Sometimes questions are easy to answer. A couple come to mind: softball questions (easy to knock out of the park) and glaringly obvious ones. In my last column, I asked the glaringly obvious one: Is content really the cornerstone of SEO?
You can waste a lot of time debating whether content is king. As a marketer, though, do you really care whether we're living in the era of Web 1.0 or 2.0 or 3.0?
UGC can be lots of things. Battelle coined the term "conversational media." That's a neologism I like. Another subset of "new" media, not quite catching fire in Google Trends: "Universal Search" results. That might be the UGC (pix, flix, and text-y stuff) people post on their sites and blogs. The point, though, is people search for it.
People search for "social media" or "content" or "conversational media" or "information." Online, they always have. They always will. That's why search remains the foundation of brand and direct response advertising (and their subsets of SEM and SEO) even when there's a new flavor of the month (pick your favorite emerging media).
Searches done on vertical search engines (i.e. social networks, online; search engine strategies conferences, offline) and Google's PageRank algorithm for trusted authorities would likely prove my point. I'll let you decide.
For the sake of argument, let's just all agree so we can focus on business decisions. Here's the toughest one, because it's one of the roads less traveled.
One of my areas of expertise is the travel vertical. It's a decision. My clients must make "buy or build" decisions every day about how to provide readers with the best, most compelling content. (For anyone fishing for SEOlogisms, one version of DM content can be called "linkbait." There are lots of others.)
So here's your dilemma. Devote resources to creating content in-house or outsourcing to writers.
Either way, it's a tough project to manage. You must be committed to prioritizing your content needs, setting exact requirements and deadlines based on those needs, and finding the best resources to fit the bill. It's really no different than how these SEW experts columns are run, for example. There's a schedule set internally, editing and publishing resources in-house, and all content is developed by external writers, who are either allowed to run with their own ideas, or gently guided by the editorial staff.
So the last option seems the most logical route -- with a few catches, of course. Don't assume outsourcing your content development needs is the easy path in the travel space. Sure, you could hire a copywriter, but traditional (or even Web) copywriters may not have the pizzazz of a true road, air, and waterway warrior who's been on every adventure imaginable. Finding the right writers for your purposes can be an enormous undertaking, for many reasons, but adapting to their structure of work could prove difficult for an online publisher, concerned with search optimization.
Travel writing is a fairly traditional industry, which hasn't fully caught up with the ways of today's online publishers. You may have some luck with providing a list of keywords to develop an article around, but it's more likely you'll have to edit and publish their work with some creative license, and many well placed text links, added points and headers.
Cost is also a huge consideration. Established writers in this field are used to getting paid per word, and while you have some control over the length of their ramblings, per word rates for the most experienced writers could blow your budget in a heartbeat.
It will also be interesting to see how this segment of authors copes with the rapid growth of UGC, where anyone can claim their expertise as a traveler. Just like the SEO industry, there are veterans with enormous price tags, and those just starting out, struggling to make a name for themselves, eager to get their name in hypertext bylines.
Perhaps more difficult to deal with is the exclusive rights to an article. Most likely you want the content you commission to remain work for hire. But many of these same experienced writers retain the rights to their articles and resell them to a second publisher down the line. Clearly, this won't work for online publishers for the reasons noted above. You just can't allow your unique content to be compromised by allowing it to appear on another site without your express permission.
This problem isn't just limited to the written word since the rise of multimedia content (photos, audio, video) means travel publishers will expand their presence there. While we're starting to see more and more travel articles developed strictly for online needs, the traditional rules of the game may change a bit.
Keep in mind any travel journalist could easily start his or her own blog rather than write for someone else. Luckily, many only use blogs as a portfolio or showcase for their clips. That's one more reason to use outside sources. It's a potential opportunity for online publishers to get inbound links from any person they hire.
More mature publishers, though, have realized having an in-house staff of writers is the only sure way to crank out content on a regular basis, optimized with target keywords, and created with minimal headache.