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Beauty Farm

Demand Media distances itself from junk with branded content

Tyra Banks | Credit: Jason Kempin for Getty Images

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Looking to shake its content farming, Internet-cluttering rep, Demand Media has kicked off a series of content partnerships with brands. The first to join forces with Demand is L’Oréal, which today announced it will work with the company to create branded content for two Demand channels: TypeF.com, a Demand website featuring Tyra Banks, and eHow Style, the company’s prescriptive women’s lifestyle site.

Demand, alongside L’Oréal, plans to launch a series of branded how-to videos created by makeup artists chosen by Demand. The videos will cover highly specific topics such as “How to create a smoky look on an almond-shaped eye” while featuring L’Oréal products. The videos will run on Demand’s sites alongside display ads exclusive to L'Oréal, and Demand plans to build e-commerce and mobile apps around the effort, said Erika Nardini, senior vice president of sales and market development for Demand Media.

It's not unlike Demand's recent efforts with celebrity chef Rachel Ray and former Travel Channel host Rolf Potts, both of whom have partnered with the site to create original content. 

The move to improve the quality of Demand Media content is motivated by a recent blow delivered to the company by Google. Until this year, Demand Media had driven search traffic to its sites, including eHow.com and Livestrong, by creating articles based on Google search requests. If you need to learn how to render mink oil or how to make money in a trailer park, for example (hint: reselling beer and cigarettes is key), Demand Media has an article, or 20, at the ready.

This form of algorithm journalism has been criticized by many, especially its writers. There’s even a site dedicated to the Worst of eHow. And really, it is a little sad to read an article titled “How to Unlock Locks,” which instructs readers to insert their key and turn it.

Google’s response to the content farm backlash has been to change its algorithmic search to place less emphasis on what it called “low-quality content.” While that move is mostly focused on scraper sites which copy and repost content, it has still affected Demand. Since February, when the changes were implemented, Demand saw a 20 percent traffic decline from search engine referrals, CEO Richard Rosenblatt said in the company’s May earnings call. Tough game if your headlines are based primarily on search queries. 

In that earnings call, Demand, which went public in January, beat street expectations and reiterated plans to combat its Internet junkyard reputation. The company, which typically pays $15 per article, said it plans to hire more experienced writers, to whom it will pay up to $350 per article. Demand declined to provide specific compensation levels for makeup artists in its L’Oréal videos but said payment "depends on motivation." In Demand's L'Oréal partnership, prominent makeup artists will be compensated, and artists looking to build their personal brands and media experience may not be, Nardini said. 

Meanwhile, in the first quarter, Demand increased pageviews by 36 percent year over year and drove revenue up by 48 percent. The five-year-old company, however, continues to operate at a loss.