The Content Corner: Creating Good Content is Hard

Jul 6, 2015
the words, Content Writing over a block of random placeholder text with vertical pen nibs

Throughout my five-plus months so far on this blog, I have focused a great deal on creating content, the various methods to improve your content, and what exactly content is. One thing that I may not have emphasized enough is the quality of the actual writing itself and how no content strategy on the planet will help you if the content is not well-written and with a clear knowledge of the subject matter. The saying “fake it until you make it” does not apply to creating successful online content.

Leverage Your Experts

I guess it was only a matter of time before content became more and more commoditized and monetized (and pick another -tized if you need), but startup Article Bunny is now claiming that it has the potential to be just as disruptive to content creation as Uber was to the taxi/car-for-hire industry.

However, driving a car and even doing voice-over work (the first service launched by Article Bunny’s parent company and the inspiration) is not the same as generating quality content. As mentioned, copywriting and editing is a skillset that has been outsourced for years and years, but writing about a topic and editing are not the same.

The ability of this startup to recruit writers adept in a particular subject will be crucial. Despite all the various marketing concerns regarding SEO, keywords, and various algorithms, it always comes back to the content. Good content gets shared, establishes relationships, and generates trust. And good content comes from a strong knowledge of the subject.

My experience in both print and digital publishing has been that there is great benefit in allowing a subject matter expert (SME) to simply convey the knowledge that they have, unhindered by anything but the most common of grammar or style concerns. The value is in the knowledge that person can share: will a writer for hire be able to provide the level of expertise that will truly measure up?

For most of us, our agencies are heavily staffed with subject matter experts who can serve as a rich resource of content. Their job is to share their expertise and ours is to leverage our expertise in the varied aspects of content development to deliver the most useful resource possible for our customers. At the U.S. Courts, I help support a program called Knowledge Seminars that highlight the variety of occupations within our branch and allows these experts to share their stories and give us a much deeper understanding of our workplace and the challenges these men and women face.

Does Not Compute
A white robot writes on paper with a pen

Perhaps it has something to do with the massive marketing campaign for the upcoming Terminator film, but I have been seeing more and more articles regarding automated content generation and robots taking journalism jobs. And while I see the use in having an algorithm digest data such as sports scores or financial data only to regurgitate it into a readable pattern, content of any depth or complexity needs more.

Machines currently can’t provide another value that SMEs do, which is the ability to take a complex topic and synthesize various aspects in order to make it more understandable and approachable for the audience.

As I have discussed here before, a machine is unable to express itself with any personality and therefore cannot write with a unique voice. With blogging especially, but with all content in general, this personality and voice is what can help your content stand out in a flood of voices. Copyblogger in fact recommends that when all else fails to attract an audience, spice things up by being a little weird or unique.

My personal computer’s behavior aside, I don’t think real scientists are close to creating a machine intelligence that can act weird or develop personality traits that make connections between the writer and reader of a piece of content.

One way that technology can be helpful is by providing a variety of online tools or apps (mostly free) to enhance or improve your writing. I’ve started experimenting with several with mixed results:

  • Ilys helps you focus entirely on word count and writing.
  • ZenPen also improves your focus on writing with a “distraction-free” writing environment.
  • Hemingway is an editor that helps you write bolder and clearer text.

But again, these are helpers and not replacements for good writing and knowledge. Your robot overlords can’t save you, creating quality content is hard and even large companies can get it wrong.

My Dog Ate My Content
The author's pooch, Winston, chomps on a toy.

The well-known animal food company Purina recently launched a site for new puppy owners intended to leverage its experts and provide a valuable resource to customers. However, initial reviews have found the content a bit wanting and the branding a bit overdone. Instead of drawing on a strength and becoming a true resource, Purina (perhaps because they outsourced the campaign) failed to rise above the “cutesy” content that most puppy-related sites contain. For example:

Purina’s Puppyhood site has also been called “heavily branded,” coming off as one big ad instead of a trusted resource that in turn engenders positive audience perceptions of the Purina brand and hopefully leads to sales. In the public sector, we aren’t concerned with sales, but we are deeply concerned with building a relationship with our customers and providing positive interactions. The struggles that a large, 80+ year old company has experienced with this recent product launch shows the difficulty and importance of creating quality content.

Natalie Burg of Contently sums it up nicely: “Put simply, helpful content is valuable content.” And the creation of helpful content is not an easy task, but it is a vital one that, in my opinion, can’t be handled lightly and can’t be outsourced to hired guns and certainly not robots. Content creation needs to be handled with expertise and passion and with a voice that resonates with the audience.

You’ve just finished reading the third article from a new column called The Content Corner. This column will focus on helping solve the main issues facing digital professionals including producing enough content and making that content engaging. Tyrus “Ty” Manuel is an IT Specialist with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and has been passionate about digital content since at least 1994.