I liken this issue to music. It would be like saying "can't everyone just STOP putting out bad/crappy/uninteresting/unoriginal/done-before songs?!" Putting out content is like writing a song, or a painting. You're creating something to share with others.
There's a various mix of intentions, desires, skills, experience that go into the quality of the output. Not everyone is a Michelangelo or a Keith Jarrett (look him up) making art... stuff... CONTENT... with intellectual, spiritual and emotional depth that challenges thoughts, changes lives, resonates with others.
If everyone's content/music/art was amazing, things might get boring.
SEO now is like rapping or hip-hop now. Lots of people making beats and trying to rap because it's the popular, exciting, cool thing to do. Lots of people doing it, but not many that great at it.
I agree with you wholeheartedly Jonathan - that's there's a whoooolllee ton 'o noise out there - that people are slapping up posts for ill-intentions (to get traffic, recognition, 15 minutes etc), but similar to my comment on Mike's post about Ted talks - it's easier said than done. Some people can ski. Some can find cures for diseases. Some can build furniture. Some can move you to tears with art.
Some can inspire an change lives with ideas. I believe they can do this because of the clearest of reasons of knowing WHY they do what they do - and permanent drive to always do better.
I meant to leave a sentence and ended up with a few paragraphs. Whoops!
Looked him up. Not disappointed.
Re: your last line, my blog post started as a link I was going to post to Google+. And then I added a bit of commentary to it. And then a bit more... and then a bit more... and then I realized that I was writing a post.
"Way leads on to way." :)
Also: Keith Jarrett looks AMAZING.
Thanks for posting, Anthony! The genesis of this post goes back to something you wrote this summer here: http://anthonypensabene.com/2012/07/10/what-you-comment-upon-now-echoes-in-bar-crawl-commentary/
I think we've tried to make our content so tactical, so applicable, so easy to digest and consume that it's become semantically empty, just like all those URLs with numbers and session ID parameters that we tried to avoid for so many years... NOW WE HAVE BECOME THOSE URLS.
Ha, anyhow, I was blown away after reading your post and vowed to continue the discussion. I just got distracted along the way until I saw Mike King's post about strategy vs. tactics at conferences. And then a recent reference about Wil Reynolds' RCS made everything click. After waiting for months, I wrote the bulk of my post in about three hours on Saturday morning.
Good conversations have a way of reverberating around the room. And the conversation that you kicked off is the one we should be having, the one we need to have.
As I read this, I alternated between nodding and being frustrated.
Nodding, because I totally agree with you, Jonathon - any industry can benefit by having more people speak intelligently.
Frustrated as hell, because a lot of folks in the industry have been writing great stuff for years. They're ignored in this article precisely BECAUSE they've been writing it for years. What about Will Critchlow, who was saying all this years ago? Stephan Spencer? Eric Enge? Bruce Clay? Or (at the risk of being totally self-involved) me?
I'm not taking anything away from Wil, Mike et al - they contribute and write fantastic stuff. But the idea that there's a lack of this stuff is specious. What we've had are a lot of shortcut-seeking, short-sighted 'marketers' polluting what is and always has been, at it's heart, great marketing. Being heard over that cacophony will always be difficult.
Which is why, if you walk into a marketing meeting, 90% of the people there will give you a blank look when you mention ALA, too.
Again, fantastic post - it makes a critical point. I just wish people got it by now.
I can't help but agree with you. I think the deal is that there is so much noise in the blogosphere overall, and especially the SEO blogs, and it's hard to cut through that noise. I *completely* agree that there are people who have been writing incredible stuff for a long time - I'd add people like Aaron Wall (agree with him or not), Hugo Guzman, and people like Justin Briggs and Ross. When they write, people listen. That's the kind of writer I'm striving to be. Unfortunately, the best writers are also the busiest people (maybe because their writing makes them more famous or something), so they write less. But I am heartened by the fact that when they write, people listen.
I think we're running into the reality that there is a lot of useless, small-minded tactical stuff that people put out that no one cares about, yet it gets self-submitted here and their friends upvote it for some reason. I don't understand why, but it happens. And as much as I love Inbound, people with thin content now have a place to give it airtime. I think the community needs to step up more and be willing to call out crap that is submitted.
We need to understand that this happens in all blog spheres. Look at HackerNews. There is some amazing stuff there, yes, but there is also a lot of fluff "startup" crap. I get frustrated with it all the time, which is why I only read a certain few blogs now, the trusted ones.
Not sure what to do with it all, but I do like Jonathon's idea of a peer-reviewed SEO/marketing journal. We'll see where that goes.
