The Wages of SEO: Content Free Content

June 28, 2011

In the last two weeks, I have participated in a number of calls about the wrath of Panda. The idea is that sites which produce questionable content like Beyond Search suck. I agree that Beyond Search sucks. The site provides me with a running diary of what I find important in search and content processing. Some search vendors have complained that I cover Autonomy and not other engines. I find Autonomy interesting. It held an IPO, buys companies, manages reasonably well, and is close to generating an annual turnover of $1.0. I don’t pay much attention to Dieselpoint and a number of other vendors because these companies do not strike me as disruptive or interesting.

I paddle away in Harrod’s Creek, oblivious to the machinations of “content farms.” I have some people helping me because I have a number of projects underway, and once I find an article I want to capture, I enlist the help of librarians and other specialists. Other folks are doing similar things, but rely on ads for revenue which I do not do. I have some Google ads, but these allow me to look at Google reports and keep tabs o n various Googley functions. The money buys a tank of gas every month. Yippy.

I read “Google’s War on Nonsense.” You should too while I go out to clean the pasture spring. The main point is that a number of outfits pay people to write content that is of questionable value. No big surprise. I noted this passage in the write up:

The insultingly vacuous and frankly bizarre prose of the content farms — it seems ripped from Wikipedia and translated from the Romanian — cheapens all online information. A few months ago, tired of coming across creepy, commodified content where I expected ordinary language, I resolved to turn to mobile apps for e-books, social media, ecommerce and news, and use the open Web only sparingly. I had grown confused by the weird articles I often stumbled on. These prose-widgets are not hammered out by robots, surprisingly. But they are written by writers who work like robots. As recent accounts of life in these words-are-money mills make clear, some content-farm writers have deadlines as frequently as every 25 minutes. Others are expected to turn around reported pieces, containing interviews with several experts, in an hour. Some compose, edit, format and publish 10 articles in a single shift. Many with decades of experience in journalism work 70-hour weeks for salaries of $40,000 with no vacation time. The content farms have taken journalism hackwork to a whole new level.

My take on this approach to information—what I call content  free content—is that we are in the midst of a casserole created by Google and its  search engine optimization zealots. Each time Google closes a loophole for metatag stuffing or putting white text on a white background, another corner cutter cooks up some other way to confuse and dilute Google’s relevance recipe.

The content free content revolution has been with us for a long time.  A  Web searcher’s ability to recognize baloney is roughly in line with the Web searcher’s ability to invest the time and effort to fact check, ferret out the provenance of a source, and think critically. Google makes this flaw in its ad machine’s approach with its emphasis on “speed” and “predictive methods.” Speed means that Google is not doing much, if any, old fashioned index look up. The popular stuff is cached and updated when it suits the Google. No search required, thank you. Speed, just like original NASCAR drivers, is a trick. And that trick works. Maybe not for queries like mine, but I don’t count literally. Predictive means that Google uses inputs to create a query, generate good enough results, and have them ready or pushed to the user. Look its magic. Just not to me.

With short cuts in evidence at Google and in the world of search engine optimization, with Web users who are in a hurry and unwilling or unable to check facts, with ad revenue and client billing more important than meeting user needs—we have entered the era of content free content. As lousy as Beyond Search is, at least I use the information in my for fee articles, my client reports, and my monographs.

The problem, however, is that for many people what looks authoritative is authoritative. A Google page that puts a particular company or item at the top of the results list is the equivalent of a Harvard PhD  for some. Unfortunately the Math Club folks are not too good with content. Algorithms are flawless, particularly when algorithms generate big ad revenue.

Can we roll back the clock on relevance, reading skills, critical thinking, and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake? Nope, search is knowledge. SEO is the into content free content. In my opinion, Google likes this situation just fine.

Stephen E Arnold, June 28, 2011

You can read more about enterprise search and retrieval in The New Landscape of Enterprise Search, published my Pandia in Oslo, Norway, in June 2011.


One Response to “The Wages of SEO: Content Free Content”

  1. WebRoads Directory on June 28th, 2011 10:10 am

    It’s not a bed think that Google is trying to penalize the duplicate content… but firs I want to see the result… we have to wait a little more…

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