Long time no post here! It’s been (and still is) very hectic, but I read this post by Aaron Wall of SEO Book today and I thought it was a very sturdy, significant comment on how “content farms” are affecting search result quality and ultimately how SEO plays out for everyone. You can read Aaron’s view on paid content here.

Without repeating the article, it boils down to sites like eHow (now owned by Demand Media) creating low quality content very quickly, which because it is hosted on an authority domain, easily gets into search results for “long tail” phrases where there is less competition. The money comes from the contextual advertising wrapped around this cheap (often inaccurate) content. Advertising that is not unlikely to be AdSense. Owned by Google. Hmm.

This is now being taken to the next level with “backfill” content on other authority domains, such as USA Today cited in the article, who will get a share of the ad revenue by hosting pages of eHow content on their website. So, you could easily end up in a situation where such cheap content becomes the de-facto monetisation mechanism for authority media sites and hey presto, the quality of search results for many phrases and subjects becomes littered with frankly useless “information”.

This matters, not just because it affects the quality of your search results as a user, but because as a small business owner, you will be increasingly squeezed out of the place you can most easily compete in organic search – the long tail. Aaron makes the point that this paid content on authority domains is just as bad as paid links, as far as messing with Google’s algorithm goes. The issue, of course, is that unlike paid links, Google is likely to be making money itself from the content farms via AdSense, so it has a disincentive to do anything about it.

Ultimately, failure to take action could be the death knell for Google – if its search results become populated with poor quality pages, people will turn to other sources, most likely those which can combine algorithmic search with user rating, where human beings are essentially filtering out the rubbish through their comments and ratings. That’ll be social media then… You can see why Google is trying to leverage social media into its search experience, but at the moment it’s a long way from applying social aspects to search quality (indeed, it has so far only succeeded in annoying a lot of people by including irrelevant Twitter comments into search results).

It will be very interesting to see how Google responds and whether search result quality really starts to drop…

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