“Content Is King” Rant
This post is going to make some people mad, hence the cover photo of the guy ripping his tie off. Other people will find this post informative and helpful.
If I’ve heard the phrase “content is king” once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. When it is mentioned in live presentations or in other blog posts it’s never really clear what the hell they are talking about anyway.
Can you show me ONE time where having the absolute best quality content (no one knows what that means either, by the way, more on this later) drove a ton of traffic and it did NOT have any optimizations included? I’m talking about just a webpage with text and images on it. Basic. Simple. No links, to meta, nothing.
If you can, please comment below or tweet me @CharlesHeitz
The fact is no one can explain or demonstrate EXACTLY what quality content is and because of that no one should be shouting ‘CONTENT IS KING!”
I’ve been involved with digital marketing since 2007. Back then it was a different world. It was the wild, wild west of the internet. In all these years the one thing that really sticks in my craw is ‘content is king’.
Let’s dig in deeper
Look, I’m not saying that content that doesn’t completely and easily educate, inform or entertain it’s consumer is even worth the time to post or read. What I am saying is that there is a lot more to getting your content seen and shared.
Yes, you have to create valuable content. Yes, the content should be optimized for search engines. Yes, you should include images and videos that add value to the content. Yes, you should add hyper links to other content to help readers dig deeper into a sub category of the content you are offering.
But, you also have to optimize the piece of content for search engines. You also have to make the content easily sharable. You also have to make the content optimized for sharing. You have to share the content yourself. You have to ask others to share it. You have to post or link to it on other sites.
Content in and of itself does very little, no matter how good it is.
This will serve to be the Ultimate Guide To Writing Successful Content.
The first iterations of the term, that I can find, is from Bill Gates in 1996. He had published an essay on the Microsoft website (imagine that). In the essay he says:
“If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines.“
Just this paragraph alone should tell you what content needs to be. Consumers of your content MUST BE REWARDED, with DEEP and EXTREMELY UP-TO-DATE information.
What reward should a consumer of your content receive? This is something you should think about before you even beginning creating your content.
Continuing, make sure that the content is ‘deep’; meaning that you cover as much detail as humanly possible in whatever topic your piece is about.
Make sure that your content is ‘up-to-date’ – what we now call Cornerstone Content. Your main content pieces should be deep in nature and updated frequently.
Even back in 1996 Bill Gates understood the power of video and audio. He mentions that those media formats should also be included in your content.
To finish up this disection he says that there needs to be an opportunity for personal involvement that goes FAR BEYOND that offered in print marketing.
Comments on blog posts, social media sharing, mentions on social media, content syndication there has never been more opportunity for personal involvement in content.
The problem now, compared to 1996, is the incredible volume of content on the internet. That is why touting ‘content is king’ or quality content is what wins online is a hollow promise for success.
PLEASE stop using these phrases. They are meaningless and hollow. Saying that the key to success is “quality content” or that “content is king” is just lazy and wrong. Content itself can do nothing without help from optimization and promotion.
Charles “CJ” Heitz
Content Is King For SEO
The term has been absolutely worn out in the SEO community in recent years. The oldest piece I can find is from Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land. The article is from January 28, 2016. That’s 20 years after the Bill Gates essay. The internet grew to massive proportions by that time and so did the amount of content.
Google launched in 1998, just two years after Bill Gates essay on ‘quality content’. Google was built on rating websites based on the number of links pointing to it. Google saw links as ‘votes’ of popularity and that still holds true today.
It’s safe to assume that since the late 90’s or early 2000’s that any content on the internet REQUIRED some level of optimization and promotion in order to be found and ‘voted’ (links built to it) on to succeed.
It’s these vital aspects of content, as a whole, that is often either ignored or missed when discussing how to make your content succeed.
Reminder: Content is King is the same as saying Quality Content.
In most cases when someone is saying content is king, they are saying that you need to have quality content. Yet, no one can tell you what, exactly, quality content is.
