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Content Farming 101: What Are Content Farms?

This is the first installment in a three-part series about content farms: what they are, how they work, and the differences between the various sites.

When I made my first foray into getting paid to write on the internet, it wasn’t with a monetized blog.  I actually got started in early 2009 by writing at eHow, one of  many sites that fall under the umbrella of “content farms.”  Today I have lots of articles on many topics spread out across about a half dozen such sites, including the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Examiner, and Squidoo, and each month they provide me with a few hundred extra dollars to pad my household budget.  Sound enticing?  You can do it, too!

What are content farms?

The term “content farm” refers to a website or database filled with user-generated content, usually paying writers through residual monthly payments based  on pageviews or revenue sharing.  While the term was coined to describe sites that assign topics based on search trends and focus more on keyword density than the quality of the writing, it has grown to encompass an entire sector of websites that are often unfairly lumped into this category.  “Content farms” often carry a negative connotation in the world of online writing; deep in the web writing subculture there is much animosity about this kind of judgement.

Some of this attitude is warranted – sort of.  Since most content farm websites have very loose (or sometimes a complete lack of) editorial standards, the quality of the work each site contains varies greatly.  Some argue that putting your work on these sites can cause a guilt-by-association effect.  Say Writer A and Writer B both contribute to RandomContentFarm.com.  Writer A has a college degree and writes scathingly brilliant works with proper spelling and grammar.  Writer B picked up English as a second language and it shows, churning out painfully error-ridden articles.  If a reader assesses the quality of a site’s content based on an article by Writer B, does that hurt the credibility of Writer A?

It’s a tricky question with no clear-cut answer.  However, if you’re using proper SEO and providing quality content, searchers should (in theory) find you nonetheless, and since most sites see significantly more traffic driven from search engines than from within the site itself, most visitors will likely never notice varied quality of articles.  (Chances are, you’ve  probably browsed through many content farm articles without even realizing it!)  If you focus on providing useful, well-written content, the seeds you sow will lead to harvest in the form of regular monthly payments.

Pros and cons of content farms

When you are weighing the question of whether or not to start farming content yourself, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of writing at these venues.  For some people it makes good sense, while others might find the negatives to outweigh the positives.  Before you sign on and start writing for a content farm site, here are some things to think about:

Pros of writing for content farms:

  • The site is already established.  Critics of content farms often point out that writers can make more money by publishing on their own platform, such as a blog.  While this is true for people with well-established blogs or websites, working on your own site means doing a lot of legwork to gain Google’s favor.  Content farm sites that already have a high Google Pagerank (such as Associated Content with a Pagerank of 7) can give your work far more exposure than a small-time blog.
  • It’s as close to guaranteed income as you can get.  While the payment structure varies from site to site, if you are writing for a site that pays you for each pageview, it’s as near to a  sure thing as you can get.  Even if it’s just a few bucks at first, it’s a few bucks that should be fairly reliable from month to month.
  • It can bring further opportunities.  The community forums of various content farm websites are full of success stories that begin with exposure on the site.  Just last month my mother was contacted by a local news crew who wanted to consult her as an early childhood expert for an investigative report; they initially found her through her articles about childhood development on Examiner.com.  You never know who is out there reading your stuff!

Cons of writing for content farms:

  • It’s a long-term game.  The first few months you will probably see only a tiny amount of income, and an enormous percentage of newcomers are quickly discouraged and quit.  It’s important to remember that the article you wrote today should still be earning royalties for years or even decades down the road, and while those pennies might seem trivial now, they become significant when compounded over an extended period of time.
  • You are at Google’s mercy.  Starting back in March, Google turned the world of content farms upside-down with the rollout of their “Panda” updates.  Designed to stop low-quality sites from top billing on search results, it’s hit some websites harder than others.  Some site, like the Canada-based Suite101, have suffered massive readership losses in the months since the Panda updates first began; others, like Hubpages, seem to have weathered the storm fairly unscathed.
  • You might not retain the rights to your work.  It’s very important to read the fine print of any contract or terms of service that you agree to.  While some content farm sites allow you to reprint your work, others insist on controlling all rights, even if you decide to part ways with the site.  If you are writing material that you may one day want to use on your own blog, in a book, or for any other form of reprinting, be careful!

Now that you have a general understanding of what content farms are, you probably want to know how to use them to make some moolah.  Come back next weekend for the second installment in this series, addressing the various ways you can make an income through content farm websites.

Rhonda Greene is the blogger behind Mrs. Greene, though she farms content at various venues across the web.  She likes cookies, fuzzy critters,  all things geeky, and the color blue.

photo by teresatrimm, Creative Commons

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One Response to “Content Farming 101: What Are Content Farms?”

  1. abbiegrrl says:

    Very good info! Thanks for sharing your insight!

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