Yes, you read that headline right: Eight pages of content for a mere $3. What does that mean? It’s the going rate for content in some countries (many where English is not the primary language). But it’s not content meant for websites in those places. American site owners are outsourcing people in these countries to create content for U.S.-based sites.
This was the content plan of someone I spoke with recently. He said it didn’t matter that the content was unreadable, because it had the keywords it needed to rank. He said Google would not be able to discern whether or not it was good content. He’s not a bad guy; he just didn’t understand the ramifications of his actions (ramifications that go beyond what happens to him, affecting us all).
In another scenario, I recently spoke with a business looking for Web content. They had an SEO company that didn’t have the capacity for content creation. I wondered what his SEO company was actually doing for him, but he wasn’t so willing to share the details at the time we spoke.
When I asked him why he was interested in content creation as a service, he went straight to rankings as the outcome. He wanted to rank for a set of keywords. And guess what else? Their site was recovering from a Google penalty.
These are some of the things, we, as quality content creators are up against. And if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. And that problem is poor quality results on the Web.
So in this post, we’ll talk a little bit about how we can begin to be part of the solution in creating quality content. And that starts with understanding the risks of engaging in crappy content creation.
Don’t Create Content Just Because You Can
I could be writing content until the cows come home and laughing all the way to the bank if I sold content at any cost. Want 10 pages a day of useless fluff stuffed with keywords? No problem. I can charge you $25 dollars a page (a steal!) and get an army of third-world content writers to crank it out at a fraction of the cost.
This is an extreme example, but if you sell content creation as part of your Web marketing services, it can be tempting to take on any job that comes your way just because you can. But ask yourself, are you part of the solution or part of the problem we’re facing in quality content and as participants in the Web in general?
In the end, shady practices only cause Google to tighten its belt and govern the Web through penalties. The last thing we want is more laws governing us on the Web because the bad apples can’t control themselves.
Content for content’s sake is a dangerous model for businesses because it’s not a long-term strategy. It can end up harming the websites of the people who buy that type of content, negatively affect the user experience on the Web, and both buyers and sellers of this type of content will be long gone after they’ve made their quick buck.
Google is only getting smarter, and for those who are still trying to game the system, there will be a day when it’s game over.
Content is an Experience, Not a Keyword
Creating great content is about creating your brand online. That’s why rankings are not a good measure of brand. A brand is an experience measured in many ways. But how do you sell an experience to those businesses that don’t understand the power of branding or the value in it?
It’s not easy, but some people are willing to invest in experiences. It’s just getting them to understand the value in what you’re creating and the outcome of that experience.
Let’s take travel for a moment. Traveling is an experience. And it’s typically not a cheap investment. But when people reflect on a trip they took, they don’t think about each component of the trip individually as a direct measure of how good the experience was.
Parts of the trip may cost more than others, for example, airfare and lodging versus lounging on the beach or exploring a jungle they’ve never seen. Some days on the trip will have their ups and some will have their downs, but the collective experience is what made that trip memorable.
They’ll soon forget they spilled that glass of red wine all over their pants and remember the evening they spent dancing the night away. And organizations that sell travel experiences understand this.
The same goes for content creation as part of the brand experience you’re trying to design. Some of your content may have ups, and some may have downs. Of course you should have ways to measure how you’re doing, but don’t get so caught up that you forget to look at the big picture. And it’s the big picture that quality content aims for.
Which Brings Me to Rankings
So what about rankings? Isn’t that what everyone wants? Rankings are an OK metric for content as part of your reporting … for now. But they are extremely volatile. Using rankings to measure the success of your content creation plan is saying that you only care about your keywords. And that doesn’t say much about how you care for your audience.
And with all Google is trying to do to get those SEOs who are hyperfocused on rankings away from rankings as a sole measurement (in order to focus on the big picture of marketing), it’s unclear how much longer we’ll even have access to rankings data.
So don’t buy into rankings as the unicorn of content success. Traffic yes, but rankings, no. Here’s a little secret about quality content that’s so great: If you create something useful, something engaging your audience will enjoy, and then go market that content, you will in turn build your brand and gain visibility, traffic and links online – not just from the search results but in social networks and other outlets that help keep your business top of mind.
This is branding.
The Cost of Cheap is Higher Than You Think
Now let’s look at quality as a part of the equation. Everyone is trying to define quality in terms of what that actually means to a piece of content. And there are plenty of guidelines and suggestions from Google to help site owners understand what quality is.
