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  • How to Avoid Being Labelled as a Content Farm


    Google’s latest algorithm update has been specifically targeting so-called ‘content farms’. Most people probably still don’t know what a content farm, is while some sites may already be affected negatively by this update.

    So today I want to suggest ways to avoid being labelled as a content farm in order to stay afloat on Google.

    A content farm is, generally speaking, a site geared towards search engine users​. In most cases, it has low quality content based either on automatic recycling (scraping) or low paid labor force. Either way, the content is quite well “optimized”​ so that it shows up above sites perceived as having a higher quality content.

    I don’t want to debate here on whether a content farm ​is spam or has some value. I want to tell how you can make sure you don’t appear to have a content farm on your website.

    One of the most criticized content farms these days is Demand Media’s eHow. While eHow articles are certainly not complete spam, they have several obvious characteristics shared by other content farms that could be used to determine their low quality.

    As a (bad) example, I have used three content farms that perform better or worse for the keyphrase [how to celebrate chinese new year]​ and compared them to the (mostly non-content farm) sites that actually rank for the more competitive [chinese new year] by itself.​ Then I came up with quite a few characteristics which the content farms have in common which are not shared by the legit sites.​

    The three content farm examples are:


    at #5 for [how to celebrate chinese new year]


    at #3 for [how to celebrate chinese new year]


    at #1 for [how to celebrate chinese new year]

    What obvious characteristics do they display? They are:

    - Keyword optimized

    The title tag/headline just focuses on one keyphrase: “How to Celebrate Chinese New Year”

    - Repetitive

    The eHow article has an enormous keyword density of above 10% for both main keywords “Chinese” and “year”​. That’s in fact the only reason actually to measure keyword density – to find out whether you’re spamming already.​

    - ​No l​inking out

    in the editorial part​, or all external links having been stripped of passing authority by the nofollow attribute​. There are no (real) links to sources or other resources.

    - Low reading level

    Chinese characters or words could be used in such an article, but content farms are too superficial to do that.​

    - No author name

    “By an eHow Contributor”

    - Heavy internal linking

    There are lots of internal links to only slightly relevant content.

    - Redundancy

    Lots of similar-sounding articles rather than a focus on one main resource:

    See: http://www.ehow.com/chinese-new-year/

    - List-only posts

    The content farm articles are list-only pieces. They are only overviews, with not enough context or explanation.

    - One size fits all​

    Content farms often deal with all kinds of topics on the same site. The content farm is about anything and everything.​ It’s random.​

    Note that some of the mistakes cited above have not been made by all three content farms. Thus about.com and Wikihow rank better than eHow.com​. This suggests that even adapting your obvious content farm to Google’s new standards might improve its overall performance in the search results.

    Content farms are not all bad, so they won’t be banned on Google as they are on Blekko. This was more of a PR stunt, but I’m sure that you want to avoid  being labelled as a content farm anyway.

    So you have to attempt to do the exact opposite of what I have summarized above:

    - Use natural language

    Don’t focus solely on keywords; spice it up with ​some very specific terms.

    - Use synonyms

    Don’t repeat the same term or phrase over and over; try to find other similar expressions​.

    - Link out

    Link out to your actual sources and add more external links to resources​ that offer even deeper insights.

    - ​Write for adults

    Don’t write for children and people new to the topic only. Make the article understandable for everybody, but make it interesting for experts as well by going in-depth.

    - Be a person

    Add a name and profile to the articles you’re the author of.

    - Add internal links for users, not search engines

    Don’t use automatic keyword-based interlinking programs to your copy. Use internal links wisely. Link to more in-depth knowledge​ which someone would actually read, not a general article on a slightly related topic that happens to be mentioned.

    - Focus on one resource

    Don’t add more and more resources on the same particular topic, but optimize one page by adding more resources to it and updating it.

    - Add lists

    Add lists to articles to make them more readable but don’t write superficial “listicles”​ consisting only of a list of bullet points.

    - Focus

    Make a site that focuses on one topic, like ours does on SEO; do not try to cover everything, as you end up covering nothing in depth.

    Any other ideas? Have you been affected by the latest anti-content farm update? Have you improved your site’s rankings since?

    * Image by benketaro

    I help people with blogs, social media & search. I help you succeed on the Web. I've been online publishing for 15 years. I started back in 1997.

