The right content — and how to get it

All content is not created equal.

We’re not talking about the literary merit of a piece of content. Our generalization has nothing to do with such matters as proper grammar, correct spelling or punctuation. It has little to do with whether an article makes the grade as “good writing.” All of those things seem like they should be fundamental, but there are a few bridges to cross before we even get to those criteria.

First, there’s the question of how much content matters and, by extension, whether securing good content is worth the investment.

When answering that question, we’re in a bit of an odd moment. Not long ago, we were told that “content is king,” and that was, for a while, the universally accepted wisdom of the internet.

Soon enough, though, we experienced the inevitable backlash. Maybe something else was king, and content was expendable – or, at least, not absolutely central – but, alas, the backlash had its own fatal flaw.

If content wasn’t king, what was supposed to replace it at the top of the internet pyramid. Flashy design? Slideshows? Listicles? Cat pictures?

In the end, none of those things deposed content from its throne. Good content still drives commerce in all its manifestations. Content informs, it adds credibility, it increases brand awareness, it generates leads and it closes sales. It states your case to a public that, year after year, looks increasingly to the web when making purchasing decisions.

On that note, 80 percent of people making purchases in excess of $500 start their investigations online, and, according to a Synchrony Financial survey, that’s a 20 percent increase over last year. That trend shows no sign of reversing.

Yes, Content Still Rules

Content is, was and will be king. But it rules an empty kingdom unless it takes another step.

Consider the well-known tree that always seems to be falling in the unpopulated forest, allowing us to wonder if it makes a sound. On the internet, we don’t have to wonder. If no one hears you – if no one finds what you’ve posted to your site – the best content in the universe won’t help you. If you’re feeling especially philosophical, you might even question whether content that isn’t found can be said to exist at all.

And, of course, if its very existence is in question, there’s no chance that invisible content can be good in any way that matters. There’s no such thing as “good in the abstract.” To be good, content has to be found.

Getting found, fortunately, is a reachable goal. To begin with, there are all sorts of SEO strategies that can help make your content visible, and it pays to know something about keywords, titles, tags, meta descriptions and all the search engine quirks that help drive traffic.

But using those tricks of the trade should not lead you to ignore a more basic issue: In order to provide effective content, you need to know what your customers and prospects are looking for. What kind of content do they seek? What questions does the typical customer have about your products or services? What issues are on their minds? What’s in the news that relates to what you do?

You don’t have to snatch the answers out of thin air. See what people are already searching for. Pay attention to competitors’ sites and the content they’re posting. Talk to your staff about the issues that prospects or customers are raising. If you have a chat feature on your site, review your chat logs to see what customers focus on. Do the same with customer emails. And don’t neglect social media as a rich source of information.

Once you’ve acknowledged the value of content and the importance of making it visible, it’s time to address one more issue: You want the content that you’ve invested in and that you’ve helped people find to be of the highest possible quality.

How do you make that happen?

You don’t do it by focusing primarily on making Google happy. Google’s web-crawling spiders are smart, and they get smarter all the time. There was a time when stuffing an article with every keyword under the sun would garner front-page rankings, but that time passed long ago.

Don’t ignore the ways of the search engines completely, but don’t give the algorithms too much power. Today, the best content for the internet is no different from the best content anywhere. Great content is useful. It’s engaging. When an expert is called for, it speaks with authority. It’s readable in a way that appeals to humans first and to machines as more of an afterthought.

The best content is the kind your customers and prospects value, and, strangely enough, the machines will notice, making it the kind of content that actually gets found. That kind of content is now – and always will be – well worth the investment. Long live content.

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