Demand Media & Being “The Best Click” On Google

Demand Media’s success? Listening to what people want and generating great content to show up at Google. At least that’s part of it, said Demand’s chief revenue officer Joanne Bradford — and she came armed with screenshots and examples to prove it.

Bradford’s illustrations came during a case study presentation, “Are You Really Listening,” at FM’s Signal LA event. My live blogging of her talk is below. I’ve added some analysis, as well.

Yes, Demand Tracks Bananas

Bradford starts off saying people buy lots of bananas, $1.05 billion of them per day (or maybe per year).

More people check into Demand’s Livestrong site to log food than to Foursquare.

Everyday, people scream signals at Demand Media of what they want, and Demand listens and responds. Three ways to reach people, search, social and apps.

Super Bowl Food Signals

Shows a real time map of foods being tracked by Livestrong across the US.

Seven layer dip went up 1,360% on Super Bowl Sunday than the previous Sunday. Beer went up 92%, wings 259% and Little Smokies went up 1,033%. If you’re a food marketer, this is data you want.

In each case, Demand gives the consumers the most important thing they want, the calories.

Back to bananas. Dole told Demand it wanted to know when people want bananas, where they’re looking and be the top banana [bad pun mine] for them. So Demand did keyword targeting of Dole ads into banana-related content.

Demand, Google & The Best Click

Bradford brings up a search on Google for compare cost of bamboo floors, a search she says has lots of noise for the marketer, noise in terms of the ads you can buy but how as a marketer, you want to be “The Best Click,” the number one unpaid listing on the page.

In the picture above, she’s highlighted where a page from Demand’s eHow site appears at the top for those results. Here’s a screenshot to show it more:

Google doesn’t just let you be there, Bradford says. You have to be good. She shows the article from eHow that is ranking number one, a great article she says she’s read:

Here’s a closer look at that page:

[Expect some close examination of this page and how good or poor people will argue it to be. I have a very, very quick look at the top results. Some are definitely worse. A few seem better. Some seem about the same.

Looking at the instructions above, only the first two actually relate to the answer and feel kind of like "well, duh." Get quotes, with the density thing being about the only bamboo floor specific issue.

But the overall point is that people are clearly searching for an answer to this type of question -- and Demand is watching that and putting out something, in a topic where there's clearly no flood of outstanding material that it is somehow usurping].

Bradford says Demand wants everyone hitting a Demand site to be more confident and successful in whatever they do.

Now she shifts to talk about vacations. If people search for how to pack for Bahamas, Demand has article distributed to USA Today that answers exactly what you need.

Not “how to pack” Bradford stresses but “how to pack for the Bahamas” — did you know you need a passport to get back to the US from there? That’s something of the detail they get into. Writers were all vetted by USA Today. This article not only helped the consumer but was found and discoverable.

That was the end of Bradford’s talk. Here’s a closer look at that Demand page on USA Today:

Again, there’s a lot of “well duh” instructions here. Pack sunscreen? Pack extra batteries? The passport and currency exchange stuff is specific to the Bahamas, but that’s the minority of the content. And what’s missing — are there things forbidden to bring into the Bahamas that an American traveler might not be considering, when they pack?

Interestingly, Demand’s eHow has its own page (one of several actually) on the same topic — with less information — that still outranks the Demand-written page that’s on USA Today:

Again, I expect there will be some close examination of both of these Demand examples. But again, while I have the same “well duh” feeling that I know many might, what’s being “pushed out,” if anything, I don’t know. I do know that flipping through some of the other results, nothing wonderful jumped out. Indeed, the number one thing Google lists:

I don’t know what the hell this is. Is it a review of a hotel called “Pack Light” in the Bahamas, as the text one of the arrows points to suggests. I doubt it — because I did some searching, and there seems to be no such locaiton.

The second arrow points to the top listed tip. Pack a handkerchief because it’s so hot in the Philippines. When did the Philippines and the Bahamas merge?

I’ll tell you the one thing I noticed in my quick run through most of these sites showing up for this very niche search, on Google. About half of them had Google ads — highlighting how Google itself helps fund some of the noise that people sometimes feel these “how do I” type of pages are.

By the way, Bing’s results don’t much different than Google’s:

And for anyone who believes that killing off the “content farms” would make results better, I give Blekko, which recently started blocking many answer sites/content farms that users there consider spam. Demand’s eHow is one of those. The content farm free results:

Yeah, nothing leaps out to say removing those sites have made the results better. I particularly like the “Cornish Recipes” site that shows up at the end of this search on “how to pack for the bahamas.”

Bottom line. It’s easy to demonize content farms as ruining results. Certainly in plenty of cases, they don’t appear to add much value. But certainly in plenty of cases, no one may be adding value. The real question is, will sites step up to provide really outstanding content and be rewarded by the search engines — and in turn, make searchers feel results are getting better, not noisier or worse.

See also from the event, Mahalo’s Calacanis: Time To End The Content Farm Arms Race as well as these past articles from Search Engine Land:

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Content Farms | Demand Media | Features: General | Live Blogging | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Webmaster T

    Danny agreed that quality is subjective… adding quality varies from SERP to SERP which is why blocking a domain based on the assumption it’s all spam … is not search… it is a directory dressed up as a SE… and is obviously pandering to the SEO community. Unfortunately many SEO’s see spam as… sites positioned above me.

