2009 Top SEO Smackdowns: Arrington vs Demand Media

… continuing the countdown of the top SEO smackdowns of 2009 …

#4. Arrington vs Demand Media

The provocation:

Michael Arrington
Michael Arrington

“… you have Demand Media and companies like it. See Wired’s “Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model.” The company is paying bottom dollar to create “4,000 videos and articles” a day, based only on what’s hot on search engines. They push SEO juice to this content, which is made as quickly and cheaply as possible, and pray for traffic. …

These models create a race to the bottom situation, where anyone who spends time and effort on their content is pushed out of business.

We’re not there yet, but I see it coming. And just as old media is complaining about us, look for us to start complaining about the new jerks.

… get ready for it, because you’ll be reading McDonalds five times a day in the near future.

… Hand crafted content is dead. Long live fast food content, it’s here to stay.”

— Michael Arrington, The End of Hand-Crafted Content

The response:

Demand Media CEO Richard Rosenblatt went to enemy territory to reply:

To the low quality charge:

Demand Media
Demand Media

“We have significant editorial processes. Let me explain. How do we do this? We hire qualified professional writers, film-makers and copyeditors. Set clear editorial objectives and style guidelines for every piece. Require external sources with every submission. Copy edit what’s been turned in. Fact-check it. Check it for plagiarism. Rate each piece so that writers get feedback. Provide education to improve the team members. Perform quality audits and take down content that doesn’t meet current standards (thousands per month). Weed out content creators who aren’t performing well or improving fast enough (we let go more than 100 creators per month).”

To the “content farm” charge:

“What’s more like a sweatshop: someone’s living room working their own hours or a typical newsroom?”

Of course if by “Fast Food” Arrington meant predictably meeting user demand, then perhaps Demand is guilty.

Credit Jay Rosen with giving Rosenblatt a fair interview.

The Arrington article generated a slew of other pieces trying to stir emotions against Demand Media.

ReadWriteWeb, which back in August wrote:

“As long as search engines like Google continue to rank niche, topical content highly – and we see absolutely no reason why they wouldn’t – then Demand Media will continue to pump out thousands of articles a day to feed that page view generating machine.” (Bolding is mine)

Changed sides and declared that:

“Google is being infiltrated on a vast scale by content farms.”

ReadWriteWeb had it right the first time. There’s no reason to believe that Demand Media’s quality level changed between the two RWW posts. RWW simply changed their mind and decided to help rally the incumbents against their challengers.

The smackdown proved Arrington’s piece wrong on two key points:

  • Hand crafted content is dead? Not anytime soon. Arrington’s piece (which I assume he crafted by hand) generated lots of attention and received many incoming links. It will do just fine in the search engines. So will any content that people want to link to. Companies like Demand Media will get the vast majority of their traffic and revenue on the long tail of content where there’s little competition. They’ll generally be outranked where they compete with content of higher quality, especially if that content is from brand name publishers. If anything, Google overranks hand crafted low quality linkbait over content that’s more useful and relevant but less provocative and linkworthy.
  • “We’re not there yet …  just as old media is complaining about us, look for us to start complaining about the new jerks.” We’re there, Michael. We’re there.

More of my thoughts on this issue here: Quality is Still King.

Previous: #5: Barone v Godin: Brandjacking?

Next #3: Rand v Whalen: Is “Focus on Users, Not Engines” Terrible Advice?

Michael Arrington image courtesy of Robert Scoble