This is because Google’s Webmaster Guidlines simply state that they prefer/reward ‘quality content’. The truth of it is, no one knows exactly what Google is looking for in terms of ranking a piece of content over another.
Google has never, and never will disclose exactly how they rank content. It will always be a guessing game. It makes sense really, if they just came out and told people, people would take advantage of the system. Google’s vaugness is what keeps the playing field level.
This also makes it harder to know what content to produce and how to promote it so it will succeed.
When search engine optimization experts tell you that you must produce quality content because content is king, what the hell do they mean?
It always sounds like a word salad coming out of their mouths. A bunch of words that really don’t say anything. In my opinion, this is because they either don’t really know (no one does) and they are just regurgitating what someone else has said. They also aren’t going DEEP into the topic.
What is Quality Content Then?
Let’s see if we can figure out how to make a piece of content succeed. What we can do is look at what content is ranking for a given keyword or check to see how many mentions of that article there are on social media or even check to see how many backlinks there are to that piece of content.
Knowing this information will give us a better idea of what it is Google is looking for. Generally speaking, quality content is exactly what Bill Gates stated. It needs to be comprehensive, up-to-date, media rich and easily shared for personal involvement. Beyond that the content must also be shared, liked, upvoted, commented on and referred to online.
It is a puzzle with a lot of pieces. The content itself isn’t king. The quality of the content isn’t even king. It’s the sum total of the content and it’s presence across the entire internet.
Succesful Content Is Better Than Quality Content
I think most people say that content is king or that you need quality content but, really what people are searching for is how to make their content successful. Successful content is the stuff Google rewards with high search rankings. In turn, your content piece get’s a lot of eyeballs on it and those eyeballs share it and discuss it on other websites.
Creating a succesful piece of content takes time. It takes research. It is not something you can quickly spat out in your WordPress post. It takes a lot of thought and consideration.
I’ve been working on this particular post for a few weeks now. I’ve been reading a LOT of articles and blog posts on the topic. I’ve referenced some throughout this piece of content.
I’ve created images for this content piece. I’ve made sure that this post is sharable. I’ve made sure to add it to my social sharing calendar. I’ve scheduled link building for this post.
Will this post be successful?
I don’t know. No one knows.
What I do know is I did my research. I presented the topic as in-depth as I can. I’ve marked this piece as a Cornerstone Content piece so I can be reminded to update it frequently.
I’ve done all I can do. That’s all anyone can do.
Guide To Writing Succesful Content
So what, specifically, do you need to do to create a successful piece of content. There are 4 main steps but, let’s break them down and try to understand them as best we can.
Step 1 – Research
The very first thing you need to do is research. You have an idea so first thing to do is go to Google and start typing in your seed idea. Don’t actually search for it. Just look to see what Google is suggesting to search for. This will give you an idea of the types of things people are searching for already that are related to your idea.
Then start doing searches and see how many results are returned. This will give you another idea of how much content there already is for this idea.
What if my idea is new and there aren’t many pieces already on it?
Then you’ve potentially just struck gold. I say potentially because while your content idea may be rare, it may be rare because no one wants or needs the information. Feel free to create the piece anyway. Just like Steve Jobs created products no one knew they needed, you’re piece may just be ahead of it’s time.
You then want to take the idea for your content piece and try doing some keyword research. You can use Google Keyword Planner tool or something like Moz Keyword Explorer tool. It doesn’t really matter, you just want to get a feel for how much content is already out there, this tells you how much competition there is and if people are searching for it.
The rub here is that content that has high search ability also has higher difficulity in being successful. The lower the search ability, the higher the success rate but, also the lower the potential traffic or eyeballs you will get on your piece of content.
If in doubt, post it out.
Step 2 – Creation
You’ve done your research on the topic now it is time to start creating it. Fire up your favorite document application and start going to town. I recommend just spatting out all your thoughts, you can always go back and edit.
