Why Content Isn’t King

On March 2, 2011, in Content Creation, by lesley

Those of your who promote your stores with articles have probably seen a recent email from ezinearticles.com which details a number of changes in their operating procedures. Ezine are trying to improve the quality of the articles they publish, something which we can all agree would be a good thing. Only time will tell whether the measures they have chosen will work.

Quality is very difficult to assess, can be subjective and is a question of context. An article written in Japanese is unlikely to convey any information to me since I can’t speak the language, yet it may be of enormous value to someone who does. If I’m an expert in a subject, will I value an article written for beginners, or view it as fluff?

And perhaps this is part of the problem. In any given market there are far more beginners than there are experts, hence you can expect to find that most of the content on the web will be addressed to an audience with very little specialist knowledge, and rightly so. Perhaps there is no real problem with Google’s search, just a problem with our expectations of it.

So, with that thought in mind, let’s try an experiment

Let’s do a Google search for ‘How to make writing interesting’

You might imagine there would be quite a lot on the web on this particular topic. In fact google said there were 177 million results. And yes, there is one on the front page from ezinearticles.com.

Here’s a quote from the article entitled ‘How to Make Writing Interesting’ submitted to ezine on February 28th, 2011. The author describes himself as an ‘seo content writer’ and is available for hire.

The one who loves to write must understand the importance of writing engaging content. In other words, we can say an interesting and engaging article, blog, or story will fascinate more readers than a bore article. If you want that more readers will appreciate your work then you have to make writing interesting. If you are not getting more readers then you shall recheck the document about what you have missed in the article.

You can read the rest of it here

The article goes on. The punctuation and spelling are of course correct, but speaking purely personally, I’d say the use of language is poor and the information content is minimal. None of these are major sins, but think a minute. This is one of the top ten articles on the web for this query, out of a possible 177,000,000.

Does that seem right to you?

Google’s view, and yes Google’s view still matters, whatever you think about Facebook, is that ‘Content is King’, or so we are told. But what’s interesting is that Google chooses to look at content in a particular way.

Let’s say a famous blogger writes a post on his own blog. It will almost certainly rank well because his blog ranks well. His site will have a reputation with google, readers will rush to it, link to it and comment on it.

But suppose that same famous blogger writes a guest post on this blog.

You’ll know.

And I’ll know.

And the regular readers will know.

But that’s about all.

Because it’s not about the content, not really, it’s about how many people find it and where it’s published.

Even though the content is original and written by the same world famous blogger, it won’t rank as well. It’s just like having Dan Brown or J K Rowling write a short article for their local newspaper. It doesn’t matter how good the article is, the world won’t flock to it because they don’t know it’s there. And they won’t find out from Google. So content isn’t King, Queen or even an Arch -Duke. Not yet.

Google, and all the other search engines have a problem to solve. Every day the content of the web grows, and not just because people like you and I are trying to promote our stores by writing good and useful content.

The web grows because it is filling up with rubbish, articles with lines like

‘It is important to write good content because good content is very important’

and much of that content is produced by ‘content farms’ where writers produce large numbers of articles in a short time for very little money. One such ‘farm’, Demand Media, is said to produce over 1,000,000 new items of content per month.

And yes, they are competing with you. And I, and everyone on the web.

They may not write as well, they may not be so informative, but that, as we’ve seen is not what matters.

Throughout the centuries since the invention of the printing press publishers have been responsible for checking the quality of the work they launch on the world, but that doesn’t mean grammar and spelling. It also means quality of content. When I wrote my first book, its progress was painful. The publishers sent it to no less than five experts to get their input, and since everyone has a different opinion I had to prove my facts were correct before the book could be published.

Internet publishers don’t take that kind of responsibility. They rarely look further than spelling and grammar, and since it is quite possible to write meaningless twaddle but spell it beautifully, the web is awash.

Here’s what Matt Cutts had to say on the official Google Blog

“people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content.”

So Google launched an algorithm change which is designed to impact 11.8% of queries by reducing the ranking of low quality sites and increasing the ranking of sites which provide useful content. Guess which type of site ezinearticles.com wants to be?

Hence the changes.

