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, which 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.

8 replies
  1. Derek Cromwell says:

    I actually got my start writing for Associated Content several years ago, and I couldn’t agree more that they have a “write it fast and get it turned in” mentality, especially for new writers.

    You cited that the pay range goes from $2 to $15 per article. That might be what they state, but I speak from experience (having over 60 articles on their site myself) that they pay as low as possible. Even articles that I painstakingly edited over and over didn’t fetch more than $9.

    Their performance payments are where people find the most payout over the long term but that just makes the rush mentality even worse. Once you’re an “approved” content producer (you’ve submitted more than 3 approved articles) you’re able to publish for performance pay without your article being reviewed by editors. That means that anyone can post anything – similar to the terrible piece you found on SEO copywriting.

    I don’t write for AC anymore, it’s been a long time since I’ve contributed anything but it continues to be a sweatshop for writers wanting to make money that can’t or won’t strike out on their own.

    I used to argue with people about quality in the AC forums, and was frequently told that if I wanted better I should go somewhere else. So I did – self-employment :D

    • Heather says:

      Wow, Derek – thanks for your first-hand account.

      I totally understand how cheap content is big business – I do. Heck, that’s why folks hire offshore companies (with disastrous results, naturally.)

      But for Yahoo – a search engine (and a company that has been near and dear to my heart since Inktomi days) to implicitly endorse the “cheap copy” mantra…well…that just bugs me. They have the opportunity to raise the bar, set standards (like they’re trying to do with their Style Guide) and really help companies.

      Sad. So sad.

  2. Laura Crest says:

    Thank you, Heather,

    for a number of things, like:

    1) Citing specific evidence backing up my largely prideful and intuitive decision to NOT write for Demand Media (or Suite 101, or ODesk, or Hub Pages, or…sadly ad infinitum…)

    2) Reminding web owners — ONCE AGAIN! — that they indeed do get what they pay for. If they’re paying next to nothing for content kicked out on a production line that pays its mediocre writers sh#t wages, then that is PRECISELY what they are gonna get: sh#t copy.

    3) Putting Yahoo on Notice: Yes, shame, shame, shame on you, Yahoo. Bad juju, not good! And yes, you really should know better.

  3. Russ Henneberry says:

    I am unfortunately intimately familiar with paying copywriters for poor SEO copywriting and plastering it on clients websites (from a former job I held.)

    This process can work (from time to time) for SEO agencies that promise nothing but better rankings but it does nothing for every other metric that should be considered.

    Last time I checked traffic doesn’t generate sales, conversions do.


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