Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Forget About Building Out Content, Build It Up Instead

Originally published at relevance.com, May 29, 2013
It should shock no one to hear that there’s a lot of crap on the Internet. A lot of that crap ended up there because online businesses and website developers clung to old-fashioned, offline marketing techniques that didn’t translate well online. Then, marketing changed and became more content- and customer-focused. Give people a little of what they want, the marketers said, and they’ll come back to buy more. That was great at first, but as redundancy piles on redundancy, the flow of information (and misinformation) is reaching critical mass.

Once more, online marketing has to change. Handing out little freebies — information tchotchkes — doesn’t attract customers the way it used to because everyone’s doing it. Now, businesses and their marketing departments have to look more closely at what they’re giving away.

And as it turns out, quality is more important than quantity.

You can always get what you want

Eons ago, in the early days of the Internet, businesses built out web pages based on what search engine spiders wanted to see. This got their pages to rank higher on SERPs and seen by more people. Whether those people were actually interested in that business’s products didn’t much matter.

That era lasted entirely too long.

As search engine algorithms grew more complex and social media grew from being a thing to being the thing, smart businesses realized that the old ways of marketing didn’t work anymore, and so they started building web pages based on what their customers wanted. For the individual online, this was a wonderful giant step in the right direction.

What many people wanted, though, was misspelled tattoos, unexpected Rick Astley videos and pictures of cats. And porn. And the Internet answered the call, immediately fulfilling nearly every desire with easy access to — you guessed it — photos of misspelled tattoos, endless rickrolling and catsOh so many cats.

And porn.

Now marketers face a new problem. With so many players creating so much online content, how can they rise above the hedonistic rabble to get noticed by their customers? Once again, online marketing has to change. It’s time to stop building out content and build it up instead.

Instead of giving people what they want, as so many sites are now doing, forward-thinking companies are giving people what they need. Yes, people’s wants outnumber their needs, but hundreds of thousands of websites are available to fulfill those wants. Who will be there to help with their needs? (Hint: It could be you.)

King Content

The phrase “content is king” is ancient in Internet years, and with good reason. Content really is king, and that mantra has led to an explosion of online content — some of it absolutely essential, but most of it low-quality.

So yes, content is king — but that doesn’t go far enough anymore because everybody has content. Now, high-quality content is king. But what is high-quality content?

High-quality content is easy to define, but not so easy to create. It’s well-written and well-designed, and it’s insightful — not packed full of easily attainable common knowledge. But first and foremost, high-quality content helps people. By truly helping someone, you create a bond of trust between that someone and your brand.

The sure sign of high-quality content is that the consumer can do something important with it. Not important to the company or to your marketing strategy, but important to the user. A company that helps people do something important is a company that people remember, and people who remember a company become customers of that company.

Jay Baer touches on this ideal with his concept of being a YOUtility. Though it’s my least favorite portmanteau word, it’s still a revolutionary yet simple idea: “Sell something, and you make a customer. Help someone, and you make a customer for life.” People remember who helped them.

Whether you have 50 web pages or 50,000, people see your content only one page at a time. If that one page is pointless, unhelpful, badly written or packed with common knowledge, those people won’t remember it or you. On the other hand, if that page is well-written, insightful, and genuinely helpful, that future customer will remember.

No amount of lolcattery can be as valuable to a consumer as a single web page that shows them how they can find a better job, or fix a big problem, or avoid hiring a professional by doing it yourself. Masses of low-quality content will certainly help you build a big site, but it won’t create customers or help build a community around your brand.

Rick Astley never helped me change so much as a light bulb.

Dying are the days of using the Internet to force people to notice your brand. Smart businesses know that the new Internet is for helping people in important ways, for lifting up people instead of products and for building communities around brands.

And for cats.