The term content farming designates a business model on the Internet, whereby content is produced in very high quantity and monetized through online advertising. The content is often regarded as low-quality and created for the sole purpose of getting a high volume of visits. Common formats are guides, tutorials, or FAQs. Such content is usually optimized against SEO criteria to achieve high rankings in search engines. The aim is to produce as many articles as possible for as many readers as possible to then place advertising around that content as the next step and generate a high ROI. Content farms, also called content mills, are now, however, negatively viewed by search engines and partly downgraded in search results because of algorithm updates.
Content farms get their articles from freelance or employed authors or even regular users. A keyword search is done before the articles are written and it is often automated. The purpose is to find out what keywords and related topics are frequently searched by users. Common search terms have a higher chance of generating traffic. High traffic leads to more revenue from advertising. Most content farming work is based on this principle.
Since the subject research is aimed at the needs of users and marketing opportunities, such business models are also described as demand or scalable media. On the one hand, it is attempting to fulfill a demand, on the other hand, topics are identified that produce traffic and this traffic is then measured with different metrics. Growth is usually boosted by growth hacking and viral marketing, while the performance of individual media content forms the central theme.
One of the first companies to work according to these principles was Demand Media. They were able to monetize their website eHow.com with some success. Demand Media has been a listed company since the beginning of 2011. The Panda Google update changed this success story and the business model was criticized. Since eHow.com depends to a large extent on Google traffic, the update had a negative impact on visitor numbers. Websites such as Suite101.com, Ask.com or Mahalo.com experienced similar fates.
Content Farming begins with an analysis of search queries, trends, and topics that are currently of interest to users. Search requests are recorded by the provider or freelance writers and sorted according to certain criteria such as search volume, temporal evolution of search volumes, or potential advertising revenue for certain terms. This analysis is done partially automated in larger companies by connecting interfaces to search engines. Using an API, relevant data is transmitted to the company. An algorithm sorts the search queries and the result is a list of terms and issues that potentially have a high market value.
The analysis of search queries not only focuses on generic keywords with high search volume called money keys, but also on long-tail areas, niches, and phenomena such as conversational search, infotainment or competition (TF*IDF analysis). What matters is what users search for and which terms and associations they use. Based on the data obtained, editorial plans can be created to instruct authors. After the posts have been created, markup is usually added as well so that each post meets relevant SEO criteria. This on-page optimization is an essential part of content farming, since it is necessary for high positions in the SERPs.
Additionally, the research for the creation of content is often supported by tools. Google Suggest, AdWords Keyword Tool, Google Trends, or other tools such as Ubersuggest and W-questions-tools are used to obtain data. Under certain circumstances, this is complemented by methods such as newsjacking or trend research. Some content providers do an analysis of the reader and user behavior or uses click-baiting to generate attention for posts and especially headers. The type of content can be very different from content farm to content farm, the guiding principles are the deciding factor. Some vendors provide their content through social media, where millions of users search for snackable content every day.
Companies that are associated with content farming are subjected to frequent criticism. They are accused that their posts are of very low quality and introduce the principle of mass production into journalism. Demand Media reacted to the statement that journalism was not their objective but answering actual questions of everyday life. One aspect of this business model is demand. As long as that exists, and users are looking for simple answers to simple questions, such business models will work. The same applies to the entertainment area with sites that have become popular in the social web.
In addition to the above, content farms have also been criticized for their business practices. Some writers revealed that payment for individual articles is quite low. To earn a livelihood, articles have to be written en masse, whereby the quality of the answers fall victim to the business practice. The counterargument in terms of the existing demand applies here as well. As long as there are copywriters serving this niche, content farming will be practiced on the employer side.
With the Panda update, Google changed the rules for websites that publish supposedly poor-quality content at a high volume. The focus was not only websites with questionable content but also aggregators that produce very little content themselves, or sites with thin and duplicate content. These include article directories. Google’s well-known slogan “Content is King” no longer accurately describes its current premise. Because content farms produce much content and generate revenue by the millions. Instead, it should read: “Quality Content is King.” A lot of content farms responded to this update with changes to their strategies. If users continue to look for answers to simple questions or want to be entertained, content farms will continue to be a traffic source that constitute a platform for advertising revenue.