Thu, 15 September 2016
It's not often that you see a blog post that makes you think, discuss, and maybe even a little sick to your stomach but that's what Steve Rayson of BuzzSumo achieved with his controversial post "The Future is More Content." Steve has put out some thorough, well-developed thought leadership pieces over the years and this post is among his finest because he brings up an ugly topic we choose to ignore -- that swarming the web with content -- maybe even crappy content -- is a legitimate strategy. It's a topic I've covered in The Content Code book and in a recent podcast episode -- when you get it down to it, the best content marketing strategy is to create "Content Shock" for your competition by finding an unsaturated topical niche and then thoroughly dominating it to the point that you attract most of the Google juice. If you don't believe me, try competing with Hubspot in the content space. In a follow-up post, Chad Pollitt of Relevance goes a step further to explain that Google actually encourages quantity over quality. Perhaps their algorithm is hurting their own customers! Steve Rayson's article points to several examples where the "quantity" strategy is occurring. He points to the Washington Post strategy of increasing their publishing rate to attract more views. He furthers his argument by noting that cost of content is coming down which will rapidly enable a "quantity" strategy. We'll soon have computer algorithms creating loads of crappy content for us at very low cost. In fact, it is already happening. Steve mentioned to me that companies like Automated Insights are offering to produce 1,000 blog posts for $250. Are the posts any good? Maybe they don't have to be. Steve argues that the future of content marketing is quantity, not quality. Of course this goes against the conventional wisdom of almost every content marketing guru around these parts, but here's the truth -- Steve has only revealed the dirty little content marketing secret everybody knows but doesn't want to acknowledge: quantity can beat quality. At least in some cases ...
Quality still matters, mostly
When you have a business model that depends on "eyeballs on ads" then driving page views at any cost may make sense. But if you are a business (like mine) that is trying to attract loyal customers who stick around and actually do something, then the quality model is probably the way to go. Let's use Steve Rayson's posts as an example. I never miss his articles because he always delivers in-depth, data-driven content. And he usually writes long posts -- but not too often -- so I can keep up with them. If Steve started posting 250 posts a week, the first reader he would lose is me, and that would be a shame because through his content, I have become friends and a collaborator with Steve ... which is how content marketing is supposed to work when you are trying to establish thought leadership. When I get people unsubscribing from my blog (it DOES happen!), the reason most often provided is "too many updates," and I only publish 3-4 times a week. Even if I pushed that to 6-7 posts a week, I know I would lose a LOT of readers ... even though I might get a lot more "views" because the sheer volume is going up.
Viewers versus readers
There is one other very important dynamic here. When people do click through to a corporate site, the average time on a piece of content is 15 seconds. So do you really want views ... or readers? Nevertheless, Steve is mostly correct in his analysis and I think the only ones who protest the truth of what he is writing either skimmed the post or are in denial. In fact, in the near future most content marketing may be turned over to the machines. I have this image in my head of those swarming bots in the The Matrix Trilogy hunting down unsaturated long-tail niches and then overwhelming the little opening with thousands of pieces of content. Of course this will happen. Rather depressing to think about, isn't it? I suppose at the end of the day the only "Neo" hero we have in the content marketing world is either to be the content curator or to be the brand trusted above all others. If we can create content that is un-missable, unmistakable, and un-copy-able we might have a chance ... but let's explore this idea a little more, shall we? Tom Webster and I dive over the crappy content waterfall in our latest Marketing Companion episode. We punch holes in the quantity versus quality debate as well as revive our plans for CompanionStorm, a listener conference featuring Kanye West (kind of). You'll have to hear it to believe it!
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