I don't relish paying people for what are essentially search clicks that in an ideal world I would have outranked them for, but the alternative is not paying and getting no sale.
Case in point: I paid $100 for ads on eHow in January alone. (Of which something like $68 goes to Demand Media.) The content is less than compelling, but a) it is clearly, absurdly profitable for me as an advertiser and b) it is economical for DM to produce.
This is a fairly typical eHow page. At ~300 words, it cost on the order of $6~8 to write. In January alone, it generated about $1.30 in DM's cut of my $2 AdWords spend. It will do four times that or more in February. Count the other advertisers on the page and I would be astonished if it pulls in less than $20 ~ $25 of revenue this year. This model empirically scales to the freaking moon.
I also checked my stats for how much I'm subsidizing Mahalo. Turns out: not that much! ($20 in four years.) The reason appears to be that, at least as it relates to educational bingo cards, DM convincingly clobbers Mahalo on execution.
http://www.mahalo.com/christmas-bingo/ <-- Winces. 30 words of content and half of them are an inducement to click on ads!
Yeah, if I were Mahalo, I wouldn't want to compete against DM using DM's model either. They're just better at farming. I am skeptical that the new model will work except as PR cover for the old model: i.e. handcrafted pillar content provides enough plausible deniability to hope Google does not mass purge all thin mahalo.com/* pages from the Internet. The economics of $1,000+ a page pillar content makes sense if (and probably only if) the pillar content preserves thousands of cheaper pages.
So much the better for Mahalo if they can simultaneously get an effective competitor of those filler pages torched.
If you really think about it what one SHOULD do is create a content futures exchange. An electronic exchange that uses APIs to shop a piece of content around and with a futures market you can sell the content for when it's needed, so you can buy christmas content in June at a discount. If it works for corn it can work for content. Also once the exchange is live you can start selling copies of your FREE "Content Farmers Almanac Ebook" all you need to do is enter your email address so the freshly farmed content can be delivered right to your door.
"I'd like 2 free range articles and 5 organic videos a week"
We have been moving all of our content to a higher standard:
2. an EXPERT in the video with credentials
3. quality Q&A (with some paid folks answers questions... that we don't really promote)
Guess who founded that: Byron Reese the brains behind Demand Media's entire content algo system. http://www.demandmedia.com/executive-leadership/byron-reese/
So unfortunately, this isn't some new idea Demand missed... it's one they've moved beyond.
* hard to search => less google juice
* hard to cross-reference => less retention, harder to build link farms that aren't ferreted out quickly
* slow to consume => higher bandwidth cost
Then again, I wouldn't exactly mind if content farmers went out of business :)
May I make a suggestion: transcripts. If you are going to provide video - provide a transcript of all the vids so they may be quoted. Make the transcripts hyper-links to the videos themselves.
So if people copy the text and send it - they send a link to the vid along with it.
I actually havent spent time on Mahalo, but just went over to look and I really like the how-to section at first glance.
One of the things that is an utter failure of Quora; they have a ton of top-notch people using it - yet they have done NOTHING to seek out and curate information from the experts such that it threads together.
For example, I go to the "startup advice" topic - and its a big pile of jumbled randoms.
I cant go and actually learn anything more than a snippet. (not to mention the ability to search/sort and view stuff. The UI/UX is HORRIBLE.
Seems to me he realized eHow is an unstoppable SEO machine and decided to positior, err, "pivot" against them.
He really belongs in politics, not tech.
You are correct that our only option against ehow making hundreds of thousands of low-quality pages a month is to point out vocally that our higher-quality pages and videos are outranked in search engines.
This is a risky strategy because any time we screw up--and obviously that will happen--we will get attacked brutally.... and we should!
My instructions to my team is to make a page better than the top three in Google and bing. IF we don't beet them in the search rankings we will bang a drum until someone listens!!!
It is going to be fun to see if this works.
Personally I'd vote for Calacanis having more substance then Ferris.
The moral litmus test for Jason's about-face would be if he felt so bad about the content mill pages on Mahalo that he deleted them from the web and tested the (alleged) "quality" content as a business model.
IMHO this just one more example of Jason trying to put a thin veneer of polish over a turd.
We solved this by hiring 55 video editors in the last six months and we now add an expert to every page.
So, if you definition of a content farm was "light" content written by non-experts then we we're a content farm.
Guilty as charged, but I confessed my sins and I'm now on the side of the righteous! Aaron Wall is now my biggest fan... he tells his clients to model their sits around my sites.
That being said, come on. You confessed and it's out of some altruistic epiphany?
Mahalo isn't competing for mindshare, it's competing for SEO share and you got beat. If you are switching to a high quality content producer, let the quality of your content speak for itself. Compete for consumer's mindshare as a destination for quality content. You've picked some battles I still respect like fighting against angels charging to be pitched. However, you don't have the same moral high ground on this one. You have no legitimacy as a crusader against content farms. Period. Stop it.