I feel a lot of what's said in this thread.Nathan Safran, myself, and the rest of the Conductor team here work hard to put content with data-backed conclusions out there and it's definitely tempting to phone it in and pitch a "5 top things for xx" post during our idea meetings since crap like that gets shared so easily. When we work for hours/days pulling data, analyzing data stories, writing, and editing/designing stuff that gets maybe 30ish tweets and a comment or two on our blog, it's disheartening. We are slowly building reader traction (and maybe it's harder as we're a company with a B2B software product, not broad SEO consulting/services), and we certainly have a lot of ways we're constnatly working to improve, but I can see why many might get disheartened. Good content is a long-view process, not something with short-term gains to be had. Good stuff, Jon! You know I'm a fan :)
There used to be a peer SEO journal a few years back, wasn't there? I can't remember the name, just it's existence because I believe Bruce Clay Inc (who I worked with at the time) was either a contributor or connected in some loose way.
Matthew Brown pointed this out to me G+ and it's AWESOME: http://www.semj.org/
Looks like it could use an update!
Yes, that was the one! Blast from the past.
Yep: Hugo, Justin and Ross are awesome. And Aaron's super-divisive and so contrarian... but I love reading his work anyway, even when I don't agree. And John, your writing this year is part of what inspired me to start up my own blog after years of procrastinating..
Creating an independent, peer-reviewed, long-form SEO/Inbound journal would be a herculean task. And one I'm not up to at the moment. But it's worth considering and working toward in the future.
Yeah, I mentioned Aaron because even though I don't agree with everything he says, he's a great writer that (almost) always adds value. He at least makes us all think, which is what writing should be doing in the first place (not fishing for links or clicks).
That's a really great point, Ian. This idea isn't new (and I don't think anyone's trying to paint it as new), but it could use some of the dust shaken off. What always makes me sad is when I go to a blog that I LOVED 3-4 years ago, someone who was creating content that served a purpose, only to find their blog is now littered with "guest posts" from other people. I have to wonder how many of those people go away because they didn't want to compete with the 8 Things Sandy Will Teach You About Marketing posts. Those posts aren't consumed, so eventually they stop being written. Not saying they don't exist today, they do thankfully, but you have to make it your mission find them. Not so much with the "trendier" stuff.
Absolutely not a new problem and it makes it hard for people like BCI, you, and others to stick around sometimes.
I suspect it's exactly why so many great writers move on. If I write a '10 ways to get links now' post, I can guarantee participation, and it takes me, what, 45 minutes?
If I write a well-thought-out, meticulously-researched, totally polished piece on marketing strategy, I know it'll go over like a warm turd in a heat wave.
The good news is that most of those writers move on to writing about marketing in general and contributing to the overall industry. They don't leave marketing altogether. So it all comes back eventually.
Hopefully it does come back and stay in the industry. I would be happy to hear that.
I can speak for myself in that it caused me to back away a little and put more of my focus inward on our clients. Like you said, I can write a 7 Things To Stop Doing post and be floating in tweets and comments. If I write something that I think really matters? Crickets. Who/what are we writing for?
I'm not quite sure how to say this, and I know you guys know this (geez, who am I to tell Lisa and Ian something), but I constantly have to remind myself that it's not about the links/shares/conversation, but it's about writing. I've had posts that I thought were important, but they bombed because they didn't reach my target audience. One of my most popular posts was 11 Ways to Drive Traffic To Your Site. That thing still gets links and shares, but guess what - I hate it. I almost wish I hadn't published it because it's not my best work. I almost want to redirect it and get it off my site.
Write for yourself. Write what interests you and write it how you want to write. This is one thing I greatly respect about people like Anthony Pensabene. He has his own writing style, that is very different from mine, but it makes him stand out and people appreciate his content. And it's always full of good ideas. But he's also a really good writer.
Sometimes I wish a lot of people would quit blogging. Then I realize that we all have to start somewhere and people should be free to write what they want (and they are. No one is taking that away from them). But I'm not going to read crap, and I hope others will quit pimping it because they like the person writing it.
Totally, 100% correct. But, if I really JUST wrote for myself, I'd write science fiction :)
I love writing, but I write about my profession to teach others and to build my company.
+1. And I want to read that sci-fi story you've got in you.
Great post Jon, some great points. Others who have been in the industry longer than I have would know better, but surely the thin content thing's genesis was because it was rewarded by the algorithms.
Everyone's writing style is different, but mine seems to line up with what John Doherty has raised above. The way that I personally think about it is that writing is exactly like talking. That is, every time I open my mouth I am developing a reputation for myself (good or bad) and, if writing for my company I am doing the same for my company. Enough of a collection of writings that are good or bad=a reputation is formed.
Put another way, the difference between writing well, saying something if and only if you have something to say, versus a bunch of top ten lists, is the difference between a long-term and short-term strategy. Personally, I'd take long-term every time.
I think you're right about the incentivization piece, Nathan. So the logical conclusion is that Google, Bing, and others will continue to find ways to de-value thin content, thin discussions, and thin communities.