Google wants to ensure that high quality content does much better in the search engines. Good for Google. But not so easy to do.

In the real world, reputation isn’t measured in quite the way that Google does it. A location can have a reputation. A company can have a reputation, but mostly reputations belong to people. So one suggestion is that in the future, rankings will (at least in part) depend on ‘distributed reputation systems’ which will include the reputation of the author.

This isn’t a particularly new idea and there’s no doubt that it will be difficult to implement, but with the advent of services which can verify an online identity (while keeping it confidential) this seems likely to at least factor in the great Google algorithm at some time in the future.

So Google will be looking for articles written by someone with a good reputation – but how will that be established? Surely not by quantity alone?

Scientists have long been guilty of defining information in terms of quantity. As Professor Ian Stewart put it in his 1998 book ‘Life’s Other Secret’, quantity is not the vital factor:

However, what’s really important about a message is not the quantity of information, but its quality. “Two plus two makes seventeen” is longer than “2+2=4” but is also nonsense.

So Google has an uphill struggle ahead, finding ways to tweak (technical term) their search algorithm so that you and I, who care about content, can receive our due. There will be many changes and we, as always, need to run to keep up.

Or do we?

If instead of scheming to manipulate, we simply concentrate on producing good content, perhaps in time, Google will catch up with us.


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20 Responses to “Why Content Isn’t King”

  1. Stelios says:

    Lesley, I hope you’re right and that one day in the future Google will have cracked the problem of recognising ‘real’ content. When that happens we will all be the winners. Fewer searches to get to the good stuff, Less rubbish to wade through. Is this just a dream? Will the rubbish writing engines get ‘cleverer’ and ‘cleverer’. I hope not, otherwise the internet will become a useless morass of rubbish.

  2. Hello Lesley;
    thanks for your newsy letter; I am happy to see that Ezine Articles, has finally recognized that there is so much rubbish in the content of the articles they are accepting for publication. I have been reluctant to submit to Ezine for exactly that reason. I have also found that word press isn’t any better. You can write an article full of interesting commentary about a subject, and a so called forum, full of its self importance, will trash it. What a forum needs to do is make constructive criticism, not destructive criticism! A person new to blogging, or new to online marketing, needs to be helped not hindered by a bunch of people who are either not in the same business, or country, (where the local regulations may be different). Or are not knowledgeable about the business they are “reviewing”. I love your articles, and the way you write,
    the way you are so positive in your outlook for the beginner, blogger or article writer. You don’t make us feel “dumb”. Put us down, or trash us.
    More of the so called “forums” could take a lesson from you!
    Just wanted to let you know that! I am writing from NewZealand at the present time as we are on a buying trip/vacation. We escaped Cyclone Yasi by the skin of our teeth, a shark “incident”, and an earthquake, by not being there when we were supposed to be!
    Keep up the good work.

    • lesley says:

      Joanne, I hope you read this as I want to thank you for your comments and for being a regular reader.
      I’m sorry you had a bad experience in a forum. I think that there are several stages of internet business, one where you don’t know what you don’t know, and then one where suddenly you do. Once you learn a bit, you tend to think you’ve learned a great deal, but as time goes on you find there are a lot of people around who are selling, and selling well without following the same rules and you thought were quite immutable. My view is that there is no wrong, all we can say is what we’ve tried about found to work, for us.
      Glad you missed the worst of it in New Zealand, it’s somewhere I’d love to visit, I hope your buying trip was successful.
      Once again thanks for your comments. Blogging is strange, you throw your thoughts out there; it’s always good to know that someone reads them and enjoys the experience.

  3. Awesome article.Really thank you! Will read on…

  4. Lesley, what a good article you have here. I was reading an article in a magazine today, as I was waiting on my car to have tires installed, about a blog site http://boingboing.net/ and how they rank in the top 20 most visited blogs. Each post has little or any relationship to the prior post or any post for that matter. This blog site brings in a 7 figure income with advertisements nevertheless. So I wonder how google would see a blog site such as this that is full of content that is mostly just about interesting stuff that the writers wanted to share.

