The crowd-sourced content platform once known as Associated Content and now called Yahoo Voices will be shut down at the end of this month, according to an announcement sent to its authors and posted on their company Tumblr on Wednesday.
Yahoo Voices, the primary site where content produced by the Yahoo Contributor Network was published, had apparently been in dire straits for months, if not years.
Authors could sign up, create a profile, and begin submitting articles or tackling site-wide assignments for editorial approval. Writers were compensated based on a mixture of upfront payments and pay-per-view arrangements.
An iffy reputation
Associated Content launched in 2005 and within several years became one of the most-visited sites on the Internet. It became known as one of several “content farms,” a negative term used to describe websites that employed very low editorial standards as a means to generate as much content as possible.
Quantity over quality, basically. They didn’t want there to be a search term that didn’t have a corresponding Associated Content article created for it. This proved quite lucrative, though it’s unclear whether the vast majority of Associated Content’s articles were actually helping any of those people that found them via search engines.
Slate‘s Farhad Manjoo had this to say about Associated Content:
Associated Content stands as a cautionary tale for anyone looking to do news by the numbers. It is a wasteland of bad writing, uninformed commentary, and the sort of comically dull recitation of the news you’d get from a second grader. Oh, and here’s one more interesting thing about Associated Content—because its stories are bulging with hot search terms, it gets more visitors than just about every news site online, including washingtonpost.com.
While this fails to acknowledge the few authors who did in fact contribute worthwhile content, it effectively sums up the popular opinion of the site. That last sentence, though, is all that matters; page views = ad revenue. Why bother increasing editorial standards when you can make more money without them?
Google devastates the business model
Then came Panda. In late February 2011, Google debuted a tweak to their search ranking algorithm that they nicknamed Panda, after the last name of one of its engineers. The change, which affected just under 12% of all search queries, was summarized this way:
This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
It sounds so nice. Google is just doing what it’s supposed to do! I have a feeling that the new owners of Associated Content weren’t big fans of this new demand for “high-quality” content. Here’s an image, thanks to SearchMetrics, of Associated Content’s prevalence in search results leading up to and in the immediate aftermath of the Panda update.
That part where it goes straight down? That’s the Panda effect. As you can see, everything was great up to “Week 7 2011.” Well, Panda rolled out in Week 8. You can see for yourself what happened. The same information from SearchMetrics reflects a 91.6% drop in search traffic when comparing the pre- and post-Panda data.
Sweeping changes come post-Panda
Yahoo reacted fairly swiftly and decisively to save their huge investment. Before the end of 2011, they announced the end of Associated Content and the beginning of Yahoo Voices. All future content and pre-approved older content would move to Yahoo’s domain, which had a much better reputation in Google’s search algorithms. Likewise, they did a drastic revision to their publishing guidelines, emphasizing quality to human readers and avoiding spammy practices.
Soon thereafter, the Yahoo Contributor Academy was released, an even more in-depth training tool that emphasized quality content. This was a genuinely useful feature for the platform that continued their push towards ethical SEO and more professional-quality content.
Some writers were even given opportunities to publish on Yahoo News, Sports, and a variety of other Yahoo sites. As a matter of fact, some of my first non-self-published pieces were on Yahoo News and Yahoo Sports through the Contributor platform.
An unceremonious ending
However, not even these initiatives could save the site. Certain features, like beat assignments and special designations for top authors, began to disappear in 2013. Contributors reported a dearth of upfront payment opportunities, something that was a distinguishing factor for Yahoo Voices and attracted better talent. Authors also reported slower response times from editors, who were still gatekeepers of published content.
In other words, Yahoo Voices and the Yahoo Contributor Network began bearing all the signs of an entity desperately attempting to cut costs. Authors were compensated less, opportunities to publish were fewer, and editors seemed stretched to their limits.
Yahoo Voices was obviously home to far better content than its predecessor, Associated Content. There was a clear subjective effect of the new editorial policies and rebranding. The problem, it seems, is that improved content isn’t enough. Google’s algorithms don’t give out “most improved” awards. Too few of the articles on Voices were competitive in search, making the editorial process too costly for too little payoff.
The market for freelance writers on the web is obviously tightening, as Yahoo Voices is only one of several popular platforms to fold since Panda. Some of the once-popular sites that have either folded or completely refocused are Suite101, FindArticles, and Business.com.
Yahoo Voices will become inaccessible after July 31, 2014. Writers will receive their final payments on August 15, 2014. All Contributor articles, including those posted on Yahoo’s other sites (like News and Sports) will be removed with only a few, older exceptions.