I can hardly bring myself to say the old cliche about content being... well, you know. I think it's one of the original cliche's in the SEO industry. And as redundant as it has become, for whatever reason we keep hearing it over and over again. And every now and then a new studies pops up seemingly proving proving, once again, that content is... uh, good.

But much like a TV producer suggesting "video is king" or a radio advertiser demanding that "audio is king", so goes the SEO demanding the same about content. Content has its role--and an important one at that, but it's not the be-all, end-all of online marketing. Not even close.

But the roots of the "content is" movement are important for our industry. The mantra was first heard in the early days of the search engine optimization industry when SEOs were doing nothing more than throwing a bunch of keywords on a page and hoping they rank well. Little or no thought or consideration was given to the readability of the web page. After all, it's only rankings that mattered, right? But those of us who learned to game search engines slowly began to learn something that those in the marketing industry have known for years. Words sell. Or turn people off, depending on what's written and how it's written.

So the movement to developing good content--real content--was an important one for our industry. But to get there we had to have the content mantra beat into our head over and over (and over). We got it. We know.

The king is losing his grip on the kingdom

But like any worthy cause, we've reached a point where the mantra has been used and abused to the point where we use whatever we can find to prove once again that content is... y'know, that. Take a recent study by OPA and Nielsen//NetRatings that shows that Internet users are spending more time than ever on content bases websites.

Share of Time Spent Online
Commerce: 13.8%
Communications: 32.0%
Content: 49.6%
Search: 4.5%

That there seems to confirm what many have been saying for years. Content is... uh, great for web marketing. And I've seen a few posts around the blogosphere and forums using this data to make that connection. The problem is, it's not really there.

With the rise in popularity of blogs and social media sites it's no wonder that more people spend their time reading online than anything else. While time reading and gathering information online has increased, time spent shopping has actually decreased, down over 2% from a year before. But does that tell us anything about marketing online? No, not really.

We know people like information and we know they like to communicate. We also know people like to shop and online shopping has continued to increase year over year. All this study suggests is what we spend most of our time doing on the web. Well, true enough, I don't spend most of my time shopping.

Since when is it the goal of ecommerce sites to get people to spend a long time on their site? Isn't it more important to drive shoppers to the sale and get the conversion? Step 1: Get traffic. Step 2: Keep visitors engaged. Step 3: Close the sale. That's not necessarily a process that necessitates long periods of time spent on a site.

In no way do I want to diminish the importance of content on ecommerce websites. Having a database of information that helps visitors make their decision, helpful tutorials, etc. can improve your visitor's overall experience and keep them coming back to your site. But the goal of all of that is to lead people to the sale.

Community killed content and stole the throne

If I were to interpret this data I wouldn't necessarily come away thinking content is... so very important. What I would conclude, however is that we need to build websites that meet a number of users needs. Adding more content to your ecommerce site is not the magic bullet. What is, however, is creating a great user experience and providing just the right amount of information and customer engagement that shoppers need to get to the conversion goal. That can be done through a number of means.

Many online stores are already paving the way by opening the door to ratings and reviews. Others are doing that by creating blogs to disseminate important and relevant industry information along with tips and tutorials. Still others do that by creating an information database that can visitors frequent to gain additional insights.

I might suggest that the best ecommerce websites are not those that build content around their products but build a community around the product interest. By creating a place where shoppers can come and gain information, learn more about the products and discuss or share information with others and then make purchases as well, will do more for sales than simply creating a shopping website.

By building a community you not only sell more products but you build brand recognition and customer loyalty. And both of those are worth far more than a single one-off sell. So while content may not be dead (not by a long shot, really), there is a new king in the online marketing industry. Long live community. Long live the (new) king.


September 18, 2007





Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.





Comments(20)

It's the natural evolution. Content creates visitors, visitors create community. That's the progression that we've followed

Off with his thread.

I believe made for adsense sites really started killing the content game.

Stoney,
I don't see how you support your claim. The data you provide indicates that content is the single largest growth in the past 4 years.
Also I don't see any compelling argument for why blogs/ratings aren't considered content. The move from top down content to user generated content ("community") is actually counter your argument.
Content is so staunchly king that even a major paradigm shift on the internet only changes the way we dress our content up.

