Today, it does not take much talent or technology to produce content for publication, be it on a website somewhere or as a self-published eBook.  The result is that the amount of content available has sky rocketed, while the quality of the content has declined precipitously.

As a professional in the content development business, I find this … disturbing.  I can’t think of the last time I read a book on my Kindle where I didn’t find at least 10 significant errors. Typos and writos happen to the best of us – of course – myself included (in fact, I even have one in this post!), but I’m talking about books that were put together by a professional team at some of the largest publishing concerns in the world.

What will it take to raise our content standards?  Great question.  Three things I think.

First, recognize that you get what you pay for.  Some of our clients have commissioned articles at $10 a pop through low-cost editorial services.  Our own experience with these services has been very poor.  Sure, you’ll get pounds of articles to fill up your website or support site.  But you won’t get articles that drive readership or engagement, accelerate sales, or reduce your support costs. For that, you need to hire content developers with technical acumen and – you guessed it – that costs money.

Second, real content developers pay attention to semantics, as required to make their content intelligent.  With the pounds and pounds of content that gets created every day, it is imperative that we make content that is easy to find, easy to reuse, and can be adapted to various devices (mobile, tablet, web, readers). My colleagues Scott Abel and Anne Rockley call out five specific attributes that make content intelligent as defined  in this seminal article.

Third, understand that the real innovations in content happen when you link content to business strategy.   A great case in point was highlighted in the New York Times just the other day.  The article talks about a new website “inspired by Google Street View”.

Generally, the New York Times does not bother to talk about a new website, but this is an example of a consumer-packaged goods company investing $1M in content marketing.  The site consists of trail maps for three of the most-visited national parks in the US:  the Grand Canyon, Great Smokies, and Yellowstone.  The way the trail maps are presented is not new and not presented in a particularly novel way. Indeed the presentation of the trail maps themselves was borrowed from Google Earth.

What makes this case innovative is the way General Mills is using this type of content to keep their granola bar brand top-of-mind with families and active adults who plan on visiting the national parks this spring and summer.

What else do we need to do to raise our content standards?  I know you’ve got ideas.  Please do share them with me and I’ll continue to codify them here.

Val Swisher
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