Google’s Farmer update makes me think of…well, farming.

by Nick Usborne on March 9, 2011

[Disclaimer: If you don’t like farming analogies, you’ll probably find this article intensely irritating.]

I’m a farm boy, born and bred.

My father must have thanked his lucky stars that he had four boys. All of us were out on the farm and working by the age of 10. In fact, I was a teenager before I realized other kids received pocket money. We had to work for it.

My father’s was probably of the last generation to be able to make a reasonable living on a traditional family farm.

Our dairy herd was on pasture each day, not stuck in modern factory barns.

We fed the animals before we fed ourselves in the morning.

While trying to maximize the yield of both the dairy cows, and the crops in our fields, we never pushed things so far that we were doing harm to either our animals or our land.

We were stewards. We were mindful of our environment, and of our responsibilities.

This is what my father taught me.

Were he alive today he would be horrified by today’s factory farms and genetically modified crops.

And here I am, forty years later, writing about web content. A long way from the land.

Can I turn this into a reasonable analogy for what’s happening in the world of web content? Perhaps.

Modern farm practices and content farms have something in common – they are all about volume, and not about quality.

Modern farm practices have little respect for animals or the land, and content farms have little respect for the written word.

Traditional farms were an enduring part of our history and are culture. Modern farms are not. Quality writing also becomes part of our history and culture. Poor writing does not.

But maybe I am wrong on that last point. Perhaps junk content will become part of our history and culture. Not something to be proud of.

Whether we are talking about farming or web content, quality and respect get pushed aside in the race to make more money.

And, as creators of web content, there is another, and more urgent lesson we can take from the land.

If you abuse the soil in which your crops grow, and fail to keep it free of weeds, it will take a lot of work to bring that soil back to a state of good health.

It’s the same with your website, particularly within the context of Google’s latest update.

If you consistently publish second rate content, in the hope of making a quick killing with AdSense, affiliate links or advertising, it will take a very, very long time to clear your site of “weeds”, bring it back to a state of good health, and turn it into a place where quality content grows and blossoms.

If you want to create a quality site that will attract a growing audience of happy readers, you might want to take on some of the values of a traditional farmer.

As creators and curators of web content, we are stewards. It is our role not only to create, but to watch out for the health of our websites.

That means weeding out the low-quality content, and resisting the temptation to put monetization ahead of long-term value.

Quality and care will always prevail.


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah Clachar March 9, 2011 at 5:43 pm

I couldn’t help but comment on this as an avid farmer-copywriter.

You may get customers with mass-produced strawberries. But there’s nothing like the devoted fan who bites into one of your REAL strawberries grown with TLC.

Similarly, the kind of fan club you build with REAL content has a whole other level of loyalty and proselytizing fervor from those you get with canned content.

terrance March 11, 2011 at 4:11 am

I’m an old Wisconsin farm boy myself. Grew up on a dairy farm in southern Wisconsin in the 50’s. It’s still in the family but, as you mention, so much has changed.

I had a client for whom I write articles ask me to give a few of them a 100-copy spin.

“Sorry”, I said, “I’m not your guy when it comes to spinning”. Makes me feel dirty if I engage in that.

Spun content, certainly a part of content farms, feels kind of sleazy to me.

Everybody has to make their own decision when it comes to that, but for my money (and my site), I’ll take the tortoise’s path and plod along and build a great site, one unspun article at a time.

Janis Ihrig March 11, 2011 at 4:04 pm

I love this article. It really hit home for me as I write about natural healthy food all day long and see our food systems declining. I truly learn a lot from you and your casual way of making a point that really impinges. Thanks so much.

Nick Usborne March 11, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Janis, you’re very welcome. I seem to enjoy writing more when I can take something from my own life and weave it into the point I am trying to make. Nick

Steve Lee March 14, 2011 at 1:25 am

Great analogy Nick, I always admire your imagination and creativity. Thanks again for a top notch presentation at the web copy intensive in San Diego.

Julie March 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Your analogy is wonderful – especially because my husband is an old-time rancher. He has to manage the land and cattle or we won’t be able to pay our bills.

Ranching and farming, like writing, takes self-motivation, dedication, and continually learning.

I think many people are becoming more appreciative of this. The proliferation of natural markets, gardens, and websites with original content is on the rise.

A year ago someone asked me to produce some “spun” content articles. I wouldn’t do it. They called me yesterday asking for some original content because the spun content didn’t get them the results they wanted.

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