Understanding High-Quality Content
You would expect that in 2016, a majority of online content creators would understand the value of high-quality content. Two shining examples of this level of content are platforms like Medium and Quora. It’s understood that even these examples could be debated, however, for this context I am giving it the vote of confidence. These platforms reward quality with upvotes from people who value your answers and in some cases readers will following you so they can read future content. Quora even awards writers a Top Writer title to 200 people each year if they have been chosen as a worthy recipient. There is plenty of proof that readers do appreciate these examples, and in many cases the creator’s content provokes an extended online discussion that adds even more value by opening additional discussion along with different points of views.
Reddit, for another example, has helped me skip low-quality linked content the majority of the time by reading the comment section first. It’s basically a crowd-sourced filter at its finest. I have gotten lost in conversations on Reddit because the comments were incredible. The upvoting and downvoting premise helps readers, and rewards the effort that users bring to the site. You can see that I am pointing to lighthouses of high-quality content in the opening because they are easy to find and most of us probably use them on a regular basis.
Defining Good Content Versus Bad Content
There is not a Webster’s dictionary definition that I can point to to define the difference, and in many cases the opinion is subjective. I could give a blog article A+, and to someone else it could be a C-. This is why so many of us depend on strangers clicking through content and issuing likes, upvotes, favorites, and so on to help the rest of us spend our time on blogs, podcasts, and video in an efficient manner. The dislikes, downvotes, and the void of approval helps us move on quicker to where the good stuff is. Again, these are all subjective examples and content creators will spend lots of time crawling through analytics and other data to validate their efforts. This in turns helps creators figure out what we like and do not like so improvements could be made.
Many websites still rely on clickbait, URL shorteners, and other tricks to get page impressions that led to ad revenue. They use tricks that most people don’t catch like breaking up a 1-page photo gallery or a long article into multiple pages just for the clicks and impressions. These websites are some of the worst offenders and I try to point them out when I can so others can avoid them. Social platforms like Facebook continue to share hoaxes, very low-quality content, and even recycled content from years ago because people are now trained to like, view, move on. Other websites will embed a YouTube video into a blog page and provide little if any content for the video just to get the page clicks. These are sites that I block ads on and feel no remorse for doing so. These examples are bad content that people consume briefly and move on without seeing what else you have to offer.
Some of the websites that I grew to love so much have resorted in compromising high-quality content for the now in vogue titles like “37 Things Ryan Gosling Said Last Night”. Conversely, I watch sites like Buzzfeed that became popular using Reddit comments in posts to get massive traffic and then switch to better quality content later on (I still won’t go to Buzzfeed).
For those of us that use Facebook, Twitter, and other popular social sites we see a constant stream of garbage content, marketing links, and a rare post we want to engage with. People get accustomed to this low-level content, consume it daily, and share it! I now have to vet my friends list with those that will share content that I find interesting or have a reason to be clicked on. Sadly, I have unfollowed those that provide little to no value. Yes, I have resorted to this because I value my time. We all have to decide on the type of videos or podcasts should be in our subscription feed. This is why production quality matters just as much as the topic you decide to write about.
Gone are the days of folks telling me I need to read some Popular Mechanic’s article or that I should watch some program on PBS (I do recommend the PBS Digital Studios though). Now, the media tells me that I missed some inane post that went viral. I am thrilled that many readers, listeners, and viewers are still looking for content creators that want to push out pieces that rises above the sea of shit.
Accepting That Low-Quality Works
Websites that offer “quizzes” to tell you “what type of rock you were in the 80’s” take advantage of the thoughtless process people enjoy after a hard day’s work. They feast on simplicity and gamification of quick media. We know this works just by looking at our social feeds and the popularity of sites with weird names and .xyz domains. Once something gains success, the copycats come out to get in on the action. Why do they create these types of content? It’s because it works for their goal. They are built on massive virality that results in page views and advertising money. The other reason in this case could be to harvest as much information from you as possible to sell to marketers. In many cases you are the product if it’s free. (Except here because I don’t collect or sell anything)
On social media, people like to get through all those posts as quickly as possible. Facebook only puts 300 posts in a newsfeed, and power users (addicts) can get up to 1500 posts per day. People want easy information and that’s why the majority of posts dealing with debates over religion, politics, or other hot topics tend to not go anywhere unless it’s a meme. Memes allow people to click, laugh, cry, and then share it. I know after a long 12-hour day, the last thing I want to do is debate over Uncle Jimmy’s post on why the president made the wrong choice. Many feel this way. This isn’t all about social media though.
