The New York Times, Demand Media Edition

Demand Media — widely described as a “content farm” — went public yesterday and quickly racked up a valuation higher than the New York Times. I figured the news might cause some at the New York Times to wonder if they needed to be more Demand Media-like. Would every story be turned into a question? How might that look? So I did a mockup.

Here’s what I started out with, the real New York Times home page, from just before noon Eastern Time. Click on the image to enlarge it:

And here’s what I call the “Demandified” version, which you can also click on to enlarge:

In Seriousness…

One of the secrets to Demand Media’s success is paying close attention to what people are searching for and then writing articles to serve to order, especially articles it think will generate lots of ad revenue.

A real New York Times “Demand Media” edition probably wouldn’t have stories about Italy’s government or the Roman Catholic Church’s dispute with a Phoenix hospital. But the stories would probably be slanted toward answering questions, certainly. Indeed, the stories might largely be generated from what people are searching for, rather than what’s happening. Let the queries dictate what news to report!

The Future Is Already Here

Of course, that’s not a future I’d like to see. It’s something that gives many people chills, even if it’s already in practice in places like Yahoo News, which closely watches search traffic to determine what to write.

In reality, a smart news publication would be doing both news coverage and “answers coverage,” repurposing its existing content into the type of high quality answers that people are really seeking.

Dealing With Backlash

To me, that’s part of the blacklash that’s currently hitting content farms (which are trying desperately to distance themselves from that name). There’s been an explosion of them, especially Q&A sites, that have suddenly appeared in our search results purporting to offer answers but often not delivering.

Don’t get me wrong. Some content farms do provide good answers. Demand Media has some issues, but it also has some great content. And the New York Times, of course, owns its own content farm in the form of About.com — which also has both great content and bad content.

Content farms, good and bad, were part of the discussion yesterday on This Week In Google, which I took part in yesterday. Check it out below, along with some links to related material.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Content Farms | Features: Analysis | Top News

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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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  • http://www.tenorpartners.com Matthew Stotts

    Demand Media is the Cat Fancy (or rather BowTie Media) of web content – everyone looks at it and says “people actually read that?” They actually do — and do so by the millions. I love the mock-up, but doesn’t it look rather more like the front page of Techmeme where nearly every title that promises a newsworthy nugget is hedged with a “?”.

    At Twiistup in LA last year, Demand Media’s CEO, Richard Rosenblatt explained how the system they have built could be used to run profitable newspapers. When later he said that he loved newspapers, I asked from the floor if he had considered licensing his technology to a struggling paper like the LA Times. He demurred. Maybe because he’s more capitalist than philanthropist (i’m sure his shareholders think so), but maybe because he doesn’t think “The New York Times by Demand Media” is that far off. At least now he has a good mock-up to share with his UX team.

    Thanks as always for putting so much thought and time in to these posts.

  • http://www.engagesocialmedia.com Erik Bratt

    Great post Danny, I wasn’t sure exactly what Demand Media was doing. Now I know. Impressive how they optimize content.

  • horsegal148

    I would like to note a correction: About.com is not a content mill. All the content on About.com is written by certified experts. It isn’t just uninformed garbage like a lot of what you find from Demand Media and the other “content mills.” A content mill is content produced en mass with no thought to the quality or context. About.com has been around for 12 years… long before the content mill explosion.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Well, it’s an opinion rather than a correction. Demand Media would tell you they have experts who produce great content, too. As I said, About has plenty of great content. It also has some bad content. To me, perhaps its biggest problem is how it can turn anything needlessly into a multiple part story. Really, 7 individual pages needed to explain how to fix a tail light?

    But rest assured, I know About.com — two of our editors here were former About.com guides who did a great job there. Glad we have them here.

  • antifarm

    Well here is another opinion:
    The fact that about.com has been around for 12 years doesn’t mean that it isn’t a content farm. It is and always has been a content farm and it guilty of giving the idea of farming content to all the other farms.

    Most of About.com’s experts are self certified (either by themselves or by about.com) but that doesn’t make them experts. A big part of About.com’s content is pretty useless, lacks credibility, and is there to capture (successfully) SEO traffic and then monetize it via Google or display ads. Also the content farms financial model, of paying the content creators based on how popular is their content, is inspired by About.com.

    It is not a coincidence that the NYTimes company was never very proud of About.com’s content and never featured any of it on their flagship site. Almost nobody besides the people who work at About.com thinks much of that content.

  • http://www.samsunmonu.wordpress.com Samuel Sunmonu

    The whole Google, NY Times, Demand Media conversation is really interesting. I wouldn’t consider myself the “average” internet user but I still find articles on so-called “content farms” useful.

    I also don’t think it’s all that bad that sites like Demand Media and About write articles based off what people are searching, rather than current events.

    Content providers that report on current events will not be going away, far from it. Just look at how Twitter is more and more being used for breaking news, rather than being a social network.

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