Content: Quality vs. Clicks

Interesting discussion going on here and here about SEM, link farms and the value of quality content. I’m an old-school news guy, so I’ve always argued for top-shelf editorial as a difference-maker for publishing companies. But in a market fueled by page views and unique visitors, it’s tougher to make that case these days. The “content lite” strategies of SEM “seagulls” (as David Churbuck cleverly calls them) is a chilling reminder of the devaluation of original, quality editorial.

I still believe content is king, but I also understand that it’s not enough to pay the bills in the digital world. For many media companies, the pendulum has swung fully on the side of driving online traffic (and revenues) through SEO and SEM – quality be damned – but I’m convinved that long term, there has to be a better balance between relevance and quality. The lesson applies not just to media companies; any marketer must understand that without good content, the message won’t stick.

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8 thoughts on “Content: Quality vs. Clicks”

  1. I fear we’re entering into a complete flip of the advertising/editorial paradigm where the almighty buck talks loudest. This is driven by the rise of metrics, optimization, and online media’s singular focus on conversions, not experience and engagement. As we go to an optimized model the beancounters take the lead, not the content producers and writers.

    In offline media, editorial could take the highground simply because metrics consisted of gross circulation and newstand. Now, every page, every link, every ad is accountable, and with that accountability comes a drive to optimize against the search engines (which hold the lion’s share of the online spend, see Google’s financial results!) and not user satisfaction.

    Lite Editorial models are on the rise. Ask kicked it off with their “guides,” then came aggregators, now we have the gulls and they ain’t going to be paying James Fallows to provide them with their cannon fodder to fill in the spaces between their ad links.

    Add to the mess the fact that publishers are utterly disintermediated from the readership. Heck, I can publish, as a Lenovo marketer, whatever I want, whenever I want, and build an audience of my own.

  2. David, I agree w/you about the current state, but do you think the trend is irreversible? It’s a lead-gen and traffic game now, I gotta believe that will run its course when visitors get fed up with the crappy content that goes along w/those models. At some point, the cream will have to rise to the top, and whoever does the best job of producing the best content – within the context of the metrics-driven online ad model – will win out in the end. Or am I being too naive?

  3. Call me old fashion, but I think the long term play has got to be a mix of SEO and good content. In blog-vegas, it’s the best content that generally gets the most links. A well written and optimized article will have longer legs than an article that is simply well optimized. But unfortunately, the well optimized will win out over well written in cases where one of the facets is lacking.

    I still get mail routinely on articles I wrote in 1998 asking questions.

    The case for me comes down to best practices. Optimize properly to get new users into your content, but realize that quality material is the thing that keeps them there. It’s the difference between lead generation and closing the sale. They’ve got to exist side by side, or you’re headed for trouble.

  4. See my post on Churbuck.com, but I think the quality editorial is seperating ala Om, zeFrank, and others to their own domains. Quality edit doesn’t want to argue the church/state divide. They get on the same revenue bandwagon as the gulls — AdSense, affiliates — and do their thing without corporate calling them up telling them to be nice to a vendor. Second, the audience likes interaction with the creator. This is why old print people freak when they get online. “where’s my fact checker?” “why do I have to answer this pissed off reader?” — emerging media excellence is about the give and take. Heck, look at the audience share of any of the solo geniuses out there and in many cases it is beating established press organs like a drum.

    The audience for quality — the crowd that prefers the Times over the Post, the Globe over the Herald, McNeil-Lehrer to Fox — they’re the 1 percenters. The rest of the mob is giving their attention to America’s Next Hot Model, Dancing with the Stars, US, and online porn.

  5. Right on the money. As the means of production for great content you can stand alone, and if you’re astute, monetizing options abound. Of course, the first thing we forget is where the spell check button is…

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