Are you old enough to remember when the internet was new to homes across America? I know it is hard to believe, but there was a time when the Internet was a bit of a novelty and something only “new adapters” and techies were interested in. I remember paying two grand for our first desktop and the thrill of setting up our modem dial-in network.
That was about twenty years go and between then and now, the internet and technology, in general, has undergone some massive changes. One of the most dramatic changes, outside of hardware and speed, involves the amount of real information available.
Once upon a time you could put in a keyword or phrase and find dozens of websites full of information. This was the wild west days of the internet, so sometimes you got things that didn’t add up, but overall you found real, honest-to-goodness information. The sources you found were real, like companies or experts in the field, university articles, or lay-sites with solid resources.
During this timeframe, you could dig a little and come away with some genuine knowledge of just about any topic. It was an exciting time to be online because it was truly a treasure trove of information and connectivity. You could communicate with everybody from everywhere, learn about anything, and virtually connect with the world.
Now that the internet has aged a bit you’d think that it had only gotten better. If you think that, then you’re wrong. I dare you to put any topic into your favorite search engine. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Now, when you do this you’ll notice an alarming fact – most of your returned results are forum results, question-and-answer sites, and article marketing content repeated in similar forms over and over again.
If you’re still exclusively a Google user, which you shouldn’t be, but if you are, then you’ll also find the sponsored results and ads of all kinds. So what has replaced real information is a bunch of people answering questions for other people, people talking about things related to what you’re looking for, and dozens of other questionable sources. On top of that, you have an overwhelming amount of cloned articles so obviously copied from one another that only the titles are changed.
Among those questionable sources are article marketing pieces. These are articles on every topic imaginable that find their way onto sites as legitimate sources of information. They are most often written by content mills that hire writers with no knowledge, just the ability to throw together some sentences around a topic and some keywords.
These dubious articles are then sold for very little and find their way onto websites around the world. Sometimes site owners will change them up a bit so they seem less stiff and generic, but otherwise they put them up as is. If you’re astute, then you’ll notice this from site to site as you see wordings and phrases repeated. This, my friend, is not information – this is the cheapening of the information highway.
Other than killing the internet as a source of information, article marketing kills the freelance market. The reason is simple – this content is cheap. People throw it together and sell it for pennies. Content mills bid on content jobs on freelance sites and low ball the estimates so much that real writers cannot compete. Do you really want to write 500 words for a couple dollars?
Every time you look up something and see a bunch of junk results like Yahoo answers, you’re the victim. As a writer, when you can’t find meaningful work because some content mill dramatically underbid you, you’re the victim. I am not sure what we can do about this problem at the moment, other than acknowledge that it is truly an issue.
Google, which is a huge part of the problem, has revalued content and authorship, but in truth this only feeds content-mills. As a writer, you can help by putting out quality content that is relevant. You can also refuse to take part in the race to the bottom with penny-article bids and RF content contracts. I know we all need to keep the lights on, but we also have to stop making it hard on ourselves by devaluing the industry for everyone.