edit Aliza Earnshaw on February 3, 2011
edit What's good content, and how to produce it
If you are building an online business that depends on lots of content, you're probably watching as the search engines - Google, Bing, Blekko and others - declare war on spam content and content farms. Search engines are saying that they're changing their methods to make sure only web pages with good content show up in search results.
What does that mean for small business owners trying to get more traffic to their websites? The search engine optimization (SEO) experts tell us that creating good content is critical for getting good links from other websites. Those links help more people find a site, and also signal to search engines that a site matters, helping the site rank better in search results - which then helps more people find the site.
What is good content? What's bad content? What's a content farm, anyway? And most important of all, how do you produce the good stuff, and enough of it to matter?
edit Good Content: Something You'd Actually Want To Read
It sounds simple: Good content is information that someone will find valuable, whether it's conveyed in text, graphics, video, photos, or a combination of these.
Website owners are often urged to provide "good content" containing the keywords that are important to their business. The idea is that search engines will crawl the site, include its pages in their indexes, note the keywords on the pages, and then include these pages in search results for those keywords.
The ideal situation is when a business owner has a genuine passion and expertise in his or her field, and provides interesting material on the company's website that engages new and current customers. One great example is the text on the sales page for cultivated agarwood strips at MermadeArts.com, displayed to the right.
Note that there's lots of fascinating information here about the product. The text is written to entice someone to buy, and it naturally contains important keywords for this product, such as aloeswood, agarwood, incense and aroma. These words tell search engines what the page is about.
edit Why Good Content Is Good Business
You can make money from a website containing abundant good content in a number of ways:
- You can sell ads directly to companies whose business is related to the content on a page.
- You can host Google AdWords advertisements on your pages.
- If your content is really good, people will want to link to it. These links can help push your site higher in search rankings, which can get you more visitors and more sales.
It's a good idea to seek out bloggers and other writers online, share your interesting material with them, and invite them to link to your pages.
edit What Poor Content Looks Like
Good content is useful and interesting, and keywords occur naturally within it. Poor content is just text larded with keywords, offering nothing of value to people.
A great example of this is the "article" shown at right. It's on a site about automobiles - and yes, this is the entire article. The site is clearly designed to do nothing but run ads.
This article actually shows up in searches for "get rental car while car repaired." The site owner is probably getting exactly what they want: eyeballs and clicks on the car rental ad that appears prominently next to the article.
edit If Poor Content Gets Results, Where's the Problem?
Search is supposed to help people. Returning someone a page full of results like the article pictured in the above section isn't helpful, in most cases. Pages full of less-than-useful content are appearing high in search results, crowding out more useful websites and frustrating searchers.
Building a website and running ads on it is a legitimate business model. But building a site that's nothing but keywords and ads won't get you any links from other sites - no one who's legitimate will want to be associated with such a poor quality site.
On the other hand, if you make a site that's full of great information, and that engages specific audiences, you can run ads on it and get links from people who think your site is worth sharing. Check out the article to the right from Best-Cat-Art.com. It's got great advice about getting rid of fleas, and it's really complete - it covers getting fleas off the cat and out of your house.
Yes, there's an ad for a flea-eradication product, right there in the article. Nothing wrong with this - presumably anyone who wants to get rid of fleas is looking for both advice and products. The website owner is offering help in a way that also makes money.
Poor content is a problem because, if it's well keyworded and optimized for search engines, it can crowd more useful results off the first few pages of search results. The worst offenders are content farms, and as they've become a bigger presence on the Web, they've begun to pose a serious problem for people and search engines.
edit What Are Content Farms, and Why Are They a Problem?
A content farm is a company that pays hundreds or thousands of freelancers to create articles based on popular search engine queries such as "how to clean a trout," "how to build muscle safely" or "how to change a diaper." These articles are then published on websites that run ads related to the article topics.
The example topics above are all legitimate subjects for an instructional article. Some articles published by content farms are really useful, too. Where content farms become a problem is when they publish articles that have no value, like the one seen at left. Even worse are inaccurate articles on topics that actually matter, such as human health, safety or financial matters.
Closely related are content-scraping sites that copy content from other sites and run ads against it. These sites can also rank high in search results, crowding out more valuable pages.
Search engines are now combating content farms and "scraper" sites in different ways. Blekko has completely banned 20 sites it has deemed to be content farms. Blekko will no longer show results from these sites, regardless of content.
That sounds like a sledgehammer technique, but it's easy to understand why Blekko is employing it when you read Matt Cutts' post about how difficult it is to identify low-quality content.
What does all this mean for the small business website? It means that your content should be useful to your customers and potential customers, pertinent to your business, and well written.
edit I Don't Have Lots of Time -
How Can I Produce Enough Good Content?
If you're running a business on your own, or even with a small staff, you probably feel you don't have time to write lots of good content and keep it fresh. How can you get around that?
One solution is to maintain a blog about your business and your industry, and to invite other people to write for it. That way, you can write about the things that matter most to you and your business, and get a diverse range of voices and topics on your blog. Guest bloggers can become friends of your company, too, linking to you from their own websites.