The Web is content. Without content there is no Web. However, only a small amount of content is useful. The rest gets in the way.
What is content? To a traditional marketer or communicator it is generally news in the form of text and perhaps images. Sometimes it’s a video. To a technical writer it’s a set of installation instructions. To a product manager it’s a data sheet. To a customer it’s the price of a GPS navigation system or a map to find a hotel.
Content is a record. What is not content is a conversation that is not recorded. It is not a soccer match or a rock ‘n’ roll gig that is not videoed. Walking to work is not content. Thinking is not content. Content is the product of thinking. Raw data is not content but the chart that is produced by using this data is.
The most important content on the Web is the link. The essence of the Web — the very reason it was invented — was to connect and create links. Are links content? Yes they are. The classification / navigation of a website is the single most important piece of content on the website. The choice of the words in links is by far the most important thing a web content professional can focus on.
Content is strange. Very often, the more content there is the less useful it becomes. The longer the sentence the less likely it is to be read. In fact, the first 3-4 words in a sentence are absolutely critical. If they are not informative, the reader ignores or scans on. The longer someone has to spend reading a piece of content the less likely they are to understand it.
Content changes over time. Content that is useful in 2013 may not be useful in 2014. Print content tends to disappear over time (it gets lost, it gets burned, it gets worn out). If the Web were a digestive system it would have no capacity to poop. It just grows and grows and grows. That’s a painful situation to be in, particularly for the customer who finds lots and lots of out-of-date content.
Content competes with other content. It competes in the search results and in the navigation. It competes for the web team’s time. You cannot be certain that new content will always add value but you can be absolutely certain that it adds complexity.
We need to measure the value of content, not its volume. Indeed, in many situations volume destroys value. Some say that we must create lots of content because that’s what search engines want. But you need to focus on getting found for the right things, not the wrong things. Is your content sending your customers in the wrong direction?
We must measure the outcomes of content and not focus on the content itself. The cult of volume is destroying value, which is terrible to see, because the value of the Web is found in its content.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994. His latest book is titled The Stranger’s Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online.