Content quality vs. quantity

Feb. 03, 2011 | by tbrandon

There’s been a debate raging recently about quality vs. quantity of content. In the red corner, we have “quality” content, produced by journalists or experts who are paid market rates. In the blue corner are so-called “content farms”, such as Demand Media and AOL’s Seed that pay writers $15-$20 for articles that act primarily as a context for search-terms that will make it findable in Google.

So it’s in this context that I’ve found AOL’s leaked Content Strategy a fascinating read. The digital behemoth has been quietly re-defining itself, streamlining and building up a relevant staff.

According to the document, one of AOL’s primary goals is to scale up content production (from 31,000 pieces in January to 40,000 in March). Most of this growth is through what they call “scaled production” from Seed or other high volume/low cost methods. AOL’s ad-based model is, after all, all about page views and this model has been successful for Demand Media too. Their recent IPO valued it higher than the New York Times.

But AOL isn’t turning its back on high quality content either. They’re still producing original, top quality content, but in a more focused, strategic way. They commission this content out to “notable freelancers”, who have an established following, plus they estimate expected page views and revenue potential before commissioning it. Sounds like a solid content strategy.

While AOL’s business model may not be relevant to many of our clients, we do have conversations on a regular basis that are similar, such as:

How do you compare the value of expert content vs. content written by someone less experienced?

What value to your business is content written for people first, and search engines second?

How much breadth and depth is enough?

The answer: If you want real people to read it, engage with it and even pass it along to others, it has to be good. If you just want Google to like it and aren’t as interested in real people, it may be tempting to push out volume at the expense of quality and readability.

But beware: you might find your content tangled up in the low-quality backlash. One search engine, Blekko has already blocked content farms, and Google’s talking about following suit too.  Which might be a problem – real people use Google too.

Interested in joining the debate? Come along to the What Next For Content? event we’re hosting at Social Media Week 2011 on 10 February.

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    Comments (5)

    • Trisha Brandon

      I agree, Andy. There's lots of content "filler" showing up. And I find those regurgitated blogs particularly odious. At least they should give a takeaway, an opinion or something unique. Interesting piece in the Guardian about AOL losing Engadget editors in wake of the AOL Way too: 15, 2011 12:09 pm

    • Andy T

      I think you just have to look at Google Alerts to see some of the gumpf that get's thrown out in the name of Google Juice. Business Strata, for instance, the Direct Marketing arm of Thompson just scour the web for something trending and copy a paragraph of it and whack it on the site then try and sell their marketing data to everyone who lands on it.
      I find it deceiving to be honest, at least put an opinion on the subject with it so the content is vaguely related to the brand steeling it.

      Of course you do get good aggregation, where a site will scour the web for trends and combine them all together into an educational piece made up from many great sources, saving us from scouring the web ourselves.
      Mark Brownlow of email-marketing-reports is the best example and theemailguide also pays a good tribute to good content.

      I try myself but my own opinions tend to bleed through a bit, but maybe that's why people read what I write, both of them ;-)Mar 8, 2011 03:48 pm

    • Trisha Brandon

      Hi desbest. Thanks for your comments.

      I think the definition of "content farm" is a contentious one. I included AOL's Seed in the content farm category largely due to the company's content strategy (that you kindly include in your comment, but that's also in the post above) because it explicitly focuses a large percent of its growth on volume-focused, SEO-led, lower quality content. Demand takes the same approach. Personally, I find little of value from content I come across that fits this model.

      And Google--the jury, of sorts--is still out:
      Feb 15, 2011 11:15 am

    • desbest

      Ehow is a great site, and you should look at this related article, about AOL's future plans to be a content farm by making content for the audience of ranking high in search engine terms. That will cause less quality content for us, but how can someone make an automated algorithm for that.

      AOL hasn't changed it's money ethics since the AOL CD-ROM days.Feb 9, 2011 08:04 am

    • desbest

      I love this blog post, but AOL and Demand Media is not a content farm, as they don't provide spam content, and they provide content that people want that's quality. If I came across one of their sites on a Google Search, I wouldn't click the back button, I would find what I want.

      People are just scared that a corporation can own most of the content on the internet, and Google doesn't like it, but can't do anything about it.Feb 9, 2011 08:00 am

    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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