SEO experts keep telling us that customers (and the all-important search engines) pay more attention to quality content than “me-too” jargon stuffed with key words.
But I also keep seeing cheap “content mills” On the other hand, I keep hearing about content mills that, as one ex-IT journalist complained the other day, “pay freelancers peanuts and expect instant turnaround.”
Is content marketing a brave new world of quality journalism funded by vendors, or a flood of low-cost and low quality spam? Former Financial Times journalist Tom Foremski, reporting on a recent Innovation Summit panel of former journalists who now doing (committing?) content marketing, was pretty scathing.
Foremski argued that “most Content Marketing fails because it is trying to produce Editorial Content but the leadership (for the efforts) is in PR or in Marketing.” This results, he argues, in content that reads more like marketing or PR than editorial content, with its implied fairness, completeness and relevance. Content marketing, he says, “needs to be editorially led to be successful.” But how far will, or should, a vendor go in reporting “just the facts” if those facts reflect badly on their product or service, or don’t reinforce their messaging?
He went even further to say “Content Marketing is failing us and causing a lot of damage to society and to the Brands that bankroll this practice” when it “pretends to be legitimate third-party editorial content.”
This may very well be true when it comes to “mainstream” topics such as government, the economy and the environment. Here, readers should demand fully independent, unbiased and in-depth reporting and be willing to pay for it.
I’d argue it’s a somewhat different story in highly technical areas such as cloud computing or storage, where mainstream media lacks the skills or the audience to go deep on “how to,” “trend” or “product comparison” stories. With the trade pubs that used to provide such content hollowed out by the Internet, I think IT decision makers know they must rely on vendors to do a “fair enough” job of educating them. If vendors do a good job, there are a lot of ways to do everything from thought leadership to “best practices” without being blatantly promotional.
And Too Expensive?
Foremski’s also complains that “Creating lots of high quality content is terrifically hard and tremendously expensive — especially the way PR and Brands do it, with dozens of stakeholders involved at every stage…” As it takes time to build a brand, he says, the costs mount to unacceptable levels.
Amen on the need to streamline the production process. But even so, quality content will still cost you, even just in the time it takes your subject matter experts to conceive, write and polish quality content.
Here’s where I can report hope, courtesy of a recent conversation with an editor at a lead generation site sponsored by a major global tech firm. About a year ago, this firm began hiring former journalists and tasked them with using traditional journalistic techniques (and talent) to create detailed, actionable content about how to effectively buy and use IT products and services.
I recently spoke with one recent (2006) media startup that is thriving through sponsorships, advertising and events driven by quality content from ex-IT journalists that are paid living wages. Another vendor-sponsored site is, after a slow start, delivering quality leads at a lower cost than previous lead-gen efforts. What is interesting is that, as the site gained credibility and the vendor invested in more content, even older stories (if they gave readers useable information) began drawing more and more hits.
It seems too good to be true – content that appreciates in value over time. Good for the reader, good for the vendor, and, yes, good for us ex-journalists who create the content.
Would Junk Work Just As Well?
But is this quality content worth it only for big-ticket, complex products and services like those in IT? Is low-cost, keyword-stuffed content good enough for commodity products or for business to consumer sales? Is content marketing just another step on the slippery slope to a society where we can’t trust who tells us anything, anywhere, anytime?
The answer(s) are “yes,” “no” and “it depends.” Trying to drive hits to a celebrity Twitter feed to sell products? Superficial retweets full of trending terms may do the trick. Selling system architects on a new approach to managing cloud services without violating patient privacy regulations? You probably need to spend enough to make sure you’re saying something new, useful and insightful, and saying it clearly.
And while I doubt any vendor will sponsor a Pulitzer Prize winning expose of, say, telecom security practices, you never know. Who thought 15 years ago that a one-time Web-based bookstore (Amazon) would be funding Emmy–winning TV shows?
Filed under: Content Marketing For IT Vendors
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