Content: the Bottom of the Rabbit Hole (part 1 of 2)

by Letha Wicker 02 May 2011 Blog Post

Think for a moment about what’s going through your mind when you fire up Google and start a search. Sure, sometimes you’re just looking for a URL to a specific business, or trying to divine a particular piece of data. But sometimes you’re looking to really learn something.

Roughly bazillions of pixels (that’s a technical term) have been expended debating the value of content in the online world. Whole companies have built their business models on providing shallow, quick bits of content specifically engineered to garner maximum search engine hits. If that’s really all it takes to get customers and make money, then these endeavors should be unqualified successes. There’s just one problem—they’re not. Content farms are coming under fire from Google, bloggers, SEO experts, news outlets, and consumers for tricking their way into the top ten listings. They’ve even spawned a humor site.

Content farms keep their ears to the ground and write quick, cheap content to capitalize on popular trends. So if you search for “why is Mubarek so terrible?” you end up with a page that says, essentially, “Mubarek is terrible because he’s a bad man and oppresses the Egyptian people.” You click on the link, the farm gets your ad revenue, and some contract writer gets almost nothing for “writing” the “article.” What do you get? Not a thing. You don’t get any new knowledge, you don’t get any real insight—you just fuel a company’s profit engine. You got lost down the rabbit hole.

Now let’s think about it a slightly different way. What if you aren’t embarking on journey of discovery about the pressing political issues of our times? What if you’re just looking to learn about a new technology, to see if it’s something you want to invest in? Take 3D TVs for an example. You’ve gone to the big box store to look them over, and you’re pretty sure that you like HiTek (yeah, I just totally made that up) TV models the best. But should you even spend so much money on an unproven technology? What kind of information are you trying to access about 3D television?

A quick Google search might show some technical review sites, a few content farm articles with titles like “Why 3D TV?” which is pretty much what you typed into the search box, and an article from HiTek itself titled “The Pros and Cons of 3D TV.” You might be thinking “sure, right, HiTek will totally be honest about this,” but you click anyway. To your shock and surprise, you get a meaty, 1800 word article! Like a drowning woman, you drink in actual information: how does 3D TV work? How does HiTek incorporate that technology? How do the glasses work? Will you ever NOT need the glasses? What are the limitations of 3D TV? Is it contraindicated for anyone? Holy cow! You read that content, and you’re an expert!

As a result of that article, you decide that since you suffer from migraines and motion sickness 3D isn’t for you. Oh noes, HiTek marketing fail! Or is it? You’re impressed that HiTek offered you such an unbiased, non-brand-centric article on the topic. They actually care about you, and educating you on technology! They’re not trying to convince you to buy something that’s not right for you! How often does that happen? So rarely that, in fact, when you decide a couple months later to upgrade to an LED TV from your old 720p LCD model, you don’t even think twice—you go to HiTek and buy from them. You followed that rabbit hole all the way down to Wonderland!

Content, once more, wins the day. But how do you structure an engagement model to take advantage of its versatility and power? Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow to find out.