Demand Media’s Shift to Quality

Demand Media appears to be gradually moving away from the search-driven content that put it on the map and morphing into something very much like a portal.

Today, the company will roll out Shift, a new channel on eHow, the core Demand property which built its traffic on lightweight articles such as “How to Cook White Rice in the Microwave.” Shift’s content is markedly different from the traditional eHow fare — it’s themed around inspiring women to make life and career changes. The property is launching with the eHow 100, a hodgepodge list of “who are living their passions, embracing their interests, and overcoming obstacles by discovering the expert within,” according to the site. The eHow 100 includes women ranging from AllthingsD’s Kara Swisher to venture capitalist Aileen Lee.
A list of this sort smacks of editors making choices, looking to establish a voice for a new property. That’s very un-Demand, which in the past often felt like it produced content solely to attract one-off searchers, not regular visitors. That mode of media, followed by sites like Associated Content and About, has lost favor, particularly in the wake of Google’s Project Panda, which made it harder for publishers to work Google’ algorithm for high search rankings.
Coincidentally or not, Demand has gradually shifted to add to its millions of how-to articles more substantial content that could draw in a loyal audience. It has hired celebrities like Tyra Banks and Rachael Ray to headline media brands. eHow’s Shift is in a similar vein. Demand tapped Victoria Colligan, founder and CEO of “Ladies Who Launch” to gather a panel of experts who will regularly engage readers through interview, blogs and the like. Sounds more Oprah Magazine than eHow. Visitors to eHow are now greeted with a top menu of several channels: Food, Home, Style, Money, Health and Shift.
However, executives from Demand emphasized that Shift should not be viewed as a total departure from the classic eHow publishing model. Much of its editorial will be driven by what users have been searching for on the site. For example, 50 percent of women on eHow are pursuing higher-learning, and 44 percent of women are small business owners/entrepreneurs — so Shift is aimed at serving their needs, said officials.
In the end, Demand can credibly claim to be evolving its model rather than pivoting it. Still, the new channels are a sign that even in a new-fangled digital era, media companies need quality content that will draw in readers and create the kind of high-class environments that attract brand advertisers.

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