Kara Swisher

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Yahoo's (and Associated Content Founder) Luke Beatty Talks About Google's Content Farm Putsch

Yahoo’s Luke Beatty said he is not worried.

“We welcome the change,” he insisted about Google taking aim last Friday at so-called “content farms,” producers of low-quality content that spam up the Web and the search giant’s results. “And we endorse what Google is doing 100 percent.”

That’s ironic, given among those allegedly hit hardest by changing of its famous algorithm–based on early, and perhaps questionable, surveys–is Yahoo’s Associated Content.

But, if true, and traffic at Associated Content–which the Silicon Valley Internet giant bought for $90 million last May–is indeed badly hurt, it’s obviously going to be a problem for Yahoo, which relies on advertising revenue as its core business.

A quick poll by Sistrix, a search engine optimization firm, using one million keywords before and after Google’s changes, showed that Associated Content’s “visibility index”– including keyword and ranking positions ranking and clickthrough rate–was down 93 percent.

So yesterday, Beatty, who founded Associated Content and now works at Yahoo, dialed up BoomTown to talk about what the Google shift will mean to Yahoo.

First off in the wide-ranging interview, he noted, “everything on the Web is changing all the time,” noting that Associated Content used to rely more on the now weakened Digg and RSS for its traffic and distribution.

“Obviously, that has changed and we have still managed to grow,” he said.

Beatty said it is still not clear that the new tweaks in search criteria at Google would mean for Associated Content’s offerings–coming from 400,000 contributors of all kinds.

“Our data will not be reconciled for weeks…but some will be up and some will be down,” he said, adding the overall, “I suspect it will be down, although it’s not accurate by any means in the numbers released so far, since there is no way you can know this early.”

Still, it’s obvious that Google’s latest move has not been not good for Associated Content, although Beatty noted that the Silicon Valley search king is no longer the main source of traffic for Associated Content material.

Instead, that would be the owned-and-operated sites of Yahoo, most of all, and–increasingly–social networking sites such as Facebook.

“When we sold the company, we know that sites of Yahoo itself would be the biggest driver of our growth and that was the plan,” said Beatty. “And, though smaller, social means of distribution are clearly the way people are now finding our content.”

In an email later, Beatty underscored this point:

“Search traffic is not our focus within Yahoo–it hasn’t been for 10
months…traffic sources have changed endlessly over that last six years…search is one, albeit an important one and clearly, [but] now it too is changing and we see the future of our content distribution coming from O&O properties and social networks, as much as anything.”

Still, Beatty said Associated Content will adapt as long as Google does not make its tweaks on a network basis and rather than on a site basis. (Interestingly, that would presumably include Google’s own–and often spammish–Blogger property, which is fueled by its powerful AdSense engine.)

“It appears that changes have been made on an asset-by-asset basis
is good–networkwide cramdown would be inappropriate and uneducated,” he said.

Still, the best way to fight the Google initiative is by delivering higher quality content, which Beatty said was being done at the company via a series of ongoing measures to improve overall submissions.

Those include a Yahoo style guide for content creators, a two-tiered human editor review process, analytical analysis, a featured contributor program and, interesting, an online tutorial process called the Yahoo Contributor Network.

It’s not exactly Harvard University, of course, but Beatty said there is more to come.

“We are committed to supporting and helping our contributors navigate through this and every other change in the crowdsourced content economy,” he said. “We want the best article to get more traffic.”

Of course, with Google’s doubtlessly continuing changes in its criteria for what good content is, presumably, that won’t be Yahoo’s to decide.

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