Google caused another ruckus online a few days ago when they laid down the law against content mills. Some people are complaining, others are wondering what took 'em so long, and still others are getting nervous, wondering whether their favorite content generation method is going to get Slapped next.

While nobody knows for sure where or when the axe will fall, it's not too difficult to guess which sorts of techniques are most at risk. In short: creating value = good, leaching off the value others create = questionable, spewing garbage = bad.

There's a whole continuum of blogging methods, each of which creates a different amount of value and carries a different amount of risk.


In this context, scraping means using automated tools to copy content from a website without permission and republish it. Not only is the content completely unoriginal, but it's also stolen.

Just to be clear, the word scraping is used to describe a method of creating an RSS feed for a site that doesn't automatically publish one. Some people use scraping tools to create feeds for their own websites. Others use them to steal content. As long as its done with the consent of the publisher, it's not inherently bad. It's when scraping tools are used to violate copyrights that it runs afoul of ethics.


Autoblogging, or using fully automated tools to import content and post it to a blog with no human intervention, is the next lower on the value add scale, and next highest on the Google Slap risk scale.

To the degree that content sources are carefully selected and the autoblog does something unique (beyond attempts to fake uniqueness, like using automated translation tools to convert content from one language to another and back) -- for example, combining content from multiple sources -- autoblogs may not be entirely without value. However, since the content is entirely unoriginal, the value add is relatively low and the risk relatively high.

Reader Comment:
Virginia said:
It always shocks me when I see someone go to another website and steal the content and republish it on their site. I have worked with 2 people who have done this... I ask: "Would you walk into a store and grab what you wanted and run out of the s...
(join the conversation below)

Thin Curation

Curation is the process of selecting content written by others and republishing it or publishing excerpts from it. What I call "thin curation" happens when nothing more than a sentence or two of original commentary (if any) is added. The value add is almost entirely in the selection of high-quality content.

Depending on how good the selection is, and how difficult it would have been for readers to find the content on their own, curation blogs can be very valuable. But since the content is almost entirely unoriginal, they're more at risk than more original blogs. If Google can't automatically recognize that value is being added, who knows what they'll do.

Thick Curation

Thick Curation is my term for curation blogs where someone else's content is the main focus, but which contain more original commentary than Thin Curation blogs. There's no sharp line separating the two.

More original ideas (assuming the commentary is good!) means more value added. And it stands to reason that a higher percentage of original content would reduce the risk of being penalized.

Blog Riffing

Blog Riffing is like Thick Curation, but with enough original commentary that the original content becomes the main focus. Someone else's content serves as the seed or inspiration for a post, but what grows from the seed stands on its own.

100% Original Content

It could be argued that nothing 100% original exists -- that so-called "original" blog posts were inspired by something, even if the inspiration has been so internalized that it's not even recognized. Without waxing too philosophical about that, we'll call anything "original content" that doesn't quote any source of inspiration, and isn't plagiarism.

Certainly, not all "original" thoughts, Blog Riffs, or curators comments have the same value. But at least we can say that all other things being equal, the greater the proportion of the content that's original, the greater the proportion of the value that's unique. And the more unique value you generate, the lower your risk of getting Slapped.