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Stop writing! That’s enough ‘content’ already

There’s been a deluge of ‘content’ onto the internet. We’re drowning in it already – and the internet is barely into its adolescence.

And you know who’s fault it is, don’t you?

Google loves content, and so like amorous suitors desperate to win her attention, the webmasters, the bloggers, the spammers and the entrepreneurs, we all lay our precious gifts of ‘content’ at her feet.

Everyone wants to catch the eye of the search engines. So anyone with a website is busy creating as much ‘content’ as possible. But what do they mean by ‘content’? Just word count?

Oh Google, Google, what have you done?

‘Content’, ‘content’ everywhere,
But not the time to think.

Look on the job writing boards and you’ll find webmasters who want thousands of articles on a particular topic, all to help their search engine optimisation. Forget quality, so long as there are keywords.

But what on earth are we going to do with all this content? How much of it has real value? How much of it is original? Is there a difference between ‘content’ and ‘writing’?

Oh Google, Google, what have you done?

Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of a personal publishing revolution. I like the fact that anyone can be their own publisher, that everyone gets a voice.

But is there any real value in churning out content – any content – just so long as the social media types digg it, so long as it snags a few search terms?

Does Google assess quality, rather than simply counting the keywords? Inbound links are supposed to help here, as a kind of democratic arbiter, but the SEO experts know all too well how to game the system.

And when I say the ‘quality’ I’m not being a prose snob. It doesn’t have to be literature.

There are many sites out there with great writing and ideas and things to say; with personality, fresh thinking, solid information, facts and humour.

But there are plenty of sites where webmasters are piling on as much ‘content’ as they can, often without any real merit – hollow, vapid, uninformed, but packed with the right keywords.

Let’s name this monster

We need a term for it: content that only exists for search engines and ad clicks. It’s a kind of spam, really, dressed up as nourishing meal, but actually containing so few real ideas and information that it just leaves you more hungry than when you started.

If we can name this monster, maybe we can tame it.

‘Content’ that is really just a kind of website spam. What are we going to call that?

And do you think all this matters?

I do – because if people write like drones feeding keyword honey to the Queen Bee Google, then the real value of a personal publishing revolution gets lost somewhere.

There’s no real freedom of personal expression if everything you write is hackled by a subservience to keywords, and motivated solely by a desire to stuff yet more content into the slavering jaws of the search engine monsters.

(Hey, it’s my rant and I’ll mix my metaphors as vigorously as I please).

If I’m talking tosh, feel free to say so in the comments.

Illustration of the Ancient Mariner is by Gustave Dore. The lines at the start of this post are, of course, a reference the the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge:

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ryan March 17, 2008, 3:19 am

    That was simply great.

  • Ross March 17, 2008, 7:06 am

    The points you’ve raised in this post are brilliant. I agree that there should be a name for this type of content – that is really spam in disguise.

  • fairyhedgehog March 25, 2008, 12:24 pm

    This is a very interesting article, including the link to the blog spammer’s interview. I hadn’t seen that before.

    I agree that a word for ‘vacuous content posted only to get as many hits as possible’ would be useful. It would be hard to find something punchier than ‘spam’, although if we stick with the food analogy you could have ‘froth’ or ‘marshmallow’.

    I’m not sure how much it would help, though. It seems to be human nature that if a system can be exploited then it will be. I came here through StumbleUpon, and although so far it has proved very useful I imagine that even now there are people working out how to exploit it for monetary gain.

    I’m not sure how much it matters. My own web content has ideal readers in mind. I want like-minded people who will form a community where we read each others work. I don’t want people to simply surf in and click ads. That’s why I don’t have any ads.

    On the other hand, if the fluff merchants have their way we’ll end up with google searches that only come up with flim-flam.

  • Simon April 3, 2008, 2:39 pm

    Ryan & Ross, thanks both, glad you enjoyed it.

  • Simon April 3, 2008, 2:41 pm

    Hedgehog – I can assure you there are PLENTY of people exploiting the marketing potential of StumbleUpon. Some people treat that as a very serious business indeed.

  • fairyhedgehog April 4, 2008, 10:12 am

    That’s always the way, isn’t it? I’ve come across a few sites that seem to be little more than advertising. If enough people mark those as ‘don’t like’ I wonder if that will make a difference.

  • Heather Cottrell January 6, 2013, 2:41 am

    Thanks for this. Because I don’t stuff my site with content, I often worry that my business won’t grow big enough if I don’t learn more about how to feed the search engine monsters with the keywords they want.

    Now I feel a sense of relief that I can just stick with what I’m doing and not worry about all that stuff. So thanks 🙂