The Content Machine: When 10,000 Pages Aren’t Better Than 10

The rise of SEO and SEM has created an entire niche profession: content creator. Sites like Suite 101, About.com, Associated Content, and many, many more actively search for free content creators who are effectively paid on commission – writers are compensated based on the number of “clicks” their articles receive (About.com has a slightly different model, but overall, the more traffic your content gets, the more you are paid. That said, only About.com has a formal interviewing process for its lead content creators. The rest are sign-up-and-go).

The demand for fast, cheap content has also led to rampant plagiarizing as websites pull content from other sites without attribution or even a link back. I’ve had to contact content creators “writing” for websites who had cut and pasted content from a company’s website and then cut and pasted additional content from an outdated listing in a defunct publication and strung it together with poorly worded phrases. Misinformation is rampant across the net, and only careful monitoring and active content creation on behalf of the company could stave off the worst of the abuses (or simply push them lower down in organic search).

I have also worked with clients who found similar content farmers rehashing their content and found that there was very little they could do about it. You can’t control the internet. All you can do is… well, create your own content.

Companies are also actively seeking content creators to develop thoughtful, engaging, keyword rich posts for company blogs, web sites, widgets, updates, news items, and articles.   Most work with agencies or internal marketing staff to develop a clear, consistent company or brand voice. Others rely on the dubious employment of content creators. But why solicit content creators if you have an in-house or agency who can produce better work?

Because content creation is cheap.

Content creators are often asked to work for outrageously low rates (offering $2-5 per 500 word article isn’t uncommon). When you’re offering that kind of pay, the emphasis is on quantity, not quality. Asking writers to write for specific keywords can bump up the rate two or three times… to a whopping $10-15 an article.

Of course, those paying these kinds of rates tend to be the 10,000 page content farms, whose strategy is short term profit through employing the all but free labor of a struggling writer or university professor looking for the credibility they believe will come from being “published” online. Content being farmed out at these low rates comes back barely legible, full of spelling errors, plagiarized content, bad grammar, lazy keyword dumping, and ends up being all but useless for readers looking for more information on the topic the creator was supposed to be digging into.  That means that these same articles – though they may get an initial surge of click-thrus during organic search – will eventually sputter out and die as users determine that the content isn’t valuable.

Valuable content, on the other hand, tends to live forever on the web. Content which is well-written, researched, and engaging will be shared and linked to more often. A single popular article will be much more widely shared and discussed than 1,000 poorly written content-farmed articles.

I’ve been paid as much as $500 to write a 500 word article, and employed writers to work for as little as $150 per blog post to as much as $350. If the article requires original research that includes phoning up contacts and taking a few road trips, that fee can climb to $1500 or more, so be clear about what type of content you’re looking for. If you work with an agency to create regular content for your business, these services may simply be lumped in with your monthly fee.

Measuring short-term traffic is a short-term goal. Instead, start looking at how your articles perform over time. What’s your site’s most-trafficked article from last year? From 2007? 2004?

If you start to doubt the longevity of content, take a look at the blog post Being Poor (2005) by John Scalzi. It was his most-visited post of 2006, and as of 2009, was still among his daily top 10 most-visited posts (of course, so was bacon  cat, which recorded a whopping 67,000 hits its first day or two. When it comes to content, sometimes they’re just no accounting for taste…). But it does illustrate how just one post can outperform any number of poorly written ones over time.

Great content continues to generate buzz long after you hit “send” or “publish.” Poor content simply sinks to the bottom of the pool. In today’s world, content is indeed king, and it has to come from somewhere. Be sure you know where yours is coming from, and what you want to accomplish with it.

Penny Ohlmann Neimann

The Ohlmann Group has a rich history that began in Dayton, Ohio in 1949, where the agency was founded as Penny and Penny by Bob Penny and his wife Jean. In 1964, Walter Ohlmann joined the firm. Ralph Neiman came on in 1969 and the firm became Penny/Ohlmann/Neiman. In 2011, P/O/N was renamed The Ohlmann Group to better reflect the agency's ongoing evolution and collaborative nature.

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