2 Thorny Content Problems, 1 Simple Solution



We’re only a month into 2014, and already there have been some hot debates about the future of online content. Most significantly, two posts about content rocked and, if the responses are any indication, angered the online writing community.

First, we read Mark W. Schaeffer’s Content Shock: Why content marketing is not a sustainable strategy on his excellent blog at Schaefer Marketing Solutions. The post received nearly 400 comments and over 70 responses on other blogs. If you didn’t read the post, my summary of Mark’s point is this: there’s too much content out there and it’s impossible to get noticed anymore so content isn’t a sustainable marketing strategy.

Next, we heard from Matt Cutts on a seemingly unrelated topic, The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO on the important blog, Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO. (If you’re not aware of who Matt Cutts is, he’s the head of Google’s Webspam team.) Like the other post, Matt’s post generated a firestorm of comments and responses–over 400 comments and multiple responses. If you didn’t read the post, my summary of Matt’s point is this: Google may soon begin cracking down on spammy guest posts that focus mainly on link-building.

In this post, I’ll examine these two seemingly separate content problems and explain how they’re related. Finally, I’ll propose one common solution for both problems.

These two posts struck a nerve because content marketing, and guest posting as a subset of that, were a large part of many marketing strategies in 2013.

Let’s take a closer look.

A Closer Look at Content Shock

I’ve read the Content Shock post several times. As I stated in my take on the post earlier, the post seems to be about the sheer quantity of content available.

The problem of having more content available than people can realistically digest isn’t a new one. I’ve been writing about the same problem for years, under a different name–information overload.

You can read one of my posts about information overload on DesignM.ag, 5 Effective Ways for Freelance Web Designers to Manage Information Overload.

The thing about information overload is that it’s not a new concept. We’ve had too much information available to us for a long time now (even before the rise of the Internet). The question is really this, how will the audience filter the information available to them and how can a company get their information through that filter?

Getting through the filter is why it’s not enough to simply post and run. Content promotion counts.

I’ll explain more about how to overcome information overload/content shock in my solution below.

A Closer Look at Guest Posting

First of all, the term “guest posting” is somewhat nebulous. I’ve heard it used to describe anything from site owners who hire a blogger to write for their site to questionable pieces that read like nothing more than disguised sales pitches and everything in between.

The guest posting specialists at MyBlogGuest offer this one sentence definition, “A guest post is a piece of content the author and the blogger arrange to publish on the blogger’s site for free.” For the purposes of this post, let’s go with the MyBlogGuest definition and not worry about sites that pay writers for posts. (I don’t think Matt was talking about freelance authors who are paid for their work anyway.)

When I read Matt’s post, I had to chuckle. That’s because he includes a guest post pitch that is probably familiar to anyone who owns a website. It looks very much like some of the emails that I receive. The pitch is so generic that it seems like the author has never even read the blog they are pitching. Maybe they didn’t.

Yuk! No wonder Matt is fed up.

Guest posting for the sole purpose of getting links is an abuse that’s bound to result in poor quality posts. In the end, linking a bunch of poor quality posts to your business website isn’t going to do your business any good. Even if you manage to increase your search engine traffic, the readers who come for the low quality posts aren’t likely to be interested in your product or services.

The Simple Solution

I admit, my perspective on these posts is somewhat oversimplified–but for a good reason. I’m looking at the big picture.

You see, the problem of getting attention to your content and the problem of publishing low quality guest posts are related.

They can both be solved by paying attention to quality when you write and publish posts and by making quality a priority. It’s old-fashioned, I know, but it also works. If you’re doing anything else when you blog, you’re probably wasting your time.

In case you’ve forgotten, I took a look at what comprises quality content a few months ago. Here are the seven points I came up with, What Is Quality Web Content? 7 Characteristics that Indicate Quality.

Your Turn

Has content shock and the prospect of a guest post crackdown got you worried?

What are your solutions to those potential content problems?

  1. Hi, Laura.

    I don’t think content overload will be a huge problem. Walk into the nonfiction section of any library and you’ll see what I mean. As you mentioned, people will filter out the content they don’t need and choose what they do need . . . as long as we give the tools to do that.

    Instead of trying to figure out what keywords they’ll use, we need to decide what questions they’re asking. Get the question right, supply the answer and the keywords will follow.

    As for Mr. Kutz’s post, we shouldn’t be worried. He plainly told us what to do and who to watch out for. As has always been the case, the Google team is looking our for their audience, web searchers.

    And that’s a good thing and it will help writers in the long run.

    Great article!

    • Hi Steve!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. πŸ™‚

      I especially liked this advice from your comment:

      “Instead of trying to figure out what keywords they’ll use, we need to decide what questions they’re asking. Get the question right, supply the answer and the keywords will follow.”