For example, this article I wrote for the Bruce Clay SEO Newsletter dives into the cues that Google gives on what constitutes quality Web content. But let’s take a step back from all that for a moment to just think about the concept of quality in a logical manner.
When I go to San Francisco, I often stop by Chinatown for the trinkets. I know that I can go into almost any merchant and find just about the same thing at very inexpensive prices. Nothing there is really unique. It’s mass produced and pretty much looks the same.
I also know that anything I purchase there isn’t going to last very long. But it’s an easy buy because the risk is low to me. If it breaks (and it will), I go back in a year and get a new one.
Contrast this with something you might buy from a specialty furniture store, where skilled craftspeople with years of experience and training create one-of-a-kind pieces for your home.
You can feel the difference, can’t you? It’s in the way it’s constructed, the way it looks and in its durability.
As you’d expect, the prices are higher and the delivery time could be longer because the materials that go into it are at a premium. And you’re willing to invest in that piece because you know it’s going to last forever. It’s quality.
But those who appreciate quality will always know the value. Those who don’t, won’t ever understand (and if they do, it takes a lot of education).
Cheap, poorly constructed content comes at a high price in the end. And the risk is not something that can be easily rebuilt. The risk is your business online. If you understand Google’s mission to elevate the quality of its results by getting rid of and penalizing poor-quality sites, you begin to see the risk in a different light.
And if you knowingly offer your customers a crap experience when they come to your site, what sort of reciprocity do you expect from that user? So the question is, how much are you willing to risk of your business for a deal?
Cut the Crap, Lead by Example
The problem of crap content is not just the people who buy it. It’s the people who sell it. Outsourced writers aside, there’s no reason why well-informed content creators should propagate the problem. So if you want to be part of the solution, start by weeding those bad prospects out. Don’t create content for them!
Start shaping the quality of the content on the Web by not giving into the demand for crap content. This starts by first qualifying your clients. Come up with some questions that you know will help you cut through the crap, like:
- Why do you want to buy/create content?
- What do you expect to happen from content?
- What do you want your content to do for your target audience?
If it sounds like a fit, go align the content creation with a business’ goals for the year. Figure out all the ways you can measure success and explain the value of those things that aren’t directly measurable.
If it’s not a fit, it gives you more fuel to educate people on the value of quality content. Start talking about it all you can, and you might move the dial, if only just a little.
If we all do our part to cut out crap content creation, we’re really only helping ourselves have a better experience on the Web.
I welcome your thoughts below in the comments.
Mike Cohn says
Great article and I love this perspective. I once hired an SEO Expert who perhaps resembled the writer in your first photo. My business is all about something called a “Scrum Master.” This writer told me my pages need more uses of that phrase. She literally revised one of my pages to be “A Scrum Master, sometimes written ScrumMaster, is a master of Scrum which is the Scrum process and some people capitalize it as SCRUM but a good Scrum Master (aka ScrumMaster) would never write Scrum as SCRUM.”
Although such writing was amusingly similar to the poetry of Gertrude Stein, it was next to unreadable. I’d thought the web had somewhat moved past that era of content but perhaps not. I’ve lived by the motto of “Humans First, Google Second” (and, well Bing a distant third 🙂 Any time it gets even remotely tempting to cram a page with keywords I just remind myself that my ideal client isn’t someone who finds me only because of an excessive use of shiny keywords on my page. My ideal client would look at a convoluted sentence like my sample above and run.
Thanks for writing this. I think similar advice can be found in Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style” in which they said, “Omit needless keywords.” Or so I think.
Jessica Lee says
True, if Gertrude Stein were alive today, she’d probably have a great career selling SEO content to Black Hats. Thanks for your comment, Mike. Your thinking is well aligned with the way Web marketing is headed. While optimizing content can be helpful for Google to do its job better, it’s the icing on the cake of great content, not the batter.
Jessica Webb says
I might be in love with you, simply because you had the nerve to use the phrase “cut the crap” where it was so rightly deserved. I am so tired of pointless articles that are basically a jumble of keywords thrown in for the sake of a search engine! Thank you for calling it like it is… or like it should be. My beloved dad told me over and over again that I could do anything I wanted to when I grew up, but it had to be the best work possible. It made sense to me as a little kid and it makes sense now in the marketing department.
Thanks for a good read!
Jessica Lee says
Thanks for your comment, Jessica. Good to know there are more professionals out there like you in marketing who are working to fight this!