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Google and Content Farms

You all, by now, are well acquainted with content farms and their business model. There are many companies who try to assure that content they create rises to the top of a specific Google search. They do this for commercial, political or advocacy reasons. For example, pharmaceutical companies want content about their products (given that many people check out their prescriptions on the web) to be seen without all those pesky regulated content additions about suicidal thoughts or the rare death. They pay content farms to achieve this for them. Auto and appliance companies want positive reviews of their products for those who search before they buy. If your customers make choices based on what they find on Google, then why not ensure you provide them with hundreds of links promoting your brand. Politicians want their positions to get to you quickly over more fair and balanced reporting. Use geocoding to adapt that message by locality or district. Special interest groups want you see their content about birth certificates, where politicians were born, race issues, etc. that would have difficulty reaching some of the mainstream media outlets without editorial intervention or hit the top search results without specific intervention. Content farms are those companies that write custom content to order for people and organizations that are willing to pay. They also use search engine optimization techniques to assure it’s presence on top pages in a search. As social media like Facebook and Twitter become influencers on search results they can create content in this space too.

As has been widely reported Google and other search engines (Bing, Blekko, etc.) have acknowledged that this is frankly a problem in trusting search results and significant top search results are or were highly polluted by content spam generated by content farm companies. Google has been rolling out its Panda and other farmer search algorithm updates differentially across many countries. Here’s a good link and simple infographic. I have further comments below.

Google vs. Content Farms

A few things to consider:

1. I think that it is worrisome that the algorithm updates at Google et al are being rolled out differentially in different countries. Are the algorithms affected by langauage? Are US search results in English better than French results anywhere? How different are the search results by location? Sometimes localization is a benefit. Is it possible that sometimes you might be in a place where you’re not getting the best quality results available?
2. Panda is NOT a permanent or quick fix. I think that these algorithm changes are very similar to viruses and phishing issues. McAfee, Norton et al play whack-a-mole trying to keep the evil of computer viruses and malware at bay. It is an unending and profitable task. There are billions of dollars of revenue already in the content farm industry. This is a powerful motivation to find the cracks in any algorithm changes that the search engines introduce, especially Google. Google will continue to try to address content pollution in its search results AND the content farms will continue to evolve and re-infect the results. The war is on for quality search results and there will be winners and losers and there wlil be collateral damage where innocent sites will be swept up in the melee. Your library website cold be affected. Is there a magic bullet here? I doubt it.
3. There are some big players here. Yahoo has a large content farm subsidiary. Demand Media went public this year for about $1.5 Billion. AOL with its slate of recent content acquisitions, including the Huffington Post, is rapidly turning itself into a paid placement content provider. Google gets the vast majority of its revenue from advertising and must serve the needs of advertisers first. It also must ensure that the search results have at least the appearance of quality or they’ll lose users to the few remaining competitors. How will the content farming and SEO/SMO sector evolve to address the changes in the search algorithms to downgrade their placement?
4. One content farm CEO noted that the best and most powerful content farm strategy to drive advertising, product placement and advocacy placements would be convert to digital online format all of the books in the world and use that content to drive ads and links. Why pay people to write new content when you can build a vault of old content and repurpose it for a new era. I wonder who’s doing that en masse? I wonder why . . .

I don’t know the answers to these questions but inquiring minds want to know.

Anyway, search results in databases licensed or built by libraries are not subject to manipulation by commercial or special interests. Another great reason to use and trust your library.

Let’s tell our users. Train them. Increase their skills at making good reading choices – articles, books, blogs, websites, etc.


Posted on: April 22, 2011, 10:03 am Category: Uncategorized

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