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, (couldn’t speak because he 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. 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.


  • 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.

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1 Response to Summary of Content Farm Session – SMX 2011

  1. Pingback: SMX West, Content Farms, and How to Pour Water into a Glass Cup

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