Content Yawn

What content farms tell us about what we’re interested in.

By Annie Lowrey and Angela Tchou

Content farms are to online media what tabloids are to print. Neither journalism nor advertising, they are a trashy and addictive product, sussing out what we really want in order to give us something we don’t really need—and, in so doing, telling us something important about ourselves.

They work like this: An algorithm divines what people are searching for on the Internet, and what advertisers might pay to reach them. Content farms mostly ignore breaking news and other too-competitive searches, optimizing their content to fill the cracks neglected by retailers, newspapers, and other sites. They then spit out assignments to writers working for pennies a word, who churn out thousands of pieces of search-optimized infotainment on how to get a burger for $1 or how to make your own cat food or how to clip your toenails (watch out for the toe!) or hotels in North Dakota with hot tubs.

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