight on them now thanks mostly to Demand Media’s recent IPO. Few people knew how the IPO would go, considering Demand Media has never turned a profit and will not likely do so for quite some time. Many who understood search, were also worried that a simple change in Google’s algorithm could severely damage the company.

Demand Media IPO & Ticker Symbol

Demand Media Ticker SymbolDemand Media’s stock ticker is DMD and it is listed on the NYSE. The IPO offering was 8.9 million shares. Demand sold 4.5 million shares at $17 per share and existing shareholders sold another 4.4 million. Overall, Demand should see about $67 million from the sale.

After the first day on the market, DMD shares ended at $22.65, netting an immediate 33% return for those who were part of the IPO purchase.

Demand’s Valuation Higher then the NYT

Crazy that Demand Media is now valued at $1.5 billion, making it bigger then the New York Times. The New York Times is an old media company that produce high quality content. Demand Media is a new, sophisticated, publisher that harnesses user-generated content (for pay), but often puts out low quality content.

Demand Media’s IPO is the largest internet-related IPO since Google’s in 2004. This will certainly shine a spotlight on Internet content creation, content farms, and user-generated content. Should be fun to watch!

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Tim Burton UGC Experiment

Tim Burton is writing a story. You may be familiar with some of his other works: Edward Scissor-hands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Corpse Bride. Only this time, he isn’t writing it by himself, he’s enlisting the brainpower of a collective mass of people he doesn’t really know via his Twitter following.

Tim Burton Twitter StoryTim Burton invited his Twitter followers to help write his next short story – one that will be published as early as December 6th.

The opportunity to co-author a story with Tim Burton is appealing to his followers, especially considering the extent of their efforts must fit into a single tweet. Burton will hand select each “winner” who’s tweet will become the next sentence in the story.

Sentence by sentence writing games have been a popular writing & forum game for quite some time on the Web, but this is the first one I’ve seen on Twitter and the first of any get this much attention. I commend Time Burton for creatively interacting with his community.

Join the Fun Tim Burton Short Story Twitter Experiment

If you’d like to participate in this new UGC experiment, here’s what you need to know:

The story begins with:

“Stainboy, using his obvious expertise, was called in to investigate mysterious glowing goo on the gallery floor”

The story currently has the first 20 parts (Tweets) locked down. You can read the full story on the Tim Burton Story site. Anyone can tweet their next line of the story by including the hastag #BurtonStory & they can tweet as often as they like. Every day a new entry will be added and the story will end on December 6th.

I think this is a neat idea. Does it remind you of anything else you’ve seen?

Posted in UGC News, Video | Leave a comment

One Day on Earth Film Experiment

Crowd-sourced content seems to be a growing interest among filmmakers. Maybe it is because of the success of the animated short, Live Music, which proved that complete strangers could collaborate and make something amazing.

Three months after Life In A Day was filmed by thousands of participants across the world with the help of YouTube technology & Ridley Scott’s name, One Day on Earth is being filmed (today, 10/10/10).

The one smart thing One Day on Earth is doing is spending more time focused on the community by displaying video clips on the site, sharing stories, and, of course, producing the documentary.  Here’s the trailer for the One Day on Earth film project:

 

It will be interesting to watch the two films and see which one is more successful. Much of it will come down to the editing & story telling, but the approaches are certainly different.

One Day on Earth appears to have spread via social media among the film industry more, while Life in a Day relied on mass YouTube promotion and celebrity attachment. One Day on Earth appears to have a larger community play (using Ning) and will be using the community to promote the project. One Day on Earth also has tie-ins to a number of large non-profits or foundations (WWF, water.org, Red Cross, etc.).

To learn more about One Day on Earth, visit their site.

Know more about either of these projects? Please share information in the comments as I’m interested in documenting the progress and strategy for both of these amazing User Generated Content film projects.

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Funny Amazon User Reviews

One of the greatest fears for any company considering the addition of user-generated content on their site is false, negative, or malicious reviews or discussions that could decrease sales or editorial integrity. Most of these fears are overblown if you have smart mechanisms in place, or a strong community that can police itself. Even when inaccurate UGC slips through the cracks, all is not necessarily lost.