      You’re exactly right. Write for people and not machines (algorithms).

  2. Hi Laura: I read the guest post one, but missed the post on content marketing. I was probably feeling overwhelmed. LOL!

    As I think you know, SlideShare became a favorite means of mine for sharing. I love the medium. I ended up in the top 3% for presentations viewed. The interesting thing I’ve noticed so far, my views have gone way down. Where I got several hundred to over 1,000 view on past presentations, this year I have had less than 100 views on 2 out of 3 presentations.

    I think so much was said about SlideShare last year as a great tool for content marketing that we have been swamped. Of course, you realize there is no way it could be me. πŸ˜€

    I know I often need to take a step away. I simply do not understand how some people manage it all.

    • Cathy,

      I had noticed (and been impressed by) your proficiency on SlideShare. Personally, I haven’t had time to get really active on it, so the decrease in views isn’t my fault. πŸ˜‰

      Seriously, though, it usually does pay to be an early adopter. If you’re one of the first on something, you’ll probably get some attention.

      But you can’t count on that attention (from being the first at something) to continue. I think that’s where marketing and quality come in.

      All that being said, I hope I haven’t missed the boat on SlideShare. πŸ™‚

  3. I laugh at the thought of Content Overload. There is more content uploaded to YouTube in a week than you could probably watch in a lifetime, and that is only on the rise; but that doesn’t stop people from finding, consuming, and enjoying what they want on YouTube. Neither does it stop the marketing experts from telling every business that they should have a presence on YouTube.

    I think the key point has already been mentioned here. It’s about targeted, quality content that answers a question or solves a problem for your niche market. If you are marketing to the over 50, underwater basket weaving crowd, or simply target those local to you geographically; most marketers have a more narrow target than the mass public, and because of that your niche will find you amongst the “overload”. It’s a matter of you presenting the information in a way that is interesting to your audience.

    • Thanks Matt!

      There’s an over 50, underwater basket weaving crowd? Who knew.? πŸ˜‰

      Yes, there’s more content out there than anyone could absorb. But really, is there anyone who wants to absorb everything out there?

      Targeted, quality content is the answer, but too many inexperienced writers and marketers try to take a shortcut and skip targeting their audience or skimp on quality.

      • The sad fact is this: The folks who would put out either garbage or untargeted content are not likely to take the time to read the above mentioned articles or yours, and they definitely don’t read the comments! LOL

          • Even better, those who are doing it wrong can just hire someone willing to do it right. πŸ˜‰ Maybe someone who reads these articles, shares them on twitter, and has a clever web address with a cool adjective like “Freakin'” in it. LOL

            I get it, though… Improvements in the overall quality of content on the web is good for everyone!

  4. Good post Laura. πŸ™‚

    I’ve been a fan of Mark’s for years, but I disagree with him strongly on the “content shock” debate. There is no problem with too much content. There’s just an increased importance on building relationships. It’s not about getting your content out there quickly via social media channels so much as the long-term payoff of building a regular readership and actually earning new eyes on your content because you’ve created something your network feels is worth sharing.

    Matt I’m less of a fan of. He really needs to spend less time trying to police all the “little guys” on the Web and more time cleaning house at Google itself. If they can’t start leading by example, they have no place leading at all.

    His comments on guest posting shouldn’t have surprised anyone though. Like you pointed out, this is old school. Create high quality content that people actually want to read, link to, and share. No matter what SEO fads or Google whims come and go, those of us who stick to that principle usually do just fine. And when the inevitable shake-ups do happen, you just have to have a strong enough business to hold on until the dust settles. It’s precisely why no serious content creator or content marketer is going to put all of their eggs in the Google basket.

    • Hi Jenn,

      It’s great to see you commenting here again. πŸ™‚

      People have been complaining about content shock under its other name (information overload) for years. I love your comment about relationships. Relationships are one great way to ensure that your content gets read. That’s why just sticking your content out there isn’t enough (and it shouldn’t be). Answer the comments, engage in a debate with your readers, etc.

      Of course, even good customer relationships won’t protect you if you are constantly sharing shoddy posts and articles.

      As far as the “new” guest post policy, I was not surprised. Guest posting has not been a huge part of my business, so I’m not affected much. But I know that there’s been a sort of cottage industry that has sprung up around it.

      (And I wasn’t kidding about getting that same pitch Matt got either. It looked very familiar to me.)

  5. Hi Laura, thanks for the great post! I think people have been buying into the hype. The entire issue of content marketing/guest posting has become so sensationalized, it’s refreshing to read your take with a simple solution. I could not agree with you more.

    • Thanks Lisa!

      I think that both points made some valid points, but I also think the reaction to the posts was a little extreme. Writers who do a good job of writing materials that will interest their readers don’t have anything to worry about in my opinion.