In my last article I declared that content was dead and community was the new king online. The title of that post was a bit of an overstatement which wasn't backed up by the rest of the article. (It was a link bait-y title, but yet another example of community ruling content. But I digress.) In the article I found some stats that some have used to re-declare (yet again) that "content is king" but I went on to show how those stats really didn't say that at all.

I wanted to go a bit further in today's post while also clarifying a few things. The point I was making with that first article was that the "content is king" manta has now become so overused that it is a meaningless cliche in our industry. Content is not the be-all, end-all of online marketing. In fact I said just that in the first article. Furthermore, building content is only a single step in the process of creating a community. Given a choice between content and community I think most would choose the latter. Content sells to one. Community has a much broader reach.

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake in your bed and you believe content is still king.

red pillOne of the comments that most amused me was someone saying "meanwhile over at reality central". Sorry, my friend, but you've swallowed the blue pill on the whole content issue. What's wrong with content? Well, nothing really. It's a great way to disseminate knowledge, talk about your products and services, educate, and so on and so forth. The problem, however is that content in and of itself speaks to one person. Someone searches, they click a link, they land on your site, they read, maybe they buy, they move on and then do the same thing all over again the next time. Only next time perhaps they click a different link, land on a different website, read different content, maybe buy and then move on. They cycle is endless.

Was there anything wrong with that content? No, not at all. It performed its duty. It captured the visitor's attention, gave them the information they needed and convinced them to buy. Great content does that.

What I found most interesting in reading the comments made regarding my original article is that I agree with many of the "dissenters". It just seems that they've missed my point. Here is an example. We all know that good search marketing isn't just about getting top rankings. Rankings are merely a means to an end. But so is content. Content is a means to help us make a sale, sell ad space, etc. Whatever the goals are for your website, content can be used to achieve those. But so can a number of other tools too. Content may hold more value than some of those other tools, but it's still pretty much just a tool.

You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep community goes.

When I said community is the new king, I wasn't trying to establish a new philosophy in our industry. In fact I was only verbalizing what many already know. The web is moving toward communities and sites like Digg, Delicous, Stumbleupon, Sphinn (and the list goes on and on) only prove the point. These are all "content driven" sites but it's the community that makes them useful. A community of users add stories, vote for or against them, comment on them, and participate in the discussion. Could you imagine any of these sites surviving long without the community involvement? They wouldn't. Which says something about who rules who, content or community.

The primary difference between content and community is that people read content and move on. Community, however, brings people back. And people come back for a number of reasons. Maybe it's to learn. Maybe it's to teach. Maybe it's to interact. Maybe it's to evaluate. Maybe it's to rate. Maybe it's to research. Maybe it's to share. Or maybe it's to buy from someone they have learned to trust.

Yes, you have to have good content--real content--to build a community. But there is a real world out there that goes beyond just individuals reading content. It's a world full of communities of people. If you want to do more than achieve one sale at a time then you need to leverage your content to help build your own community.

Buckle up Dorothy, 'cause content is going bye-bye

Let's take a step out into that "other" reality known as the off-line world. Image if stores like Target or Costco had to rely entirely on new business, and that they rarely ever brought back a single repeat shopper. It would certainly make things more difficult for them, but it's not at all unheard of. Car dealers come to mind as places that probably don't get a lot of repeat business... at least for a few years. This is the picture that I get when I hear people talking only about building content. Content will bring a person to your site, maybe they'll even buy, but it doesn't necessarily create a lasting experience. They next time they shop they might go somewhere else entirely.

Target and Costco don't build communities they way we think of them online, but they are communities none-the-less. By using customer service, discount prices, large variety, bulk products, trendy products, and so on, both create a shopping experience that keeps bringing people back time and time again.

On the web we can build communities using all the same strategies that Target and Costco use, but we also have other tools at our disposal. Ratings, reviews, feedback, comments and, yes, content are all additional community building tools that can be leveraged to bring people back and, in some cases, to interact with one another.

I'm trying to free your mind. But I can only show you the community. You're the one that has to create it.

Content is effective and it is one of the best ways to help develop a community. 90% of online communication is done through content. I agree that content is even necessary to build a community. But unleveraged content only reaches one person. Leveraged content develops a community which can then be steered toward your products, services, ads, or whatever.

Every online business should be seeking to build itself a community. Building community is about building trust that brings people back to your site for thoughts, opinions, advice, service and even your products. Communities don't necessarily have to interact with each other (though that can help) but they do need to have an interaction with you, which can be as simple as an emotional or intellectual interaction. Build a community and you build repeat customers.

Content isn't dead, but it has stepped off the throne to serve in the new kings court. But if you don't buy any of this then go ahead and take the blue pill.

September 25, 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.


"Community, however, brings people back"

Good one S. :)

Stoney, you have a very interesting approach to describing content. You offer no definition of content. In both this article and in the "Community Is King" article you fail to offer a compelling definition for content and community.
For the benefit of the readers let me offer these definitions for the Internet: Content -- Information present that is not the result of the current visitor. Community -- information that is not created by the host.
Perhaps my definitions don't ring true for everyone, but it is difficult to address the argument you are making without some reference point. I just don't see anything in your "Content is King" series that adequately demonstrates that content and community can be considered different classes of "things on the Internet"

Hi Carlos,

I don’t think my distinction is necessarily anything physical… as in this type of content is x and that type is y. Content is content. You can create it yourself or you can have your community create it for you. Community, however, are your loyal followers. Content in and of itself is only one (of many) means of helping create a community. Creating a community is the process of using whatever tools are available to keep people returning to your site to see what you offer, say, do, link to, talk about, discuss, etc. etc. etc.

