Brands Beware: The Problem With Content Mills & Cheap Outsourced Content

Now that businesses are starting to see the value in content marketing, we’ve entered a veritable content arms race where companies feel pressured to create more and more content.

The problem is that many businesses are scrambling trying to figure out how to produce all of this content for the blogs and websites.

To fill this void, we’re now seeing all sorts of low-cost, low-value content creation services popping up all over the web.
  And while these services might be tempting for businesses struggling to find the time to blog, using them can be disastrous for your brand.

Shady content creation practices

A couple of weeks ago, I received a pitch from a so-called PR firm. The email included a link to view the “custom content” created for my site.

Intrigued, I checked it out.
 The link took me to a platform that included the blog post, headline, image and author bio in an easy-to-view format. And, it gave me the ability to easily download the post — even in HTML — to make it easy to publish. All I had to do was let the company know when I would be publishing the post and I would be all set.

Sounds like a blog publisher’s dream, right?

Wrong.

Although the platform was innovative, there were some serious red flags showing up.

First, the author bio was very vague. There was no photo included of the author and there were no links to his online profiles or mention of where the writer works. I searched for the author’s name and came up empty handed. There were also no links to other articles throughout the entire post.

On top of that, the content was mediocre. It certainly wasn’t the worst I’ve seen, but it also wasn’t a great fit for my site either.

Then, I researched the PR firm — there were no bios, no photos, and no information about the PR coordinator or any of the people behind the brand on their website or anywhere else online. The company’s Twitter account? Goose egg.

What’s the end game?

Because I wanted to understand what the company was trying to accomplish with this approach, I questioned the PR coordinator who reached out to me.

I discovered there’s a good reason why I couldn’t find the author when searching. It turns out that all of the company’s writers use pen names.

Here’s what the PR coordinator had to say:

“We limit the use of our authors’ real names because we had instances where competitors were cross referencing our writers and using that to pursue our clients and our publisher partners.”

But even after multiple emails, I’m completely puzzled about what the firm is trying to accomplish with this low-quality, anonymous content. It seems this pitch was a heavily veiled attempt to get me to use their blog post to eventually buy into their content mill scheme.

The problem with content mills

For the many companies who are struggling to produce content internally, it seems only natural to turn to a company that can provide low-cost (or even free) content for your site.

However, outsourcing your blog to content mills or content farms like the one I encountered can be fraught with some serious problems. Here are a few reasons why you should steer clear from these shady blog creation services:

  • Questions of credibility. With anonymous content comes a serious question about the originality of the content (has it been published somewhere else?) and the credibility of the author. If you want to be a thought leader in your industry and create a blog that’s a valuable resource for readers, it’s difficult to do that if you publish content from anonymous authors with zero credentials in your field.
  • Lack of quality. Link farms and content mills are only focused on juicing up their search engine results by getting links on tons of sites for their targeted keywords. As a result, the content is often low quality and irrelevant to your audience. Allowing this content onto your site could really hurt your credibility with your readers — not to mention these posts will do little to help your overall marketing strategy.
  • SEO problems. With Google’s recent Panda update, many link spammers and sites with low-quality content were hit hard in search engine results. Be wary of allowing this type of content onto your site so you don’t suffer in search rankings. Additionally, Google Author Rank rewards sites with trusted, credible authors. Allowing content from anonymous authors will not help you or how your website ranks in search results. In fact, if your company blog doesn’t feature bylines from your writers, now would be the time to start including that.
  • Poorly paid writers. Good writing deserves to be compensated appropriately. However, content farms are notorious for hiring writers on the cheap — often as little as a few dollars per blog post. Allowing this content on your site perpetuates this practice.

What content creation approach is best for you?

As Andy Crestodina points out, you should
 take the highest road possible
 when creating content for your website or blog.

Personally, I always advocate for companies to create their own content internally. Not only does that help position you and your team as thought leaders, but it also gives your company the chance to build a better connection with your audience.

And, if you don’t have the resources to handle this internally, you should find a marketing partner who can help you.

