A Pubcon Epiphany: Content Isn’t King… Yet

I was at Pubcon last week, and being there gave me many insights into the current state of online marketing — particularly the role of writing in online marketing.

Content is king is nothing new, and at Pubcon people were continuing to preach the perks of quality content.

As a writer and Community Manager for a network of freelancers, this was music to my ears. I was constantly thinking to myself, Yes they are finally getting it!

But there is a difference between talking the talk and the walking the walk.

For the most part, the preaching of content is king, has been an empty advocacy from many marketers who still don’t really get it, or want to.

And surprisingly, it’s not just marketers who don’t get it. It’s some of the writers, too.

There are misconceptions on both sides of the spectrum that need to be resolved so writers and marketers can come together to support each other. This is the only way for content to truly become king.

(These are my opinions about the situation. If you think I’m wrong, tell me. If you think I’m right, support me. I’m interested in finding the middle ground that will lead to the most success for all involved. So in the comments below, please share your thoughts, perspectives, and opinions.)

To be good at SEO, you need to stop thinking about SEO.

smartphone prisoner“I’m so sick of SEO.”

I heard someone say that at Pubcon, and this man was sincerely disgusted when he said it. When I joked that SEO is an addiction, he totally agreed.

And we were both right.

Marketers are sick of SEO, but they still can’t stop obsessing over it.

They are so focused on SEO that they are missing the bigger picture. Google isn’t trying to make their lives harder. Google is simply trying to get them to play the game fairly — give the people want they want. That means publishing content that people genuinely want to find.

Good writing is about messages, not words.

shutterstock_133251941The decline of online writing began when we started writing for words, not messages. While it made sense at the time (more words meant higher search rankings), it was always just a short cut. It was always spammy. It was always something to please SERPs, not people.

That is not marketing.

Real marketing puts the audience at the forefront of a campaign. It does not prioritize around robots. It publishes content that connects with readers in a real way. It does not publish content to fill pages in a pushy way.

The writing for words mindset was easy and simple to embrace, which is why it’s such a hard habit to break. Too many people want to believe that good writing is cheap, abundant, and easy to create, because they can’t remember a time when writing wasn’t just about word count.

High word count doesn’t equal high content quality.

Sometimes there is a correlation to the length of a piece of content and its quality, but not always. The most popular post on Buzzfeed at the time I wrote this was only 334 words. The first article I pulled from Huffington Post was 404 words.

Both of those articles offered things that readers wanted, but neither were over 425 words. They were short in terms of word count, but heavy in terms of value. That’s what really matters.

It’s not the number of words of the content, it’s the strength of the message.

Word count isn’t a finish line.

shutterstock_157073321Likewise, far too many writers rely on a word count to indicate the conclusion of a piece of content. When asked to write 700-1,000 words, far too many writers stop as they finish the final sentence that bumps the word count over 700.

This is a terrible ethic. This is an example of writers also being stuck in the past. Writers writing for words, not for the message.

The habit here plays on both sides, and it needs to stop.

Writers need to be writers, not ghosts. 

I won’t make excuses for writers who are stuck in the past, but many of those writers have been burnt by an industry that demanded many words, no craft, and infinite anonymity.

So really, how can you ask a writer to give you their best when you won’t even credit them for their work?

Google Authorship aims to change that by giving writers what they deserve: bylines, pride, and respect. By putting a high value on a good writer’s byline, Google put a high value on a good writer.

This is a generous gift to writers if they are willing to accept it.

But it will only be given to writers who are interested in branding themselves as online authorities and genuine writers. Online “writers” who are only interested in pumping out heaps of bland, re-purposed, filler content will be left behind. And that’s a good thing, for both real writers and marketers.

Bylines and Authorship is something that CopyPress is in the process of working into our content production. We can get there much faster if the rest of the industry jumps on board.

Good content costs money. Exceptional content costs even more money.

shutterstock_111565196

If marketers want magazine quality articles for their blog, they are going to have to pay magazine quality rates. It doesn’t matter where an article appears, it matters how far it will reach.

Interestingly enough, online content has a larger possible reach than something published in print and delivered to a standard set of readers. So why is online content still considered less valuable?

CopyPress pays our writers a fair rate compared to the rest of the industry. But it’s still not enough. And it won’t be enough until marketers realize, if content is king, you have to treat it like a king.

It can’t be treated as a peasant. When you consider the fair freelance rates listed on the Editorial Freelancers Association website, you can see we still have a far way to go.

A higher cost does mean a better product. I’m talking to you, writers.

CopyPress starting making the transition to higher quality content before many of our competitors. We were right in our theory, but faltered a bit in our approach.

We expected that increasing our writer rates would naturally increase the quality of work produced by our writers. But that was not the case.

Writing for words, not messages, is so deeply ingrained in many writers that they could not change the quality of the content, even when motivated by higher pay scales.

Writers need to earn what they are worth. Writers need to improve the quality of their work to warrant higher rates, and marketers need to understand that writing for messages is more expensive than writing for words.

One amazing blog post is better than five mediocre ones.

shutterstock_145809392When it comes to purchasing content, marketers need to think about getting the highest return on their investment, not the highest number of articles.

It is far better to pay for one amazing blog post than five mediocre ones.

One engaging, educational, or entertaining post will go much farther than a dozen boring, bland blog posts that no one wants to read. That awesome blog post will spread socially, build trust, and prove that you are publishing for readers, not bots. And that is so much more valuable than the message-less words you could have purchased for cheap.

Part of the industry is picking up on this. Demand Media and its quantity-over-quality model is crumbling. In the past two years, their value has fallen from $1.9 billion to $500 million. It’s good news for quality-over-quantity models, but there is still work to do.

Both writers and marketers need to get on board.

I’m ready for the change. I want writers to do their best and get paid fairly for it. I want marketers to connect with their audiences in a meaningful way and get what they pay for when they purchase messages and stories (not words). I’m on board. Are you?

Are you a writer who is struggling with the new face of the industry? What do you think? Are you a marketer who is excited about the change? Or do you wish you could still publish words, not messages? Let me know in the comments below.

About the author

Raubi Marie Perilli

Raubi Marie Perilli is the founder of Simply Stated Media. She regularly writes about freelancing, writing, and marketing on her blog and around the internet. Learn more by following her on Twitter or signing up for her free training, How to Get Your Freelance Business Off the Ground Without Wasting Time.