The New Age Of Article Marketing

I’ll admit it: my SEO strategies leaned a little too heavily on article marketing in the past. It was tempting, it was easy, and it was pure SEO.

The old trick was pretty simple: there were dozens of “article directories” online, which would pay somewhere between “A pittance” and “$0″ for 300 words or so of content, which could include a link. They took care of the hard part:  building a trusted site that could rank for the long-tail terms that showed up in the articles, and would pass link-juice along with traffic.

Google’s “Farmer” update didn’t end that process, but it definitely changed it. The first reactions assumed that Google was going after the big content farms — i.e. the biggest of all, Demand Media’s eHow.

But once search analytics firm Systrix collected some data on “farmer”, a different picture emerged: while some sites had been slammed, article marketing stalwart EzineArticles lost 90% of its traffic, and Yahoo!’s Associated Content lost even more, the big names were largely unscathed. Demand’s eHow actually rose slightly, although some of their other properties dropped.

What Does “Farmer” Mean for SEOs?

“Farmer” means that doing article marketing the easy way is over. You can no longer treat low-level content production as a commodity, and crank up the dial in order to achieve rankings. Not only did many content farms lose rankings, but they responded by raising quality requirements and implementing no-followed links. Not only will you get a smaller audience, but you’ll have to invest more to get it.

But here are a few tricks SEOs can use to deal with the effects of “Farmer”:

  • Target the top content sites. eHow is still ranking well, and still delivers traffic. Youtube also benefited from the latest rankings change; it’s not hard to create a one-minute video around each of twenty different long-tail terms, which could easily rank on page one.
  • Reemphasize social media. Facebook was one of the top beneficiaries from this change. But more importantly, social media as a whole may benefit in a relative sense: you can’t get into the universal search results as easily, so getting into the stream and the newsfeed may be the next-best option. A few possibilities:
    • Instead of five generic articles, write one compelling (and re-tweetable) piece of linkbait.
    • On Facebook, don’t just “own” your business name. Try to own a mid-tail keyword, too.
    • Find out which “sharing” icons your users click on; ditch the rest.
  • Start emailing. If you can’t own the SERP and you’re already at maximum capacity in the stream, you need to own the inbox.

Here’s the good news: thanks to Google’s “farmer” update, there’s a surplus of writers online; now’s a great time to figure out what they’re best for, now that arbitraging Google’s domain authority isn’t an option.

The Best Response: Outsourcing Your Low-Quality Content, Again

For marketers running long-standing campaigns, there’s another dead-simple option: instead of taking a risk on Google’s algorithm, why not pay someone else to? In other words, why not use contextually targeted ads to drag those lower-quality clicks over to your own site?

It’s hard to beat eHow on skill or scale. They can produce more articles than you, faster than you, for less money. They’ll probably get better placement. And they have a better idea of what people are searching for, and what searches are trending.

Instead of trying to rank #1, it might be more economical to just pay the #1 ranker (via Adsense site targeting) for the traffic you would have gotten organically. Better to pay for traffic than to pay for a failed attempt at ranking.

(This goes against the white-hat SEO ethos of building long-lasting assets. But try combining it with the strategies above: acquire traffic through Adsense on eHow and other sites, then turn those one-time visitors into loyal newsletter subscribers or Twitter followers, who can then spread your higher-quality content around in their own social networks.)

What Should Article Directory Owners Do?

Article directories need to pivot slightly. There’s still room for the same basic business model: writing individual pieces of rankable content is a completely different business from building a trusted site, so it makes sense that these would be done by two different groups.

One path for article directory owners is to target a single vertical or a single audience, and write some of their own high-quality content while selling others the right to add their own pieces. For example, instead of building a generic article directory about mortgages, a savvy article directory owner could launch a personal finance blog written by a professional, with occasional guest blog posts from someone who has a reputation in that area. This site could pay for authoritative guest blog posts, then get paid for low-authority guest blog posts (i.e. the ones that would have shown up on an article directory), either directly or through ads.