    I feel that no matter what we do, we just have to be honest with ourselves and write about what we would be interested in reading or knowing about ourselves and not worry to much about what google is doing from day to day. If we are interested in the content, chances are that someone else will be also.

    Keep up the great work Lesley, I enjoy your content even if google can’t seem to figure out a good article from fluff.


    • lesley says:

      Dan, thanks for going to the bother of leaving a comment. I had a look at boingboing – I’d nver heard of it, but it certainly has some interesting writers. Thanks for pointing it out. Have a good weekend, ‘talk’ to you at the workshop next week. Don’t forget it’s the last one, so maybe time for any questions you’ve forgotten to ask?

  5. Jax says:

    Hi Lesley,
    Great article. My mind is winding down for the day or I’d attempt to write something intelligent. I don’t really need to though, you’ve made your point well and I really hope you’re right. Let’s hope Google can catch up with the content. One day. Maybe :-)

    • lesley says:

      Thanks for commenting, especially on a Friday when everything is winding down! I remember seeing a demonstration of some software that anaysed politicians speeches to find out if, amongst the words, the politicians actually said anything. All too often the answer was ‘no’. But I’m cheered by the idea that if you can analyze a speech, you should be able to analyze an article and someday Google will be able to tell good articles, with real content, from bad.

  6. Hope vs says:

    Interesting article. As someone who is on both ends of the spectrum (I have a blog, but am also always using the internet and google for research) this is enlightening. I hate wading through irrelevant crap, but I also want people to find me who would naturally be interested in what my blog has to offer.

    • lesley says:

      Hope, I really enjoyed looking at your products, but don’t seem to have the right sort of ID to leave a comment on your site. I was wondering if you’d be interested in sharing how you come up with ideas for your products?

  7. Nicole Fende says:

    Lesley you have hit on one of big pet peeves about search results! I can’t count the number of times I put in a very specific search and the first few listings are complete garbage.

    I have instead decided to focus on building my online network to promote my blog. As you say, maybe someday Google will catch up.

    • lesley says:

      Well, I hope you are successful, getting good reliable financial information is important all of use who run a small business. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

  8. Lesley this article of yours on assessing content was an eye opener and I always had this feeling that content is going to be assessed by the person who is reading it.

    Just because a big and powerful company has the reputation by many as most likely been able to write good content just is not so as I am beginning to discover more and more on line it is in the assessment of the person is reading the content.

    I put an excerpt to your article with a link at my blogsite above http://www.thebloggingnetwork.net

    Kenneth c Young

  9. I’ve found twitter helped promote my blog much more than just writing ‘great’ content. And since I’ve started doing interviews on my blog in the past 2 months my blog stats have climbed by 1/3. The icky process of tooting one’s own trumpet has to be tackled at some point. We can build great content and still they will not come.

    • lesley says:

      I couldn’t agree more. What sort of person are you interviewing? I might no someone who would fit your blogs readership. Let me know and I’ll see who I can find!

  10. Kim Crayton says:

    I appreciate this topic, thank you. It is irritating to me begin reading an article, blog, e-book or a page on a website and find gibberish intermixed with misspelled words or the wrong word altogether. Not perfect myself I still hope for better than 95%. (That used to be a solid “A” back in the day)

    Much Light,

  11. Maria Pavel says:

    Content was indeed king a few years ago when their algorithm wasn’t that complex. But now content is only king if you know how to take advantage of other factors. Because, the truth is, you can’t rank without content, so everything else still revolves around it.

    • lesley says:

      You are quite right, everything relies on content, but the point is that the best content in the world will stay unread unless you find a way to bring people to it; some people seem to think that creating good content is all they need to do, when in fact many excellent blogs lie moldering in obscurity. You don’t get traffic by building good content, you get traffic by going out and grabbing it.

      Thanks for commenting – I see you are now officially top commentator of the month!

      • Maria Pavel says:

        Some people are right, good content can be all you need, depending on your niche. But if you want to sell, for example cars, you’ll need a lot more than that.

  12. Adam Gardner says:

    Well, I completely agree with you. Its not just content that matters, content will not get you traffic or backlinks, relationships will. Just a humble mention can get you a hundred backlinks which will easily surpass the traffic you have attracted by your content.

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