Content Farms vs User-Generated Content Sites

In media discussion about user-generated content sites, it is not uncommon to see the term "content farm" bandied about.

In most instances, the term content farm (or content mill), which I find to be extremely derogatory, is unfairly used. Why? Because user-generated content sites and content farms are very different things.

Let's first take a look at the definition of user-generated content.

Consensus has it that user-generated content is media created by people acting independently of their professional activities. They may be motivated to create content by a desire for self-expression, the need to get a point across, a compulsion to express creativity or share a passion with the world, or ambitions to become a professional writer/poet/journalist/online star, but their motivations are most certainly intrinsic.

User-generated content is created by the little guy- individuals not working under the direction of an employer or large website.
User-generated content is created by the little guy- individuals not working under the direction of an employer or large website.

This means that the media on user-generated content sites is created by people who are, for the most part, genuine and passionate about their work. In most cases, those contributing content to user-generated content sites are free to write about whatever they please and however they please.

Content generators on these sites may gain financial perks in the form of ad revenue or prize money, but for the most part are not paid for their work by the user-generated content sites themselves. Most importantly, content generators on these sites almost always retain ownership of their work, and can alter, move, or delete it as they please.

Though these sites see a wide variation in quality, the overall value of their media is great because it was created with genuine passion.

Key elements

  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Open platform
  • The content generator always owns his content, and may continue to earn money from it over time (should it be monetized)
  • Quality varies widely

Good examples of user-generated content sites include:

  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Blogger
  • Wordpress
  • HubPages

Writers on content farms face many more regulations and restrictions, and usually give up the rights to their work once they submit it for a small payment.
Writers on content farms face many more regulations and restrictions, and usually give up the rights to their work once they submit it for a small payment.

What about you?

Lots of great user-generated content creators have also written for content farms to make some up-front money on the side. Have you?

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Now, let's have a look at content farms.

Content farms, on the other hand, feature content that is often paid for on a piecemeal basis. They are vaguely similar to user-generated content in that amateur writers may join and contribute content, but the similarities end there.

While user-generated content sites usually give content creators the freedom to write about whatever they like, content farms specify certain topics or titles from which their content creators have to choose- or they simply assign the work. Content farms have strict standards on content and in many cases content generators must first pass a test or submit an application before being admitted.

The content generated on content farms is also designed to be as optimized as possible for search engines- the goal is to rank high in search engine results, drive a lot of visitors to the site, and make money from ad revenue. Content created just to drive traffic or clicks to ads tends to be inferior to that created because the author genuinely wants to share information on a subject, hence the content you’ll find on a content farm will typically be low quality relative to content you’ll find on a user-generated content site (though you will definitely find the same sort of click-driven drivel on UGC sites).

Key elements

  • Content creators are motivated by money; the platform is interested in driving traffic and clicks on ads
  • There are stricter article standards and often one must apply before being accepted
  • Ownership is usually sold to the content farm upon submission and approval
  • Quality is consistent, but thin

Good examples of content farms include:

  • About.com
  • Yahoo! Voices (previously Associated Content)
  • eHow
  • Livestrong.com
  • Cracked
  • Answerbag
  • GolfLink
  • TypeF
  • Trails.com

Are you typing on the clock or for pay? Then you might not really be creating UGC as the OECD defines it.
Are you typing on the clock or for pay? Then you might not really be creating UGC as the OECD defines it. | Source

People are seldom motivated to publish articles or videos on content farms for intrinsic reasons- if they did, these sites would not have to pay for their content. Those publishing on content farms do so primarily for money (though to be honest the amounts typically paid per article are very low).

Are people who publish media on content farms somehow lesser content generators? Absolutely not. Many of the most successful, inspired, and talented content generators I know publish both on user-generated content sites and content farms alike. Content farms provide a nice up-front bonus for articles that are typically not hard of time consuming to write, so along with private freelance writing gigs, these make for great resources for new freelance writers who are getting their bearings in the field.

What do you think?

Should content farms be considered to be UGC sites?

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Are content farms really user-generated content sites?

Content farms are, indeed, comprised of content created by users- at least, content created by people who have accounts, log in, and independently create and submit articles, however they deviate from the traditional definition of UGC (by the OECD’s standards) in that their content is not exactly created outside of professional routines and practices. After all, they’re being paid for this work, and many people who write for these sites are professional freelance writers.

One might conclude, then, that content farms aren’t ‘real’ user-generated content sites at all.

The gist: be careful what you call a content farm.

