The longer I publish online, the more I dislike the word “content.”
While marginal material has always been published, the web has really worked to change the definition of “content” from the subject matter of a written work (or the meaning or significance of that work) into something that simply fills empty space in a receptacle.
You know, like that empty space between ads on a web page.
Don’t get me wrong, the democratization of publishing thanks to the Internet is a wonderful thing. But I think we all realize that the cheap, virtually endless space provided by the web, combined with “do it yourself” monetization programs like AdSense, has led to an incredible amount of dreck.
These models actually encourage bad content. Why would a “publisher” want a reader to stick around, when they get paid only after someone leaves through a well-placed link?
The mindset not only leads to tons of trash, it devalues good content across the board. Why pay for quality writing when some barely-literate hack can deliver the same word count for less?
Now, of course there are plenty of publishers who don’t think or operate this way. But have you seen some of the “Made for AdSense” sites and splogs lately? This is regarded by many as a smart business model, and they thank Google all the way to the bank.
On the other hand, advertising copy has always been expressly about monetization, based on reader engagement that leads to a specific action or brand impression. A lack of compelling content in that context means no reader engagement, and therefore, no money.
Great copy is expensive, but it pays for itself on a purely return-on-investment basis. And the best copywriters continue to raise their fees, while “receptacle” content gets farmed out to the lowest bidder and makes money on the AdSense margin.
Two very different approaches to the written word, both based on pure economics.
However, “receptacle” content is in trouble, since that model relies almost entirely on search engines for traffic. Google is slapping around the demon child it created, because they have learned from history that the top search engine can just as quickly disappear from view.
Anyone remember when AltaVista was top dog?
Quality of content is key, and the goal of every search engine is to create algorithms that ruthlessly weed out crap from the top results. They don’t always succeed, but it’s still early in the game.
The only smart business model going forward is to write content so compelling to people that it doesn’t matter whether you rank in the search engines or not. And if the algorithms come out correctly, you will rank well.
So, am I saying that you should write your blog content like advertising copy?
No, that would be ridiculous.
But I am saying that great business, journalistic, or literary content has more in common with great ad copy than it does with “receptacle” content.
So, how do you apply copywriting techniques to blogging?
More on that next time.
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