Let the content battle begin!

Jan. 18, 2012 | by Jeremy Head

I think 2012 is going to be a really interesting year for content creators like me.

Regular readers of connect will know we’ve talked a lot about the Panda update to the Google search algorithm. A key reason for this update was to try and stamp out the really poor quality content that mucked up search results. Content farms were publishing 1000s of pages using search term research to create content that did just enough to fool search engines into ranking them high up in their search results. This was seriously impacting the quality of people’s search experience.

Panda kind of worked –a lot of the junk has dropped right off the search results. Many bonafide companies would argue they have been unfairly demoted too, whilst big brands seem to have done rather well.

The changes to Google’s algorithms in 2011 make it clear that it is increasingly serious about ensuring that quality content from trusted brands gets pushed further up the search results.

Content will matter like never before in 2012 – I see a really interesting battle on the horizon.

In the blue corner! Brands

‘Brands as publishers’ is a buzz phrase that has been around a while. With the arrival of the web, publishing was democratised. The right to an opinion that can be widely published is no longer exclusive to traditional publishers like newspapers, magazines and TV.

Up to now, brands have only dabbled with publishing online content for engagement and conversation, rather than to sell products. Why?

Firstly, cost. Creating great content involves serious investment. Why bother if sales are ticking along nicely? Just because you can publish content aimed at engaging with people before they’re serious about buying doesn’t mean you actually need to.

And, secondly, brands often don’t get how to be publishers rather than marketers. Too often they can’t shake off the instinct to sell, sell, sell. Unsurprisingly readers who aren’t ready to buy don’t like this. Overt sales messages are in the transactional spaces on a website, but no good if you just want to engage with people as a publisher would do. Brands are good at getting people to buy stuff online when they’re ready to make that purchase, but not so good at providing softer, more research-based, engaging content.

In the red corner! Publishers

Switch our attention to traditional publishers like the mainstream press, and it’s the reverse. They know how to create compelling, engaging content, but don’t know how to sell. Indeed, to maintain editorial integrity, they have separate sales teams selling advertising to go alongside their editorial content.

But this advertising model is failing big time – particularly online. Traditional publishers are finding that unless they inhabit a very tightly defined niche, advertising revenue does not pay the way. There are too many pages online chasing our eyeballs for the necessary scale to be achieved. And the number of pages keeps growing.

So publishers are looking to be more like brands – trying to find more overt ways to make money from their content.

Take the travel sector where as iCrossing’s Travel Editor I focus my attention: just a few months ago, the Telegraph announced a hook-up with Expedia that would allow people to book hotel rooms directly from the Telegraph’s online travel pages.

SO – brands are trying to be publishers – to engage with potential customers before they decide to book, and publishers are trying to cut the brands out of the loop by selling to their readers more directly.

It’s a fascinating battle.

Who will win?

Brands could have an advantage. The traditional publishing business model is really broken. There’s not much cash in the pot for publishers to invest in new business models now. Mature brands however, have a business model that works pretty well. Unlike publishers they have a commercial engine that is ticking over producing profit.

I believe that smart brands should think long and hard right now about investing in content.

In fact, it’s already happening in the travel sector. Right now I can offer a top quality freelance travel writer better rates of pay to write me an online travel guide or feature than s/he will be paid by a traditional travel publisher.

The battle is on. 

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    Comment (1)

    • Tamsin

      Here's my prediction: neither of these two protagonists have quite got what's needed to win this battle in the travel sector. Which means there's a wonderful opportunity for a smart start-up with a bit of vision, the right people, a chunk of cash and a lot of chutzpah to win the game without a drop of blood being spilled.Jan 18, 2012 11:04 pm

    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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