The following Amazon reviews show how inaccurate user-generated content can actually take an absolutely boring product and make it a viral force on the Internet. Below you will find the funniest user reviews currently gracing Amazon.com.

12 Funniest Amazon User Reviews

funny pants Amazon review

Zubaz Pants
Somehow I think the picture and this review actually help with sales… for Halloween.

“I was searching for clothes that speak to me.. These pants not only spoke to me, they entered my soul and transformed me. When I get out of my bitchin 78 camaro wearing these bad boys, there’s no question who the boss man is… There are many places these can be worn to attract the female species: Tractor pull, Walmart, NASCAR events, local neighborhood crack houses, & any place in the state of Iowa.”

Yellow Cake Amazon Review


Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake Mix

Who knew Amazon sold Uranium concentrate for only $19? Check out this honest Amazon reviewer:

“The price is right — so that’s 1 star right there. And the convenience of super-saver delivery spares me I don’t even know how many trips to Niger. That’s another star.

However, try as I might, I could never get this stuff to enrich to fully weapons-grade. If it worked half as well in my ballistic missiles as it does in my research reactor, it’d be 5 stars. Maybe you’ll have better luck. It’s possible that my centrifuge is hinky.

Cat Genie Amazon Funny ReviewCat Genie Cat Box

This $275 cat box claims to be self-cleaning, but this Amazon customer disagrees, in his own humorous way:

“Cat Genie takes the small unpleasantness of daily cleaning the litter and it saves it up and releases that unpleasantness as one big unscheduled, unpleasant inconvenience every week or two. Advanced monitors will ensure that the device failure will occur during the workday, as you prepare for your important meeting with your prospective client. Nothing like cleaning out wet cat poo in your nicest suit. Or, you may be pleasantly awoken in the middle of the night by the repeating three beeps of “there’s poo and hair in the hopper.”

You will become more familiar with your cat’s feces every day as the cat genie gently fills your home with the aroma of baking excrement… And your cats will thank you by depositing their love bundles beside the machine that’s half filled with water and beeping away…

To say something positive, the customer support line is manned by kind, well-meaning kids who really do feel badly that you’re having a hard time with your mechanical poo soup maker.”

amazon socket funny reviewsWattgate 381 Audio Grade Duplex Socket
$148 for a socket? It still might be worth it. Check out the Amazon user review:

“…when I went to my porch to get the package, the package was just floating there. It was about 2 or 3 feet off the ground… I add a drop of water to the bottom of the box and to my surprise the receptacle began to re-assemble itself. I should have known. Nano-machine technology…one of the machines went haywire, escaped the box and ate my television. I am not happy about it.”

tucan milk amazon review

Tuscan Whole Milk
A seemingly boring product with no Amazon description, spurred a complete poetic parody that starts off:

Once upon a mid-day sunny, while I savored Nuts ‘N Honey,
With my Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 gal, 128 fl. oz., I swore
As I went on with my lapping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at the icebox door.
‘Bad condensor, that,’ I muttered, ‘vibrating the icebox door -
Only this, and nothing more.’

Link Cable Denon Amazon Funny ReviewDenon AKDL1 Dedicated Link Cable
Another ridiculously priced item ($2,500 used) followed by a ridiculously funny review:

“After the Denon helicopter and armed delivery guards left, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed; Do I deserve a cable so supreme? Is my music worthy to be transported across such a sublime linkage? These thought were racing thru my mind even before I open the silver case with the ivory inlay. When I mustered enough courage to lift the lid, I am not ashamed to admit I pee’ed myself at what I saw. Pictures don’t do it justice, the Denon AKDL1 is beautiful. As I reached for it, I became aware of a low humming noise coming from the cable. It was warm to the touch and seemed to pulse with energy. It actually moved in my hand, slowly writhing as if seeking sound and music to improve with its touch.

It was then that I realized I was tap dancing. This is strange, because I dont know how to tap dance… I honestly can’t even keep a beat, but there I was dancing like Fred Astaire. I began to realize other improvement in myself, just by holding the cable. I can now speak Farsi, drive a Zamboni, paint by numbers, and wait patiently in line at the Post Office; all skills I never had before!”