Read it again. Carefully this time. 1) I don't use the data to back up my claim but just debunked the use of it to claim "content is king". Obviously the data does prove that users spend more time on content websites (including blogs) than shopping sites. So what? That's like saying I spend more time driving on the freeway than on residential streets. That *proves* nothing. But I'll admit my title was misleading... content isn't dead. And I also suggest that it *is* an important part of building community. But it's not about content for the sake of content, but content for the sake of community. Which means community rules.

"In no way do I want to diminish the importance of content on ecommerce websites."

But you did. :-)

"I'll admit my title was misleading."

You should've mentioned that you're only talking about e-commerce in this article. Try telling Darren Rowse that content is dead. Dude is making a mint because of content. Dude has grown a community because of content.

"But it's not about content for the sake of content, but content for the sake of community. Which means community rules."

Actually, with regard to the user reviews and ratings you mentioned, I would argue the reverse: It's about community for the sake of content. Retailers allow reviews on their sites not because they expect a community of shoppers to visit every day to read the latest reviews and discuss their products with one another, but because it's a great way to get free, often high-quality, and usually keyword-rich content.

To bring it in the industry, look at SEOmoz: Would the community exist without the content? Never. Content rules. :-)

The internet is fast becoming a place where likes gather with others who are like themselves...and any web owner that knows how to create community with this will be able to give their web-visitors a treat.

It's really about finding some kind of way to give your web-visitor what he/she wants.

For if you do not...then you will find that, as-quick-as-a-wink, they'll be on your site and off in a hurry to find one that better meets their needs.

You make some great points. I most agree with your point about ratings and reviews. Without being able to see or touch products over the web I like being able to see what other people have to say about the products.

It is like a circle, content (info) creates comunity, and comunity needs ask content. It is time to remember newsletters, a great tool to build comunity.

The title sucked me in and now I feel "cheated".

Let me just say this:

I would prefer to have a site full of content and no inbound links, than a site with lots of inbound links and no content.

Great headline for your article, sucked me in too.
Before "content is king" became the mantra, I recall that "community is king" was the mantra. This is a deja-vu kind on thing.
How about we just narrow it down to this simple statement? Communities gather around compelling content.

"Communities gather around compelling content."

Very well summarized!!!

I absolutely agree with Matt, content is always a king! and contents created communities thats all.

Perhaps the situation could best be summarized like this:

"Great content offers one of the best ways of building a strong community. Strong communities are the future of online business; content alone will not suffice."

That's the model already used in part by the I-make-a-ton-of-cash-from-my-blog guys (Copyblogger, Problogger, several others), and maybe it's creeping out into the wider marketplace?

If you look at one of Darren Rowse's single post pages, he's often only written a fifth of the total content. The rest is made up of comments. So perhaps we can add a corollary:

"On commercially successful sites the community sustains and grows itself by adding content. That model is beginning to spread across the business web."

Mind you, you could argue that Amazon have been doing it for years...

I loved your post. I don't necessarily agree with everything that you said but you clearly had fun writing it and it shows.

I appreciate that in responding to some comments you acknowledged that the title was somewhat misleading and added that "it's not about content for the sake of content, but content for the sake of community."

I feel that makes much more sense.

Well done for stirring up a bit of controversy, it brightened up my day.

Too Right... You've hit the nail right on its head.

john.

cool article it sparked some healthy debate.

Community is king now. Wondering what's the next "king"!
Steve

No wonder why creating a community in our website is a must, it develop trust and loyalty of our subscribers and also our clients, so we really need to start a good topic to create a friendly conversation with our customers.

“Content is king.”

It sounds good in principle. Produce a truly great piece of content, and you’ll get all the links you could ever hope for.
Maybe it worked too, several years ago. The Web used to be a fairly quiet place compared to what it is now, and it was easier for people to notice great blog posts.
But not anymore.
Now great is no longer good enough. The Web is full of so much remarkable content that bloggers don’t have enough time to read it all, much less link to it.
If you want links now, you need to be more than great. You need to be connected.

http://arthur-internetmarketing-guide.blogspot.com/2009/12/is-content-really-king.html#more

I agree - it's all about community these days.

Content forms part of the community and it's best when it's generated by the members of the community.

Enable the users and the members to do what they want how then want as easily as possibility and there's a great chance they'll linger, participate and enquire/buy.

Takes a hell of a lot of effort to get it right tho' (and keep up) with the pace of progress, it's exhausting!


:) Martin
http://www.twitter.com/martinskinner

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