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.