How Google’s Panda Update is inadvertently encouraging even more content farms

May 5, 2011
Category: Uncategorized

When Google introduced its new algorithm earlier this year aimed at elevating the quality of its search results, some of the hardest-hit sites were content farms like eHow, run by Demand Media.

An NPR story Tuesday shows that the Panda Update is driving down the search rankings of retailers, too, especially those with dozens of links to product descriptions that are generic and common to multiple sites.

The idea of Panda, after all, is to help users find content with some distinctiveness and usefulness. But what NPR discovered in profiling a big furniture broker Tuesday are the seeds for a whole new category of content farms: fast and cheap content dashed off for the sole purpose of restoring the search rankings of retail sites.

Following up a similar Wall Street Journal story published last month, NPR recounted the plight of One Way Furniture, a Long Island furniture broker with dozens of links to everything from accent chairs to writing tables.

The broker’s response to fears the store’s Google rank would drop? Hire a freelancer to add “more romance” to those descriptions, at a rate of $1 per listing. The freelancer, Lauren Fernstrom, told NPR that she’s cranking them out at a rate of 20 per hour.

Somehow, this doesn’t seem to be what Google exec Matt Cutts had in mind when he told NPR that Panda is aimed at encouraging website owners to “put a little bit more individual care and attention and work into the content of their site — whether it be a product description, or a blog post.”

In an email exchange I had with Fernstrom Wednesday afternoon, she pointed out the difference between useful descriptions of individual products and content that serves a broader purpose and wider audience.

As she understands her assignment from the furniture store, she says, “I am not tasked with creating consumable news for online consumers.”

But that may be precisely where the larger opportunity lies for news organizations and, for that matter, out-of-work journalists: Is there a sweet spot of price and time that would enable the creation of evergreen content about products that would be useful to consumers beyond the purchase of a particular item?

How much would One Way Furniture have to pay somebody to create content about writing desks, say, that potential buyers would find useful over time? And maybe even dispose them towards buying one from the retailer who provided such useful content?

Part of the answer will be found in custom content, the emerging form of advertising that equips brands to serve potential customers with useful information as opposed to irritating, interruptive messages.

Some related resources:

Done right, it’s entirely possible that custom content will satisfy Panda at the same time it sells some furniture.


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