nux (27 July, 2010)
Here's an interesting article: The Search Engine Backlash Against 'Content Mills'.
It's not the first time I hear about something like this happening, and I have to say... I welcome the trend, albeit this is a yet another area in which my livelihood kind of depends on it (the other is link selling, another practice I wish I could get out off).
As someone who has for quite a while now been in favor of doing it "naturally", focusing on providing something you personally can believe in and know enough about, and focusing on the user experience, as opposed to building stuff for the appeasement of the search bots, I don't find this news really surprising, nor even all that bad.
This is where the future is. If you're doing something for the bot, you're not doing it right. if you're offering content on topics you know nothing about and cannot support, you're not doing it right. If you're swarming your users with ads and then call them freeloaders when they complain (as if there can be no such thing as overcharging people while simultaneously reducing the value of what you offer), you're likely not doing it right.
Content will always be king, but that refers to quality content, well supported with the provider's knowledge and built with care for the user experience, not cheap, ad overloaded, unsupported, run of the mill stuff that a lot of people are beginning to perceive as a kind of spam (of search engines).
nux (27 July, 2010)
A while ago while discussing something about niches sites here at Netbuilders I raised the question of spamming the internet with niche content. This is a question that I have been asking myself for quite a while, and even thought I somehow try to complicate it to sustain my fears it seems that it's a matter of chance and willingness.
When creating niche sites, we usually pay a freelancer to write the articles for us, most of the time he researches the topic in half an hour or so and then writes the article, meaning he is nowhere near an expert in that field meaning we provide spam.
Here is the problem of spamming, if we continue to do this, and more people do this, the internet will soon become a sea of low quality information where niche sites float on top and content possibly written by experts in that field, but isn't SEO'd sinks like a rock.
This is where my concerns arise, not only are we spamming the internet with our niche sites but we may also risk the future of internet business, because for now niche sites are very profitable and convenient and that’s fine to that point. Search engines maybe even like niche sites because they get a lot of profit from them, and everyone is happy, but how long will this state of chaos last?
Sooner or later someone will have to clean up the search engines from all this stuff and then a lot of people whose main income are niche sites will be in a very inconvenient position. So this can be seen as a dilemma between ethics and profit, of course a lot of people will think: "I'm too small to even matter, I can’t make a difference" and that is probably true, but what will happen when someone who has the power to make a difference says: "OK it's enough" and pulls the plug.
For myself its simple, I will create niche sites as long as I can, when its time to call it quits I'll look for a different business venture but that isn't the entire answer, because when someone decides to get rid of niche sites it could end up destroying internet marketing as we know it and that way damaging the whole field of online business.
But the question that comes forth from all of this, and drives me crazy is: How long do we have?
The ones that are going to pull the plug seem to be the search engines themselves. They might be making money on these kinds of sites, but they also have to compete in terms of providing quality search results, which maintains their market share and ultimately helps them earn even more money. Besides, it's not about killing adsense, only about killing adsense spamming.
As for how long do we have, I don't really know, but in any case I think it's a good idea to start preparing now, as soon as possible.
I don't think it will damage the field of online business though, only make it evolve a bit. Content mills are just one part of it, and their phase out doesn't mean the end of content either. It only means raising the bar a little so that content will have to be of better quality, better supported, with more focus on user experience and a monetization policy that doesn't go at the expense of user experience. I think blogs which provide content written by people actually passionate about the topic might finally get a boost, and when you pay for writers you're gonna have to look for people actually interested in the topic they're writing in, and pay them a little more to write something really good.
I think this comment nicely sums up what may be the future beyond spammy content mills. In short: less reliance on generic search engines, reputation and crowdsourcing and branding.
It's pretty much everything content mills seem to lack. They don't stand on their own, without search engines, which is why they get very little direct or non-google traffic. They don't always use crowdsourcing to ensure quality, and reputation even less so. And their brands are generally weak (and generic). The idea is to just catch a random google searcher, splash him/her with ads as he "consumes" the content, and that's it. Few users return to stick around. Why would they? They don't so much "enjoy" the content and the site as much as just put up with ads while they get the bit of information they need and then get off ASAP. It's nearly impossible to build a community and a true human following around such sites, as I'm finding out myself unfortunately.