If user-generated content sites were to be compared to restaurants, content farms would be fast food franchises. While one might consider a McDonald’s to be a restaurant, it would be pretty insulting to denounce a local family-owned bistro to be a fast food joint.

Is there wide variation in the quality of one-off restaurants? Absolutely. There are thousands of restaurants far more vile than the worst fast food franchise out there, just as there are thousands of genuine UGC articles and videos that are really, really horrid. That said, if you want to go out for a really nice dinner, you’re not going to get the kind of attention to detail and delicious food you might like by going to a Burger King, just as you’re not going to find any spectacular online resources on content farms.

This is why it’s insulting to call a user-generated content site a content farm. Yes, there is variation in quality, but I’m willing to take the bad along with the good- what matters to me most is genuine passion for a subject, and for all their polished consistency, content farms simply don't have it.

In Review

Content farms

Motivation

  • Users sell articles for upfront payments (typically small)
  • Both writer and site are motivated by money

Closed publishing platforms

  • More rules and requirements
  • Often have to apply to join- not open

Monetization

  • Paid up front, then that’s it

Ownership

  • None
  • Articles not updated

Quality

  • Uniform but generally low (the buzzword here is “thin”)

UGC Sites vs. Content Farms

UGC sites

Motivation

  • Users publish media outside of their professional lives
  • Intrinsically motivated

Open publishing platforms

  • Moderation rules, but typically free and anyone can join

Monetization

  • May be able to passively make money, but not paid upfront

Ownership

  • User retains ownership of the content

Quality

  • Varies widely, but includes some great, genuine stuff



The Gist

If user-generated content sites were restaurants, content farms would be fast food chains. Not all restaurants are fast food franchises; it’s an insult to refer to them as such.

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Comments 47 comments

leroy64 profile image

leroy64 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff)

Well written article.


SubRon7 profile image

SubRon7 4 years ago from eastern North Dakota

Good stuff, Simone! Thank you.


Rosyel Sawali profile image

Rosyel Sawali 4 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Thank you for explaining this really well. This is all new to me! ^_^ Now I think I value more what I will be sharing on HubPages.


Outbound Dan profile image

Outbound Dan 4 years ago from Niagara Falls, NY

Ahhh, so that is the difference. I've written for both types of sites, UCG and content farms, over the years. That said, I much prefer writing on UCG sites like HubPages and my own sites through Blogger.

Yes, there are times I find myself writing a content farm article on "What does shark poop look like" (yes a real topic); however, shark poop is not something I am passionate about (thank the Maker). It is therefore not my best work...


rfmoran profile image

rfmoran 4 years ago from Long Island, New York

Interesting Hub that draws important distinctions.


VirginiaLynne profile image

VirginiaLynne 4 years ago from United States

Most importantly, I find that the content farm sites have far inferior information and very annoying ads. I have learned to look to see if the site I Google is EHow or About.com before I click on it--they aren't worth the click! Moreover, there are never good photos, maps or other information to make instructions on those sites as helpful as a site like Hubpages. When I was starting online writing, I considered some of those other sites and am so glad I ended up on Hubpages instead.


Julie DeNeen profile image

Julie DeNeen 4 years ago from Clinton CT

Wow. Okay just read the whole thing top to bottom. You make a great argument and I dub you Simone Smith, the leader of a new movement. I want to see all Content Farms replaced with UGC sites where writers are compensated according to their value, businesses look for writers in their field to write content, and we all stop getting pennies for articles that are completely uninspiring and full of keywords that make it sound awkward. Nice work. This is exactly the reason I love Hubpages so much..the authentic appeal. Voting up for sure!


psychicdog.net profile image

psychicdog.net 4 years ago

Intrinsically motivated - what does that mean Simone? I'm being cheeky but as always with your writing or is this a bee in your bonnet! this was a really interesting read - OK and... yes, I'll allow hubpages to differentiate themselves from the lesser and vulgarizing content farms...on one condition though that... they keep going doing their special thing!


marketingbloke profile image

marketingbloke 4 years ago

Interesting take on UGC. I like the way HubPages is categorized in the "better" section =]


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

This has provided information a lot of us were unaware of. From reading your hub I would think the worst thing about a content farm is not owning your own work. There's nothing wrong with trying to earn a dollar here or there but if its at the price of giving up ownership of your work then I say, "no way!"

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


chloelozano 4 years ago

This was a well written article and you did a good job at providing objective comparison's. I voted up :)


mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 4 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

Thanks for the information, put simply and easy to understand. I learned quite a few things from this article that I had questions about before I got here. Voted up.


