The crux of the problem is – how do you quantify quality?
For example, I looked at all my previous SEW posts to see if I could find some commonality in the posts that were the most popular. I defined most popular by the number of shares each of them got and the number of comments. I found that there is almost no correlation between how good the posts were (in my opinion) and how popular they were.
It made me think about all the great content I was missing. If my best posts, even on a distribution network as wide as SEW, don't get as much "love" as my mediocre posts, then I can only imagine how many brilliant posts I must be missing just because they aren't getting the benefit of big numbers.
Somewhere, on an obscure blog, a piece of content might just change the way we think about marketing, but we're completely unaware of it because the collective readership of that blog is so tiny that it will never be brought to our attention.
Quality, Relevancy, and How to Use Google
How do you use data (numbers) to represent quality, especially when that quality is mere perception? Who's to say that one article is better or more important than another?
Google uses a multitude of indicators to assess relevancy – inbound links, social signals, authority, PageRank, and so on. All of these are programmatic measures to determine the relevancy of a web page to a search term.
In the last few years Google has made a concentrated effort to also assess quality. However, since these are just indicators to assess quality (and relevancy when it comes to search), they are prone to mistakes and manipulation.
Image Credit: domainkablog.com/
Take the topic of website traffic for example. If you search for the very specific, long-tail term [top 10 ways to drive traffic to your website], you will get a slew of blog posts about this exact topic. Some are newer than others, but they all discuss the same topic – so far, so good.
Dive deeper and you'll see that they actually offer different sets of top 10 ways for driving traffic to your website. Which means that for subjective topics without a clear answer, you shouldn't ask Google for the right answers (possibly because there is no "right answer") but use it a jumping-off point for your research and find the right answer for you.
But this is all based on the assumption that the algorithms work and the most relevant content is being surfaced to the top (because no one really goes to the second or third SERP).
Gaming the System
Now, this is all old news for anyone who's been in SEO for more than two minutes – Google's algorithm determines who ranks at the top based on over 200 variables that assess relevancy to the search term, and there are ways to make sure you are well positioned (optimized) to boost your ranking.
Through the years, people have tried to "game the system" with a variety of black hat SEO practices, like link buying, content farms, keyword stuffing and more. But gaming the system is not a unique problem to the Google marketplace and the new darling of digital marketing, social networks, is facing similar challenges.
Image Credit: Wired
In a Wired story, Mat Honan wrote about juicing your story popularity with social media. He outlines only a few of the services that allow you to buy followers, Likes, pageviews, and tweets. The point is clear: popularity can be bought.
And since more solutions are now using social signals like tweets, shares, likes, Klout score and authorship – and popularity (at least the digital version of it) has become synonymous with influence – in the new world of social media all that matters are your numbers. And you can easily buy them.
The 'Science' of Content Marketing: Why Quantity Always Wins
What is concerning about this new reality is that it leaks into the way we consume content as well. We are more likely to read something that has 9,000 tweets than we are to read something that only has 19 tweets.
Social signals are now a modifier of our behavior and determine not just our exposure to content but also our perception of it. Add our shortening attention span supported by 140-character tweets, punch line subject lines and content aggregators that virtually chew the content for you and inject it into your bloodstream, and we no longer consume content, we swallow it.
And how many of you have lost any enjoyment in reading a well-written piece? When was the last time you actually enjoyed reading a blog post without just tweeting it right away?
Image Credit: SocialTimes
So as marketers, we create more content that is easier to consume. Shorter blog posts, lists, 10 tips, 15 ways, 51 ideas, presentations with large images and only few words, 90-second videos, and memes.
One might argue that it forces us to find creative ways to deliver our message in more effective ways and simplification is actually the hardest task. I wouldn't disagree with such a statement, but the reality is that most of us don't; we just rehash old content and package it in a different way. We do it because we have removed all of the substance from our content and, just like with our food, in order not to get hungry, we just consume way more.
We download content like we're going through a fast food drive through; we order it by the bucket. And as marketers, we keep enabling it because hell, we want those tweets too.
The current research about content marketing focuses more about the marketing side than the content side. It's about how to get more shares, more tweets, and more readers.
Those are great questions to ask about your content marketing because if you do write something valuable you want to show it to the world, you want it to get as much exposure as possible. But most of these tips are to make things easier to read, easier to share, and shorter and faster to consume because we would rather trade some quality for quantity.
Top 5 Ways to Share This Post on Twitter
Am I any different? Hell no. I want those shares as much as anyone. I'm part of this game and I will try to play it to the best of my ability – and do my best each time to get 500+ tweets.
If you'd like to help me reach my goal, here are five tweets you can use to share this blog post:
- @uribarjoseph rants about content marketing http://sewat.ch/15Z94s6 via @sewatch (Tweet this)
- Why quantity always wins http://sewat.ch/15Z94s6 by @uribarjoseph via @sewatch (Tweet this)
- Is popularity and influence the same? http://sewat.ch/15Z94s6 by @uribarjoseph via @sewatch (Tweet this)
- Please retweet! How to get more shares for your content http://sewat.ch/15Z94s6 by @uribarjoseph via @sewatch (Tweet this)
- Quality and relevancy are not the same http://sewat.ch/15Z94s6 by @uribarjoseph via @sewatch (Tweet this)
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!