For instance, with our clients, we develop editorial calendars and provide guidance about what kind of content they should include on their blog. We also offer training and assistance to help clients get the most out of the content — including SEO optimization and blog post promotion. This kind of collaboration allows our clients to remain at the forefront, but helps them be more strategic about their approach.

However, if you decide to outsource your blog writing completely, make sure you are involved in the planning process and work closely with the company that is developing your content. That way, you can make sure the content is consistent with your brand’s voice and sticks with your company’s key messages.

Do you outsource your blog content? How do you approach it?

Image credit: Cindy Cornett Seigle
 

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Laura Click

Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

10 replies on “Brands Beware: The Problem With Content Mills & Cheap Outsourced Content”

So true Laura. You already know that I’m stuck in this kind of job and trying to get out. The sad thing is that this kind of spun and low quality content works. It gets rankings. The saddest thing is that I don’t think it will work for much longer. When Google changes the algorithm and finds a way to crack down, all of these people are going to take a hit.

Worse, most of them don’t know any different. They are trusting that their marketing company will do what’s right for them. At they same time they are unwilling to wait long enough or pay enough for long term success to happen.

I am glad there are people like you who are doing it right.

It IS sad that this method works. That’s why there’s so much of it. I get dozens of emails every week for guest post requests that are low quality content. What people don’t realize is that a little effort can go a LONG way. It doesn’t take much to stand out amongst the low quality stuff I’m seeing.

What I’m not sad about is that Google is cracking down on this. I hope that this means the cream will rise to the top and it will eliminate some of these shadier practices.

I hope that you can find your way out of this situation, Rob. Or, maybe you can be the shining light that helps your company see that there are better ways to go about this. You clearly get how important relationship building is – doing that can go a LONG way. Hang in there, friend!

Laura, the timing of this post is perfect!

After putting them through a couple of tests, yesterday we brought two very talented writers on board with NEM to create search engine optimized content for websites we’re creating for businesses who don’t have the time to create their own. They’re experienced at writing for SEO, and stay up-to-date on Google’s changes (that’s a job in and of itself). One of them is also an excellent researcher; she served as a research assistant to her professors in college, and recently worked as an intern in the law office of a government entity.

Both had been doing freelance writing for content farms, and told us how they work. You’re right on target! When we saw the quality of work they produced upon demand with our tests, we snatched them up to join our team. They’ll be writing exclusive unpublished content for our needs and for our clients. We happen to know these two young women personally, too, and their character and integrity is impeccable. As you can imagine, we’re thrilled — and they’re excited to “get off the farm”!!

Congrats on hiring some writers, Michelle! I think that’s really going to be a huge differentiator for your business. A beautiful website is great, but it means nothing if you don’t have content to back it up. Offering blog content to go along with that is huge. Well done!

Will that also mean you’re stepping up the blogging efforts on your site? Sure hope so!

BTW – I would LOVE to hear more about their experience in content farms. Maybe that’s a blog post sometime.

Thanks, Laura! I’m so excited. Yes, they’ll be writing for NEM as well as our website clients. I love the idea about a blog post re:working for content farms, especially one written to help business owners know what to look for.

Oooh! Yes. the signs of what to look for would be great. And heck, if you want to post it here, I would be happy to have your team guest post on the topic. If you post it on your site, let me know and I’ll gladly spread the word!

this sounds vaguely familiar?! Kinda like a lunch conversation we had today face to face? LOL…the journey continues, Laura! So many new twists and turns; see you again in a few days!

I have been “recruited” by a few of these people but have refused to join. They sing this siren song about how easy it is to make good money because you don’t have to produce “great content” to get results for clients.

That bothers me. I may not hit it out of the park every time but I don’t like starting work with the attitude that “fair” will work either.

Yikes! It’s really sad how well that mediocre content can work – especially since many companies aren’t producing content at all. My hope is that with the changes at Google (Google Authorship and Panda updates) that these sites will no longer be able to do as well by churning out low-quality stuff. Hopefully, this will allow the cream to rise to the top!

Thanks for weighing in, Josh!

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