Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in 2011 and has been rewritten and updated with new content in September 2023.
Whenever there is a backlash by search engines like Google against any online practice such as content farms, I find it interesting to look at how it happened in the first place because that usually holds some keys to understanding what’s going on behind the scenes.
In this blog, we'll dive into some of the backlash that content farms have faced and how content writers can navigate these waters.
Trend #1: Long-tail Keywords
It’s no secret that users are evolving in the way they use search engines, and this means typing in more and more specific phrases to find what they need. So what started as searches for things like “used cars” have evolved into “used 2016 Toyota Camrys for sale in New Orleans, LA.” Users understand that the more specific they are with their searches, the better chance they have of finding what they need.
Enter the marketers. Armed with data showing that longer phrases produce more qualified traffic, the race began to create as much content geared around these specific phrases in hopes of ranking well. This strategy, known as long-tail keyword targeting, became a popular tactic in the world of online marketing. Marketers started analyzing search trends and user behavior to identify specific long-tail phrases that were relevant to their businesses. With this data in hand, marketers began creating a plethora of content specifically optimized for these longer phrases. They conducted extensive keyword research, identifying variations and synonyms to maximize their content's visibility in search engine results.
Generally speaking, search engines reward this practice by showing pages like these highly in their results. The end result: more and more long-tail content is being created. This is where a comprehensive content strategy comes into play. A content marketing strategy isn't just about creating content that ranks for a keyword; it's about creating content that offers genuine value and meaning to users who search for those keywords.
Trend #2: The 350-Word Page
The second argument in favor of shorter pages was that Internet users don’t really like to read as much as they prefer to scan. So, the shorter pages with bullet lists and lots of headings would be more digestible to a user, which is ultimately what search engines want – to give you the content you want to read. This technique is said to benefit both the browsing experience and search engine optimization efforts.
With the advent of mobile devices and social networks, Internet users are consuming content in much shorter bursts. But remember, while brevity is appreciated, sacrificing quality for the sake of short-form content can lead your website into the realm of low-quality content, something that content farms are notorious for.
Trend #3: The Race to Become a “Resource Site”
Another generally accepted principle in the digital marketing world has been that more content equals higher credibility and “resource” status with search engines. For instance, if you are a personal injury attorney and you have lots of law-related articles on your site, then it must be a good site worthy of being shown higher in search results, right?
So marketers took this concept of long tail keyword interest and applied the “light and fluffy” 350-word page game plan to creating resource sites. There's a lesson to be learned from content farmers and companies that were heavily impacted by changes in search algorithms. It's crucial to note that having a ton of content doesn't necessarily equate to higher credibility. The quality and relevance of content play a pivotal role in establishing credibility with search engines. Simply flooding your website with content may not yield the desired results if the information provided isn't valuable or pertinent to your target audience. Content farm contributors found that out the hard way, as their low-quality content was penalized by search engine algorithms.
What Should We Learn From Content Farms & What You Can Do Going Forward?
The logical reaction is to produce more focused and in-depth content, which probably means you do it a little less frequently. The real question with more in-depth content is whether or not people will actually want or take the time to read it. But these concerns are somewhat secondary since the first step is to actually get your content found by searchers. And if Google says it wants more in-depth pages, then it will get longer pages.
I’m sure it will take time to figure out what the best practices are going forward, but it’s obvious that the trend is headed in this direction.
The rise of content farms was driven by a desire to rank well for long-tail keywords, create shorter pages that were easier for users to scan, and become a resource site with a high volume of content.
However, as search algorithms have evolved, it has become clear that quality and value-driven content is the key to success. As content writers, it's important to focus on creating in-depth content that offers genuine value to users searching for specific keywords. By doing so, you can navigate the evolving landscape of SEO and continue to rank well in search engine results pages.
As we contemplate the future of content farms, one thing is clear - creating high-quality, value-driven content is key. You can ensure this by hiring a competent content strategist who understands your business goals and can help you navigate the evolving landscape of SEO and content creation.
So, take the time to create high-quality content and invest in a competent content strategist who understands your business goals and can help you stay ahead of the curve while avoiding content farms.