  • Vanessa Fox

    “But the overall point is that people are clearly searching for an answer to this type of question — and Demand is watching that and putting out something.”

    I dunno. I’d think that people searching for [compare cost of bamboo floors] are actually wanting to, you know, compare the costs of bamboo floors. Like a calculator comparison chart that shows actual prices of different brands.

  • destination360

    Here’s a interesting result:

    Search result #1 Ehow/Demand Media
    Search result #2 Ehow/Demand Media
    Search result #6 UsaToday/Demand Media
    Search result #10 Trails/Demand Media

  • taylor

    Thanks for the peek into Bradford’s brain, Danny. Good stuff.

    It seems picking its battles is a nice strength for Demand — as you put it here, going after topics \where there’s clearly no flood of outstanding material.\

    I bet it becomes a whole lot easier to be the best click when you’re competing in under-served markets like that.

  • Michael Martinez

    “The real question is, will sites step up to provide really outstanding content and be rewarded by the search engines — and in turn, make searchers feel results are getting better, not noisier or worse.”

    Oh, it still takes a little more than that. As long as Google and Bing continue to reward link building, many sites that DO offer really outstanding content will continue to be overlooked for lack of pernicious link building.

    Once a keyword has been identified as monetizable, the search results lose their naturality very quickly.

  • ian anderson

    A large amount of the content is written by paid writers who have carried out some rudimentary research.

    The results related to plastering are a classic example. The advice is plain wrong. NO professional plasterer would advise anyone to carry out plastering in such a manner.

    However, ranking against these article is near impossible.

  • DTS

    OK, a couple things. First, why do people type in complete sentences to google? It’s not, to the best of my knowledge, a natural language search engine, it’s basically a keyword search engine. The equivalent query I would use is just “bahamas packing”; that search turned up the packing light thing, plus a bunch of other stuff, but not the Demand Media stuff your “how to” post did.

    Second, the question of what is. Didn’t take much to find out; googling lead straight to wikipedia if you skip the links back to Wikipedia agrees with’s self description, it’s a travel forum sight with a lot of members, dating back to 2001, I assume long before the days of SEO and content farms. Seems perfectly legitimate and useful, the individual entrees may not be comprehensive, but if you go through the list you get some reasonable tips and you can presumablly contact the active people there directly for more info.

    Third, to @destination360 , and back on the complete sentence thing, the query I’d make, “renew passport”, turned up as the first link, with another state department link 2nd and a usps link third. From this very limited sample, I’d say that if you don’t want ehow results, you shouldn’t use ehow – style queries, just punch in the keywords.

  • destination360

    DTS the query you’d make, “renew passport”

    Just because you make this query doesn’t mean average Joe will. I bet you that that the long tail wins out in search requests. Why you think Demand would write four unique versions of this one topic and place on multiple sites? It makes money.

  • DTS

    Oops, minor edit to to clarify above: is the source of the \Pack Light\ page that turned up first on \how to pack for the bahamas\. Looking back on the page, the posts are all pretty old, so apparently it’s somewhat faded as a travel forum, but it still seems reasonable enough.

  • DTS

    @destination360: wasn’t meaning to criticize your example, it may be that \average joe\ types things like that in instead of keywords. Seems counterintuitive to me, it’s a lot easier to type in 2 words, and average Joe tends not be a speedy typist, but I have no idea what the relative frequencies really are.. The \how to\ full sentence query is obviously what Demand Media is targeting, anyway, and in line with the topic of this page. On the other other hand, \how to renew passport\ still returns on top; ehow does’t get to the top till you put in \expired\.

  • Andy Kuiper – SEO Analyst Vancouver

    Argument made… but it still smells a bit rotten to me, the end user.

  • seth@trafficsmack

    Huh. . .create content for “how to pack for the bahamas”? I actually have given a large cruise company the same type of advice. To build out detailed content for all of their most popular destinations.

    It was a fairly standard recommendation when I made it 2-3 years ago, and it still works. If companies don’t build out detailed content specific to their industry, someone else will and capture traffic for those searches, leaving brands left to purchase display or paid ads on those sites such as eHow, etc.

  • TheDailyFave

    I’m a vetted Demand Media Studios writer who never produced a keystroke after my first visit to the Assignment Queue. I’d rather eat cereal for dinner than join this company’s band of monkeys with laptops! (Ummm, please pass the milk and sugar…)

  • Scott Jenkins

    I’m seeing a lot of people digging up lots of examples to further reinforce beliefs that they already have about how terrible the search engines are.

    I’m not buying it.

    I’m always able to find what I want. It might not be the first listing on the page and it might not be my first search. But I always find what I want.

  • Samantha McCormick

    This is such an excellent article with tons of great links. I also think it’s funny how people think content farms are something so new and evil — free magazines and newspapers that rely on advertising as a sole revenue source have been putting out crap content for decades! Case in point, Stuff Magazine in Boston of Phoenix Media :/ .. a bit of insider information – “Best in Boston” issues and articles are (surprise!) mainly cherry-picked from advertisers. Disgusting.

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