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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