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  • Is Your Content Great, Big or Just Long? Quality vs Size

    Paris: small Eiffel Tower*

    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

    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 content

    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

    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.


    Quality content

    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.


    Beyond content

    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.

    I help people with blogs, social media & search. I help you succeed on the Web. I've been online publishing for 15 years. I started back in 1997.

    14 Responses to “Is Your Content Great, Big or Just Long? Quality vs Size”

    1. Eurocasino says:

      Content is king but not in all situation. What of context? I should say the context becomes the church and the backlink is the princess.

      Regardless of the kind of content, the main aim is to try to convey your message to readers and try to convince them that they are where they should be.

    2. Sam Crocker says:

      Hey Guys,

      Nice read here and it raises some valid/interesting points. The only thing I would add is that it may be worth defining success across these different metrics a bit.

      For example, if we are talking about performance on Twitter I find that “long” articles often do very well even if people don’t actually seem to read them all the way through. However, it seems like “short” and snappy content seems to reign supreme (so long as it is quality) in terms of shares and performance on other social media platforms (particularly things like StumbleUpon).

      I think, as with any type of content, it’s all about knowing your audience and knowing what you hope to get out of it. If you’re looking for readers/subscribers you should think about posting different kinds of content than if you are looking for “likes” or “stumbles”.

      I think the most important thing about researching, writing and ultimately launching a piece of content is to know exactly what you set out trying to achieve and to measure the success (or failure) in those terms.

      All told though, good insights and I’m sure one that people will be looking for as people settle in to what Panda means for them.


    3. The obvious truth is that sites with low quality contents would get more adsense clicks because readers want to get away fast to other destinations on the internet.

    4. I think the problem is that people sometimes don’t know when to quit. I have come across local doctors with way over 1,000 words on their home page which is just ridiculous if you ask me. If the business space requires lengthy content than great but if you sell hot dogs on the corner there is no need for 43 seconds of scrolling to get to the bottom of your home page content.

    5. John Cass says:

      I’m reminded of Jacob Nielsen’s great post, Long vs. short articles as content strategy.

      f you have many readers, focus on short and scannable content. If your customers really need a solution. Focus on comprehensive coverage.

      Perhaps you need different content quality strategies depending upon your audience and business model.


    6. Ali Jee says:

      Any site’s professionalism is displayed through the quality and of course the context of the content. Any site that wishes to communicate eloquently and efficiently must present quality content and in terms of SEO – the content obviously needs to be a decent length for the search engines to consider it relevant. Many companies now even offer copywriting for SEO (for example http://www.9thsphere.com/services-copywriting.html ) as it can become tricky at times. Not everyone understands that putting more keywords into your content can actually be negative for you. Understanding keyword density, keyword positioning and placement are all part of making sure that the content is correctly optimized for search engines.

    7. Mitch Holt says:

      Good article. SEO companies — or regular Joes dabbling in SEO — need to be preparing for the content integrity shift and stop putting up mediocre-to-horrible content. If you’re paying for website content on a five point scale or in increments of $10 to $15, your content is not going to be good. It might be OK, but it’s not going to be good.

      Additionally, we need to be writing to our visitors more than anything. What Google deems “good” is not necessarily good. Good is compelling, good is concise, good is interesting.

      Get ahead of the curve, spend some extra cash and get a good writer on board. It will cost you now, but it will benefit you in the long run.

    8. Tad Chef says:

      Euro: Exactly.

      Sam: Good point. What you call “strong content” I partly refer to as “big content”. Also I agree when it comes to content segmentation for different audiences. Many social media audiences even prefer low quality content like “funny images”, celeb photos, or just big collections of mediocre stuff. When writing for our core audience you will notice though that subscribers and returning visitors are after the quality postings. Just check out your Feedburner stats from time to time. So it’s a mistake to focus solely on the social media audience of any site.

      DPC: Yes, that’s sad but true.

      Maciej: Yes, indeed. There must be a good reason to scroll, otherwise it’s just redundant. That’s exactly what I mean with “long content”.

      John: Thank you, I didn’t know this one yet: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/content-strategy.html
      Also your conclusion hits the nail on the head. Depending on what you are trying to achieve the article length might or should vary. Size by itself is a means not a goal.

      Ali: Is this a genuine comment or a sales pitch? As a sales pitch it’s a bad one as keyword density is no SEO metric these days. It’s like selling meta tags. As for the comment I agree with most of it.

      Mitch: What a great term – content integrity – I should have used it myself. Also I agree wholeheartedly with not allowing Google to dictate what you write.

    9. Tad,
      As always, you’re ahead of the curve (or at least, the resources that I’m reading) with your ideas/beliefs. How Google is able to measure quality is sort of an enigma to me. Are they checking for grammar – something we know software can easily do? While good grammar is critical for quality content, Copyblogger (some of the best writing content on the web) usually has at least one article per month about breaking the mold.
      Is Google basing quality off popularity within social networks? Just because something is popular doesn’t make it good (Rebecca Black, Friday ring a bell?).
      I guess the big money question that SEOs are asking and Google is trying to figure out is, how do we get the short poem that’s a true gem to stand out among 20 foot tall weeds?

    10. This was a joy to read as an Internet copywriter (as I have called myself!) reading your blog was just like listening to my own thoughts day after day, article after article. We are often restricted by fees – (in other words charging £30 for 400 words and the clients budget) subconciously restricts creativity without us rwlising it sometimes. but i totally agree quality has nothing to do with quantity of words it has its origins in the original busines deal. Hacks then write to “size” rather than what they are putting in it. however this has given me a wake up call. at least for the minute…

    11. BrandSocialism – 30+ Google Quality/Panda Update Resources for Content Farmers and SEO Practitioners says:

      [...] Focus on quality content not quantity or sheer size. [...]

    12. Ramakrishnan says:

      Google is moving in right direction,I am software engineer got frestrated with long articles which never solves my issue. I am hoping for wonderful search results from google.

    13. Hi,

      I actually wrote a similar article here : http://www.mattrhysdavies.com/brevity-vs-depth-when-writing-for-the-web/

      Unfortunately I have to say that you covered it better and gave me greater insight.

      The web is a perpetual and relentless learning curve it seems.


    14. Tad Chef says:

      Excellent post Matt! I’m afraid mine is too wordy itself.

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