I know. The horse is dead. I've beat it enough. But I just. Can't. Stop.

A few weeks back I wrote about the concept that content really doesn't matter anymore and that community is the new commodity of the web. I fully believe that content is still hugely important when it comes to customer persuasion, visitor education and, ultimately in providing your audience with a solid user experience. But because the web is an interactive medium, content simply isn't enough anymore.

If you missed my first two articles on this subject you can review them here:

Content is Dead. Community is King Now.
Content or Community, The Red Pill or the Blue?

I've come under heavy fire within the SEO community from those that never quite got what I was getting at. To be honest, I wasn't fully sure where I was going with it either. The articles above were me fleshing out my ideas as I wrote. Jennifer entered into the conversation with her own (and much better worded) take on what I was trying to say. You can read her article, Can't Get the (Great) Content Without the Community to get her perspective.

I had planned a third installment shortly after the second but wanted to first take a step back and listen to some of what the detractors were saying. I wanted to let all this information gestate a bit and see if I can wrap my brain around my own thoughts a bit more succinctly. I also though that perhaps my perspective might change the more I contemplated and had time to take it all in. It didn't.

If I had to boil all my thoughts down to a few words it would be this:

Content is communication. Community is a conversation.

On the web it is impossible to have a conversation without content. That is why content will never truly be dead. Every word written, every blog post, article, instant message, forum post, etc., (the list goes on and on) is done via content. Some of it is permanent, some of it is temporary, but content is developed as the community has a conversation.

But the other thing to think about, and this is the reason that content isn't as important as community, is that content doesn't need community at all. On the surface it may seem that this makes content superior to community. Since community needs content that means content is still king, right? No. And here me out on this. Content, outside of community, is not a conversation, it's merely a one-way communication. To paraphrase an old philosophical riddle, if someone communicates and no one is around to hear (or read) it, is he really saying anything at all? The answer is a resounding "No!"

Content is only good if there is someone (other than the author and their immediate family) reading it. What many don't think about is that while search engines like content, they love the conversation. It's that conversation that happens in various places on the web that cause the search engines to notice the content in the first place.

It takes a community to "vote" content up in the search results. The community has to notice the content and like it enough to link to it, essentially telling the search engine that this content is worthwhile. Without that, the content just sits there, undisturbed. Simply put, search engines don't rank sites with the best content at the top of the search results, they rank sites that the community has determined has the best content. Those are two very different things.

Everyone loves a good conversation

As I said in one of my previous posts, content gets people to the site but community keeps them coming back time and time again. If you ever read the book The Cluetrain Manifesto then you have a better idea of what I'm talking about. Online marketing is all about conversation, and you can't have a conversation with yourself. But start the conversation and build yourself a community around it.

Community may mean different things to different sites and industries, what you need to do is figure out how best to create a community for yourself. You can start by 1) create interesting and compelling content that people want to read, and 2) use that content to engage your readers and start a conversation. Give them a reason to start talking, develop a relationship with them, and keep them coming back.

The key is to create a site and an atmosphere that encourages user feedback and facilitates discussion. You don't just want to talk at your visitors, you want to talk with them.

October 31, 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.


Good points. We all know human nature balks (in the beginning) at anything new and maybe that's why some resist Mr deGeyter's 'heavy revy', but i think it makes perfect sense. Blogs, RSS feeds and the like are the somewhat new kids on the block so community/conversation naturally seems to be in line.

Hey Stoney,

I've always enjoyed reading your articles -- and this one is spot on. I write about the conversation quite a bit AND I'm actually looking for other authors to participate in a new digital publication specifically centered around the conversation between customers and brands, evangelists and non-affiliates. Give my site a read and let me know if you'd be interested.

Nice write up Stoney could not have said it better myself. I totally agree with what your saying. All though building a community may not work for all websites, it truly can for most.

I bookmarked your second article as I was going to come back on it and invite your comments, but Jennifer beat me to it (ETA for my article was 2009).

I am glad that you establish that while community is great, it cannot be possible without content.

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