These days the “content is king” and “you need great content” mantras are everywhere. While some people in the SEO industry challenge it by stating that great content is not enough, you need to push, promote or market it as well. I rarely see an article that actually explains what great content is or actually could be. Also, many sites that allegedly offer great content provide mostly big or just long content.
It seems that many content creators rely on size to measure greatness, while on the Web it’s often the other way around. The faster someone can convey a message, the greater the content.
With the latest Google update aimed at so-called content farms, we’ve seen a flurry of articles focused on content quality. This is a good start, as content farm articles are often just long without offering value. Long or even big shallow content is not enough these days. Great or quality content is the key.
I’ve been guilty of producing big content instead of great content myself here on SEOptimise. Let me explain the differences between the three common types of content you encounter on the Web today:
Great content is content that, no matter what its size, offers some unique solutions or insights. Great content doesn’t have to be long or big. It has to be insightful, easily digestible and self-explanatory.
Big lists that are big on social media and appeal to the crowds not the experts, specialists or early adopters. Over the years the Web has been flooded with big content. While those who popularised big content in the early days were also providing great content, just think Smashing Magazine or Mashable lists the copycats were just taking the form (of the list) and filling it with average ingredients.
Lists of “creative images” or “nice art” still got quite big on the Web, but they wore out as time passed and people became wary even of the lists with great resources. I’ve been providing big content here on SEOptimise for years and while I strive to make it great as well, the perception by my industry peers was in more and more cases telling me otherwise: the posts were shared by outsiders, newbies or people from the main stream. So while big content often draws crowds it doesn’t often help to build a reputation of quality.
Long content can be a very long article, a collection of numerous images, a video that takes 20 minutes or anything else that takes that long to view, read and digest. With short attention spans predominant on the Web today, it only gets skimmed rather than consumed in its entirety. In the best case it gets saved for later in the “to read” folder and it never actually gets read as a whole.
It seems that long content has evolved for many reasons other than what readers on the Web really prefer. SEO practitioners aimed at providing more content for the Google bot, while writers who got paid for the number of words tried to earn a living by producing longer instead of better content. Mass media needed more page views for their ads, so they spread a series of loosely similar images over ten or more pages and forced visitors to click to see the next one. Videos have been hailed as the new must-have online medium as more and more people turn to YouTube instead of TV or text-based sites.
So webmasters provided long monologues from their webcams just to show up in YouTube in Universal search results. All of these reasons to create long content were not based on actual demand by the consumers but by structural requirements of the production or dissemination process. Reading and viewing habits on the Web have been known for years. People want quick solutions for particular problems. They don’t want to read long copy. So providing long content is a user experience no no.
When you take a look at content farms you will notice that their content is often long but shallow. The length does not provide actual depth; it only feeds Google with more words to index.
The old idiom “quality not quality” still rings true. Quality is not measured by the size of a list, length of a video or the number of words. Quality means an inherent value of its own.
The concept of content is a very limited one. Ask a film-maker, poet or chef whether they provides content and they won’t often say yes. A film-maker creates movies, a poet poems and a chef recipes. It’s not just that these are more specific terms. They also imply quality, or rather another mindset.
The term content is used in a technocratic way.
Content means the stuff that gets published on a blog or site other than ads. So artists do not see themselves as content creators. Rather those who make money from their works, just as content thieves make content out of art by republishing it in a more readable way. So at the end of the day you should aim for writing powerful poetry not great content. The reason why Google always preaches great content:
Google needs content for their ads.
Good SEO is not just providing Google with fodder; it’s giving the people what they want. It also does not mean attracting large crowds with mainstream content. Often the better business model is to go after a narrow niche and become a specialist or expert in it.
Google allowed content farms to thrive for years because it was a win-win situation.
The content farms used Google Adsense to monetise their low quality content. As people often click Adsense ads when the content is not really what they’re looking for, it was big business for the content farmers and Google alike.
Now that Blekko shows Google how you can provide clean search results without shallow Google-optimised content, they had to act. They lose money in the short run, but they hope to make more users stay with them instead of using Blekko and other social search engine contenders.
One day quality will become the new king and then sheer content won’t rank anymore. A love poem of a few lines will then outrank a huge article of 6000 words about love. So content creation is not a long term strategy – it’s just good now, as long as Google depends on size and we depend on Google.
Cruel irony: I couldn’t make this article short and concise and still bring the point across.
* Image by danorbit.