How Google Killed My Content Farm
“Our current writer and editor roles have ended,” the email read. “Effective immediately.”
There were many predictable phrases in the 700-word email that arrived in my inbox late in the day on December 1, 2011. Things like “fast-changing environment” and “some hard decisions,” but those two words — “effective immediately” — are what stuck with me the longest.
In the blink of an eye, my writing career appeared to be dead in the water. It felt so sudden, so terribly final. But it had been brewing behind the scenes for some time.
There was no doubt about it: Google was killing us, and though none of us wanted to admit it at the time, we deserved to die.
My path to becoming a professional writer has taken me to some strange places, but none stranger than when I spent some 18 months churning out soulless “content” and shoveling it into Google’s gaping maw.
It was 2010, and I was writing for a content farm. The name of the site doesn’t matter. It doesn’t exist anymore, and every content farm operated in the exact same way anyway: Hire a bunch of non-employee freelancers that had a decent grasp of the English language, push them to produce as many short, keyword-heavy articles about a topic as possible, and pay them next to nothing in return.
As sad as it sounds, it was the first time anyone had offered to pay for my writing. But it wasn’t my first experience writing online. Before joining the faceless ranks of the article factory, I had written for several blogs and websites for no pay. I focused my attention on topics I enjoy, like video games and technology. The sites were small, with small followings, and most didn’t host ads. I worked a 40-hour week at a local cable company and authored my articles for free during my nights and weekends.
I just wanted to write.
I had a job that paid the rent, but writing comes naturally to me, and at the time I didn’t care if I had one reader or 1 million. I wrote for nothing, but I enjoyed it. That was payment enough for me.
Without realizing it, I became dependent on Google to pay my rent.