How much does it cost to create content? Not much, if we are honest.
Get an intern in a room with a content calendar and Kit Kats, and you are golden.
“Anyone can write, I shouldn’t be paying top dollar for that” – a popular belief.
This fact is one reason why there is so much cheap, piss poor writing floating around the Internets as content.
Since marketers cottoned on to the fact that creating content increases their rankings in search engine result pages and in the same token their brand equity, they’ve stepped on the gas, churning out blog after blog after blog.
It got so popular that marketers created a name for this trend: content marketing.
While content marketing may have been reduced to another buzzword, it is very effective. A case in point is this car blog that generates visits from different countries while writing on things like Spoon Engine, etc
Content marketing costs 62% less than outbound marketing and generates more than three times as many leads, says Content Marketing Institute.
But a big percentage of that “effective content marketing” is powered by cheap writing. Say hello to pieces like “34 mind blowing things you didn’t know about gifs” or, “How to double sales in your ecommerce store in 60 minutes.”
The other reason why content creators reduced marketing content to cheap pieces also explains why they are popular and effective.
How Google turned marketing on its head
It started with Google. Google is the largest advertising company in the world and one of the reasons it’s so successful is because it lets you use its services for free.
Previously, available technology limited the promotional options for your business to print, TV, billboards or in rare cases, direct mail. But Google turned that on its head by allowing people promote for free.
Search Engine Optimisation is easily the most effective way of promoting your business now.
Think about it, if you want anything these days, you Google it. 67% of respondents in a 2016 Wild Fusion Digital Center survey submit that they regularly start their purchase journey with Search. So, for any business that means business, ranking at the top of Google’s SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for keywords related to their services / products is a great marketing asset. One that you would have had to pay millions of naira for in a time where the internet didn’t exist.
If more people see your business website (or any of your other online asset), more people will buy from you. But the key signals that determine if your site will rank well are – among other things – the number of websites linking back to your website, how many people are visiting your website and how long they are staying.
Because Google wants to serve the best content, they look at these metrics in relation to your content and rank them accordingly.
To encourage more people to give you backlinks, you have to encourage more people to visit your website. That way, they can perhaps write something about you while giving you a backlink.
Understanding signals and metrics
To better understand this concept of signals and metrics, let’s visit the seminal Nobel-winning economic paper by George Akerlot called; “The Market for Lemons.”
George Akerlot examined information asymmetry and the concept of signaling with an analogy of the 60s used cars industry. Used car salespeople valued good used cars or “peaches” (as Akerlot called them in the paper) and would pay £1000 for them. Used cars with hidden faults or “lemons”, however, are less valuable to the dealers and they would only buy them for £500.
The problem is, a dealer can’t always tell the peach from a lemon. The car owners, on the other hand, know everything wrong with their cars. A smart way to solve this information asymmetry would be to assume that half of the cars on the market are lemons and a dealer should pay a standard £750 for a car. That way, s/he doesn’t lose on any deal. Right?
What happens instead is that if dealers offered to pay £750 for every car, they would only end up with lemons, sellers with peach cars won’t accept £750; a price significantly lower than the £1000 that their cars are worth. A seller with a lemon on their hands will gladly sell their car (which is worth £500) for £750.
The idea of information asymmetry exposed a new side to economics. And this was the time economists began to think about employing “signaling” to cushion its effects.
Signaling involves employing specific metrics to prove value so as to counter the effects of an inherent information asymmetry.
An interviewee can tell an employer she’s a self-starter and a wild creative, while she knows very well that she is neither self-starting nor creative. For the employer to make the right call on a line up of interviewees claiming to be self-starting and creative, he looks for signals to prove the truth (or falsehood) of the confessions. Previous experience as a copywriter in a fast-paced creative agency might indicate that a person is creative and self-motivating. This experience is, therefore, a signal. While not a proof, it’s an indicator. This candidate might turn out to be a stiff, lazy twit.
And the relationship between Google (as well as other search engines) and content creators work the same way. Any content creator will push their content to the top of Google SERP if they had the control. Thankfully, content creators don’t have that capability. To serve the best content, Google relies on signals like links and visits because these are indicative of a good content.
The implication of this is that content creators develop the largest amount of content to appeal to the largest possible audience. This way, they attract lots of visitors and possible linkbacks. In the same token, they increase their ranking, get more sales and turn a profit.
This is where it’s at with content marketing as we know it today.
These content that appeals to the largest possible audience also called “lowest common denominator content” aren’t always piss poor. People like Seth Godin and companies like Hustle, Copyblogger, Priceconomics and Onion are doing brilliant work with content.
To get more traffic, content creators develop low-hanging content around tactics like “how to advertise on Snapchat” and latest trends like Big Brother Nigeria, because these appeal to millions of people. And it works, because in that vast pool of people are some people that might buy from your business. And even when these people don’t buy from you, they will increase your business page rank just by visiting.
From experience, this long-form article on “the economics of content” that took hours and hours to research will only be shared a few times. Whereas, a listicle that took 40 minutes to hack together (eg. 23 incredible tips to develop shareable content) will get shared 6,000 times.
“Why are you writing this then,” I can almost hear you ask? Aside from the fact that I have personally always wanted to get this idea out of my system, audiences identify valuable thought pieces and appreciate them.
More so, writing low-quality content will eventually backfires, because getting actual people to read your content consistently means providing real value with your content. If people come to associate your brand with low empty-calorie fizzy content, they’ll stop taking the bait.
Google and other search engines also continue to update their ranking algorithm and in fact, long-form pieces like this one are beginning to rank well just for their length. It’s possible in the future, Google will nail ranking down to a science such that no easy ‘lowest common denominator’ content will get on anyone’s radar unless they are specifically looking for it.
Then, content creators will begin to target their audience and be more strategic in content development.
What does this mean for you?
As an entrepreneur, you will be the sole content strategist for your company in the early stages. It’s your call to decide if you want to be laser-focused on your target audience with deeply-researched pieces or to go commercial with rounds and rounds of easy pieces.
Although I’d recommend a laser-focus on your audience with high-value content, a blended approach is a safe bet.
Content around critical problems you solved, your founder story, how your company is different or your customer use-case stories are good pieces that comfortably straddle the content value line.
What kind of content do you think businesses should develop? Let’s talk in the comments.
This article was written by Gbenga Onalaja. Gbenga is an oatmeal-powered Content Strategist at Wild Fusion, Africa’s leading Digital Marketing Agency. He specializes in long-form content, email marketing, SEO, and writing compelling brand stories.