“Content is king,” sayeth the online analysts. These days, content breeds search engine optimization, places your website at the top of the Google pile, brings traffic to your website and prevents cavities.
OK, that last bit was a patent falsehood. But it’s really not too much farther from the truth than the preceding claims for the almighty content, whatever that is.
Here’s what the dictionary says content is:
con·tent: [kon-tent] noun
1. something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts: a poetic form adequate to a poetic content.
2. significance or profundity; meaning: a clever play that lacks content.
3. substantive information or creative material viewed in contrast to its actual or potential manner of presentation: publishers, record companies, and other content providers; a flashy Web site, but without much content.
You can forget that definition.
What content really is in this day and age is, to put is bluntly, dreck. It’s wasted pixels on a website, devoid of useful information, a red herring for the casual reader that exists only to serve the search engine bots that roam the interstices of the Internet.
The most egregious example of contentless content I have found recently is on the USAToday website. The publication recently implemented a “Travel Tips” section that is a veritable wasteland of empty content.
The “content” is provided by Demand Media, a virtual content machine that manufactures more than 4,000 pieces of content per day, according to a Wired magazine article.
Picture an island with a million freelance travel writers sitting at keyboards producing articles at the rate of six per day for $25 each and you have a pretty clear vision of what Demand Media does. How good is the “content” produced? Quality does not seem to be job-one for the folks at Demand Media, or, by extension, the folks at USAToday.
For instance, I ran across an article about Baltic cruises supplied by Demand Media. It listed about a half-dozen Norwegian coastal cruise companies and just one mainstream cruise line — Costa Cruises — as the principle providers of Baltic cruises. In fact, almost all of the major cruise lines offer Baltic cruises during the summer season, but a reader wouldn’t know that based on the “content” provided by Demand Media and USAToday.
Likewise, an article on Canada/New England cruises failed to mention Holland America Line, even though that company has three ships — more than any other cruise line — sailing that region throughout the summer and fall foliage seasons.
Each “Travel Tips” article dutifully includes a bio of the author that establishes his or her credentials as a professional writer who has been widely published for many years. But if a curious reader takes a moment to do an online search for the author, oddly, no links to published works can be found. Likewise, I haven’t located a single Demand Media content provider on Cision’s online media database. It’s as if the writers’ existence is as ephemeral as the “content” they create.
However, as devoid as they are of useful, accurate information, these “Travel Tips” articles are full of links to related “content” and are accompanied by a slew of article links featuring the same keywords. That adds up to search engine optimization goodness, regardless of whether the “content” serves the reader’s needs or not.
This is the brave new world of online content marketing, where content does not have to be either substantive or relevant, it just needs to fill space and link to other contentless content. The focus is on driving traffic to the website, driving eyeballs to online ads and gaming the search engines so a site’s links come up at the top of Google’s and Yahoo’s pages.
And what about the poor schmuck who just wanted to find some information about Baltic or Canada/New England cruises? He is cast adrift in an ocean of useless, information-free “content” that serves neither the reader nor the publisher.
The days of service journalism officially are over, supplanted by a new era of content farming and content marketing, where content is king and meaning is meaningless.