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What does Content Farms mean in SEO?

Content farms are websites that contain thin or useless articles or blog posts which are never seen of as any value by Internet users. So why do they exist and why do you have to be wary of them?

What is a content farm?

A content farm is a website full of articles that are usually shallow or thin in content and detail. Typically each article will be around 300 to 500 words and has only been written for the purposes of including a link to another website.

So if I want to create a link to this page I would write 500 words about something related to the subject of content farms, say "How to write great articles for content farms" and in that text I would include a link to here.

I'd then submit it to the other website to the website offering to publish articles in the hope that Google would see that link, think it means my website is popular and rank me higher.

Content farms are never a 'go to' place for people who need real information, you will never hear them recommended as a place of valuable information.

Why do content farms exist?

If they contain nothing of real value to anyone and their content is rarely read by Internet users why are they made. It's a historical thing.

When Google became the world's leading search engine it did so by considering more than just the content of a page on a website, but how many links that page or website was getting from other websites. The more links you had the higher you ranked.

Webmasters raced to get links. Popular was the 'reciprocal link' - I'll link to you if you link to me. Google realized this undermined their algorithm and so declared it would ignore reciprocal links.

"So where are we supposed to get links from" Webmasters cried out to Google and Google dropped a bit of a clanger. They said online directories were a good place and in doing so created a market for hundreds of thousands of online directories.

Most would accept any website and weren't moderated to check if submissions were correct - are you really submitting a real estate website? We don't care! Just add it.

There were paid programs which allowed you to submit your website to thousands of directories at once.

"Whoops" thought Google and declared these 'Link Farms'. The directories weren't real or of value and were only put online in order to create links so Google declared that links from these would no longer count.

Instead they said good links were those found within articles, especially if the theme of the article was similar to the page it linked to.

Before they could draw breath on that statement thousands of websites sprang up where you could submit articles, complete with links. Most were poorly moderated, if moderated at all, so anyone could submit any article about anything and it would appear online immediately.

A wood flooring company would write a vague 300 word piece about wood floors and pack it full of links to their wood flooring website.

In general these sites were bloated with poor quality, thin content that provide no actual value at all. Many articles were so poorly written that they were barely readable.

Again there were paid services so you could submit one article to hundreds or thousands of websites and paid software that could spin an article (rewrite it using different words) which allowed people to make on piece of text into one hundred pieces of text to submit. If you didn't want to write your own article there were plenty of people who would for a few dollars.

Obviously no real people ever used these article sites as a source of useful information. Even when it was there it was impossible to find in the dross.

Google declared these content farms and announced links from these would be ignored.

Content farms on the run from Google

Despite Google's cull of content farms two factors remained. A link within the main content of a page counted for more than a link on its own (say in the header or footer areas of the page) and if the content was of a similar theme to the page it was linking to then that link counted for even more.

The big question then was how to hide content farms from Google. Enter 'guest blogging'. Instead of creating a website where people could submit articles you created a blog where people could submit guest blogs.

People also created Private Blog Networks (PBNs) where they hosted multiple blogs on multiple subjects so you could get your guest blog posted in a theme related place.

And in general these hosts were a little more careful. They charged a fee, even if it was a few dollars, to moderate the content, make sure articles were readable and check that they were on topic.

The market for article writing and article spinning continued to flourish.

A Content farm is a content farm

Some of these schemes had limited success but they are fundamentally flawed because the same system Google uses to spot a content farm can also spot a private blog network or a sham blog. The hosts make it too easy because:

  • Articles are usually 300 to 500 words long
  • With Natural Language Processing it is easy for Google to see thin content of little value.
  • The links are wierd - I mean if you were to write an article about something as vague as the importance of car insurance why would you create a link in it to something as specific as John's Car Insurance services in downtown Manhattan?

You'll still find offers out there for link farms, content farms, budget 300-500 word article writing and article spinning because a lot of webmasters just don't know the history and they make prime targets for cons and scams like these.

Ultimately, however, if you are looking for a valuable link it does not come from:

  1. A website which will accept almost anything as long as it is 300 words or more
  2. A website that you would never go to when looking for information of value

If that is what you get offered, its a content farm. Don't expect it to benefit your rankings in the long term.

I'm Tim Hill, a Search Engine Optimization and Online Marketing specialist. I created this site to help others understand that SEO is not a mysterious black art!.

If your a newbie try the Getting Started in SEO page, otherwise feel free to dig around and learn more.

Find me on Facebook or get in touch if you need help.

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