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Amy, I'm with you. The sad part for the writers of these silly pieces is pays even less. I wrote for them for a year on promises that their pay scale would be better, and that they were looking for quality, not quantity. Alas, it became a gristmill of silliness, and overreaching requirements. I told them, "No thanks," and quit. Still, my information is out there, and I hope it was good information. eHow drives me nuts, and I fear gardeners are being given bad, barely-scratch-the-surface information.~~Dee

Totally agree! And here's a related rant on the subject - the NY Times promotes these content mills! Check out their gardening resources, a permanent list, btw:
It includes at least 2 mills, one of them a Demand Media product and the other is Love to Know. There's also Gardening Links, which states right up front it hasn't been updated in NINE YEARS.
But is there anyone at the Times to contact about this, someone who gives a damn about gardening? Seems not.

I am so glad you explained why this is happening. I thought it was just problem. I'd rephrase my question, I'd ignore eHow, etc., but I still couldn't find the real people...with real answers to my plant questions.

Amy, I totally agree and there are many people who link to these faux advice articles on Facebook, thinking that they are providing some type of service. Personally, I'd like to hear from actual gardeners rather than ill-informed "content providers."

It is true -- the internet is a wild and woolly place. But there are paid professionals, like the old time sheriffs, who work hard to keep law and order where they can.

Say hello to the last thin line between civilization and complete anarchy: Librarians.

My husband and two of my dear friends happen to be librarians and so I'm a little overly passionate about the issue, but Librarians get masters degrees in how to navigate through and around the pile and pile of freelance-generated sludge out there.

If you want to find a reputable source to answer your question, call or email your librarian, or go to the local library website where they almost certainly have an email or chat option, and ask your question. You could also go in person. The librarians will help. If your local library has been victim of budget cuts (because, say, no one ever goes there or wants to pay taxes to support it because they think the internet can replace paid expertise in finding reputable sources) then you need to go to the IPL, Internet Public Library (

It's a free site manned by volunteers (mostly Masters candidates who are "volunteering" for class credit) who will answer any questions with links to reputable sources online.

This public service rant is now ended. Sorry to get all soapboxy!

I laughed when I saw this post, because I made a similar comment on Twitter regarding About and got my butt handed to me. Apparently there are some real garden folks writing for About, and they're VERY active on Twitter. Boy did I poke a bear. Just giving you fair warning.

But I totally agree with what you're saying, and it's the point I was after with my ill-received Tweet: there are a lot of sites out there getting content from whomever solely for SEO purposes, and it's a problem. I do a lot of hardscape design, and because I've been in the industry for a decade plus, I also consult with companies new to the hardscaping game. I've come across articles on eHow and About that purport to tell you how to build a deck, or a patio, or a retaining wall, and... oh Lord. At best, someone will create a mess that they'll have to pay a pro to fix. At worst, you're going to kill someone.

What makes me angrier is when you do a search on the author who advocates building a deck out of 2x4s, and that's the only home improvement article he's written - but there are loads of articles like "7 ways to fit all your crap in your SUV" and "10 ways to recycle your gift wrap." It's disgusting, it's dangerous, and I'll bet you a dozen Krispy Kremes and a bucket of coffee that the company has used lawyers to ensure that the author bears 100% of the liability for the crap he's writing.

More of the same for horticulture. Why would the internet be better?

If you have a skin lesion you don't go to a dentist; choose the right expert.

Mr. Testosterone-On-Wheels-Mow-Blow-Go is continually asked landscape design questions.

Big lawn, 20' evergreen holly at a 3' window, seasonal annuals & etc. All things touched for PAY. Why accept this as landscape design?

Mr. Mow-Blow-Go has no vested interest in: groundcovers, flowering shrubs, promoting the right plant in the right spot.

Perhaps there is no lawn to mow, seasonal annuals to plant or shrubs to prune.

Mr. Mow-Blow-Go would be out of a job.

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

I totally agree. This Google spam has really decreased the usefulness of search appliances. I have to think Google will take notice and updated their algorithm, hopefully sooner rather than later. Here's another pertinent article.

Love the shallow know it all 200 word articles. e-how and Helium alike need to go. I have written a few articles on helium but no more


When I quit my job and had lots of pent up everything in my head, I wrote articles for Helium as a place to go. That was 3 years ago. It was good practice. And provided me with online samples of my own writing. But, I cringe when I look back at some of that stuff!

Doug Green has mentioned many times that he feels the future of making money on the internet lies in curating content. He makes money by providing professional information for a reasonable price to subscribers who want correct, factual information-not marketing fluff.

I do think that the pendulum will swing back toward more paid, subscription-based content, as people end up with poor results from some of the free content.

Some of the people who write for sites like About are really good at what they do. The problem is that many people who write for some of these sites aren't good at what they do.

I wrote for ehow while I was unemployeed. I didn't use my real name. No way is that stuff coming back to haunt me. The way they pay encourages quantity nt quality. I made on average less than $4 an article. I tried it, it wasn't worth it.

