AI farms are the new content farms — and are just as bad

In the first decade of this century, unscrupulous website owners noticed that Google had caught on to their tricks — link exchanges, invisible keywords, and meta tags. These tricks were designed to fool search engines into thinking that the websites were better and more useful than they actually were. Spoiler alert: these websites were usually completely useless, just some filler text surrounded by a sea of ads.

After Google updated its algorithms, the scammers found a new trick — content farming. Content farms were companies, often based overseas, that hired armies of poorly paid freelance writers to rewrite existing web posts in slightly different words to create new articles. Then they hired an army of equally poorly-paid editors to clean up the resulting mess into something barely readable.

I get dozens of offers a day from content farms offering guest posts for Hypergrid Business.

I routinely mark them as spam and delete them. In fact, any email that has the words “SEO,” “100 percent unique,” and “Copyscape protected” is pretty much 100 guaranteed to go into the trash bin.

This kind of fake, filler, spammy content proliferated across the Internet. People didn’t usually stay on these pages for long. After all, there was nothing new to read there. But it was long enough for the publishers to get the revenue from the ads on the page and that was all that mattered.

Some legitimate business owners fell into this trap. They thought that in order to get traffic to their websites, they needed to game the system too, and they bought stuff from content farms to fill their pages with meaningless fluff.

For a little bit more money or effort, they could have actually created real content. Something useful to their customers, based on the company’s actual expertise and opinions.

The business owners and website editors that fell into the trap were kicked to the back of the line when search engines caught on — and then they have to work even harder just to get back to where they started.

Content farms are like crash diets. They seem to work at first, but at the end you wind up worse off than you were before, even heavier and lazier, looking for next crash diet, the next quick fix, the next SEO magic wand.

Stop worrying about the scale. Exercise more. Eat healthier food. Okay, I know that doesn’t work for everybody — but crash diets don’t work for anybody at all.

AI is the new content farm

Now, I don’t have anything against AI.

I welcome our new robot overlords.

I even wrote an article recently about how to use AI to write press releases.

But what I was talking about in that article was taking a bunch of new and useful information and using AI to help you organize it into readable form.

Not everyone is a great copywriter. So if your company has an announcement to make, or a new service it’s offering, or something else they’re doing that benefits people, it can be very useful to have an AI to hammer it into a readable form.

That’s not what I’m talking about when I talk about AI content farms.

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

What I mean is those articles with titles like, “10 top ways to cook with chicken,” except now written by AI instead of desperate writers.

Then you click on the article and find out that it’s a retread of everything already written on the topic, without any new insights or any value. It’s the exactly the same as the old content farm junk, but now written by AI, so it’s cheaper and faster.

These articles are easy to generate. You just ask ChatGPT, “Write me an article about ten top ways to use chicken” and it spits it out.

And everyone out there is doing exactly that, producing the same article in infinite variations.

Now there are companies built around this idea. In case you’re wondering who they are, I’m not going to help you. I’m not going to link to them here and give them free publicity. In fact, the reason I’m writing this article now is that one of those companies contacted me and invited me to their affiliate program and it annoyed me.

I’m not a fan of these companies. Not because they’re charging for something people can get for free from ChatGPT itself. No, they do provide some value. They make it easy and convenient to generate that filler article, and they stuff it full of keywords, and optimize the headline for maximum click bait, and analyze search terms in order to suggest the topics you should cover next.

It’s still the same generic, useless, repetitive content. Just an order of magnitude spammier.

The companies doing this proclaim that their posts can pass AI detection tools. That is completely irrelevant. These articles are still a waste of space.

Plus, Google doesn’t care if something was written by AI or not. Plenty of useful articles are written by AI, such as financial reports or sports write-ups or weather updates. The important thing, as far as Google is concerned, is that the content adds value.

So don’t fall for the quick fix trap of AI content farms. They won’t help your site in the long run. And, depending on how good Google algorithms are, probably won’t do much in the short term, either. If you fall into the AI content farm trap, you’ll have to fight even harder to get back into search engines’ good graces.

Instead, focus on providing value. Feature your personal experiences, or your company’s expertise and knowledge of the subject. Provide brand-new information that hasn’t been seen anywhere else before. Find a fresh perspective.  I did an article about how to do this earlier this month: P.E.A.N.U.T.: 6 steps to staying ahead of AI when writing articles.

So if you’re an OpenSim grid owner or service provider or another company actually doing something and are looking to drive traffic to your website and are considering using AI to help you write some articles — go ahead and use AI. Or you could hire some of those freelance writers that are about to become unemployed.

Just don’t churn out more useless fluff.

And stay away from any vendors that promise “SEO content.” Please. Do us — and yourself — a favor.

And me? I’m going to go add the term “guaranteed to pass AI detection tests” to my spam filter.

Maria Korolov