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The Internet’s Content Problem

John Doherty —  January 29, 2013
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The Internet has a content problem. Every day more and more content is being pushed out into the nether regions (ok, that’s inappropriate) of the Internet and most of it is terrible. And worse than that, the good content that is published on the Internet is few and far between and hard to find.

My goal with this blog is to help people get their content found. Because of this I’ve written posts like:
11 Ways To Drive Gobs Of Traffic To Your Site
A Blog Is Not A Content Strategy
Linkbait Is Not A Content Strategy
The Future of Cross Platform Publishing

We’re being inundated with a lot of crap content as well these days. Every post I see on Inbound.org (so basically all content produced by “marketers”) is “How To…”, “X Reasons That…”, “The Ultimate Guide To…”

bait titles

This kind of content is getting tired and boring. In other non-marketing spaces, we have content that is a bit more interesting -

The 24 Hour Guide To
Three Perfect Days In…

Here’s an example of Time’s “10 Things To Do In London”, which appeared when I searched [24 hour guide to london]:

time london

While this is better than most, and they have a pretty comprehensive city guide with places to stay, information about souvenirs and even photography, it’s still not great or exhaustive by any means. Why am I going to trust it or link to it, other than that it’s Time? The BBC travel section is even worse, because it shows one small stock image and then has walls of text with links (not the kind of content I want to see when trying to determine if I should travel there):

istanbul mini guide bbc

The only thing “mini” about this guide is its photos. This kind of content is crap.

Longform content is dying. Sure, there are still a few sites that are holding strong, but you cannot argue with this data:

longform content1

longform content2

longform content3

Source

Changes

I would argue that the winds of change are upon as people are starting to realize that while short content can catch a click, it rarely drives any action or keeps people returning to read more and more. I recently read a post over on Swombat entitled “The Problem With Blogging”, wherein the writer Daniel Tenner says:

There is a fundamental problem with blogs, and with their chronological nature. Blogs fundamentally, naturally, inexorably devalue the content published on them as it ages. It’s inherently harder to find older content, unless it’s pushed forward in front of the reader. It’s accepted that an article written a mere year ago is less worth reading than one writtena few hours ago (note: both are excellent). This is both the strength and weakness of the blogging format.

New Services

I’m heartened because of services like Medium, the latest project of Blogger and Twitter founder Evan Williams, Svbtle from Dustin Curtis, #longreads, and A List Apart.

Medium

Medium exists, as Williams says in his intro post, to:

rethink how online publishing works and build a system optimized for quality, rather than popularity. Where anyone can have a voice but where one has to earn the right to your attention. A system where people work together to make a difference, rather than merely compete for validation and recognition. A world where thought and craftsmanship is rewarded more than knee-jerk reactions.

I have read other places, such as Venturebeat that Medium will provide different ways to display content around themes instead of the content being caught on one site. It’s a blogging ecosystem dedicated to quality (and without the annoying reposts of Tumblr). For example here is an image-based layout in Medium:

image based blogging

One of the most interesting parts of Medium, to me, is that they say the goal is to:

to eliminate the need for bloggers to also be marketers. “We want to help the best ideas and stories have the biggest possible impact,” Williams said in an email. “For the vast majority of people, Medium will have a higher return-on-investment for writing than publishing one’s own blog.” Source

Svbtle

A new blogging platform that is more exclusive than others (and hence may hinder its growth, but may also keep it from going the way of MySpace) is Svbtle from Dustin Curtis. While Svbtle is an exclusive platform, having it thus enables another level of quality control that I hope will push the authors towards producing their best content instead of publishing for the sake of publishing (though sometimes you just need to press Publish).

The Svbtle homepage is interesting because it aggregates the posts from people on the network onto the homepage.

svbtle homepage

#longreads

One of my favorite sites that I find myself visiting time and time again is Longreads.com. It’s an aggregator site that grabs the links from tweets marked with the #longreads hashtag, like so:

longreads

This is a great way to get your content some extra exposure as well. But please, don’t spam Longreads. Posts needs to be over 1500 words to qualify.

Conclusion

When the rubber meets the road, I’m worried that good content isn’t shareable enough. As an SEO, I’ve often been guilty of thinking about what gets links. I also think about what gets shared, because shares often correlate to links and links to rankings and rankings to traffic and traffic to conversions.

I think as a marketer that this is a valuable mindset, but it cannot be our only mindset. You should also ask what you are teaching, who you are seeking to reach and teach valuable information, and how long your content will last.

I think it’s weird that we call content that can live forever “evergreen” content. Except for posts that are responding to current trends (and I try to keep those to a minimum on this site), shouldn’t all content be evergreen? I actually really like how Jon Cooper has done this on his site with his best posts:

pointblankseo best posts

What do you think? Has the Internet made content better or worse?

John Doherty

Posts

I'm the new (as of October 2013) Online Marketing Manager of Hotpads.com, soon to be based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, explore new and interesting food in New York, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

10 responses to The Internet’s Content Problem

  1. I don’t think the internet has made content worse as such, what I do think is that the current trend for content marketing has made content worse.

    The more content we as marketers dump onto the internet with a view to getting traffic, the less likely it is to be quality content and more to the point, the few very good posts/articles/inforgraphics/videos get lost in the myriad of crap that’s produced along very similar lines because every one is jumping on the bandwagon without any thought as to whether their posts are actually going to add value to the reader, must get it out, content is king.