When I search I skip over anything written for big content mills. I'm looking for universities or professional sites.

I find About to be the least malignant and most thorough of all the listed sites, but their ads are obnoxious.

EHow is genuinely, laughably useless.

I also noticed Wikipedia is being shunted aside by google in certain searches; not necessarily garden related. When I check with Bing or Yahoo search, that's not the case.

I also suspect this is part of why Yahoo answers has increased slightly in popularity. People are tired of running into junk marketing sites when using search engines.

Gee, it's enough to make you want to try something desperate like, oh, I dunno, a book maybe?

With the internet, everyone can be an expert (or convince themselves that they are) always amazes me how many people really believe that if they read it on-line, it must be true. Years of honor and integrity in journalism have led to people assuming that those same standards apply to whatever they read on-line, and those standards have eroded in some journalistic spheres in recent years, apparently.

When the people in our county voted to shut our libraries last year, it was amazing to me how many "anti-library" folks used the argument that the internet could replace it, especially for school students doing research for their papers...frightening!

There is help if you're using the Chrome browser. You can add the extension Search Engine Blacklist:

No more eHow, ask, etc. garbage (I personally don't think that About is that bad). There should be an add-on in the works for Firefox as well.

With google, you can use boolean search operators to exclude a specific term. So if you want to exclude all results from How Stuff Works, just type in your query followed by NOT howstuffworks or use the minus symbol -howstuffworks. You could create a keyboard macro that includes all the annoying sites and append it on to all your queries with just a couple of keystrokes.

All of these computer tricks to exclude the less useful information sites are meaningless; the very people who don't have a problem accepting everything they read on-line are the least likely to understand how to use them or go to that trouble. If we were all highly computer-literate, this problem would not be a problem; the trouble is, we're not, and accessibility to the internet has a low threshold. You don't have to be a computer whiz to use a computer these days.

Years ago, when business people were just waking up to the money that could be made by having massive amounts of content online, I got paid quite well to write gardening articles. It came to about a dollar a word. Topics were assigned, you had to provide your own photos and you had to write tiny bits of supplemental info that ties your story to other topics (these are used as buttons on other stories to link readers to your story). After a few years they cut it down to 50 cents a word and placed more restrictions on what they would buy. Now they are still up and running but no longer seek material - though they still list me as one of their "experts". It was a great part time gig for me and I'm not really a writer (I mostly illustrate horticulture books or nature fieldguides).

I tried to get my writing friends to sign up and make some extra money but they all thought it was a scam.

I always start with a Google Advanced Search and have commonly used sites in the domain box. [Hint put the domains you want at top by inserting a space in from of the domain name.] so my search for 'compost pile' pulls up ~ "compost pile" ~ and the first few hundred ghits are mostly universities and the like.

I read a post from some media guru the other day that said "20% of your success depends on your ability to produce quality, 80% depends on your ability to market". No wonder we get so much crap; that formula should be reversed. And every time I wind up at some SEO-infused article that reads like it was written by a robot, I cringe. This approach is killing good writing and making it impossible to find reliable information.

Thanks for this post! It explains what was going on when a "How to of the Day" on the Google home page had this article a couple days ago:

How to Sleep Comfortably on a Cold Night

If your home is cold during the night and you find your sleep disrupted by being cold, it's possible that your room is too cold.

I thought it was a joke. I'm thinking the writer must have too if he/she wrote the ridiculous helpful piece for 15 bucks or less.


Amen! It's a disturbing trend on so many levels.

Following up on jane's_kid post on using the Advanced Search function in Google. Try limiting your search to .edu or .gov sites. You'll miss the martha stewart type sites, but you'll get information that is reliable. Example, in the Google Box:

"transplanting roses" site:*.edu


"amsonia hubrichtii" site:*.gov

I've had an inner grouse about this for years. I must say a shout-out hurrah for librarians, they have been a Godsend in many situations where I needed guidance to wade through confusing avenues of information.

The internet seems to require a mix of entertainment and information not unlike television. I guess we get to choose how much we will support PBS-like sites, instead of MTV.

There are thousands of writers for, and gardenguides just like there are thousands of gardening videos on youtube. So yes, you must find the pearls.

I am thankful that I did 1800 videos for that have given me all the views (nearly two million) and got paid pretty well because we did many one to three minute videos in a day. How to plant a tulip, how to select tulip bulbs, how to divide tulips, how to propagate tulips, how to grow tulips...The public comes up with the search subjects on Google..This is the future, time to accept technology!

We need to work together and share information. It is not us and them it is we...The only way to get information out is to go on to sites like these.
Saying all one million articles on ehow aren't good is like walking in a bookstore and saying all books are no good.

BTW Most people blog for free and get very few views....better to be paid a bit and be seen by millions. Now I am working on my own videos for many of the reasons you discussed..Wish me luck competing against myself!

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