OrganizedWisdom Finds Free Experts Make for SEO Success

With Demand Media currently planning a high-profile IPO and issues being raised about the impact of “content farms” on search results, there is a lot of attention being paid to the question of content aggregation and its effect on the web. OrganizedWisdom Health, a health-resource service, now believes it’s better — and more profitable — to organize free content rather than pay for low-wage material.

The New York-based startup has spent most of the past four years building up an index of “wisdom cards:” topical health entries that were written by contributors for a small fee. At any given moment, OrganizedWisdom contracted with 100 writers, who covered a wide array of medical topics. But exactly one year ago, the company dropped the paid-content route and embraced a free expert model. So where does the content come from? The startup keeps track of some 5,000 doctors and health experts who use social media, and collects their contributions into wisdom cards.

OrganizedWisdom does not pay these experts, and instead relies on their desire to share their wisdom, market themselves and raise their reputation. The doctors are vetted, and applicants for OrganizedWisdom are increasingly being turned away to keep quality high, the company says. The goal is to give the doctors a chance to share on a wider stage while giving users a helpful dynamic resource made up of organized expert content. In the end, it offers users a more reliable way to find health information, which is increasingly bogged down by bad search results, said Steve Krein, CEO and founder of OrganizedWisdom.

“Integrating an expert graph into the search process is the way to solve the filter problem,” said Krein, who previously founded “You want to tie humans into the process to make it all more intelligent.”

The reliance on free content is reminiscent of Wikipedia and, more recently, Quora and Stack Overflow, two answer sites that have both grown quickly. But unlike those sites, OrganizedWisdom is focused on only working with experts, which it believes will allow it to maintain quality as it grows. The switch to free has actually improved the quality of content on the ad-supported site and helped the start-up get profitable by the middle of last year, something executives said wouldn’t have been possible under the old model.

“We were finding better experts by focusing on those who want to do it to improve their reputation or because it was their passion rather than get paid nominally,” said Unity Stoakes, the president and co-founder of OrganizedWisdom.

Krein said the goal is to ultimately get more doctors online, sharing their wisdom with patients. He said of the 700,000 doctors in the U.S., only a small fraction actually blog or share links, but the last year has brought more doctors willing to go online, which has enabled OrganizedWisdom to move in this direction. The company has raised $3 million from Seventy Six Capital and individual investors including Esther Dyson, former Time Warner (s twx) CEO Jerry Levin and Jason Finger, founder of Seamless Web. The company is currently pursuing a second round of funding.

The change in business model shows that focusing on quality could potentially trump quantity, as well as being better for the bottom line. This may not do much to affect the giant content farms, whose businesses are based on carpet bombing the Web with SEO-optimized articles on everything under the sun. But if Google (s goog) starts ratcheting up its efforts to weed out low-quality search results, OrganizedWisdom could be better positioned than Demand Media and its ilk.

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