5 types of article that make me spit

Years ago when my Dad owned a group of local newspapers I spent my school and college vacations working in the editorial office. We used to amuse ourselves over our sandwiches at lunchtime looking through and trashing the endless press releases that would arrive in the mail each day, all beautifully produced with glossy photographs (this was in pre-internet days).

We trashed them because all but the odd one or two were ill-considered, highly subjective, barely camouflaged advertising copy that had about as much editorial news value as last week’s shopping list.

Have things improved since those days on my Dad’s newspaper? Well, they have changed, but not improved. The internet has made it even easier to publish utter garbage, but even traditional garbage articles are lingering. Let’s start with my first spit which is endearingly old-fashioned…

Spit #1: Advertorial

Advertorial has been around for years and there are still publications (mainly print) that survive on it. The deal is you buy an advertising space and fill it up with an “article” which is ad copy written in a pseudo editorial style. Regulations in some countries state that the word “advertisement” must appear at the top of such articles and usually if you look really, really hard you’ll find it in miniscule type along the top border.

Understandably in the circumstances, advertorial is especially favoured by the manufacturers of products like commode chairs, stairlifts, bunion protectors, double glazing/storm windows, gardening equipment and other things most journalists would not consider to be throat-grabbing news material. Do people read them? My Dad did, but being a newspaper man he was just looking for typos. Or so he said…

Spit #2: Ad-get articles

I make absolutely no apologies whatsoever for citing this magazine as a shining example of the ad-get genre. A development on from advertorial and also mostly found in print publications, this works in a slightly less unsubtle way – you buy an ad to get an article written about you, hence the name. Your conventional advertisement appears and conveniently nearby is a glowing article about whatever you’ve advertised, sometimes not attributed to an author but usually penned by one of the staff reporters.

Needless to say irrespective of whether your restaurant sells half-rotted goat burgers or your beauty salon scars clients for life, the article raves about how wonderful it is with cheesy adjectives and appreciative oohs and aahs. It’s enough to make you bring up your, er, goat burger.

As for their professing to be a proper editorial publication? Don’t make me laugh. Several times I’ve contacted such rags asking if I could send in a copy of one of my books for review and get told “sorry, you have to buy an advert if you want us to review your book.” Spit, spit, spit.

Spit #3: Article marketing

As you’ll have seen if you’ve been reading HowToWriteBetter for a while, this is not the first time I have ranted about article marketing, but I have no shame in ranting again. Some article marketing – the proper kind where you actually write and publish good articles which promote you as an expert in your field, etc – is perfectly OK. But perhaps because this is an online gig it is open to even more abuse than is possible in the old print media.

Because article marketing has rightly been seen as useful online marketing tool, of course it has attracted hordes of verbal snake-oil proponents who exploit it and create quick-fix products that enable you to create dozens of articles at the drop of a credit card. Unfortunately most of these panacea-like systems result in articles that make no sense whatsoever, but contain lots of cool keywords that (until recently – see below) were all that mattered and to hell with prose that made sense. Bleurgh.

Spit #4: Article spinning

Also in recent times we have seen the derivative of article marketing, “article spinning,” which is even more of a bad joke.  Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

Article spinning is a search engine optimization technique by which blog or website owners attempt to manipulate their rank on Google and other search engines. It works by rewriting existing articles, or parts of articles, and replacing elements to avoid being penalized in the Search Engine Results pages (SERP) for using duplicate content. The original articles are often plagiarized from other websites and can often also be copyright infringements if the original article was used without the copyright owner’s permission.”

Is this laughable, or what? And not only that … wanna buy some software that spins those articles for you so you can produce utterly incomprehensible editorial trash in your sleep? Try here … or  here … and there are many more on Google. Spit, puke.

Spit #5: Content farms

Content farms, like most farms, are full of sh*t. Here, automated systems are not normally used because for some reason I fail to understand, there are people who are actually willing to write articles for them at a rate of as little as $3.50 per article. According to Wikipedia…

“In the context of the World Wide Web, the term content farm is used to describe a company that employs large numbers of often freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines. Their main goal is to generate advertising revenue through attracting reader page views[1] as first exposed in the context of social spam.[2]

So who are these freelance writers? Not me. I’d rather pick up $3.50 from a crowd watching me stick myself in the eye with a red hot poker. Wikipedia again…

“It has been reported that content writers are often educated women with children seeking supplemental income while working at home.”

Girls, girls, what are you doing? You could knit socks for soldiers and make more money than that and at least you’d know it was honest work rather than you churning out garbage by the yard while your kids are out playing street hockey.

Then, this year, came some breath-taking news…Wikipedia reports:

“In late February, 2011, Google announced it was adjusting search algorithms significantly to ‘provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.’[13] This was reported to be a reaction to content farms and an attempt to reduce their effectiveness in manipulating search result rankings.”