Will Apse profile image

Will Apse 4 years ago

If you do your keyword research upfront and have in mind the kinds of return a page might bring, I reckon you are a content farmer. But on a site like this there are plenty of writers who could never be described as that.

So maybe this is a user generated content site with a good proportion of diligent content farmers- pretty similar to You Tube, Blogger etc.


mperrottet profile image

mperrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

I truly believe that because HubPages promotes quality of content and authenticity of content, that they will be considered a more valuable platform than content farms. Voted Up!


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

Apparently, I have had a deep preference for UGC sites because I have written for all but one of the UGC sites you listed. :D I always sort of felt a little jaded by the idea of content-farm sites taking my work and no longer being able to ever claim it as my own. It's not that I'm that attached to it, but I have always felt like if I've put the time and effort into it, can't I at least say that yes, I generated that content? Besides, I have found such an outlet with HP - I truly feel like UGC sites really can open up new worlds for people and it is a bright spot in terms of technology. I feel like UGC sites are avant-garde, you know?


Angelo52 profile image

Angelo52 4 years ago from Central Florida

I like the UGC sites better because I can write about those things I want to write about. Any monetary gains are secondary, although nice. To write on somebody else's schedule and demand would be like a having a job. If that is what the writer wants more power to them, but it is not for me.


tsmog profile image

tsmog 4 years ago from Escondido, CA

thank you Simone. I feel a weight lifted off my shoulder's in a sense - justification of 'my' motivation vs. perception of socialization or peer pressure, the mom & pop or each a stand alone cafe, taco shop, deli, or coffee shop/bookstore vs. (your metaphor) the company / franchised Co-co's, McDonalds, Red Robin, or Outback Steak House, Barnes & Noble, etc.

However, adding to an not taking away, or maybe it was a puzzle offered by you. One within the environment UGC may decide the latter and do well with operational structures offered.

Me, I have a hot dog cart, in some large city for the workdays, and on my off days I cater for specialty events, usually for free, receiving more tips than I count and filling my jars full everyday.

Thank you for this enlightening expose offering more opportunity than the pot at the end of a rainbow. I can't wait to go back home to my fellow villagers and share this great news. Later we can take what we need and leave the rest for a day after a cleansing rain, then another rainbow, another adventurer discovers the pot, and, well, recycle, recycle, recycle . . .think Green(e)


Jenn-Anne profile image

Jenn-Anne 4 years ago

Interesting information. I have heard the term "content farm" before but didn't know much about what it really meant. Thanks for clarifying and explaining the differences between the different types of sites. Voted up.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA

I had heard the word content farm used as a derogatory term that did apply to HubPages. Nice to know there is a difference.


mperrottet profile image

mperrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

I posted a link to this excellent hub from my hub "Why HubPages Will Increase In Value". Your hub so clearly explains the difference between true social media sites and content farms. I am excited at the possibilities for HubPages in the future.


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

You do a great job explaining the difference. Enjoyed this hub!


Mark McClean profile image

Mark McClean 4 years ago from South Bend, Indiana USA

Just an excellent explanation between these two types of content web sites.

I had no idea what the difference was before taking the time to read this article.

Well done!


Ninjadater profile image

Ninjadater 4 years ago

There's this LONG time, local talk show host. He's been on the air for YEARS (kind of a baby boomer aged gentleman). He had recently read an article referring to him as a "content provider" and he kind of went off the handle on that. LOL

Apparently, someone is trying to steer his title as a "Broadcast Journalist" into what he considered an insulting "Content Provider" term.

He just had to laugh at that. People are using internet terms to describe his position as a radio broadcaster.


David Warren profile image

David Warren 4 years ago from Nevada

Thank you. Honestly I wouldn't have been able to describe what a content farm or UGC were, muchless compare or contrast them prior to reading this. Great information. Although fascinating to me at this moment the trick will be to retain the information lol. Thanks for such helpful and informative content.


nilsa varela vargas 4 years ago

woooW! I really love this article Simone, tks :) I think you are a UGC :D

I´m going to publish on my blog. I really like to improve the comments in it like you. See u!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 4 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks Nilsa! Glad you're keeping up with blogging.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

Thanks much for helpful and interesting info re the differences between UGC sites and content farms. Motivating for the new year's plans…but now I'm hungry and I want good restaurant food. :)


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks RTalloni! I hope that your craving for good restaurant food was satisfied!


janderson99 profile image

janderson99 3 years ago from Australia on Planet Water

I think the distinction between UGC sites and content farms is blurred and fuzzy (motivation for self-expression; genuine passion for a subject?). HP requests articles to be written on various topics via exclusives, competitions, AP etc. The proof is in the pudding! I don't find your arguments very convincing. It smacks of holier than thou! IMO


janderson99 profile image

janderson99 3 years ago from Australia on Planet Water

I personally think this is a better definition of content farm:

-- a common name for low quality sites whose main goal is to attract search traffic by piling up (mostly) useless content, usually by producing large amounts of low-quality text or by copying it from websites with original content.

