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More-General Keywords: How NOT to Get Traffic

March 7th, 2011

more general keywordsOne of the common rules in search-engine marketing (SEM) is that “content is king.” This is the idea that governs websites looking to become one of the Top 10 blogs with more-general keywords through the use of a content farm.

Ideally, this entails the publishing of quality articles that attract visitors through search-engine optimization (SEO) and keyword research who then spread the content themselves through outlets like social media. Of course, this is only part of the story. In order to rank highly in search results, websites and blogs also need a high number of backlinks to establish authority to Google’s spiders and search algorithms. And this is where the controversial practice of “content farms” comes into play.

There are many sites on the Internet that provide this important service even though it is self-serving as well. I do not want to risk any slander, libel, or defamation lawsuits, so I will not name them specifically. But any marketing veteran who provides SEO-consulting services will know to whom I refer.

Once a website or blog publishes a piece of good content, the author will often submit the same piece — usually rewritten in different words, if he does what he is doing — to a so-called “content farm” with included links back to the original site to gain increased authority from search engines. Of course, the site that again republishes the content — along with content from thousands of other sites — benefits through its outstanding SEO on more-general keywords to rank highly for the same terms as well as through gaining advertising revenue generated from the countless website visitors.

Google, however, is reportedly working to counteract the strategy (and rightly so, in my opinion). As CNET has reported:

Google has launched one of its first experiments aimed at fighting back against content farms, asking the public to help identify the worst offenders.

Chrome users can now download an extension from Google called Personal Blocklist that will allow users to block certain domains from appearing in a personalized list of search results. Google will also track the domains that users flag “and explore using it as a potential ranking signal for our search results,” wrote Matt Cutts, principal engineer at Google and a prominent anti-spam spokesman for the company, in a blog post.

For several weeks Cutts and Google have been acknowledging frustration over the proliferation of content farms in Google’s search results, or sites that write content for really no other reason than to appear within search results and draw traffic from Google. Most often that content is poorly written and sometimes nonsensical, as site editors try to understand what people are searching for on Google and commission low-cost posts with enough keywords to show up on the first page of results.

Personally, I despise content farms and all of their bastard cousins (though I understand and admire their success). Even though I now work as an online marketer, I am still a journalist at heart as a result of my background as a Boston newspaper-editor. If I take several hours to research and publish a quality article at a place like my Considerations blog, then I expect to receive one-hundred percent of the credit.

Are More-General Keywords Ever a Good Idea?

Of course, that rarely occurs in the Internet Age. Without naming names, of course, I see many websites whose programming use my RSS feeds, Google News, and other items to excerpt much of the post and “reprint” it themselves. Contrary to popular belief, Google does not penalize websites that plagarize or copy existing content word-for-word — but the search search engine aims not to reward them, either. Google gives SEO “credit” to the site the published the content first. (However, sites with outstanding SEO — like many content farms — will still benefit somewhat by constantly adding “new” content and new pages.)

So, many webmasters have taken a different approach. I once had the owner of an online-gaming affiliate site contact me for SEO-consultant services that turned out to be the following: I would merely have rewritten content from other online-gambling sites in my own words for him to publish. Unfortunately, online-marketing strategies like this are common. As a result, much of the content online is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of an original article published on a major site or news outlet.

Now, there is nothing wrong with researching a topic, reading existing articles, and then using the source material to compile something new and original on the subject. Journalists and academics do this all the time. But they credit the sources, come up with original insights, and spend the time to write something entirely fresh. I have no problems with other sites excerpting and sourcing my writings in other original content — of course, I like the backlinks. But I hate when sites merely copy my work — and besides, it is no way to become one of the Top 10 blogs on the Internet. The most-read bloggers are those who are experts on their topics and contributing something original.

And as CNET has reported, it seems that Google is planning to reward those types of online writers through helping to increase their search-engine rankings. In my opinion, it is not enough for content farms not to receive significant credit (at least usually) — they should be penalized and pushed down in rankings as well. Anyone can have a site search and copy content — I have even heard rumors of upcoming programs that will rewrite content in different words automatically without the need for an actual human being. Creating something significant and original takes time and effort — as well as SEO-software reviews.

Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.