So online media will be purified and purged from the Garbage Articles?

Don’t be silly. As I write this the gnomes of the internet are busy finding more loopholes and ways around Google’s diktats and I predict that it won’t be long before Garbage Articles become good business again.

Doesn’t all this make YOU want to spit, too?

Make sure nothing you ever write could make anyone spit:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English




  1. The red hot poker trick? I think you’d get more than £3.50 for that. The downside is you could only do it twice…

    Fab read Suze xx

    • True, but then I suppose one could start contemplating other places to stick the red hot poker …. then again, perhaps not….!

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

  2. The plus side Sarah is that Suze can, I’m sure, touch type and we’d never be without her writing advice and help!

    I don’t understand these keyword rich article writers, surely the ‘loaded’ articles are so much more difficult to write?

    • I agree Jackie, it’s incredibly hard to strike the right balance between including sufficient keywords in an article and making it an interesting, informative read.

      It’s not impossible though, as Lisa points out in her comment below, and I agree entirely with her about sites like EzineArticles.com being responsible publishers who do vet everything before it goes out and won’t accept garbage.

      Despite Google shaking sticks at the garbage writers recently as I say in the article, my Google Alerts found me this little pearl this morning… check it out – it’s hilarious:


    • They are only more difficult to write when you’re writing with an audience in mind and to actually pass across a message. These people write for money – simples.

      • I know, Tola – yet the money is so disgracefully bad! Just how much effort is anyone prepared to put into writing 500 words or so if they’re getting paid $3.50 for it? All the more substance for the old cliché “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

        I think even most monkeys could write better than that…

  3. In slight defence of article spinning, I think that’s a unfair description by Wikipedia. I agree that most article spinning software results in total gobbledeegook articles that have little value from any point of view. Yes, some article directories will still accept them (because they don’t manually review) but those people need to be aware that Google’s constantly changing algorithms will be penalising those kinds of sites for poor quality content. However, all the people I know who spin articles use their own and never plagiarise someone else’s.

    I do spin some of my articles for SEO use, but I do them manually and ensure they still makes sense and are in context. If I write or get a writer to create high quality articles, I want to use them for all their worth. That means adding the originals to better quality sites like Ezine Articles and Hubpages, that actually take time to review what is being posted on their sites, and then spinning them to create more backlinks from other sites.

    I can understand your annoyance at the types of articles you mention above. As you say, there will always be people working hard to find loopholes to get what they want with the minimum effort. But don’t blame the player…blame the game! 😉

    • I hear what you say, Lisa, and feel there’s a significant difference between “spinning” articles manually and checking that they make sense rather than allow some software program to make the business concerned look like a bunch of idiots.

      I sometimes wonder if we’re not too much under the Google thumb with the result that potentially thousands of people miss out on benefiting from good content, purely because Google slaps us on the wrist for using it in more than one online place.

  4. Thanks for clearing that up for me about the content farming crap. I have been trying find some way to make use of my considerable writing skills in this brave new world and was really discouraged finding such absurdly low pay offers for writing “articles” on sites like freelancer.com. There I was thinking that it might actually be considered valuable to know the difference between “affect” and “effect” or that “could have” is really what is meant when people write “could of.” Silly me. Sometimes I think its a real shame I bothered to get an education at all since it doesn’t seem to be worth much to others that I have one, and having one myself really goes a long way towards denying me that very bliss that ignorance delivers in abundance. If only I’d invested in corrupt industries and Wall Street instead of spending 150K on a degree….

    Are there some resources that might be useful for someone who ISN’T willing to generate garbage for paltry pennies to connect with people who want to hire someone with real skills? I can paint you a picture with words like an artist uses a brush, but I might as well use chalk on a sidewalk on an overcast day.

  5. Oh, VOXLEO, do I feel your pain!

    The answer to your question is yes, there are ways of getting paid a fair fee for good writing but frankly you’re unlikely to find those lurking on the internet. You would do better to get in touch with advertising, marketing, PR and other communications agencies, especially the smaller ones which are less likely to employ a full time copywriter – they often put writing jobs out to freelancers and do not expect them to work for peanuts. Also, keep an eye on the various writers’ markets like Writing World http://www.writing-world.com/index.shtml – I’m not sure if it’s them or a similar organisation (Google it to find out!) that sends out a monthly newsletter listing markets for various different types of article.

    Would you like to do a guest post for me here on HowToWriteBetter about your current plight? Needless to say I can’t afford to pay you! However you’re more than welcome to include your contact details so potential clients can get in touch with you. Drop me a note on suze at suzanstmaur dot com if you want to discuss it.

    Good luck!