These people are not dumb. People that use these sites are usually there to connect with friends and family. Facebook is not a place where minds are changed. People check in to see if something is new or to post something. As a content creator, it’s important that we craft something simple and shareable to get a share or a like. That is difficult if you aren’t well versed in this type of content. You not only have to have the right copy, the right image, but also the right demographic targeted. While I describe different types of content, you have to decide where you are best positioned to take advantage.
There are lots of sites out there in the world and each serves a purpose. Sites could be trying to collect your email address by giving you a free eBook, or some blog that provides little content, but lots of cat pics. They have their purposes, but they serve an underlining agenda and that could be good or bad. They use mindless content to rise in Google’s search, or find other ways to build traffic. The point that I want to make by addressing these types of sites or platforms is that it works. If you study a niche or type of site that is doing well you could make a good run at getting seen and popular. We all have to accept that while one might dislike the quizzes, others can’t wait to see the results. There are a significant number of casuals out there that can score some wins for the short-term. They tend to have a short burn though.
Why I Still Think High Quality Is the Long Game
Winning traffic and respect in the online world takes time and choosing the fast burn or the slow burn is a critical choice to make. You can always try to have both, but it will take a lot of work to learn the balance and execute your plan. I always play the long game, but the short game can be useful in some cases as well if I set up the Twitter cards, right size images and a catchy copy. Still, I would rather create a 5,000 word post on this site that makes someone think, or gives a reason for you to want more, than a 500 word post that you forget 5 minutes later. Content creators that want to be around as long as possible consider value each and every time they click the “Publish” button. I know I will re-read, listen to, or watch something I am posting for public consumption many times over until I know it’s the best that I can give. This is the sole reason why I don’t post on a schedule. I post when I feel the piece is ready. This post is actually one that I started a year ago in 2015 and I am finally publishing it.
Companies go out of their way to dissect what makes something go viral. An example could be the Super Bowl were companies need as many eyes on their content as possible the half-time event to make their investment back. Truthfully though, many people see it, talk about it a couple times and then move on. Most consumers aren’t loyal to content creators that only made them laugh once or twice. College Humor is a perfect example of this. They have a long running history of making people laugh, but go out of their way to improve each piece. It’s that constant churn of tweaking the message and delivering it better than the last time. In the beginning the started with videos stand out the best they could, and some bits were low budget, but then they continued to build on it and invested into the transition of low quality blossoming into high-quality
While I do play the long game, I do have to use some of the short game concepts when I post on social media, guest blog, or create a press release. That’s the fact of being a creator online. With an understanding of both positions I can blend the right mix and come out very strong. Mine is 80% long and 20% short, and your mix can be whatever you find that works. The goal is to get the right content in front of the right people so both parties win and build a relationship. My bet is that spending the time to create a piece, content stack when possible, and updating your work as needed makes for a solid future in whatever you are building. I want to be relevant in the years to come and I am certain you do as well.
My Definition of High-Quality Content
Finally, I want to end this by discussing my personal definition of what high-quality content is and how I go about trying to create it. It all starts by brainstorming and finally deciding on a topic to discuss in long form here on the blog. Next, is laying out the support pieces starting with the graphics, tone, length, and other media that I want to create around the post. I may write a 2,000 word piece, then narrate it in audio form or discuss it in further discussion as a podcast. I have also used Blab to get a panel to cover a topic and add that video to a post. This is the basic framework and it takes all the pieces into consideration so I can produce something special. I am only one person so I have to step it out in stages. Normally, I will publish the blog, maybe a couple days later I will record the audio and in the middle I will be publishing the cards to social.
One of the biggest pieces that should be the guide in your journey is metrics. I personally use all forms of content so I have to keep taking a sample of my numbers in Google Analytics, YouTube’s dashboard, and my Amazon S3 log files. This helps me see how something is shared or where my audience is coming from. It also shows me if a topic bombed or if one got massive attention. I am a firm believer in using the measuring tools that are available and dive deeper into the numbers.
As you can tell there are a lot of pieces that go into making sure I have covered a topic well, and gave a reader a reason to visit again or share a post. My goal is to keep building something useful and help people do what they love or inspire someone to think about their own creativity.