The beauty of this strategy is that it’s pretty Google-friendly, too. It’s still building high-quality content, and it’s using domain authority in a sensible fashion.

This strategy follows the golden rule of white hat SEO, which the “farmer” update confirmed: optimize your site for the smarter search engine of the future — because that future is coming sooner than you expect.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing Toolbox


About The Author: is Co-Founder and CEO of Digital Due Diligence, a research firm that helps investors and acquirers understand the business models of SEO-, PPC-, and social media-dependent companies.

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  • Karon Thackston

    You know, I’m just shaking my head at all this talk filling the Web about the “new age” of article marketing. Flooding the ‘Net with crappy content and expecting anything good out of it long term is like building a house of cards. The entire purpose of article marketing has never been to simply get your work posted on a thousand junky article sites. Anybody can do that.

    Where the benefits come in is in creating quality content with useful information that authority sites in your industry/niche find so valuable that they *reprint them* giving you exceptional link juice and also positioning you as an expert in front of a new audience.

    This is nothing new. This is the way article marketing has always worked best. It’s just now that Google has forced an increase in quality that we’ll begin hearing about these supposed revolutionary new waves in the article marketing field.

    IMO, cheap articles have always cost too much. They are a waste of time and money that produces little more than a hiccup of link juice with virtually no long-term benefits. Why bother paying $5 each for 100 crappy articles that will die off quickly because they get few or no reprints or when you can purchase 1 exceptional article for far less that has staying power because it goes viral?

    Go figure.

  • Tipping Point SEO

    This is big for social… with se’s admitting to give weight to social cues, I’d recommend building up a huge social network that will like, fan, favorite, retweet, etc. your links and content. Social and QDF algorithm will be the biggest contributors to search in the next few years.

  • Zachary Schuessler

    The new age of article marketing, in Byrne Hobart’s words, is to make YouTube videos (nofollow), invest in Adsense(sic)(Adwords), and to target social media like Facebook(nofollow)?

    Is this guy serious?

    Look I’ll admit article marketing took a hit, but I’ve been running campaigns since the hit. I would say about one in eight article directories are still kicking from my reports. (This is still a lot) There are still remarkable results for long-tail keywords. That has not changed and if it has for you, I recommend buying a different subscription to a different network. (Or if you submit yourself, submit to better directories)

    Write good content and syndicate it to directories that are worth a damn. I’m not talking about the ones that will accept offshore articles that have a reading level of first grade.

    Better yet, look for websites that allow for guest blog posts. Those are a step above article directories by default, as they have someone who actually cares about their website.

    And please, everyone remember to read this disclaimer when you are reading posts from SEO experts at Search Engine Land:

    Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

  • Elisabeth Osmeloski

    Karon, totally agree with you too (and I think Byrne might as well) – it’s just that when article marketing became so rampant, the quality factor got lost among many. And sadly, new “SEOs” don’t know how to distinguish between good & bad article opportunities.

    Zachary, you make great points the quality of article directories & sites being more important, absolutely . I am not sure that 1 of 8 article directories still being viable is a good result in general, so I may disagree with you there.

    I will apologize now for not having Byrne rewrite some parts for clarity, I was crushed for editing time this week with SMX.

    I think Byrne’s main point about the social network emphasis, regardless of “no-follow” (that doesn’t actually matter) it’s that the ‘like’ factor is becoming so much more important anyway in terms of SERPs and getting into them that way, instead of relying on the links from article directories in general.

    Yea, it may be an ‘old’ suggestion, but so many people still don’t realize how critical it is to optimize for Universal search results, and they don’t know where to begin. Some of us who have been doing SEO for a long time often forget there are still beginners.

    He’s also suggesting if you “own” the content and make your own site the authority, you’ll benefit more from it in the long term, and you’re at less risk of losing that traffic/link authority if you rely too heavily on outside networks (and then, they later get reduced in SERPs like in this farmer update)

    The Adsense suggestion, I think is valid, if those “long tail” terms are still kicking and producing traffic, it’s probably more cost effective to target those pages via Adwords because some one else has already produced it, like eHow -you can take advantage of what they’ve already built, you can better invest your time & money on the other guest blog partnerships – that may be in areas they haven’t grown to yet.