10 years is a long time on the web, and in a climate of rapid change. I doubt it will last that long, at least in its current form.
If it's really such a low investment for nice passive income then that's all the more reason to augment the strategy in order to become "future proof". Assuming that comment is right about reduced reliance on SEs, more crowdsourcing and more branding, you can incorporate this into your sites.
This might cost some time and money, but if you're making passive income then you have it, and if the future depends on it it's smart to reinvest. Invest into better content, building a brand, streamlining your ads towards something users will actually like, and give them a way to let you know how satisfied they are with the content being provided. Focus more on quality in addition to or instead of quantity.
Regarding ads, a good example that caring for users enough not to overload them with ads pays off is reddit.com which just launched a massively successful "reddit gold" program which allows people to actually pay reddit directly, with subscriptions, to support the site, instead of seeing ads everywhere. You can't get there quick, but you'll never get there if you continually treat your users as nothing more than expendable traffic to suck clicks off of.
Guess what happens with things which are "expendable"? They get expended. Sooner or later, they're gone, and you're left holding the stick with no brand, no reputation, no loyalty, and no community.
This is just an opinion though. I never really liked the way most web publishers seem to do business, and when I look at the biggest successes more often than not I see people who went far beyond just "content generation" and actually provided a superior user experience, built real connections and made their users richer. They don't just see "traffic", but people, and their needs and feelings. People ultimately reward that. It's the long term pay off, and the great thing about it is that if google collapsed tomorrow these people would still be raking it in. This is because this approach breeds independence. You go directly to people. You are the top tier. You are what people type in first, not google.com.
Well, I'm fine with limiting yourself to the online world. There's plenty to do here and plenty to serve, but making real connections with people doesn't necessarily require physical communication, just treating people like individuals instead of an abstract number under some kind of a label and making your site, online services and online communication reflect that.
Speaking of which, one other thing I'd like to add is knowing your limitations, and also knowing your audience. Trying to serve people whom you really don't have the resources, expertise or even will to serve probably wont end up very well, or at least wont create these "real connections". So it's sort of like match making, finding your match in terms of whom can you with your abilities serve best. What's your perfect customer?
Anyway, I agree about other internet markets. Content is just easiest to get into perhaps, with least initial investment. Like you say though, with the right idea SAAS can work too. Even if you're a non-programmer, if you have a clear vision, know what you want, and have at least a mild technical understanding of involved issues, you can hire developers to make it for you.
So.. what does anyone else think about the beginning of the end of content mills, is it happening, and what you're gonna do about it either way?
Google, on the other hand, is partnering with eHow's parent company, DemandMedia, in a huge way -- to create content for YouTube.
The Google theory is that people will vote good content up and bad content down by linking to good content and not linking to bad content. The trouble is... people seem very willing to link to poor quality content. This seems to be saying that many (if not most...) people can't tell high quality content from low quality content -- or possibly that their standards are different or maybe that they just don't care.
I don't think we can count on Google punishing content mills, not even the worst offenders like eHow or Mahalo.
We could contact every web site that links to them with an email asking them to remove the links.
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Crowd-sourcing, Branding and building a reputation sound great, but that's not the way the web should be going.
Let's look at conventional business - a new soda company cannot survive unless they have a great brand and they need a lot of capital to create that brand.
The Internet is a haven for bootstrapping entrepreneurs to compete with the big guns using only their superior knowledge of how search engines work.
Even in the real world - companies could compete on cost arbitrage, product placement etc., That's not possible with online media.
If things transition to a day and age where reputation and branding impact search results, the web will become just like the real world - limited to a few people who have money.
Moreover, I don't see Google adopting this model - they may talk rubbish about integrating user behavior and other stuff ( which they already do BTW - CTRs, traffic etc., ) - The basic algorithm is going to remain the same so long as search remains.
Last edited by Ash; 31 July, 2010 at 00:33 AM. Reason: typo