Has Associated Content cheapened SEO copywriting?

My, how the SEO content development fur is flying.

In the July 6 issue of MediaWeek, the headline “Council to Counter Web Generators’ Growing Clout” was front and center. The Internet Content Syndication Council (ICSC), comprised of representatives from firms such as Proctor and Gamble and Reuters, is complaining that content aggregators like Demand Media and Associated Content are “cheapening” the quality of Web content.

I couldn’t agree more.

For those unfamiliar with the business model, Web content aggregators make their money from syndicating content produced by freelance writers.  The production process is like SEO copywriting on steroids: Editors use savvy keyphrase research to ferret out SEO copywriting opportunities, and assign keyphrases to their freelancers.  However, rather than the emphasis being on the customer experience – that is, creating a quality, informative article that’s targeted towards a specific market, the emphasis is on content that’s “good enough” to get links or long tail rankings. For more information about Demand Media’s business model, check out this Wired article.

If you’re a site owner – and you don’t want to hire a copywriter or produce content in-house – you may be tempted to turn to Demand Media or Associated Content for an “article bank” of articles.  Heck, it’s cheap, easy content that you can instantly slap on your site. But personally, I’d think twice about using such services. Here’s why:

1. Syndicated content isn’t targeted. It’s great to fill content “holes” with new content – and that’s a great strategy. But you want it to be original content, targeted towards your audience and their specific needs. For instance, if I was writing an article about marketing with mailing lists, I’d be asking questions about the target audience, their existing knowledge levels and their pain points. Those specific writing touches helps to connect with your reader…and drives conversions. After all, “write for your reader” is the foundation of every writing gig for a reason.

2. You’re getting exactly what you’re paying for.  Writers working with sites like Associated Content aren’t making much money – at all.  For instance, Associated Content’s site lists upfront payment rates of $2-$15 per article. If someone has an $1,000 mortgage payment, they will need to write over 66 articles in a month just to make their mortgage. The focus isn’t on quality – it can’t be for those rates. Those rates breed a sweatshop, “Write it fast and turn it in” mentally (and how could it not, really?)

As an example, I searched Associated Content’s site for “SEO copywriting” and checked out the first article.  Here’s a direct quote discussing the advantages of SEO copywriting:

  • “Helping to work out various steps to increase sales

SEO content writing aims to increase the sales rate and marketing goals to achieve maximum profit.”

Really? REALLY?  ::hits head against desk:: No, this isn’t exactly “high quality” content that should be syndicated. At all.

3. Bad content reflects negatively on your brand. Would you rent a rundown storefront in a bad area to save money? Heck no. It would drive customers away. Same goes for poorly-written content – if the content is inaccurate, poorly written or just plain dull, it’s not going to help.

As a side note, I’m a tad disappointed that a search engine like Yahoo – who is intimately familiar with the importance of quality content – would purchase Associated Content. From a SEO perspective, Y! would have to know that articles syndicated across multiple sites probably won’t position well. And from a pure copywriting perspective, it seems like they’d want to focus on quality content – not copywriting for “outsource-to-India” prices. From a revenue perspective, I get it – cheap copy makes money. But I’d like to see them up their game a bit. Shame on you, Yahoo, for promoting content that you know isn’t top-notch.

For more on this topic, check out MarketingVox’s take.