Well, I don't think the two are mutually exclusive, especially in the web world. On any big site where visitor interaction is allowed (forum, blog, review site), your community is creating your content for you.

The thing to remember with managing a community is that it takes a lot of time (to delete spam, enforce rules, etc.) and the more successful you are in building that community, the more time it takes to manage. So you have to have that time to sink into that (or be able to hire someone to handle it for you). Some kinds of communities are decent at self-policing (wikipedia), but if it was my business site (and therefore my online image), I wouldn't count on that.

Stoney, how about we conduct an experiment where you guys on searchengineguide increase your daily uniques by not publishing any new articles for 7 days?

Of course community is important. But I still don't see the point of separating the cheeze with the beef sauce - they're both parts of the same cheeseburger.

We have a bunch of "myths" in SEO: "SEO is dead", "domain authority is everything", "PageRank doesn't matter", "content is king", "targeted traffic is king; ranking means crap" etc, etc, etc.

I don't see anything useful I can take away from any of those generalizations.

One thing about communities that's great is that community-generated traffic/content is scalable, while content generated by one person or even a group of persons is not scalable.

So if you are looking for a scalable business model, community driven website is the way to go.

Just admit it. You used the title to cause controversy and build both content and community. Isn't that what good content is supposed to do?

Yes, to the first question. On the second, content can only stir up a community if there is one to be stirred.

Content helps to build community, community helps to build content. Content is what people want, sometimes community is how they get it. The search engines like content, so do people. Community helps to bring visitors, but if there is nothing for them to see, they won't stay long and they won't be back. If they find content they like, they will stay, and help build more content, which builds more community, which builds more content, which...People, are what we are after, content is what brings them to the community. If content is dead, so is community. Content is still what the search engines are after, therefore, you need content to get viewed. Content is still King, but it is building the kingdom with community.

That just reminds me of the argument that SEO is about rankings. You need rankings to get traffic but getting traffic isn't what makes the sales, good usability does. Yes, rankings are part of the equation, but they are a means to an end. Same with content. It's a means to an end. IMO community is closer to the "end" than the content is.

Great. I'm convinced. So how do you create community?

I suppose that is true, if you are having a party, but if you are sharing information, the content has to be there, or there is no reason for the community to show up. Community is very important, but the community normally gathers around ideas (content). So, you need the content for the community. If your purpose is to get a lot of people to look at what you say, you must have something to say. If you invite your social media friends over for pizza, and don't have pizza, they will be disappointed.


I buy your premise--to a point.

People don't return to Costco because they enjoy chatting with other Costco customers or they love being a member of the Costco community. They return because they ran out of Costco stuff!

I'm not an arrogant type, but I'm more interested in what Stoney has to say in an article than in all the comments posted to it. Sure I can learn something by reading the comments, but I just don't have time to wade through them all.

Maybe my age is the difference. I'm 56. (Geezer alert!)

I don't return to because I'm hooked on being an Amazonian. I return because I get good deals on books there, and yes, I do take the customer reviews seriously and base my buying decisions on them. But I think of those more as ratings or testimonials, not a lively interchange like Socrates and his students. (Huh?)

Many of the "communities" I've seen consist of vapid, immature cuteness contests, and sorry, but I find much of it a waste of precious time.

Different folks are looking for different stuff on the Web, and for your age group, or the teenage set, community may do it, but for Geezurfers like me, it's like sitting in on a conversation in a high school cafeteria.

Of course, when I find a community of like-minded geezers, I'll probably feel right at home. But as yet, it seems most of the other folks my age also seem to find it a waste of time too.

Excellent post & revelation.
I guess Agent Smith would be the black hat SEOers. ;)

You can't have one without the other, and have a useful site - one isn't king, they are all the servants.

Good content and useability are the foundations - that is why online marketers spent so much time focussing on those in the first place. We had to demonstrate how important it was to have a useable, accessible, informative site, or else there was not much point in having one at all.

Now most businesses have gotten that point, it is time to take it a step further and start to really market the sites - which is where community comes in. It shouldn't be an "either/or" choice, blue pill or red ... it should be, first, build the foundation *then* keep extending your reach.

Content and community are both important, but I want to challenge your analogy to the guys, Target and Costco. The community is already there and they have moved into it. Do you think anyone in the community would patronize them if they were more than 5 or 10 minutes' drive time away from home? I don't think so. This is where the analogy breaks down.

The Web is like one, huge community where thousands of different stores are all 5 minutes away. How much repeat business do you think Target and Costco would get in that scenario?

I get what you're saying but you're thinking of community as a physical community rather than a community being a connection with the shoppers. I know for a fact that people travel great distances just to get to a Costco. That's because Costco has developed a community via membership. Target, is a bit different, and any store really can be put in there such as Gap, Old Navy, etc. These stores attract people because they like what they stores provide. They've built an Old Navy community, etc. It's not as strong as Costco's would be but yeah, people will travel longer distances to get to those stores.

great post. you've opened my mind :)

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