Amazon Fresh Rabbit ReviewFresh Whole Rabbit
This product was on Amazon before Amazon Fresh existed. The reviews on Rabbit from Amazon are mixed:

“We ordered one of these rabbits for our children this Easter and boy what a surprise. It is NOT a living rabbit. Someone has killed this rabbit and skinned it… our children were traumatized … On the upside, we don’t have to fill their Easter baskets anymore as we told them the Easter bunny was killed by Amazon.”

“How many weekends have I spent, in the loincloth, knife clenched in my teeth, running through the fields trying to find a rabbit? … yank this carcass out of the box and offer this at the feet of my dark lord and master.”

Berries Book Amazon FunnyBerries (Hardcover) By Roger Yespen
A seemingly harmless subject can still face the wrath of an Amazon reviewer. I wonder if the author saw this coming:

“It is to my amazement and shock that for all of its detailed information, this book contains nothing about dingleberries. While I will concede that most of civilized society still regards the humble dingleberry as more of a nuisance than as a bona fide member of the berry kingdom, this should hardly be a reason to exclude them from the berry vernacular.

I can only guess in contemplating the motivation behind the exclusion of the dingleberry from this volume. Perhaps it’s because the dingleberry is not considered a key ingredient of any contemporary delicacy (e.g. pies or muffins) for obvious reasons. I don’t anticipate an emergence of dingleberry milkshakes or some kind of off-the-wall Ben & Jerry’s flavor (like “Dingleberry Manilow” or something). But even as such, culinary function is hardly the only defining characteristic of a berry. So I really can’t comprehend the reasoning. Hopefully the publisher can correct this egregious omission in future editions.”

Uranium Ore Amazon ReviewUranium Ore
You can bet the Yellow Cake Amazon users had fun with this one as well. Here are a couple reviews:

“I purchased this product 4.47 Billion Years ago and when I opened it today, it was half empty.”

“I bought this to power a home-made submarine that I use to look for prehistoric-era life forms in land-locked lakes around my home… The quality of this Uranium is on par with the stuff I was buying from the Libyans over at the mall parking lot, but at half the price!”

burger king mask on AmazonDeluxe Burger King Mask
One Amazon reviewer pokes fun at the wierd Burger King commercials:

“I’ve finally found a way to frighten the ever loving crap out of my enemies AND offer them delicious artery-clogging fast food at the same time! … I can now slip into their beds in the middle of the night and then try to silence their waking screams by offering them piping hot Croissan’Wiches!”


Talking Yoda Amazon Funny ReviewElectronic Ask Yoda
With all this Amazon review hacking, you knew there had to be at least one Star Wars product.

“Took him to the office, and I don’t know how our company grew to profitability without his centuries-old wisdom and guidance. Any simple old question, like “Should I hire this Harvard MBA type person” and “Is $300,000 too much in Salary” were quickly and decisively dealt with by ol’ Yoda. Customers, however, were less than thrilled when Yoda was put in control of their pricing. Turns out he’s a greedy little guy.”

Wolf Moon Shirt Amazon ReviewsThree Wolf Moon Shirt
This is probably the most famous product on Amazon, thanks to a number of LOL reviews. Here are some excerpts:

“This item has wolves on it which makes it intrinsically sweet and worth 5 stars by itself, but once I tried it on, that’s when the magic happened. I walked from my trailer to Wal-mart with the shirt on and was immediately approached by women… I arrived at Wal-mart, mounted my courtesy-scooter, sitting side saddle so that my wolves would show. While I was browsing tube socks…”

Another user had this to say: “This unearthly garment wasn’t created by man but by the god Zeus himself spun from the fibers of his own chest hair at a 14 million thread count… Just follow these simple steps and you too can holster the power that is THE THREE WOLVES SHIRT. 1)Shirt on. 2)Prowl. 3)Take em back to trailer. 4) Ectasy. Thank you Zeus.”

The 3 Wolf Moon Shirt has become such a phenomenon, it even has its own parody video:

So you see, even bad UGC can be good. Have other favorite reviews or funny UGC examples? Feel free to add them in the comments below.

Posted in UGC Humor | 4 Comments