  • Zachary Schuessler


    As for the 1 in 8, I have not seen a difference between submitting to 800 directories that are a mix of terrible and great, and just submitting to the 100 on my list that are great. I don’t believe the rest of the 700 were doing anything in the first place. So that’s a very real ratio at least in my experience.

    Social networking profiles are good to have (even recommended by Google) but in saying that no-follow doesn’t matter, what exactly are you saying? I had one campaign attain 50 links from Wikipedia. I got a surge of traffic from WP, but no difference in the SERPs was noted. That was three years ago and the links are still there– so I would argue with you there that nofollow doesn’t matter.

    And on the topic of “likes” — I highly doubt that the amount of likes a facebook page has is going to mean much of anything. I can buy several thousand likes from real facebook users for $100-$400. It’s too easy to manipulate and too hard to differentiate.

    Lastly, the thinking on using Adwords is backwards. I would much rather have traffic come from SERPs rather than an eHow article. For one, eHow articles are mostly terrible if not dangerous sometimes because of ill advice. I do not want to be associated with them. Second, I would much rather have the authority and page strength to get the terms myself, and offering content I can verify as leaps and bounds ahead of whatever content is on eHow.

    And on the note of Adwords, this past Summer I witnessed a major click fraud scheme. It is still going on despite having reported it twice. I have since then not used Adwords for content, but rather limited campaigns to Google SERPs, because I’ve lost faith in the Adwords team if they won’t respond to a request to take down a click fraud ring.

  • Elisabeth Osmeloski

    Heh, Zachary, I think we may actually be agreeing more than we are arguing;)

    Thanks for clarifying your point on the 1 in 8 ratio. I would also have to agree that those 700 were in fact useless in the first place, so my question is, for anyone doing that in mass quantity like that, is it really an effective use of time/money or is it better to do what Karon’s suggesting?

    On “no follow” – at first it seemed to me you were disputing the suggestion of using Youtube/Facebook because they were no-follow, or any other directory that uses no-follow, but I say, if the traffic comes from it (like your WikiPedia example) then who cares about no-follow, it ‘doesn’t matter’ in that sense.

    On the “Likes” topic – leading up to SMX of course we started hearing how this was becoming a stronger signal – at SMX, it was very obvious that was a growing component, but totally agree about the manipulation aspect, I fear that’s going to get us headed down the wrong path as paid links did.

    And I also agree with your point on just not even supporting/being associated with lower quality article sites. But it could be valuable, depending on what you’re advertising and how you write the ad copy – ie, “Learn the Truth About XX”.. Click fraud, a whole ‘nother issue;)

  • Wendy Piersall

    I have to say that this article assumes that the winners of this algorithm change like eHow are going to *stay* the winners of the change. It has been made very clear that this update is pretty flawed in terms of collateral damage to quality content sites, and Google claims to want to fix that. They should, because this update has been pretty bad PR for them. So I hope (and pray!) that they roll out changes sooner rather than later.

    When those changes are made, it will be interesting to see how the cards fall for sites like eHow and, who seem to have even crappier content ranking higher than ever before.

  • Zachary Schuessler


    You are a delight to talk to and hope I wasn’t coming off as too argumentative.

    The 700 that may not have been so much for quality were part of a network. I like to try everything I can out at least once, within reason. I have a nice pile of case studies of both good and bad tactics in SEO… that particular study was still worth the money considering the results.

    I don’t keep tabs on SeL too often but do enjoy the mature discussion. Think I’ll sign up when I get the chance– has it been worth it for you?

  • Elisabeth Osmeloski

    Zachary, I would have to say I’m a little biased about SEL since i’m the Executive Features Editor here – but if you’re considering the premium membership, I would say there’s an absolute value in the videos we have available from past SMX conferences.


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