You know what I’m tired of hearing?
The oft-repeated mantra “content is king.”
“But wait Heather,” you may say. “You train people how to write content. You consult on SEO content development. Heck, your entire career was built on content.”
True. But I think the mantra “content is king” has done more harm than good.
Even in today’s brave new Google world, some people still believe that it’s the quantity of the content – not the quality – that’s important. The primary goal of content is to help a site be seen in the SERPs.
But being seen only works when there’s something else in play.
That “something else” is the C-word.
So how did we move away from connecting with our readers?
I blame Google.
When content became a commodity
Back in the print days, businesses weren’t rewarded for kicking out tons of content. There weren’t as many reader touch-points back then, so we focused on what we could do (for instance, write articles for trade magazines.) What’s more, the quality was always exceptionally important.
We did everything we could to connect with the reader because landing an article placement was a BIG DEAL.
(And yes, I’m conscious of the fact that I sounds like a crabby old woman screaming, “In my day, we didn’t have Google. ‘Search’ meant cracking open an encyclopedia and thumbing through card catalogs.” Now get off my lawn and make those kids turn their music down!).
Then, “writing for SEO” came into vogue – and with it, the push for kicking out tons of so-so content.
Before Google’s Panda update, Google would reward sites with thin content stuffed with keyphrases. It was no longer about “connecting with your reader.” Discussions about brand voice, reader personas and buy cycles went down the tubes.
It was all about content, all the time. Content, content, content.
Did it work? Short-term – yes. Long term…well, we all know how Google handled thin, keyphrase-stuffed content.
This solved part of the problem.
Some things just don’t change
Admittedly, I was thrilled when Google took their anti-thin content stance. “At last,” I thought, “We can go back to writing smart content.” And over the years, things have definitely improved.
Yet even today, the “content for content’s sake” mentality continues. How do I know?
- A well known (and smart) SEO company ran an advertisement looking for writers. Their pay? $15 for a 500-word article.
- “Reformed” content mills still exist. Sure, the sites look classier and their reputation is better. But the average pay is still extremely low.
- Companies hire folks on Fiverr to write blog posts.
I get the economies of scale. I understand how clients are only willing to pay X for content, so companies need to make content generation economically viable. And I understand that many, many companies have an outdated idea of what SEO techniques will truly help make them money.
At the same time, it’s hard for a writer to do a great job when he’s incentivized to write fast. Things like spending additional time on the tone and feel, learning about the customer persona and trying multiple approaches isn’t cost effective. They’re writing content for content’s sake.
There’s no incentive to connect.
(As a side note, there are many incredibly super-smart content marketers, writers and SEOs out there. Larry Kim from Wordstream is a prime example and an amazing writer. A good number of folks are doing it right. What I am saying is the “content for content’s sake” mentality is still out there.)
Embrace the C-word
Good content should connect with your readers. Will every blog post you write change their lives? No. But it should make them think. It should tell a story. It should help them understand something, entice them to do something or even make them crack a smile.
It should reach out from their computer screen, touch their shoulder and say, “Hey, I’m here to show you something. Here’s some information you can use, written just for you.”
A great post by Jonathan Fields illustrates this point. His post, “Don’t Create Content. Move People” is smart and spot on. Jonathan says:
“But, that word. Content. It almost implies the opposite. Filler. Something to scatter-spray, like a weapon. To amass or consume.
What about moving people? Deeply and profoundly?”
Successful blogs (and sites) focus on connection. They know their audience. They give them what they want. There is a personality behind the prose.
So the next time you ask a writer to create five, 500-word blog posts…take a step back.
And the next time you’re rushing through a writing assignment so you can get it off your plate…relax.
Think of your audience.
Think of what they need.
Think of how to connect with them.
Content + connection is truly king.