A content farm is a company that uses search algorithm data to create articles, videos and other media that is designed to rank highly in the search engines. Content farms use a large pool of freelancers who choose or are assigned ideas from a list that is compiled by analyzing user search data. The main purpose of a content farm is to maximize pageviews and revenue generated by advertising on those pages while minimizing the costs and time needed to create the content.
Content farms are also known as content mills and content factories.
Content farms are a hotly debated topic. Generally speaking, they come under fire for two reasons:
The quality of content: Content farms tend to pay freelancers much less than industry averages. This has two consequences for the content farm. One, they generally don't attract qualified or experienced writers. Two, the content produced reflects the pay in that writers will not spend as long on a given piece. This also means that common errors or falsehoods are multiplied across online content because content farms rarely put the time into fact checking.
The methodology: Content farms game search algorithms to some extent. They find out what people are searching for and provide content to fit that search criteria. This can result in several articles breaking down the same set of concepts, all with the aforementioned quality concerns. These articles may also have better meta data and SEO optimization, so they can potentially flood out higher quality results from search rankings.
Proponents of content farms point out that many of the articles fill content gaps on the Internet. That is, the articles are on topics that are useful but far too simplistic for most sites to consider posting. Examples include "How To Cook Oatmeal In A Slow Cooker" or "How To React When You Feel Ridiculous." The argument goes that, when such articles have proven their worth by gaining page rank, more reputable sites (a cooking site, for example) will see the need to write a more authoritative article on the topic.
In this sense content farms would act as content speculators, seeking quick and transitory profits by exploiting unexplored areas of content. However, as search algorithms currently stand, having quality content rise above the mass production of content farms is mathematically challenging. For this reason, many search engines are retooling their results to reflect qualitative measures such as trustworthiness of sources.