In the preface to Chapter 6 in Google Semantic Search I wrote:
“In the age of semantic search content has become the transactional currency used to unleash real value on the Web. When everything revolves around its existence traditional businesses are forced to become publishers and broadcasters, individuals need to become writers and photographers, and brands have to become more person-able and direct. Everyone needs to remain current in their quality, fresh in their output, and constantly be producing content to define who they are and what they do.”
The pressure to publish or perish is no longer felt just by academics. It is now felt by every individual and business that wants to find an audience on the web, increase brand awareness and reach, keep their brand current and relevant and flesh out their identity, core values and way of connecting and although we all know that content has to resonate, in the drive to “get it out” and sometimes even be first, we tend to take shortcuts that will hurt us.
.Mic the “… media company focused on news for a generation known as the "millennials"” did just that, for example, when one of its journalists recently wrote a review of Rihanna’s latest album, complete with notes on style and content before its journalists had even got the chance to listen to it.
The piece (pictured below) was then picked up by Yahoo News algorithms which blindly promoted it making this another example of what Ben Greenman called “a masterpiece of post-modern non-journalism” and sparking off the conversation about content and its purpose once again.
Content and Your Online Presence
In a web organized by semantic search content, of course, has a specific role to play. If it is published early enough it provides a sense of leadership. News organizations vie for the ‘scoop’ for that reason. Other websites try to be first with particular types of content because it shows that they are on the ball, innovative and therefore trustworthy within their sphere of expertise.
But content cannot always be fresh in terms of newsworthiness or first or even unique any more. When everybody is pressured to publish and publishing becomes part of the online marketing process then a certain degree of natural optimization kicks in and content begins to look like this:
When that happens you’ve pretty much lost the audience’s attention and despite your best intentions you are now back to the pre-semantic search equivalent of having to produce content because the number of words your site had and the code to text ration actually played a part in your SEO strategy to rank in search.
Now if you’ve read how Content is the Currency of the Attention Economy you’ll think that you have no choice. You need to get content out there and even a seasoned writer cannot hope to produce quality stuff day in day out, under pressure and while running a business and dealing with all its problems.
So what can you do?
As it happens there is a solution and it’s a frighteningly simple one: Be exceptional. That now is really easy to misconstrue and it can demotivate anybody, except being exceptional doesn’t require being “Epic” or extraordinary in any way.
Think of it in terms of Amazon, Google, eBay, your local flower shop. Each in its own way holds prime real estate in your attention landscape, not because they have done anything exceptional today, or yesterday, the technology that makes them possible is no more miraculous than the architectural planning that makes a city rise or a town function so it really doesn’t count. What makes them hold so much of our attention is the deep sense of trust we have towards them in terms of consistency in their performance. Dealing with them, for instance, removes almost all anxieties about expected outcomes and that instantly makes them our go-to places.
This then becomes the ‘secret’ formula you need to apply to your content creation efforts. Start with the simple question of what should you be publishing to make your target audience’s life peachy? And make that your guiding principle.
Is Great Content Alone, Enough Then?
Well, the answer to this question is both yes and no. Great content is never enough if your target audience remains unaware of it and it is more than enough if you’re already a brand to be reckoned with, that has a great online following.
Rand Fishkin makes the same point in one of his MOZ Whiteboard Fridays on good content and SEO:
And since we’re talking about content Mark Traphagen of Stone Temple Consulting helps you finetune your content creation strategy:
And Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting explains the value of syndication:
Armed with all of that you should never, ever, be in the same position as .Mic bringing out derivative stuff written on autopilot and trying to pass it off as great writing, resonating with wit and originality and being caught out in the process.