Posts Tagged ‘content farms


5 Things to Ask a Content Freelancer

Wil rite 4 bambu

You know you need content. Lots and lots of content. And it must be good content, quality content. Current content, fresh content, unique content. Thus hast the Panda spoken.

Okay, so you write a few pieces for the blog and maybe an article or two. You con your co-workers into contributing a paragraph or two. You get your teenage relatives to write about stuff they could not possible care any less about. And that works for about a month, but then you’ve reached the limits.

Out of ideas. Out of time. Out of patience.

What’s a webmeister to do? Outsource it, of course! Which can be great. Particularly in these tough economic times where unemployed English majors outnumber the working ones (unless you count part-time Burger King jobs). Writers are a dime a dozen and they will fight each other in the streets for one $40 assignment.

Good choice, now what? Well, you can rely on your contacts to get word-of-mouth recommendations (probably the best way to get quality writers), or advertise on Craigslist or similar, or go to the web where freelance “dating” sites flourish. Elance is perhaps the oldest, but trust us, there are many.

If you decide to go with an unknown writing resource, some care should be taken to be sure you’re getting that quality content you crave and at the same time getting a decent return on your money. Here are five things you should check.

  1. Online writing samples. Look for writing samples that are actually published online somewhere. Web writing is different from any other, for one thing, for another, online samples are easier to test for originality and freshness.
  2. Originality. Verify that the work you are getting is original to you. Use a plagiarism checker. Here’s a free one: plagiarism checker.
  3. Ratings or reviews. But don’t just trust the ones posted on the freelancing sites. Look deeper into who’s reviewing them and what the writer wrote for them.
  4. Topic qualifications. True, many professional writers can do a great job on virtually any topic. Still—especially if your topic is technical or highly specialized—you will get better content if the writer has some topic familiarity, either through education, avocation, or experience.
  5. Experience at freelancing. Sure, everybody has to start somewhere. But you probably will have a better experience if you hire someone who knows about deadlines, grammar, research, and etcetera.

Content Isn’t Everything….

….it’s the only thing.

I mean, really. With the launch of Google’s newest update (codename: “Panda”), that’s what all the SEOs are talking about. Content, they say, is now the most important site element!

Newsflash. Content has always been the most important site element. And always will be. What’s more, everybody has always known this. Remember “Content Is King”?

Then why all the buzz now? Simple. Almighty Google has declared that content is the new backlink. You gots to have it, if you wants to play. And not just any old content, either. According to the Goog, it’s got to be

  • Original
  • Useful
  • Substantial

Which all just another way of saying, “C’mon people, if you’re not making the internet better, you’re making it worse.”

Your content must be unique to your site. No more copy and paste, no more sitescraper bots, no more one article published to 500 different domains. There are some important exceptions (like using manufacturer’s descriptions in your product copy), but for the most part, if you didn’t write it or commission it exclusively, it ain’t original.

And why not? If you go to the trouble of putting information out there on the web for all the world to see, why shouldn’t it be in some way—any small way—worth somebody’s time. This doesn’t mean every word on every site has to be deeply significant. Just in some way useful. Informative. Provocative. Funny. Cute. Entertaining. Nasty. Instructional. SOMETHING.

All of this useful, original stuff also needs to be something more than twelve words and a pass-through. For text content, there really isn’t any sort of word target (despite what you hear from a few SEOs) but there should always be enough to make a complete point, or thought, or at least a full paragraph. Images can be substantial all by themselves, but the criteria is very subjective. Does an image standing alone in the center of a page accomplish anything? If not, well, maybe you should consider filling up the space around it with some meaningful commentary. Or something.

I guess the true upshot of all this is:

Nobody really knows what Google means by “original, useful, and substantial.” But they’ll damn sure know when it’s not there.


What Every Content Writer Should Know About Keywords

Many web content writers working today wish they had never heard of “keywords.” To them, an SEO placing keywords in a writer’s finely crafted content is like a waiter tossing garlic tofu croutons on top of the chef’s special blackened ahi and braised arugula salad. Maybe some added nutritional value there. Maybe even kind of tasty on its own. But for crying out loud, not on the salad!

This particular aversion is not without its reasons. For about a decade now, the content writer wrote the most appealing possible prose designed to attract and keep an audience of human eyes, some maybe with wallets. And then the search optimizer figured out which words will convert to search engine traffic, and slathered them all over the page. Titles, headlines, subheads, even in the body. A writer might proudly point to a sentence like:

“These priceless ergonomic desk chairs were designed by our team of NASA engineers—using the latest technologies and algorithms—in a cooperative dance with our trés eleganté French designer from The Institut Francais de la Mode. Feel the magic envelop your spine from the moment your derrière descends.”

Only to discover that an SEO professional had changed it ever so slightly for search marketing purposes.