I actually prefer to just create a new post in WordPress and save it as a draft. Doing it this way allows me to format the text as I go. I break up the text into smaller sections as I type so I can easily move it around, if need be.
During the research stage you may or should have found other content pieces you want to refer to. I have created a bookmark folder just for this purpose. I save all the content links to that bookmark folder in my Chrome browser so I can reference them later. This works great because they sync from mobile too!
You’ll need at least two images. One as a cover photo or featured image and one for the body of the content. The cover photo is normally the main image at the top of a post and also serves at the image shown when shared on social media sites.
The body image should help the reader better understand your content. Like the image in this post of the homepage of the Microsoft website or the screen shot of the amount of Google searches for ‘content is king’.
More isn’t necessarily better when it comes to images or videos. You can obviously have more than 2 images or videos and I recommend it if it makes sense.
So now you have your text, images and links for your piece. And you have just created a ‘quality content’ piece to publish. All done, right? Not really.
Step 3 – Optimization
The third step is to optimize all the content you have created. If you’re on WordPress just use the Yoast SEO plugin. It will guide you through all of this. This is what is involved:
- Meta Title
- Meta Description
- Image Alt Tags
- Internal Linking
- Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease
- External Linking
- Content Formatting
- Image Optimization
When you did your research you most likely came out with a title for your post. This is different, yet the same, as the Meta Title. The meta title is what the title of the page for search engines. You should use the title of the document as the meta title. But, this should be an optimal length.
The same title for your content goes here as well. This time in a short 2 sentence explanation. It should invite the person to read, explore or intrigue them enough to click to your content.
Image Alt Tags
Don’t stuff keywords in your images. Alt tags are used by vision impaired people to explain to them what the image is and search engines use the same information for the same reason. Just describe the image. The image description should relate to the content because the image relates to the content. If it doesn’t, remove the image.
Your entire website or blog should revolve around a central topic so make sure that you link to other content pieces that can help the reader explore more. This is convienent for the reader but, also helps search engines understand the relationship between pieces of content.
Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease
The Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease scoring is used by a lot of advertisers and marketers. I came across this many years ago and started implementing it in all my content. I was reading an advertising book that recommended using this scoring tool.
The Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease assesment scores your content on how easily it can be read and understood. This is important because you want to make sure your content can be easily digested so that people will like and recommend it.
So, if you are using the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress then this is the “Readability” score. If you’re not (I used to do this manually a LONG time ago, ugh.) then you can do this manually for your content. Just paste your text into this scoring tool to find out if you need to make your content easier to read.
You may have already done this but, if you haven’t now is the time to go through and add all those links you found during your research that supports or expands on your content. Don’t link just for the sake of linking to something either. With every external link, ask yourself this: “does this help the reader in any way?” if the answer is yes, then add it. If it doesn’t then don’t.
This is the part I really like. Step back and take a look at your content. Are the paragraphs huge? Are there enough breaks to keep the reader going? Are the images engaging? Can you add a bulleted list to add character?
Have you used bold or italics to emphasis something? Maybe use underline to draw attention. Are your links formatted with underlines or a different color so they stand out?
Imagine your content as if it was printed out and pinned to a wall. Would it look interesting? Would it look like a work of art or just a garbled mess of text? Format your content to be a work of art. Make it engaging and interesting.
When you create the images there are a few things to keep in mind:
- The image file name should be descriptive
- The image file size should be compressed
- The image physical size should be proportionate to the pixel size of the area where it is placed
If you’re using the Yoast SEO plugin (Free or Premium) you can add preview images for Facebook and Twitter independantly. Yes, that means you’ll need 3 of the same image for each content piece. The cover image, Facebook share image and Twitter share image. Be sure to size them correctly:
- Facebook: 1200px x 630px
- Twitter: 1024px x 512px
Step 4 – Publish & Promote
So, you have done your research and created an awesome content piece that is also optimized to the dickens. If you build it, they will come, right? Not exactly.
