- Investor Relations
- Contact Us
- Group Agencies
In June 2011 an article was published on TheFasterTimes.com that provided a rare but illuminating insight into how one of the world’s biggest news sites manages their content strategy. “AOL Hell: An AOL Content Slave Speaks Out” was written by Oliver Miller, an ex-employee of AOL online, whose job entailed the writing of several short articles about television shows he had never seen, each with a 25 minute turnaround time, working the 8 hour ‘graveyard’ shift from 11pm to 7am.
Alongside detailing Oliver’s near-breakdown, the article highlighted the way in which AOL cynically competes for high search volume entertainment keyphrases by churning out page after page of vapid and unsubstantial content. The only real purpose being to manipulate search engines into placing AOL high up in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for enticing terms such as ‘Lady Gaga pantless in Paris’ and drive users to articles with the ultimate goal of encouraging them to click a ‘read more’ button and open the floodgates to a deluge of pop-up advertising - the revenue generator.
I should point out that this practice is by no means unique to AOL. The concept of ‘content farming’ is not a new one, but it is a term that I believe can now be accurately applied to two very distinct types of site, characterised by how they were affected by Google’s ‘Panda’ algorithm update. Firstly, we have sites such as articlebase.com and ehow.com, vast directories of articles with only a very small amount of quality control who were hit hard by ‘Panda’ and lost a significant amount of their search visibility. Secondly we have sites like AOL and other large daily news sites such as the all-conquering Daily Mail, who, although farming at a higher standard, still concentrate on the publishing of quantity over quality and were untouched by the wrath of Panda.
Although you can question the ethics of content farming, in the cases of The Daily Mail et al you cannot question its effectiveness; it really comes down to the basics – lots of people search for celebrity-related content, they want it fast, up-to-the-minute and easily accessible, and content farm-style news sites provide this. So what can we learn from this strategy, and apply to the SEO content of brand/e-commerce sites?
One thing that we can definitely take from the world of effective post-Panda content farming is the need to create content that people actually want to read. These content farms disguised as news sites are made successful by their sustained targeted strategy, identifying popular television shows, celebrities and more often than not, scandals – subjects from which traffic is all but assured – and quickly creating articles to cater to this need. The important thing is identifying content that people want to not just read, but also link to, bookmark and share with friends via social bookmarking and social media channels.
So, let’s say you are a sporting goods retailer and are looking to include content on your site. You know that search engines give preferential treatment to sites with lots of great content – buyers guides, instructional pieces and regularly updated blog pages to name but a few – but how should you decide WHAT to write about? Again, the important thing to consider here is what do people want to read? It may be easy to write the ’10 best things about wearing green swimming trunks’ but unless people are searching for that sort of content, or there is a particular buzz about green swimming trunks, then the article is unlikely to inspire potential readers.
There a number of different strategies which you can employ to pinpoint what content topics are currently popular within your niche. To get you started I have listed my favourite methods below:-
One of the many useful tools bestowed on us by the internet Google is their insights search – which can be found at http://www.google.com/insights - a tool that is really handy for tracking rising search terms in different niches. As an example:-
So as you can see in this search we have set a range of filters. Firstly we are searching by news search – meaning that the terms we are about to see are searches made in the ‘news search’ portion of Google. Secondly I have defined the area of the search within the United Kingdom and the duration within the last week, as let us not forget that up-to-date content is vital! Finally I have set the topic filter to sports and obviously this can be changed relating to your niche. So , the results for this search are as follows:-
The first place to look is the rising searches list. In the world of Twitter these would be trending topics, but for insights they are known as rising searches – put very basically these are the topics that people are searching for, and therefore, want to read about.
Now for me there is one rising search that jumps off the page, which I feel would be perfect for an article. This is the ‘Olympic Torch Route’, a ‘breakout’ search term which has been particularly well searched for in the last 7 days. Now all you need do is create original, unique and interesting content regarding the Olympic Torch route (perhaps an infographic detailing
the torch route with pretty graphics), distribute it via social bookmarking channels and social media, and sit back and watch the traffic and links to your site develop. Easy.
Whatever personal opinions you may have with regard to the domain of the tweeters, there is no doubting that as a barometer of public interest the notorious ‘trending topic’ is unmatched. The main point to remember if you are planning on using Twitter to influence the topics of future content, is that the best technique is to keep a figurative ‘ear to the ground’ at all times.
Your first place to look is on your twitter homepage, where you will be able to see the most recent trending topics for your region. See anything that inspires you to write? No?
Then the next step is to start following @tweetingtrends and @trendingsearch. You are now plugged in to a constant stream of trending topics. Keep a close eye on these; filter out the celebrity pap and amongst this you may find topics related to your niche that can help influence your next great content idea.
A great free tool for pinpointing authoritative twitter users, who you can monitor for content ideas (remember ‘ear to the ground’), is Followerwonk. Check out followerwonk.com and ‘search twitter bios’ for keywords in your niche, follow the most respected and keep a beady eye on what they are talking about.
The tactics that I have outlined for twitter apply just as readily to all social media and bookmarking sites, so try and stay abreast of what is happening on networks such as Facebook, Linkedin, Reddit and even sites such as Quora.com – find a question that someone has asked and is getting a lot of replies/attention and you could be looking at a content subject that is of interest to a lot of people.
Press release aggregation sites such as www.prnewswire.com are also a good place to browse for and catch early the information and announcements
that could be significant to your industry.
Finally, it is always a good idea to keep an eye on the traditional high quality news outlets, both on and offline. Write follow-up pieces to articles that have caught your eye, or use data (properly referenced) to influence content of your own. If you can keep your content offering reactionary and up-to-date, then you can also keep yourself ahead of half hearted strategies employed by your competitors - helping to drive visitors and potential customers to onsite content that defines you as a brand and as an authority in your industry.