Canned Crap Content

Something is fundamentally broken in the content strategy of many online businesses.

I can’t count the number of times I open emails, view blogs, or download pdfs, and am shocked by the lack of unique or thoughtful content. (I know….I should learn to lower my expectations).

Subheaders For the Skimmers: Intro to Bad Content.

I’m not talking about OCD-level perfection. I’m talking about blog posts that lack links, use stock photos, and include no new ideas or examples. The kind of redundant, canned posts that I’ve seen a gazillion times and could be found on a gazillion other sites. The ones that scream to me:

  • I do not care about what I’m writing
  • I really don’t know about what I’m writing
  • I just Googled this topic and took the main points from other sites
  • I am not invested in this topic
  • I don’t really care what you think about this blog post as long as you give me my 15$ and 5 stars on Elance
  • I don’t know your readers nor do I care to
  • I will write. 500 words. Insert your keyword 5 times. I will spellcheck. 492….are you still reading?

I typically see this on business websites (not those of professional marketers), leading me to believe it occurs mostly because they don’t know better.

Here’s the Meat of My Point. It’s About Why Content is Bad.

It’s no mystery why this is happening. Masters of marketing such as Doug Kessler (Velocity Partners), John McTigue (Kuno Creative), Rand Fishkin (Moz), and Mark Schaefer (Schaefer Marketing Solutions) have discussed the onslaught of crap contentcontent saturation, a.k.a. content deluge, content fatiguecontent shock, and content overload. That’s just within marketing.

Even before that, people were discussing information pollution, which is another side of the same coin (societal impact versus marketing impact). Thanks to people 15% understanding newer trends like semantic search and inbound marketing (the 15% understanding being partially a result of mass “skimming,” itself a result of content inundation), the new perceived model for success is to become a quality quantity content generation machine.

The pressure is on companies to produce a bunch of content, because they want to boost their rankings in the search engine results page (SERPs), and/or because they want something enticing to use as form bait to capture new leads, or because they’ve been told it’s just what they need to do now. (Haven’t you heard? Content marketing is all the rage.)

The more content that is produced, the greater the pressure on businesses to throw something out there to keep themselves afloat against a rising tide of other people’s content. If they don’t produce something, they can effectively fall off the SERPs and their online presence will be drowned out. So content production also becomes a defensive strategy, motivated by fear and survival instinct, versus being a function of having something meaningful to share. Does that sound like the underpinning of “must-read content” to you?

Content marketing for many people = writing. (I disagree, but for many, I think that’s what it comes down to). That’s great for businesses and marketing firms, because writing has been so commodified and undervalued that “writers” can be had for $15-$50 per blog post (and that’s on the high end). Only….it’s not so great. For $15-$50, you will be LUCKY if you get error-free, grammatically-correct, non-plagiarized writing that includes a few of your keywords and is generically centered around your topic theme.

Here’s what you don’t get, though:

• Thought leadership
• Original, creative ideas
• Industry-specific insights and examples
• Original, attention-worthy graphics saved with appropriate file name & alt-tag
• Relevant internal and external links and citations
• Content ready-formatted for your blog, including subheaders, bullets, header tags
• Highly shareable, unique content that creates a fan base and/or converts
• Content that is thoughtfully crafted to perform in semantic search without keyword-
• Content targeted at one of your specific personas & tied to a related call to action
• High-performance meta-keywords and meta-description designed to align with your overall
website SEO strategy.

I would argue that such canned content fails to deliver any of the original goals of pursuing a content-driven marketing strategy, to the point that it’s not worth doing in the first place.

Canned Crap Content

Here’s what good content is supposed to do:

• Create positive brand awareness
• Support customer loyalty
• Generate high-quality leads
• Boost website traffic & SEO
• Demonstrate thought leadership
• Nurture leads
• Open doors to new relationships

In order for those things to happen, the content must also be:

• Findable
• Worth reading
• Considered of value (likeable/useful/relevant)
• Shareable

Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Make, Buy, or Use Poor Content.

With canned content, you are very unlikely to realize any of the stated benefits of content marketing. In fact, you’re liable to do more harm than good as you’ll be teaching your target audience not to come back and visit your site for good content. That’s worse than zero value; it’s negative value. So keep your $15 and buy two coffees with it. (You can drink them while you come up with a better plan).

So why don’t these approaches work? Producing content blindly, without purpose or thoughtfulness and without specifically focusing on what will be likeable, useful, and relevant to your end user is a recipe for failure. In fact, what’s fundamentally broken in these content strategies is that there apparently are none.

UPDATE: I’m sad to report I’ve been told by Hubspot I must remove my “Inbound Marketing Gone Awry” graphic. If you saw it before it was removed, lucky you. It was pretty magical.

Smart content is not always the cheapest content. The best content for your goals is not the least expensive option, but rather the option that delivers the most value for you. The content that is most likely to perform well and generate results. Content that you can feel good about sending to your clients as recommended reading for additional information. Content you can be proud about having your name and brand associated with. Content you can share honestly on social channels knowing it will be worth a click for the reader.

Successful content marketing is persona-centric, crafted by marketers who understand your target audience, and it consists of a unified effort across SEO, email, product descriptions, blogs, and other content. Rather than stemming from fear or defensive strategy, quality content is motivated by desire to provide value and create relationships with your prospective customers. It builds bridges to closing a sale and supports longevity of the client relationship.

Canned blogs and thoughtless placeholder content aren’t designed for these results; so it’s a three-way lose: to the writer, the business, and the audience. This begs the question: why bother? I really believe that crap content isn’t worth the effort- to create or to read.

lose-lose-lose all around

So before you congratulate yourself for spending $15 on a blog post (got content….check, got it cheap….check) – just be sure you know the real cost to your business. Instead of putting you ahead, poor content can negatively impact you.

Congratulations, skimmers! All done. I hope it was 5 seconds well spent.

Kirsten MeyerWritten by Kirsten Meyer   Kirsten Meyer on Twitter Kirsten Meyer on G+ Kirsten Meyer on LinkedIn | Website
Kirsten Meyer is the owner of KM Strategic Content Marketing, an Inbound Marketing service provider. She designs and executes user-centric marketing strategies for business growth.
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About KM Strategic Content Marketing

Hubspot-certified inbound marketer, online marketing strategist, quality content creator, mother, lover of the Cherokee language, caffeine, and the great outdoors. General force of nature. @KMeyerContent on Twitter.