20 Mar 2012

Content is King?

Content is important for websites, not just as a token element for SEO.

Content is important for websites, not just as a token element for SEO.

The search engines regularly tell us that, with regard to our webpages earning optimum page rank, “content is king.” Well, if content really is a king, it must surely be a commonly disrespected, commoditized crown. Site owners, webmasters, and even some SEOs often give content little due respect, and worse yet, they often forget the reason why it’s so important.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people talk about content on a website as if it were nothing more than a gimmick, a trick or a deprecated obligation merely for search. Just the other night I heard a website owner talk about optimizing his site by hiring “some guy” who will write “some stuff” at the rate of 500 words for $20. Wow – I bet it’ll be good! And I’ll never forget attending an SEO conference in 2011 in which the big point of discussion on everyone’s mind was Google Panda and its disastrous effects on the organic ranking of sites with low-value content. At that very conference was a session that included a long presentation on how you can get lots of short, fast article content for your site for next to nothing using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk outsourced services. Were they serious? Yikes!


Confusion?

I fear people are mistaking the idea of “content” for “text.” Allow me to explain the difference.

Content, at least the type that is valued by search engines, is informative knowledge created for people to consume and posted on a webpage about a subject of interest. The best content demonstrates a level of expertise or degree of authority that makes it worth reading. All of this makes content valuable to people, and when the content correlates to the theme of its website host, hooray, we have a relevance winner!

The best website content for search typically comes in the form of text, which is most easily digested by the search engine crawlers. However, it can also include other media forms as well (and as long as it’s properly tagged with useful, text-based metadata, search can make use of it).

Some sites are more content-heavy than others. As an example, a blog is typically a content-heavy site. But truth be told, every site needs some amount of content on its pages to help the search engines figure out what the page is all about – even e-commerce sites and tools pages. The process of figuring out what a site (and its component pages) is about, by analyzing its content, is key because that’s from where a site’s keyword relevance is derived.

Text, on the other hand, at least in terms of words on a webpage, is just that: text. It’s usually poorly written, it’s relevance to its host site is random, it contains spelling errors and grammatical mistakes, but worst of all, it’s usually very superficial coverage of a topic (assuming it even has a discernible topic!), providing no value to a human reader. In this case, it’s just words on a page.

Here’s a quick quiz. If you hosted a website dedicated to selling gear to Dallas Cowboys fans, which of these posts do you think would contribute favorably to your site’s search ranking and visitor traffic?

  • “Why Tony Romo will be a Super Bowl champion quarterback before he retires” – a 600-word article
  • “Having fun filing kites” – a 150-word article

The first post is interesting to Dallas Cowboys fans, and is relevant to the overall theme of the site. That’s good content. The second post, a short, poorly-written (did you notice the typo in the title?) “article”, is not relevant to the theme of the site, and that’s the problem here. It’s useless, junk text.

One added caveat: If the “filing kites” post was expanded to be 800-words long, it would still be poorly-written and irrelevant thematically to the site, so word length is not necessarily the differential arbiter between “content” and “text”. Typically, however, search engines do want to see some level of depth in the content on the page, if only to give them more material to help them better discern the page topic and derive keywords for relevance.


My objectivity on this matter

Now am I biased about this? Yeah, probably a little. I’ve spent most of the last 20 or so years as a text-based content developer (to folks who are my age, that’s newspeak meaning I’ve been a writer). I see genuine value in high-quality writing. But so do most other people, and therefore, so do the search engines! My objection to cheap, cheap, cheap junk text is as much economic as it is SEO. To provide value to your website visitors, you need to include your unique business expertise and experience in the content of your site. And frankly, you just can’t buy that level of expertise gold for mere pennies. If you try, what you’re really getting is website pyrite (fool’s gold), or more specifically, non-expert, filler text. You may think you can buy content gold on the cheap, but that’s not likely what’ll be delivered.

I look at it this way. There’s a well-known axiom in the tech writing community. Content deliverables can be:

  • High quality
  • Quickly developed
  • Low cost

Pick two. You’ll never get all three.

So if you see page text as a mere SEO obligation and just want to dump something on the page as cheaply as possible, you’ll end up buying and publishing Cut-Rate Article Product (CRAP)™ text on your website. Is that what you want? Put yourself in your website’s visitors’ shoes. If you were looking for information on your products or services, or perhaps interesting details on the larger theme of your website, would finding only cheap, junk text offer any value to you? If not, as a website owner, you’ve got yourself hip-deep in a pile of cut-rate article product. And that’s horrible.


Long live King Content

Don’t think of content like you would another piece of site decoration or a token SEO tchotchke. Content should be the essence of your page, its raison d’être. Even if your page is primarily a tool to be used, you still need content on the page to define what the tool is, how it’s used, and what benefits the tool offers to users. The search engines will appreciate it, and in return, will help searchers find your tool webpage when that’s what they want to find.

Content is what informs people, and search engine, about the purpose of your site and the level of expertise your site expresses about its subject matter. If you want to be a novelty, content-free website, that’s fine, but don’t expect to be found in informational search queries using important keywords or to make conversions.

To consider buying and publishing cut-rate article product text is to, at a minimum, waste your money, and worse, potentially harm the value of your website. Do yourself a favor: cut the CRAP. Invest the resources needed to develop and then publish high-quality content for your site. Be sure to inject your own expertise into it – after all, that’s what makes your website unique and valuable. Good content will always attract links, and therefore traffic, to your site.