    13 Responses to “How to Avoid Being Labelled as a Content Farm”

    1. Krystle says:

      You might find this article interesting about how curated search engine DuckDuckGo banned eHow but allows (and even highlights) wikiHow: http://www.webpronews.com/topnews/2011/02/04/duckduckgo-follows-content-farm-banning-with-promoting-wikihow-content

    2. You left out a major factor of a content farm page…advertisements.

      While an adsense block here, or a banner ad there is fine, most content farms load their pages full of them. In some cases, ezinearticles.com comes to mind, there are more ads on the page than content.

      I think the ads will play a big role in the algorithm too.


    3. Jack Herrick says:

      Hi there, Jack Herrick, founder of wikiHow here. While, I thought this post had some excellent advice, I think it is inaccurate to lump wikiHow in the same group as eHow and About.com. In fact the high quality of wikiHow’s content recently prompted “spam-free” search engine DuckDuckGo to actually hard wire wikiHow as the #1 result for any matching how-to search. (Source: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/a_duck_a_wiki_team_up_against_the_content_farms.php ) . On list of qualities this posts mentions which depict a content farm, almost none of them apply to wikiHow. The specific example sited on wikiHow “How to Celebrate Chinese New Years” is detailed with 1825 words compared to the 285 on the comprable eHow article. In addition, the wikiHow article links out to 4 external sites and 1 book, in 10 different places, compared to 0 at eHow. The wikiHow article was not written by a “low paid labor force”, it was collaboratively written over 3 years by 17 different people who were volunteering to share their knowledge and passion on the subject. Finally the wikiHow article you mentioned has been tweeted 29 times and shared on Facebook 170 times, which I’m guessing happens because readers found it useful. I could go on, but i think the difference between wikiHow and sites you are terming content farms is best summed up here: http://www.webpronews.com/topnews/2011/02/07/wikihow-on-why-wikis-deliver-higher-quality-than-content-farms

      Thanks for hearing me out and maintaing an otherwise excellent blog. I hope you can update this post to reflect these facts.

    4. Karen says:

      Really useful, simple article. I don’t personally practice any “content farm” like work on my sites but it just makes you think about the different ways that Google could ascertain “quality” from quantity/trash. You have made me think about going back and updating facts etc in my outdated articles… we’re always so focused on the new content many people never think about going back and enhancing something that they’ve previously written – either to help their search engine rankings or usefulness.

    5. Robert says:

      I hope that Google actually makes an aggressive move against these content farms like they say they’re going to. They make it very tough for legitimate sites to get ranked (and therefore get traffic).

    6. Tad Chef says:

      Krystle and Jack: Thank you for coming over and providing your point of view. I consider the WikiHow post I used here as an example as the best one of all three. Still it has some characteristics of the other sites. So you’re welcome to improve your site based on my advice.

      Oneal: You’re damn right, I forgot to switch off my ad blocker!

      Karen: Yes, indeed, I’m updating old posts over on my SEO 2.0 blog and I’ll try to convince the SEOptimise to do so here as well.

      Robert: Thank you for the feedback. Google can’t be too aggressive about content farms as they are legit websites at the end of the day and Google relies on content themselves. So it will be an interesting issue to follow in the future. In the meantime you can use Blekko.

    7. your success says:

      Content farm? Didn’t even know that Google has algorithm even for this. Hmm.. Though thousands of links will do the job, even if content sucks.

    8. Peter says:

      Just goes to show that when half of page 1 is full of article based info sites with heavy optimisation that outrank real websites Google ends up seeing the value of its search engine diminished. It had to do something.

    9. I agree with the added factor of ads. There is a mindset of packing a site full of useless/lacking content that leaves people wanting more. Just below is an Adsense banner. It deprives websites that truly want to offer a resource.

    10. BrandSocialism – 30+ Google Quality/Panda Update Resources for Content Farmers and SEO Practitioners says:

      [...] Additionally I have already written how not to appear like a content farm. [...]

    11. Content Rules Ranking Post Panda, Are Content Farms Bad? | Local SEO And Google Places Ranking says:

      [...] web ranking and web traffic tanked, some hastily came to the conclusion that the algorithm “thinks we are a content farm” So how did all of this [...]

    12. Clean Keyboard says:

      Amazing blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers?
      I’m hoping to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any ideas? Bless you!

    13. Micheal says:

      Hello! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give
      a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading your blog posts.

      Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same topics?

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