Based on the latest data from Compete PRO, eHow.com, which was acquired by Demand Media in May 2006, had more than 54 million unique visitors in May 2012, surpassing the previous peak of 49.8 million achieved in March 2011 before Google rolled out the Panda 2.0 update.
And based on the latest data from comScore Video Metrix, Demand Media ranked No. 8 among the top YouTube partners with almost 6.4 million unique viewers in May 2012. The company has YouTube channels for eHow, Expert Village, LiveStrong, and several other brands.
Critics have called eHow a “content farm.” So, have Google’s site quality algorithms somehow failed to reduce the rankings of eHow’s low-quality content? Or, has eHow just shown those critics how to create a high-quality content farm?
According to Wikipedia, “a content farm (or content mill) is a company that employs large numbers of often freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines. Their main goal is to generate advertising revenue through attracting reader page views….”
Now, there’s nothing inherently evil in hiring “freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content.” Even The Huffington Post, which was awarded a Pulitizer Prize this year, does that.
Nothing is inherently evil about trying “to generate advertising revenue through attracting reader page views.” Even The New York Times, which has won 108 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other newspaper, does that.
So, what’s the brouhaha?
Critics allege that content farms provide relatively low quality content, and that they maximize profit by producing “just good enough” material rather than high-quality articles.
Wikipedia adds, “Some sites labeled as content farms may contain a large number of articles and have been valued in the millions of dollars. Demand Media (including eHow) is projected to be publishing 1 million items a month, the equivalent of four English-language Wikipedias a year.”
According to Wikipedia, eHow is an online how-to guide with more than 1 million articles and 170,000 videos offering step-by-step instructions.
Web search interest in “how to” has doubled in the past five years, while web search interest in “news” and “reviews”, by comparison, has remained relatively flat, according to Google Insights for Search. And web search interest in “how to” is forecast by Google Insights for Search to continue growing over the next 12 months.
There is no question that eHow often commissions its writers’ work based on analysis of search engine queries.
The Demand Media website says, “Our innovative studios listen closely to millions of consumers, then create the relevant content they're asking for.” But it’s also true that traditional journalism sometimes fails to publish “what the world wants to know and share.”
For example, if you use the Google AdWords keyword tool, you’ll see there are 390 global monthly searches for “how to bunny hop bmx”. And if you use the YouTube keyword tool, you’ll see the monthly search volume for “how to bunny hop bmx” is 8,600.
Search Google for [how to bunny hop bmx] and you’ll see a video, How to bunny hop on a BMX Bike, which was uploaded to eHow’s YouTube channel on Sept. 22, 2009, ranks No. 1 and another video, which was uploaded to eHow.com on June 24, 2008, ranks No. 4.
It’s worth noting that the No. 2 listing comes from the Expert Village channel on YouTube and the No. 3 listing comes from LiveStrong’s YouTube channel.
If you do a YouTube search for [how to bunny hop bmx], you’ll see that the video from eHow’s YouTube channel ranks No. 1.
If you click on the Show video statistics button underneath How to bunny hop on a BMX Bike, you’ll see the video got 112,378 views from YouTube searches for “how to bunny hop bmx”.
The video also has 2,086 likes and only 184 dislikes. So, just because traditional journalists don’t want to tell their readers how to “master the bunny hop bicycle trick with help from a professional BMX rider” doesn’t make it “low-quality content.”
Joseph Pulitzer caused a similar brouhaha back in 1887 when he recruited Nellie Bly, the famous investigative journalist, to fake insanity in order write an exposé of a mental institution for the New York World. Pulitzer also added bolder headlines, more prominent illustrations, sports pages, women’s sections, and personal advice columns to the World.
Then in 1895, the World introduced The Yellow Kid comic by Richard F. Outcault, the first newspaper comic printed in color. A critic coined the term, "yellow journalism," as a damning label for all of this new kind of high-voltage content.
Today, virtually every high-quality newspaper has hired women reporters and adopted bold headlines, prominent illustrations, sports pages, women’s sections, personal advice columns, and comic strips. And they’d be honored if one of their reporters, photographers, videographers, graphic artists, producers, or journalists won a Pulitzer Prize.
So, if yesterday’s “yellow journalism” can become today’s award-winning journalism, is it possible that somewhere in the future how-to content specifically designed to satisfy search engine algorithms might also be considered high quality?
It can, but not without some adjustments.
In May 2011, Demand Media closed down its user-submitted article program on eHow.com and made the decision to either buy the rights to an article and run it through a studio-based editorial process or take it down.
And on May 5, 2011, Jeremy Reed, Senior Vice President, Editorial, at Demand Media, posted “Lessons from our UGC days: Everyone’s an expert in something, but not everyone’s a copy editor” to the company’s Content Blog.
Reed said, “The premise of ‘everyone is expert at something’ still holds true. We just needed to find them, give them the right assignments and support them with editorial resources, such as pairing with copy editors who share similar expertise, along the way.”
Looking at the latest data from Compete PRO, it appears that eHow has finally shown its critics that it knows how to create a high-quality content farm.