The article was well written, compelling, and detailed a vision for the production and search optimization of content on a scale that we hadn't seen before. For me, the killer paragraph was this:
"Reese is a tall Texan who serves as Demand’s chief innovation officer and who created the idea-spawning algorithm that lies at the heart of Demand’s process. To determine what articles to assign, his formula analyzes three chunks of information. First, to find out what terms users are searching for, it parses bulk data purchased from search engines, ISPs, and Internet marketing firms (as well as Demand’s own traffic logs). Then the algorithm crunches keyword rates to calculate how much advertisers will pay to appear on pages that include those terms. (A portion of Demand’s revenue comes from Google, which allows businesses to bid on phrases that they would like to advertise against.) Third, the formula checks to see how many Web pages already include those terms. It doesn’t make sense to commission an article that will be buried on the fifth page of Google results. Finally, the algorithm, like a drunken prophet, starts spitting out phrase after phrase: “butterfly cake,” “shin splints,” “Harley-Davidson belt buckles.”This isn't a PR puff piece. Any time a company starts talking about their secret sauce, about the elements that make up their titling algorithm, you slow down and take notice.
And then you ask the question "why?"
Why would Demand Media document their playbook? Why would they risk pissing off Google, the distribution arm of Demand Media? Why would they risk giving potential competitors like AOL any more information than what was publicly available?
Here's what I think happened.
In order to make the Demand Media model work, you need a constant supply of high quality inbound links. A steady supply of quality inbound links drive Google crawlers deep into Demand Media properties' pages, and reassure Google that these pages are worth indexing and ranking.
I think Demand Media made a conscious decision to trade a glimpse of its strategy for a barrage of inbound links. Any good linkdev person will tell you that PR can be a powerful source of inbound links, especially if you have a good story.
Up until this weekend, the plan was working beautifully. A quick search on Google Insights shows a spike in interest in the company right around the time of the Wired article.
However, the strategy may have worked TOO well. The big tech blogs such as TechCrunch and RWW have not been content to post about how innovative the Demand Media model is and leave it at that. Instead they have started worrying about the rise of "Fast Food Content" and "Content Farms." VC Paul Kedrosky picked up the message and posted about how broken the tail of search was.
Search expert Danny Sullivan tweeted on the subject last night as well, saying (ominously):
"(I would) be more worried about content farms in google http://bit.ly/6dyezM if (I) didn't know public attention like getting now is a huge weed killer."
I personally think that all the hand wringing about the generation of cheap content explicitly created for tail search queries is overblown. If Google is doing its job, this content will only rank of there is nothing better out there.
But if I were Demand Media, I would start getting a bit nervous about this second wave of press. Their model won't work without Google's help, and the last thing Demand Media needs is Google proactively moving to bury "fast food content."