Cheap ergonomic desk chairs. These ergonomic desk chairs were designed by NASA desk chair engineers–with all the best desk chair technology and ergonomics algorithms—with help from the best ergonomic desk chair designer from France. Feel our magic ergonomic desk chair up your spine.”

Search engine optimized content was more often than not, “optimized” enough to break a content writer’s spirit. And the war raged on. Of course, both sides had a valid point. No matter how pretty the language of a web page is, it is all for nothing if nobody ever reads it. On the other hand, even if a well-optimized page draws millions of visits, what’s the point if almost all of them sprain an index finger trying to simultaneously hit the back button and gouge out their own eyes.

You see, it all needs to work together. In an harmonic internet dance, loved by search spiders and customers alike. Driving lots of traffic and convincing them to buy stuff. Marketing and content, together.

Well then. What’s a writer to do? If you just carry on writing your best, filled with anger and despair every time your work is optimized for search, you’ll die young and unhappy. If you start writing crap content assuming it will be hosed by an SEO, you won’t win many return engagements. How about trying the third path?

Learn to use keywords and make them part of your toolkit.

It isn’t sacrilege. It isn’t even that difficult. And in the end, if you manage to pull it all together, you can begin to sell yourself as an SEO Content Specialist (a title like that has got to be worth a couple of bucks an hour, at least). Why not? You probably already have most of the skills you need.

Know Your Audience
That’s the first thing every writer learns. Know your audience and craft your message to them. The MBA-bearing executive who hires you will call it something like “utilize your mission-critical demographic base to leverage a scalable ROI” but really, same thing. Before you begin an assignment, you ask yourself (and your probably your client) “Who is this content targeted to?” Maybe the answer is stay-at-home dads, 30-45, $35-50k/yr. Start writing your exceptional ergonomic desk chair pitch.

But Wait: there’s one more thing. Your demographic base also always includes “search engine spider, middle aged, not too bright, extremely impatient, but worth $$$.” Always. If you are writing for the web, that spider is in your demographic pool. Now start writing.

See the first of our !0 Step SEO articles, Keywords for more on the delicate art.


Google Puts Content Farms Out to Pasture

Google has pulled the trigger on a major algorithm update and busted a cap in an entire industry, the Content Farm. In case you don’t know, a content farm usually refers to a domain that exists solely to generate high-ranking pages for high-search keywords by cranking out minimally useful (if useful in any sense at all) content. Sometimes this content is scraped (stolen) from other sites, sometimes it’s written by freelance “buck-a-page” hacks, and sometimes is near-gibberish generated by computers stringing random words together. The reason these sites flourish is that their pages have tended to rank very very high for a very very high percentage of searches.

Here’s one of the most profligate: eHow. In pursuit of total web dominion, eHow has built a megalith site of over 20 million pages.  What? TWENTY MILLION FREAKING PAGES? About everything. They do web research to mine high-search keywords, and then build very minimally useful content pages around the terms. But the site is so huge and so interconnected and so competent at SEO that they rank first page for an unbelievable percentage of the keywords they pursue.

It’s not really spam, really. I mean, there is some sort of content there, right? Problem is, they (and all the other content farmers like them) have made searching the internet just that much harder for everyone. Want to know how to unclog a drain? Search for “unclog a drain” and you’ll find the first page of results a virtual sink-full of virtual content-farmed pseudo-content that you will have to stick your arm into all the way to the elbow in order to fish out one useful bit of knowledge.

Well, Google’s not happy about that. So Google made a little change. The Farmer Update.

This update—said to affect as much as 12% of all searches worldwide—will definitely make an impact on searching the internet, particularly for the content farmers cash crop, How-To information.

This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.  —the Official Google Blog

But there’s a potential boll weevil in all this: Google claims to be devaluing “low-quality” content. Which, in cases like eHow, is pretty easy to spot and pretty hard to argue with. The bug is what (and who) actually gets to define “quality”? Does Wikipedia, with almost 70 million pages of diverse content, make the cut? Or get the axe? Do blog sites like WordPress, with 300,000,000 pages of stuff ranging from the sublime to crap (like the blog you’re reading right now) get penalized across the domain just because 80% or so of what’s there is “low-quality”?

Time will tell, and webmasters will yell, and SEOs will prosper. And as for the content farms, those who get rich dealing manure can’t really complain when they find themselves upwind.

More on the Google “Content Farm” Update

Official Google Blog: Finding High Quality Sites in Search
Google Breaks Up Content Farms
Google Tightens the Screws on Content Farmers
Google Goes After Content Farms with Update
Google Forecloses on Content Farmers
Legit Sites Could Get Caught in Google’s Content Farm Crosshairs
Seeking to Weed Out Drivel, Google Adjusts Search Engine