When Google changed its search algorithm last month, Demand Media took a serious hit. According to a comparison by Conductor, the search visibility of Demand Media's eHow site dropped significantly, which explains why the company saw a notable drop also in stock value. The rumours around the company were so pessimistic that it was forced to issue a statement defending its finances.
The California-based Demand Media, which according to Reuters has 13,000 freelancers writing to its sites such as eHow and LiveStrong, is now taking measures to step up the content of its sites. In an interview with MediaShift, Larry Fitzgibbon and Jeremy Reed from Demand Media described the course the company is next taking. Some of the changes sound very much like steps towards a more traditional journalistic model.
First, Fitzgibbon acknowledged that eHow, which relied on user-generated content, had had hard time keeping the quality of articles up to the needed level. Much of the material was inconsistent with editorial guidelines, particularly when compared with the content produced by the site itself. In an attempt to improve the user experience, a lot of the site's content will be removed or put through a vetted editorial process. Yahoo! reported that Demand said it plans to hire more-experienced writers to deliver articles of up to 850 words, paying up to $350 for these in an effort to improve quality.
Second, there will be a new emphasis on feature content. Fitzgibbon and Reed saw this as essential in providing a satisfactory experience to all visitors - something they feel the site has not always been able to do before. Feature content is also hoped to attract advertisers, offering more possibilities for brands, for example.
Investors seemed impressed by Demand Media's plans: Yahoo reported that the company's shares saw a significant rise.
The fate of Demand Media is of great interest for many, as the company is, as described by MediaShift, the "Exhibit A in content farming." There have been suggestions that content farming poses a threat to journalism. But in light of Demand Media's situation, a more pertinent question seems to be: can a sustainable business model be built around content farming?