The C-Word And Why Content Isn’t King
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.
Photo credit thanks to: © Laralova | Dreamstime.com – Pixel People Social Connection Photo
Finally, a post that amplifies my thoughts. My last article was published Feb 2015 as of this comment. Creating content started to feel like a a labor of love. My inspiration ran low and I decided against publishing content for contents sake. In addition, this idea of producing content to get found on search is somewhat of a conspiracy. So as a result, I’ve decided to publish content less often. And in the future I’ll invest more time promoting it to the audience for which it was written.
I have to agree with this wholeheartedly, Heather. Quantity is one thing, but a quantity of crap is still crap. What’s hard is to educate businesses on what type of content connects. Many want to see numbers of words and could care less what they say. Or they want them corporate and boring.
How do you go about helping businesses understand what connects?
Spot on post. As you know, I was writing content for one of those “Content Mills” where I was getting paid 1 cent per word, and had to meet extreme deadlines. The result was a guilty feeling that I was writing junk due to a lack of research time needed to write the best content that would make a connection.
I may have had you in mind when I was writing my post. :) Hopefully, you’ve moved on from feeling guilty and KNOW that you deserve much more than 1 cent a word!
Hello, great post BUT i think that you have to consider that “content” and performances of this content in Google DEPEND ON competition (between publishers).
If there is BIG competition about one subject, you will have to write great content (quality).
If there is poor competition, you need only quantity.
If there is poor competition, you don’t need efforts to connect people because they don’t have something else to read or to see ..
Don’t do more than needed (except for pleasure ;-))
Thanks, @Tubbydev, for your perspective. I think I’d still write outstanding content, even if there’s poor competition. After all, all it would take is one competitor with a fantastic blog to knock yours out of the water (and take away your profits/market share…)
Excellent post, Heather. Content must have value. It should educate or entertain. Otherwise, it’s just merely “content” filling a space.
AMEN, AMEN, AMEN, AMEN, AMEN!
Yeah, earlier this year I was working full time as a copywriter at one of Australia’s largest online marketing agencies. Pretty much every page we wrote was about hitting 300 words and writing to a certain keyword density in as short a time as possible. The entire website strategy had been set ages ago, and deciding what needed to be said on the website was a total afterthought. In 2015. Crazy.
Ugh, James, I’m so sorry you went through that. It sounds amazingly frustrating — especially when you figure that a large company should know better. :(
You would have enjoyed this week’s SEO Copywriting Buzz newsletter. I went on a rant against the word count myth. Needless to say, it got a great response…and it was very fun to write.
Thanks for your comment!
Yes, the good writers are still saying the same thing they’ve been saying: connect with your audience. ( I like reading advice from James Chartrand, of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words fame.)
Does anyone actually read those 2500 word articles?
John, your question is a good one. Although Google LOVES long, resource-rich articles, I’m not sure how many folks really *read* them. They may share them. They may mean to read them someday. But I’m not sure, especially in the age of content shock, if readers dig in and devour long posts.