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a website which tries to attract users and improve its search engine rankings by publishing large amounts of low quality content or content copied from other websites
'Others go as far as describing AOL as a content farm, where staff are "ground down" by producing fast, low-quality pieces about whatever a trend-watching computer program tells them will be popular that day …'The Next Web 2nd February 2011
'Big travel sites hit by Google content farming clearout … A string of well known travel brands … have fallen foul of a crackdown by Google on what it calls "low-quality sites" or "sites that are just not very useful".'Tnooz 28th February 2011
As we innocently peruse the Internet and spend time digesting the content of web pages, most of us are likely to assume that what's written there has been put together with the best, most worthy intentions – namely to provide accurate information on a topic by using good quality text. Sadly, however, there are some websites who don't view the standard of the material they present as a priority, but rather whose primary aim is simply to get you to visit them. For these so-called content farms, the focus is not so much about what they provide for you, as it is about what you can do for them every time their pages land on your screen.
content farms often adopt a highly organized approach … in which the priority is search results, page views and revenue potential, rather than the quality of the writing
The new expression content farm is currently used to refer to websites which have mass-produced, low-quality content, material which is put there with the sole purpose of attracting visitors and boosting the site's search engine rankings. Their motivation is of course financial, with site owners often earning money through advertisements posted on the sites. Content farm owners flood their sites with articles purchased from freelance writers or content which has been copied from other sites. In both cases, the content featured is driven by what is likely to draw users in, so that the subjects covered are largely determined by what's currently popular online and the text will therefore throw up a match with the most popular search terms. Content farms often adopt a highly organized approach, hiring an army of low-paid writers to pump out several articles a day in which the priority is search results, page views and revenue potential, rather than the quality of the writing.
In some senses then, content farming can be viewed as an ethically dubious application of the concept of search engine optimization (SEO), the process of editing the content of a website so that it has a higher search engine ranking and therefore attracts more visitors.
In February 2010, the expression content farm hit the headlines when Google, the world's most popular search engine, announced its intention to tackle the issue by adjusting its search algorithms. Previously criticized for lack of attention to relevancy and allowing content farms to pollute its results, Google made changes to its system so that higher quality sites had better rankings and sites deemed to be low quality content farms were significantly demoted.
As well as its conventional sense, the word farm often crops up in compounds describing an area of land and/or buildings where animals or other commodities are produced on a large scale for commercial purposes. In each case, the modifying noun usually specifies what is produced, so e.g. trout farm, pig farm, etc. In this sense the word farm often denotes the concept of mass production and the associated negative connotations of churning out something for pure profit at the expense of quality (or indeed other ethical considerations), as in e.g. battery farm, puppy farm, and hence, by metaphoric extension, content farm. Recent discussion surrounding content farms has developed the farming metaphor even further, describing Google's adjustments to its search techniques as 'pesticides'.
The expression content farm is not the only example of use of the farming metaphor in relation to the Internet. The term gold farm (and gold farming) for example, has been used to refer to mass employment of individuals for the purposes of winning 'gold' (points which can be used for equipment, etc.) in an online game.
Read last week's BuzzWord. Culturomics.
This article was first published on 4th April 2011.