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Laura Murray
Executive Director
The Internet Content Syndication Council
New York, NY 10012

March/April 2011 News

Group Targets Content Farms

Recent coverage in Adweek detailing the council's introduction of editorial guidelines.


Why Google is Choked With SpamHow Google decides which content goes where.


In Fight Against Internet Deterioration, Council Offers Guidelines

Will engage industry, search engines in discussions on content quality.




Dear Friends of the ICSC,

I’m pleased to be sending my first newsletter as the new Executive Director of the Internet Content Syndication Council. I came on board in January, and it's been a hectic several weeks learning the ropes, meeting existing and new staff, working on our latest white paper, and preparing for my first presentation, which took place last month at the Content Marketing Strategies Conference. The conference, held in Berkeley, CA, and superbly organized by Bill Flitter, ICSC member and CEO of Pheedo, brought together a number of senior marketing executives from the Fortune 1000.

I used the speaking opportunity to promote Internet content syndication as a successful and cost-effective model of online advertising and to point out that it’s an especially appealing approach in light of the gathering momentum in Washington, DC to prohibit--or substantially restrict--behavioral targeting. As you probably know, an FTC staff report, published in December 2010, endorsed "do-not-track", and several do-not-track bills have been--or will be shortly--introduced in both the House and Senate.

It bears noting that the FTC report gave a positive shout-out to contextual advertising. While I think the ICSC should maintain a position of neutrality with regard to do-not-track proposals and on behavioral targeting in general, the current controversy offers an opportunity to promote content syndication as a model of online marketing that does not involve tracking. Whether or not “do-not-track” comes to pass, it behooves the astute advertiser to have content syndication in its arsenal of marketing strategies.

I am very excited to join ICSC at such an interesting time. I look forward to the prospect of expanding it in both size and influence and to devoting my best efforts to promote content syndication and further the business interests of council members.

I hope to meet each of you over the next few months, but, in the meantime, please don't hesitate to contact me with questions, ideas or feedback.


Laura Murray
Executive Director
Internet Content Syndication Council



Moving aggressively to increase the visibility of content syndication within the online industry, the Internet Content Syndication Council has announced the hiring of a new executive director, an expanded staff and a full agenda of planned activities for 2011.

The Council has named a new Executive Director, Laura Murray. Murray, who has run her own business strategy consultancy for many years, holds an LL.M degree in Constitutional Law from Columbia Law School. She served as Legislative Director of the New York ACLU, where she developed an expertise on informational privacy issues, and subsequently served as Executive Director of the Alliance for Consumer Rights. 

The Council also announced that Arthur Pober, Ed.D. has taken the new position of Director of Government Affairs. As President of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), Dr. Pober was responsible for creating the most comprehensive media rating system in the US. He has worked extensively on regulatory issues at all levels of industry and government. In addition to consulting with numerous media firms, he serves on the advisory board of several academic and non-profit institutions.

Former Executive Director Tim Duncan will continue his active participation with the Council as Director of Research. As the main author of the industry-defining White Paper on Content Syndication, he is well versed in industry issues.  A longtime media consultant with a background in advertising, he served as Executive Director of the Advertiser Syndicated Television Association.

To fulfill its mission of promoting the growth of content syndication, the Council plans to take action in a number of directions in 2011, including:

  • A greater presence at industry conferences and events
  • More interface with legislative and regulatory governmental bodies
  • Providing timely information on industry issues
  • Actively seeking to expand the membership base


In keeping with this agenda, Murray made her first public appearance as executive director at the Content Marketing Strategies Conference in San Francisco on Feb.13th. In her speech she called attention to pending Do-Not-Track regulatory initiatives, which are intended to discourage behavioral tracking by marketers. She pointed out that content syndication does not rely on behavioral tracking for its effectiveness and thus represents an important model to consider when marketers develop their online marketing strategies.

As a further step, the Council has announced plans to release a white paper, A ‘NO TRACKING’ MODEL OF ONLINE ADVERTISING: CONTENT SYNDICATION, coincident with the opening of the ANA Advertising Law and Public Policy Conference on March 15th . In addition to making a case for content syndication as an intrinsically effective form of online advertising, the paper details the multiple privacy proposals emanating from legislators and regulators in Washington, DC. It includes a summary of the major recommendations of the Federal Trade Commission’s Staff Report on Privacy – particularly the proposed creation of a “Do Not Track” system similar to the “Do Not Call” system, which restricted the use of telemarketing. It reports that content syndication would not be impeded by any such restriction, since the FTC report specifically endorses marketing techniques which do not rely on tracking for their effectiveness.

Finally, the Council is considering providing a daily industry news/analysis aggregate to its members; members can expect to receive a survey about that project in the near future. 


The effectiveness of content syndication as a marketing strategy was highlighted by ICSC executives at the Content Marketing Strategies Conference in Berkeley, CA on Feb. 16th and 17th.

ICSC Executive Director Laura Murray explained how content syndication provides Internet publishers with professionally-produced content which attracts valuable, targeted users. By sponsoring this content, marketers can reach these viewers, who are aggregated across multiple websites. She provided examples of successful campaigns from ICSC members Mochila and Howdini.

