Feb 25, 2011

The Content Wars: Is It Quality vs. Technology?

A couple of widely circulated online postings caught my eye recently.  One is the leak of AOL’s content strategy http://www.businessinsider.com/the-aol-way.  The other is Google’s latest attempt to add a qualitative filter to search http://mashable.com/2011/02/14/google-personal-blocklist-chrome/.

Seems the battle for eyeballs can go in one of two directions.  The traditional approach is to produce the best content you can.  But some would argue the most effective approach is to game the search engines, that is, use a technology suite that includes state-of-the-art SEO (black hat or white) combined with algorithms that tell you what news consumers are looking for.

Can you do both?  Logic would dictate that if the same content marketing tactics were applied to high-quality and low-quality content, the former would win out.  But do the business models of the various players dictate that you have to make your investment in one or the other?

News, or content as it is now more popularly called, is not so different from other consumer products.  Should you invest in creating the best possible product, or will you profit more handsomely by dominating shelf space, advertising real estate and search results?  Or if you try to do both, do you price yourself out of the market?

Interesting to read the AOL strategy knowing what has happened since.  Was the Huffington Post acquisition an acknowledgement of the failure of that strategy or a shortcut for achieving it?  Is the Huffington Post an example of taking both approaches, using state of the art content marketing techniques while still keeping an eye on quality?

There are two other players who will have a big role in what will deliver success to content producers.  The search engines and the social networks.

The Google initiative clearly shows that the search engines are in a cat-and-mouse game with the content providers.  (See also The Dirty Little Secrets of Search http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/business/13search.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=jc%20penney&st=cse)  Will they drive content farms out of business?  Or will their value be decimated by the legions of technologists who have figured out how to play their algorithms?

The social networks add another variable.  While I might enter a question in a search engine and have my top results be shallow answers produced by someone with little knowledge of the subject, I can assure you that those links aren’t what’s being passed around by my Facebook friends and Twitter follows.

So I look forward to seeing some solid examples of providers that have conquered both, whether it’s the content farm that evolves into a high-quality content producer, or a media property that maintains high standards while achieving the content marketing expertise to really compete.  I can think a few blogs that might fit that description but no major players as of yet.

Authored by Ken Dowell, executive vice president, PR Newswire

Update: Google just announced a major change to their algorithm that is designed to reduce the rankings for low quality sites – those Google describes as offering low quality or duplicated content with little user value.

3 Comments on Blog Post Title

Lou Hoffman 10:56 EST on Feb 25, 2011

Everyone says “content is king” which simply isn’t true.

Compelling content is king.

That’s how we see the war breakdown: compelling content vs corporate drivel.

Because even if companies game the system to bring people to the site, what has really been achieved if the content sucks and sends visitors packing for another destination.

Sarah Skerik 11:18 EST on Feb 25, 2011

Good point, Lou, and well said. Getting folks to your web site is one thing. Keeping them there (and bringing them back) are different exercises entirely.

Colleen Pizarev 11:56 EST on Feb 25, 2011

A very insightful article. It will also be interesting to see how the other search engines around the world tackle this issue – whether they follow Google or continue with their current strategies. Gaming the system is an art that is very popular in China and Russia to the detriment of site rankings for quality content, and I’ve heard from colleagues in both countries that it does produce some frustrating search results.

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