You can publish the piece and then do nothing and most likely nothing will happen. I mean, no one will find it or see it. Publishing the content is just getting all that work you did available to be viewed. It doesn’t mean anyone will see it.
After publishing your content be sure to submit your website sitemap to both Google and Bing for indexing. This does not guarantee your new content will get indexed but, it will greatly increase the chances.
If you are using the Yoast SEO plugin it creates a few different sitemaps. You want to submit the main sitemap that is located at “yoururl.com/sitemap_index.xml” (no quotes)
How To Promote Your Content
I promote my content across a variety of channels. The more channels you can share your content the better the chance of it being successful.
WARNING: Be sure that your sharing the content in the right way. Any content syndication must be done carefully so you avoid any duplicate content penalties.
I am a contributor to Business2Community and syndicate my blogs there. They automatically grab new posts from my RSS feed and they use canonical URLs to ensure I get the proper credit.
I do the same thing on Medium.com they also will use a canoncial URL IF you “import” your blog from your URL. Don’t copy/past your content there.
I also post my content to Flipboard, Scoop.it and List.ly. These are all similar types of websites where you can share your content to get more eyeballs on it.
Can’t belive I’m actually typing these words right now but, here we go. Of course you want to share your content on social media but, make sure to also include relevant hashtags and @mentions if at all possible.
Obviously you want to share your content on Facebook and Twitter but, if you’re content relates to professionals try posting it as a LinkedIn Article (I do this for all my blog posts for my company website)
You can pin all the images you created on Pinterest just make sure you optimize each pin after pinning them to get the most out of it. Include hashtags there as well.
If you have an email list and you send newsletters or updates to your subscribers make sure you add your new content piece in there or maybe even highlight it in it’s own newsletter. Email marketing is still very effective so if you don’t have a list yet, start building one.
Now that you’ve done all you can on your own it’s time to hire some help. If you are savvy and experienced in link building then do what you know to build some high authority links to your content piece.
If you don’t know anything about link building then reach out to FatJoe. I use their services ALL THE TIME because it is high quality work and effective.
Yep. You’re still not done. Even after all the research, creation, optimization, publication and promotion there is still more to do. At this point you might already have some eyeballs on your content but, you need to continue to re-share on social media and continue to build links to really get as many eyeballs as you can on it.
Your content should be timeless (because we’re keeping it up-to-date, right!?) So continuing to promote your content is what will keep new eyeballs coming to see your masterpiece.
For this step I use a plugin called Revive Old Posts. It is simply amazing! It will automatically repost your blog content, ALL OF IT, every post, to social media, now get this, indefinitely!
You also need to continue to build high authority links over the next few months to a year. If the content hasn’t performed as you expected it just may not be in-depth enough or optimized well enough. Time to update!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that it takes time. I know in this age of instant gratification that it is hard to accept but, it is true. If you’re website is older and somewhat established you may see results faster.
If you’re launching a brand new website, be prepared for a long wait time. It could take months or even a couple of years before you see decent traction and acceptable website traffic. This is providing you have crafted, and promoted all the content on your website from the start.
We Finally Made it
So, after all this, if you’re still reading this you are a super hero. If you did read this far, comment “content was never king but, now I know how to succeed” in the comments below.
Let’s Recap – The Ultimate Guide To Writing Successful Content
To create successful content we now understand that content is not king all by itself. The process of creating, optimizing, publishing and re-publishing the content is what could possibly make your content succeed. Even after all that there is a possiblitly that your research wasn’t perfect or your optimization is a bit off.
This gives you opportunities to go back and update the content to make it better. Any content you create should never be ‘set it and forget it’. Your content should be fluid and ever changing. It should be getting better with age like a fine wine.
The bottom line is this: it takes a lot of work and dedication to write successful content.
What have you found that helped your content be successful?
Continue learning: Screw your passions, solve a problem.