Create some awesome content and share it with us. Sites like this THRIVE on the high quality content. Or re-work your business model and SEO and compete again for that long tail xylophone playing monkies. Either way, stop treating us like idiots and be honest with us.
If you need to spend as much on content generation as I'm seeing cited here, your time to break even is quite a while on a per-article basis.
As per this WSJ article http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2010/08/12/where-did-demand-medi...
if demand media is allowed to amortize out their costs over years (under the assumption every piece of "How to bathe your gerbil" will keep bringing in revenue for the next half-decade) they become strikingly profitable, especially for a company that writes words on the Internet. If not, they're hemorrhaging cash.
Given Google's recently renewed focus on providing quality search results, I'd take the under on all of these companies, mahalo included.
The problem here is that folks want to know stuff that has very little -- but measurable -- value in terms of advertising dollars. You are not going to make Champagne pages for folks with beer budgets. Doesn't make sense.
More honestly, this is an issue of making Google look bad. It's the Deadly Sin of web content.
So gee. I don't know, maybe Google should worry about making itself look better? If that means de-listing E-how, then so be it.
Instead of focusing on the beginning of this arms race, the filling in of trivial content, we should be focusing on the end of the race: a net full of cool, informative, and deep articles about just about every subject imaginable. That's a noble goal -- but in my opinion you have to crawl before you can walk. Shutting these guys down isn't going to do much except stifle innovation.
All content generators -- bloggers, e-mags, content farms, micro-sites and the rest of them -- need from Google is a fair, level playing field. One rule for everybody. After that is accomplished, then I would expect people who make content would start making crappy content, Google would raise the bar, and this back-and-forth will continue for a while.
Sounds all pretty normal to me. For every page that ranks highly that ticks somebody off, somewhere out there, some kid has a hamster who is just tickled pink there is a set of instructions on how to wash it.
I think the real thing that's going on here is that lots of money is getting involved so the players are starting to posture, both to the investors, the search engines, and the competition. Wonder what they imagine their various end-games are. Love to be a fly on the wall in some of those board meetings.
The Internet is a net full of cool, informative, and deep articles about just about every subject imaginable. The content farms are not where you find them, and they're getting in the way of the quality results.
The fact that eHow shows up, at all, in Google listings, is a failure of Google on an epic scale. There are always better sources for any given topic than eHow (or Mahalo, except maybe on cooking a turkey).
Killing content farms by blacklisting them from Google would not stifle innovation, it would allow the the quality content to rise to the top, as it should. The best content on any given niche subject is usually found on a tiny niche site run by someone that loves their subject. Google punishes tiny niche sites, comparatively speaking, despite the fact that they are better for niche subjects. And, it rewards big-ass content farms like eHow, despite the fact that 99.9% of their content is literally worthless.
ehow is an 11 year old domain name and they create millions of pages. They will out rank anyone due to:
a) domain age
b) flooding the index with dozens of pages around a niche topic (as opposed to one good one).
google does NOT rank for quality... it ranks for signs of quality such as domain age, inbound links, etc.
until google can tell that there 100+ spam articles on a niche topic are not as good as on lifehacker or Mahalo or /. page we're screwed.
I mean, in order to win you need to buy and old domain and flood the index. what if everyone does this?!?!
This Mahalo page was written by a sloppy computer program and is a shotgun blast of random gronk schlorped on a page in the hopes of making it appear to answer a question that nobody, even at Mahalo, really thought about:
If Google is bonusing up the owner of the former page to the detriment of the owner of the latter page, they're doing the Internet a favor. My only knock on them is that their response to the latter page didn't involve blowtorches.
In fact, maybe that's what they wanted all those donations for...
The issue boils down to the fact that the search landscape is fundamentally a representative democracy. Google has a huge amount of power but if people become dissatisfied with the results, Google will be out the door quicker than you can say "altavista".
And here is Jason's problem: if people clicking the Google search results are satisfied with ehow, then ehow they shall get. Urging people to demand better content is a fool's errand.
I'll give you a good slow clap.
Frankly, I think we got caught up in the races with content farms like Demand Media too much. You can't create thousands of articles a day and expect quality--it's impossible!!!
So, we move to dozens to maybe 200 pages a day... but we do it with quality and hope for the best.
The good news is we broken even last year and have a ton of money in the bank. We are going to ramp up our burn and try to make a LOT of high-quality videos.
You can see them here:
These videos are getting better and better... I'd say most are 6-9 out of 10. Every month we should add a half point to our average. That means by the summer we should only publish stuff that's an "eight or better."
We are going to build a wide, commercial version of the Kahn Academy.
This is a terrific idea, and I wish you all the best in doing it well. You've got the drive, money, and PR skill to make it a reality. Go for it.
I do think that given what the article points out, Aol's purchase of the HuffPo seems more ill-advised. If Google is able to determine that the large majority of the content on HuffPo is rehash of another site, kiss that investment goodbye. I've always been on a mission to get as close to the source of things as I can. I'm all for relevant analysis, but summarizing an article word for word is tough to accept.