You strike gold with web content when you create stuff that allows people to do things. It all begins with knowing what the person ultimately wants to do. The focus must not be on the content itself.
For example, let’s say someone searches for “diabetes symptoms” and they arrive at a webpage containing content describing the symptoms of diabetes. Why are they there? A traditional content person would say: "They want to read. They want information." No. They want to determine whether they (or a friend or loved one) has diabetes. If they searched for “managing diabetes” then that indicates a different task. For most of us, the web is not academia. The web is real life.
So, if you can’t make money from the content about diabetes, then how can you make money? Through linking. You see, the web is about links. Linking is the essence of the web — always was and always will be. We need to link up everything about diabetes into a logical flow. Linking is about collaborating, about working with other parties — either within or outside your organization — who contribute to the diabetes chain.
So, someone might not want to pay to read content about diabetes symptoms, but they would pay to take a test for diabetes. And they might be willing to buy a book about preventing diabetes. In another context, someone might not want to pay for support content but they will "pay" by buying more of your products because the support content helped them solve their problem.
On the web you don’t start with the content. You don’t write it and hope they will come. Rather, you figure out where customers are going and what they want to do when they get there. Then you write for the search and the task that drives that search. The web is a giant ecosystem and laboratory of human behavior. You are much more likely to succeed if you understand and adapt to customer behavior than if you try to change that behavior.
Content is not where the value lies. It is the channel to the value, the enabler of the value. Very little value resides in content itself but on the next link of the chain, lots of value resides. In fact, there is an explosion of value that is triggered by content. Why? Because the web is made up of links and content, and everyone goes to the web to do things these days. And when we search — as we always do — we frame our search using words (content), we click on words (search results), and we read words on the page we have arrived at. It’s a helluva lot of content that fuels this throbbing hub of modern economies and societies. Without the web our ability to do things is greatly diminished. We need the web. We need content; we just don’t want to pay (directly) for it.
If content creators do not link themselves to the value further up the chain then they become valueless. Call it ironical that in a world that runs on content those who create it are not valued. Call it unfair, call it what you want. It’s reality. Deal with it. But if you create quality content, don’t get depressed. The potential value you create is huge. You just haven’t proven it to those who hold the purse strings. You haven’t made the vital link, you haven’t connected the dots.
Title image by Everett Collection (Shutterstock)
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.
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