Back to Fluid Thinking
Is Online Content Losing Its Value?
You’ve probably heard about this thing called content marketing; it’s often prefixed with the words ‘the latest buzz term’ or ‘the future of SEO’ and involves writing lots of stuff related to a particular niche and getting that stuff shared by people for lots of links, traffic and engagement.
Which is all fine and dandy; rather than building spammy links or writing trashy articles for submission sites, people have to actually think about what they produce and try and provide some value to the internet and wider society. Perfect!
Content Marketing: The Answer to All of Our Problems?
Well, it would be. One of the key ‘selling points’ of content marketing is that it fulfils the increasingly self-aware Google algorithm’s base requirement for ‘fresh content’ to be published on a site on a regular basis, which it does.
However, appeasing the algorithm with fresh content has led to a bit of problem – content pollution. Scrabbling around desperately for something to post about like an ancient Mayan tribe looking for someone to sacrifice to the Sun God Kinich Ahau (thanks Google), content marketers are drawing up demanding schedules that lead to them trying to say something without actually having something to say.
This has led to an ever-growing mass of ‘content’ that shares the same themes, ideas and, in some cases, the same title that, while sating the Google algo’s never-ending hunger for a while, doesn’t really add any value elsewhere. As a result, the ‘content’ doesn’t really do anything but exist. It doesn’t get shared. A couple of people might read it. But ultimately, it exists just for the sake of existing. It’s noise for noise’s sake.
The Value of Content
The more there is of something, the less value that thing has. If you do a quick search for ‘how to…’ and whatever it is you want to learn how to do, you’ll undoubtedly be met by thousands of results linking to articles listing exactly the same steps. How do you determine which is the best advice?
In some cases, you can rely on the power of brand to see you through. An article on ‘how to cut your own hair’ that appears on a well-regarded newspaper site is going to appear more authoritative than if I started up a blog right now and wrote a quick post on it. But as the gulf in quality between sites decreases, making that distinction becomes near impossible.
And that presents something of an issue for a content marketer. After all, irrelevancy is even worse than a negative reaction (unless you wrote a piece about the five most effective ways to punch a kitten – you’ll get decent traffic but probably do untold damage to your brand).
Standing Out From The Content Mass
There are two solutions to this problem; the first is to get on social media and try and shout louder than everyone else who has ever covered the same topic as your content. It definitely works, especially if you have a loyal following already or your brand has a particularly good reputation outside of your follower list, but in terms of viral engagement it might fall flat.
The second solution is to stop contributing to the ever-growing content mass and start producing content that people will care about and content that people will actually value.
That doesn’t necessarily mean reinventing the wheel; the internet is so vast that pretty much anything you can think of has already been covered in some manner. Think of a link between the most obscure things you can think of and whatever you do, don’t search for it if you value your mental wellbeing. Just know that it’s probably there in some dark corner of the internet where sanity takes leave.
What it does mean is thinking about what you do before you do it, not just writing something marginally related to your particular niche. It’s not always easy and it’s not always vital – generic content has its purpose and you don’t necessarily have to change the world with everything you do – but it will undoubtedly improve the results of your content.
Here are a couple of the questions I ask myself before producing content:
Will this content add any value?
Quite a broad question, admittedly, but one that’s worth asking. What value will your content provide to an audience? Again, you don’t have to change their lives but consider the emotional reaction of your audience whatever you’ve created. Will it make people laugh? Will it spark debate? Will it provide them with useful or interesting knowledge? The most important part of this question is to be honest with yourself; while a generic re-hashing of old facts arguably does provide knowledge, has that knowledge already been taught before in a more effective manner?
Have my target audience heard it before? How can I make it different?
Everyone has – or should have – a target audience in mind when creating content. However, because of this, it’s fair to say that most of the ‘issues’ affecting these target audiences have already been addressed in some form. This doesn’t mean you need to come up with new issues necessarily but instead find a way of addressing them in a new manner that they may not have considered before. This can be as simple as newsjacking and framing advice through a breaking story or by taking difficult-to-understand research or advice and making it easily understandable.
I’ll leave you with a quote from a far wiser man than I, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, just to up the Radiohead quota of this post.
“They have to keep commodifying things to keep the share price up, but in doing so they have made all content, including music and newspapers, worthless”
Replace ‘commodifying’ with ‘producing’ and ‘share price’ with ‘rankings’ and you’ve got a pretty good picture of the current state of content marketing. Make sure your content doesn’t join the pile of worthlessness!