Down on the Content Farm
Google search algorithms might as well be sorcery as far as I can understand them, but I was glad to hear about the recent change to the algorithms. "This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites — sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful," the official Google blog said last week. "At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites — sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on."
Like I said, sorcery, but I hope it's true. My livelihood in large part depends on value-add content for web sites. You'd think that any publication, online or on paper, would want that kind of content, but it isn't so. As long as I've been in publishing, there have been publishers with very little interest in the actual content of their publications. Editorial was something to fill the space around the ads, a necessary nuisance.
The migration to electronic media has made no difference to this line of thinking. How else to account for "content farms" that pump out poorly written, or maybe stolen content, with a business model that looks to produce editorial (content) as cheaply as possible. This kind of dumbass publisher would use a random-word generator for content if he could get away with it. Why? Because it doesn't really matter what the content says, as long as eyeballs look at it.
That might be a reasonable approach for a few publications, such as those monthly circulars that feature mostly coupons for local businesses. But for those that need readers to read them? (Then again, I understand that original content is very important to Groupon, which might be one of the elements of its success.)
Naturally, every publisher gives lip serve to high-quality editorial. But it doesn't take long for most editors and writers to figure out which publishers really believe it and which don't. Fortunately, some publishers do care about their content, and pay for it, though of course it's possible to disagree about what constitutes high-quality editorial. I'm glad to say that all of the publishers I write for now strive for good editorial. I hope the shift at Google helps encourage that kind of thinking.