    Author rank and citation factors are going to become more and more important in telling the nugget of gold floating in the effluent (in the magic world where gold floats)

    • Absolutely true Jim. We marketers dump lot of the content to the web ecosystem, out of which most of them will be for traffic acquisition and just for the sake of building links, but still the good content we add doesn’t get the exposure it should, so as Doherty mentioned its must for us bloggers to segregate content on the site into 3 to 4 different categories so that the important ones are just 1 level deep and easy to find for the users anytime.

  2. Hey John-

    Thanks for the new resources. Looking forward to checking out Medium, Svbtle, and Longreads.

    I wonder where the line is between thin content and short reads. I’m the queen of long posts that attempt to walk readers through a process or exercise. In our industry, that’s pretty standard, but for our clients, if we produce something that’s much over 500 words, they’re afraid that no one will take the time to read it (they don’t even want to read it). So I’m all for the long posts and the research that validates that effort, but I’m wondering how much is not enough? Is it really the length or is it more the weight of value that the post holds?

    It would be interesting to find some short reads that provide something to chew on.

  3. Content Marketing = SPAM, always. It’s worse than comment spam and the other automated garbage that used to work so well. Google would be better off just going back to allowing it.

    The big problem is Google doesn’t want or rank amazing content it ranks average or slightly below average content. The stuff real experts write gets scraped and summarized/rewriten by other people, and that rehashed content is what gets to the top of the SERPs because real experts don’t have the time to link build and SEO their stuff.

    • I totally disagree, Tyler, on the spam part. Good content is not spam. Good content adds value because people share it and want to use it.

      “Content marketing” as in just pumping out content is crap, yes. But that’s low-quality content marketing. Unfortunately there are going to be people who do low quality work. We can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here.

  4. The Internet hasn’t made content better or worse but Internet content is different because we approach it with a different context.

    We rarely read word for word and instead scan. The Internet is far more visual so perhaps we’re able to communicate more through text and pictures and video.

    I’m fond of saying that writing for the web is as different as grant writing is from Haiku. But different doesn’t mean better or worse.

    Now, that’s not to say that the increasing amount of content being produced is good. It’s not. Particularly in our industry. It is difficult to find really interesting stuff lately. I think it’s less about the tools and more about what, how and why we write. Intent is important.

    It has to be passionate and authentic. It has to have a point of view and be presented in a way that is consumable. It has to be remembered.

    I tend to think of each piece of content as part of a story. It should stand alone as a type of chapter, but it should also link to other parts of the plot. Not every piece needs to do the same thing but over time and together they should capture fans and inspire trust.

  5. We keep talking and hearing about the Internet’s “content issues” but I am just starting to wonder how much of this is real and how much is simply navel gazing. It’s not just the Internet that has a content problem, it’s books, tv shows, movies, he’ll, even political discourse

    We’re at an age now where society’s appetite for content is as great as it has ever been, and the barriers to becoming a content producer are probably lower than they have ever been at any other point in human history

    It’s only natural that the overall quality of content we are producing is lower compared to other points in history. That said, for every honey boo boo we still have homeland, for each Justin bieber a U2 or DMB

    Maybe we as digital marketers need to change our definition of what quality is – maybe instead of worrying about share ability, we need to think in terms of consumability?

  6. Content has become a problem, and in recent months I’ve been noticing more and more useless content churned out because SEOs have told people they need content. We say that you need to “add value” and “build communities” but the majority of content does neither of these things.

    Instead, companies rush to produce content for the sake of it. One of the problems is that we don’t practice what we preach. For all the marketing/SEO/design blogs I follow there are only two with a 90%+ great content rate – Simply Business and ConversionXL. Others are good (SEOmoz, Think Traffic, Smart Passive Income) but most are guest posts from people “adding value”, which is now a synonym for soft selling.

    AJ is spot on when he says:

    “It has to be passionate and authentic. It has to have a point of view and be presented in a way that is consumable. It has to be remembered.”

    I have a file of print outs that I use, because they are epic and evergreen articles. They’re the kind of articles that when I have a problem, I remember them almost by title. That’s the kind of content we need – often in means slowing down, thinking more and only publishing when you should. SEO blogs filled with guest posts, daily posts on social media tactics, daily posts on broken link building, on pandas and penguins do us a disservice.

  7. I belive that a lot of people are churning out content for contents sake. Since Panda the internet has gone content mad and people are throwing “Original” content out left right and centre regardless of the quality.

    As a result I would say that the internet hasn’t made content better or worse its Google that has made the majority of content worse although there is more original content out there.

    The people out there who produced good content in the first place will continue to produce good content (regardless of length) and in some cases strive to produce better content, whilst the people who produced poor content will continue to produce poor content although at least now it will be original poor content.

  8. Love it John. Always making me think!

    After reading your post the words that popped into my head were “Tribe, Vertical, Persona, Audience.” They’re all similar, but the goal is the same.

    My experience has been that the most successful marketers out there are the ones that create content targeted to a very specific product, service or persona, and then create valuable content that’s aligned to a specific stage of their sales funnel. As leads move deeper and deeper down their sales funnel, they’re able to get more valuable information that helps them understand their customers challenges, questions, and needs, and ultimately shortens the sales cycle.

    The marketers that are able to attract and capture the most information about their leads and customers, through segmenting their contacts database are the ones that will be the most successful.

    I’m super excited about segmentation; the idea of marketing to different people differently, based on their interests, vertical, job title, etc… It’s been really making me focus harder on creating the right content for the right people, at the right time.

    Keep fighting the good fight!