Murray emphasized that content syndication does not rely on behavioral tracking for its effectiveness. “With syndicated content, the advertiser isn’t tracking the consumer, trying to figure out where she’s likely to go next,” she said. “Because content syndicators know what websites targeted audiences will likely visit, the advertiser’s message is already there when the consumer arrives.”

This is a key point because, as she explained, “a backlash against behavioral tracking is in full swing...” Congress and various regulatory bodies have taken up the issue of consumer online privacy, most especially with a proposal by the Federal Trade Commission to adopt a “Do Not Track” policy similar to the agency’s “Do Not Call” registry, which discouraged telemarketing.  Because of the heightened interest in consumer privacy, Murray predicted that “a Do Not Track bill will pass this Congress, though most likely not until 2012.”  Judging from comments made after the presentation, as well as published conference tweets, this came as important news to many present.

In this environment, she said, content syndication can represent an effective alternative for marketers who need to reduce their reliance on behavioral tracking. It is a form of contextual targeting which was given specific endorsement by the FTC as a “commonly accepted practice because it does not rely on invasive data-gathering.” The full text of Murray’s remarks can be found at

In his remarks ICSC Chairman Andrew Susman, president of Studio One Networks, described how his company’s syndicated content such as “the Daily Cat” have worked well for both viewers and marketers.  He emphasized the fact that content syndication works well without behavioral tracking. “We do not deploy risky or invasive targeting technologies for a simple reason: we don’t need them.  We don’t need them because we don’t target our audiences.... because they, like all audiences throughout commercial media history, will target us as long as we have the right bait.  In that regard, the Studio One Networks model is about fishing not hunting…”  The “right bait” remark found favor among conference tweeters, along with this one: “Human nature is always the same.  And all of us here are working to make technology work for human nature – not the other way around.” The full text of Susman’s speech can be found at Conference tweets are available here.


Over the past year, the Internet Content Syndication Council explored the issue of content quality. The impetus behind this project was an increasingly widespread concern that the Internet is being inundated with hastily produced and/or poorly documented content,  published by so-called “content farms” primarily to score high in search rankings.

A group of 12 members met in July 2010 to discuss the issue. It was agreed that the issue was an important one, although concerns were raised as to the difficulty of trying to establish agreed upon objective measures of quality. There was a collective realization that the entities in the best position—and the most motivation—to address the issue were the search engines, since user dissatisfaction with their search results was increasing.

ICSC staff ultimately drafted a set of voluntary guidelines for the creation of informational/fact-based content. The guidelines sought to establish an agreed-on set of procedures (drawn from common journalistic standards) that, if followed by responsible organizations, would help to ensure that the content they create/publish meets high standards of quality. They were posted on the ICSC website for comment.

On February 24th, Google took decisive action to address the issue with a major change to its algorithm designed to improve the quality of search results. Although dubbed the ‘farmer algorithm’ within the industry because it was presumed to take direct aim at content farms, they were not actually mentioned in the Google announcement. (See Google Breaks Up With Content Farms” in ADOTAS on Feb 25, 2011.

Did the ICSC initiative have any influence on Google’s course of action? Since Google keeps its own counsel there’s no way to tell. An article in Adweek on Jan 21st, which reported the Google announcement, speculated that the ICSC’s actions might have been one factor (See: Is Google's 'Search Spam' Focus Bad for Content Farms

Of course, the ICSC was hardly alone in calling attention to the increasing deterioration of search results, and competitive factors such as the launch of Blekko may well have been more urgent. Nevertheless, the ICSC is pleased to have added its voice to the call to action on this issue.

Now, however, the next chapter begins.

Relying on numbers provided by the Online Publishers Association, CNN’s reported that an estimated $1billion in annual revenue had shifted within the industry as a result of the algorithm change.

At the paidContent conference held in New York on March 3rd (ICSC members Reuters and Studio One were among the sponsors), an entire panel was devoted to “Quality, Quantity & Mass Content” view the panel discussion.

Similarly-themed panels have been added to online marketing conference agendas throughout the country, including last week’s SMX West, which brought together Blekko (CEO Rich Skrenta), Google (Matt Cutts, software engineer and head of Google’s Webspam team) and Microsoft (Sasi Parthasarathy, program manager of Bing relevance) to discuss their role as ‘spam police.’

But, has the algorithm accomplished what it (presumably) set out to do?

Sistrix compared pre- and post-algorithm placement data for 1 million keywords and ranked the relative change for each on Sistrix’s visibility index. Surprisingly, eHow actually fared better post-change, although other Demand Media sites did not. (For a detailed report on these results as well as several other analyses, click here.

Although reports of innocent casualties abound, most thus far seem anecdotal.


  2. IF SO, HOW?


About the Internet Content Syndication Council

Founded in October 2007, the Internet Content Syndication Council (ICSC) represents the voice of a new industry that is creating new forms of marketing and advertising within the global Internet community. The ICSC seeks to increase the awareness of the Internet Content Syndication industry; to promote content syndication as an effective and efficient model of online marketing; to develop a robust and diverse ICSC membership; and to speak as the unified and public voice for this segment of the online marketing industry.

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