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Is AuthorRank The Death Knell for Content Mills?

December 12, 2012 0 Comments RSS Feed

Content mills are a contentious topic, especially among writers. They can be thought of as the Walmart of the writing industry, where freelance writers are paid very low rates to produce acres of content. They are a profitable business for those who run them, but much less so for the writers who toil to produce text to feed the Internet’s rapacious appetite for words.

It can be argued that content mills are also a poor deal for the reader. Writers are forced to write at such a rate that ideas of quality, originality, and pride of accomplishment are abandoned. At the very most the end product will be grammatically correct and make some sort of sense, but often even this low standard is not met.

Why would someone pay for this sort of content? Mostly because they don’t have human readers in mind. The target audience is those machine denizens of the net: the web crawlers. Google, Bing, and other search engines send out these bots to chomp through the Web, gathering data to feed to indexing algorithms for analysis, and more importantly, ranking. They are the gate keepers of the search engine results pages.

Until fairly recently, the indexing algorithms were not terribly smart. They still aren’t, but they’re getting better. The number and sophistication of the signals they are sensitive to is increasing. Last year, the famous Panda and Penguin algorithm updates were a renaissance moment for the algorithmic analysis of content. Panda’s goal was to winnow the wheat from the chaff, applying human(ish) standards to content, rather than solely relying on easily gamed factors like keyword density.

They are still not intelligent enough, though, to resist the temptation to serve up poor fare for web users. While a step in the right direction, the better quality content mills have little to fear. However, there is a signal around the corner that might throw a spanner in the content mills’ works: AuthorRank.

Google loves data. It’s a data-driven, algorithmically-oriented, engineer-focused corporation. However, to appeal to its users, both the ones that pay it for advertising, and the ones that use its free services, that data must have a human shape. It has to conform to human needs, desires, and expectations. The search engine crawlers are next to useless if they can’t tell what it is that humans want to read, and the advert placement algorithms will generate no revenue-creating clicks if they can’t discern what it is that people want to buy.

Google wants to humanize the Internet. And so, in the age of crowd sourcing and anonymity, we can happily declare that the author is no longer dead. Authorship, and the authority that an author can carry, are the perfect signals for determining the probable quality of a piece of content. When combined with other signals of authority and quality, over a period of time, authorship carries with it a predictive power.

That can only be good for writers (good ones, at least) and bad for content mills, where identity is discarded in return for a fee. To benefit from AuthorRank, companies will be obligated to invest in writers and help them to cultivate a name and a reputation.

While AuthorRank is probably not yet used as a strong signal, the mechanisms for verifying identity are in place. Google have built authorship features into Google+, laying the foundations for a writer’s identity to be connected to their work.

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