SEO and the Business of Content

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With the proliferation of search-oriented online content providers such as AOL, Yahoo!, Demand Media, and About.com, internet users are increasingly likely to find that most of the general searches they do return results from these SEO-oriented content creators. Whether this is a good or a bad thing from the user perspective remains to be seen—and opinions vary—but one thing is certain: Competing with these search-result-savvy content providers can present challenges for traditional publishing companies and enterprises that hope to increase their rank on search engines to attract visitors to their own sites.

Most general searches these days result in a high percentage of results that reflect domains such as About, eHow.com, Suite101.com, Examiner.com, etc.; all are examples of sites whose content is created by literally thousands of contributors hired to create content to appeal to the masses.

Why? It’s a combination of the sheer volume of information owned and controlled by these sites and the power of SEO (search engine optimization). The content game—once dominated by traditional publishers—is increasingly something organizations of all types are participating in. It is also something that traditional search companies such as Yahoo! and Google are moving into full force. Thus, search and content are becoming more and more intertwined.

Satisfying Google Searchers

Information search results were once almost solely the purview of name brand content companies. Today, however, top results (which may in fact be quite useful results) often come from cryptic sources, and information sources are not always immediately apparent. Demand Media, for instance, purchased Cracked.com in 2006, and its writers regularly provide content for the “Top 10” lists that appear prominently on Cracked’s homepage, with no mention of Demand Media to be found. Other content providers such as Associated Content provide a myriad of sources with content that may or may not be exclusive, meaning that web searchers have the potential to find the same information, from all of these aggregators, in multiple places. That said, previously unknown brands are becoming increasingly well-known, for example, About and eHow.

Brand name or not, sourced or not, the value of the content is in the eye of the consumer.

Giovanni Calabro, VP of user experience at Siteworx, notes that casual internet searchers are happy if the content that comes back to them eventually leads to the information they’re looking for. He doesn’t believe that they pay much attention to the source of that content. “If I’m looking for Lindsey Lohan, for example, if whatever comes back leads me to content about her, I’m happy. I don’t know if they’re going to sense that content as being generic or not. They’re looking for something so general, it doesn’t matter where they’re receiving it from.”

The good news, at least for now, is that the rise of companies such as Demand Media and eHow only reinforces the fact that there’s plenty of content demand and room for many content sources on the web. The trick, of course, is that everyone wants to sit at the top of that ever-valuable results list.

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