Content Farms

Last week The Economist published an interesting article about the rise of content farms. Content farms are mass producers of content. These are companies like Demand Media and Associated Content that employ thousands of employees to write as many articles as possible, all directed by an analysis of search trends. Whatever people search for, content farms try to fill quickly and cheaply, resulting in a business that can support itself on ads alone.

Where does this lead? White noise. Content farms are going to drown signal with noise by optimizing their “content” for every popular search. Businesses that get traffic by writing good content will have to watch out, because tomorrow content farms may tread on their ground by starting to target their keywords.

Instead of trying to produce something valuable, content farms pump out volume over value. The less time you spend writing these articles the better; you’ll be able to write that many more of them, and it’s volume here that counts. This is detrimental to the health of the Web. Instead of interesting and unique content we’re getting mass produced rubbish that clogs up the search engines and masks signal with noise.

How do you compete? Separate yourself as far as possible by going in the other direction. Content farms have no face, no character, no insights, no depth. As such, one content farm is no different from another. The only way they succeed is by cutting corners and cutting costs. Go as far as you can in the other direction. Take your time. Produce content that’s truly valuable and is unique to you.

150 years ago Louis Vuitton started his business making handmade trunks and leather bags. He didn’t try to out produce anyone, he didn’t try to mass produce anything–he focused on quality and craftsmanship. Today, Louis Vuitton is a leading producer of luxury goods with a recognizable worldwide brand. It was a time of the Industrial Revolution when Louis Vuitton first began his work, a time of mechanization and mass production, and yet he didn’t take that road. He chose to focus on what mattered to him, and what ultimately makes the brand so successful today.

May 2010