I don't regard

•eHow

•Livestrong.com

as content farms - neither does Google as they feature very prominently in the SERPS


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Some fair points, janderson99! The line is quite fuzzy. I guess the biggest distinction in my mind at this point is passion and ownership Yes, HubPages has Exclusives, and we encourage people to use them, but only if they WANT to. Contests and the Apprenticeship Program are also designed to give people freedom to write about subjects they're passionate about. And with all of these things, Hubbers still maintain ownership of their content. That's a big deal- and a perk content farms don't provide.


shai77 profile image

shai77 3 years ago

Very good, thank you explaining the distinction. I can see how it can get confusing but you make it clearer than it was. Thanks for the great hub. Voted up & useful!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Thanks for stopping by, shai77!


Seema Misra profile image

Seema Misra 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

This detailed and comprehensive analysis is very useful for content writers. It always helps to know your industry.


emdi profile image

emdi 3 years ago

are contests in hubpages (with daily prizes), an indirect way of converting this website into a content farm? I guess so, because contests generate thousands of articles on the same topic and users generate them for winning prizes.


TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

TIMETRAVELER2 3 years ago

I thought this was interesting and although I agree with most of the points, one upon which I disagree is that sites like HP allow writers to create articles on topics of their choice. HP has some fairly stringent guidelines that does limit what people can write about. Personally, I am glad they do. However, to indicate that we all can write whatever we like isn't exactly the case. I started writing online for Yahoo a few years ago and can tell you that there is a huge difference in attitude there from what I've seen on HP... the main one being that there, everybody is a competitor, on HP everybody tries to help , advise and teach.

My writing skills have increased dramatically since my Yahoo days, and the guidance I've received on HP is the reason.


Barbara Kay profile image

Barbara Kay 3 years ago from USA

I'm happy to hear that Hubpages isn't a content farm. The title has always bothered me since it seems Google likes to hit them. Thanks for straightening me out on the definition of the two.


Ruth Lanham 3 years ago

Good information. Thank you!


jrueff profile image

jrueff 3 years ago from Kansas City

Outstanding post! I'm glad I know the difference between UGC and Content Farms - I had never heard that there was a difference, although I've been familiar with content farms for some time. Glad I started writing here at Hubpages, that's for sure.


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared with followers. Thanks for clarifying the distinction between UGC and Content Farm sites.

I've gotten the feeling that HubPages has a split personality -- it's for passionate self-expression / quality nonfiction articles and for making money. Those who are into the former get very little of the latter. I saw a HubPages blog article by a company insider who cited a study that concluded that the higher the quality of a hub, the lower the revenue. It's hard to figure out which hubs are actually making money, but going by occasional remarks, it seems that money making hubbers write a high volume of hubs that are brief, quickly researched, quickly written, and designed with SEO and key word popularity in mind. In other words, they resemble content farms. Is this so, or a misconception?

When Google guidelines emphasize quality writing, are they using the same standards as a university creative writing or journalism professor or an encyclopedia editor?


Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 3 years ago from Planet Earth

Excellent comparison of these two types of sites. I have had questions about the differences, and I think you provided some great answers here.

Thanks!!!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 3 years ago from San Francisco Author

Many thanks, Marcy Goodfleisch!!


artdivision profile image

artdivision 3 years ago from London

Great insight - thanks!


Bianca Raven profile image

Bianca Raven 3 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

Nicely written comparison between the two types of sites. Thank you for this :)


Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

Now I have a better understanding of is, and is not, a content farm. This is a very clear explanation of the difference. I can see how Yahoo! Voices was a content farm. They are gone now, but I had had an account the and they always were asking me to write about various topics. I enjoy the freedom of being able to write about most any topic of my choice on HubPages.

Hope you have been well, Simone, since you left HubPages staff.


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 24 months ago from Ontario, Canada

Thanks for making this distinction clearly. I always thought that HP was a content farm. I feel good about it now.


Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 19 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Simone, this is a great hub. It's really interesting and explains the difference between the two so well--though Yahoo Voices (aka YCN and AC) has shut down last summer. Voted up for interesting!

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