Content farms are websites that produce large quantities of thin content or scraped content usually to increase search traffic and therefore increase paid ad revenue. The articles are often of low quality or scraped/duplicate content. Content farms have been targeted by Google since 2011 via their Panda update which penalises website with low quality content.
How to identify a content farm
Unlike spammy link directories, content farms can be a little harder to identify. The articles may well offer advice (of sorts) which can at first appear to be of value to the user. However, as Amit Singhal mentioned in his blog post, if it is medical advice, would you trust it? Probably not. Furthermore, if they are informative and contain valuable information this information will not have been created by the website owners instead it will have been, for want of a better word, stolen from another site. As such, the content is either of little value or is not unique to the site.
Content Farms as Spam
Content farms are considered spam by Google because of their blatant use of large quantities of content that is in violation of their webmaster guidelines to attract search traffic. Some may scrape content from other sites or spin articles, others may use black hat techniques such as keyword stuffing. Whichever tactic they employ, content farms are actively penalised by Google. Some of them (most notably those created by Demand Media) were high profile victims of Google’s Panda in 2011 with other falling short of the guidelines in subsequent updates.
Not to be confused with spammy guest blogging
Content farms are sometimes confused with spammy guest blogs due to the fact that they both contain poor quality content. However, content farms are not set up purely to provide a backlink like spammy guest blogs. Instead they are a revenue generating machine for businesses. It is the rankings that they gain through manipulative techniques that attracts search traffic and therefore ad revenue.
The vast majority of businesses will not be considering creating a content farm as a method of making some extra money through advertising revenue! Regardless, Google’s war on content farms lends some necessary lessons for anyone engaging in an SEO campaign, specifically in regards to their content creation: always focus on quality and value for the user, avoid duplicate content and spammy tactics such as thin or scraped content.