Start prepping now for the Zebra algo update! :)
I think there's something to be said for diversity, a point I just made in a response to a commenter on the article.
Not everyone should (or can) write long-form posts. But I think, as a community, we should come together and build a place specifically for that kind of writing.
In my post, I pointed out examples from Jon Cooper, Mike Pantoliano, and Phil Nottingham that were beautiful and useful examples of tactical, How to do X-style posts. Again, it's not that there's anything wrong with many of the individual instances... it's that we're over-relying on the form and our capacity to create durable discussions (and communities) suffers as a result.
To Ian's point, if I was writing for myself I wouldn't be writing about marketing.
I think we all write to spark conversations about things we think are important. If other people aren't interested in reading them because they're caught up in the linkbait sewer, what is the value of writing them?
That's definitely a Negative Nancy view of things, but it's something people consider.
I'm at an interesting point where I'm starting a content strategy from scratch at a new company and our goal is long-term value, even if we don't see a lot of traction while we earn our keep.
wow. thanks, John. that's really cool of you to write, and makes me work harder. hat tip
Well deserved. You're a hell of a writer.
The praise is well-earned and well-deserved, Anthony. At the very least, your post was the genesis of mine; it wouldn't have happened without you. It would be awesome if more folks in the industry had your focus on content and the qualities of writing.
I hear you, Ian - I've been reading Eric, Bruce, Stephan forever. But they (and Rand, and you) are the small minority amidst the ocean of gobbledegook. And I'm frustrated, too, because some of that gobbledegook is mine.
I don't mean to leave out the good stuff. But I do want to challenge myself to do better. And I want to help build a path for others who want to take the next steps with me.
Thanks - I get you. My frustration - and it is real frustration that I often channel to humor - is that after years of screaming - SCREAMING - about how this is all real marketing, I doubt I've made much of an impression.
I'm going to go and eat some chocolate, have a beer or two, then go back to blogging. It'll all be good.
I see what he is saying in this piece, but I also think it is a little over dramatic. Of course there is going to be alot of crap out there because it takes time, skill, and commitment to learn how to put together great writing pieces.
Ha, I was wondering if anyone would comment on that. :)
I should mention that I grew up reading Chris Claremont comic books. 'Nuff said!
+1 for mentioning Claremont.
LOL, +10000000 for knowing what I mean.
Typical Claremont: "I love you." "And I, you."
Just the SEO industry eating itself....
realise you haven't updated your blog for a week - find something current on Inbound etc. - copy paste, spin, add afterthought, submit to Inbound etc.
google will love me now.
get enough regurgitated content to avoid being considered thin content and spin enough to get the host site a little more authority.
90% of the stuff on Inbound.org's homepage falls into that category, and it serves it's purpose for the most part, it's just utterly tedious reading for anyone who actually clicks.
I'm not sure if I agree with this (respectfully meant, of course). You think that "90% of the stuff on Inbound.org's homepage" is "regurgitated content"? I'd say maybe 90% of the industry's content overall is arguably like that, but not 90% of Inbound.org's - probably closer to 10% IMO. The whole point of Inbound.org is to curate the best stuff in the industry - I doubt "regurgitated content" would get upvotes given the savviness of the people who use this site. At least I've not come across that much regurgitated stuff personally...
yep, you're right, and it is getting better actually. although if I see another post telling me to forget about links and focus on relationships, I'm going to write a post telling people to forget about links and focus on relationships.
I tell you where my beef is with it Steve. The composition analysis of Inbound's submitted posts (and even the hottest composition) do not reflect that wider definition of the nascent "inbound" term and is indicative of the industry echo. Let's not pretend PR pros for example submit content here. They don't and it wouldn't be upvoted for the most part if they did because SEO overwhelmingly remains the starchy cake everyone gorges on. Earlier in the year I had a gdocs self updating analysis of the share pie by category, it's since broke as this site changed, but I tell you this: SEO was some 30% of submitted year to date with little dramatic change. And on one typical day in April SEO was 71% of the hottest karma.
Precisely, Paul. As a moderator, I've noticed the member bias toward SEO content and have made it my personal mission to champion less-popular but deserving content and categories. I recognize the issue that Steve Morgan raises, but Rand has been making inroads to reaching the general online marketing community. That's one of the reasons we have Inbound.org - SEO's great, but the intent is for it to be much less niche.
So how do we start attracting more interest in non-SEO content? How can we attract the general online marketers?
therein lies the true challenge Lauren, although I can't see a silver bullet, I do think that commenting marginally outside your comfort zone elsewhere can really help. (A longshot: If say 20 inbound members did it simultaneously using their inbound profile URL as the website field in a comment elsewhere?) . In addition to PR, data metrics category is low, Local and maps are low and those areas whilst perhaps do not have a "community" site, they maybe congreate around more of their respective thought leadership blogs and twitter circles. (Thinking out aloud here, I would gift extra karma if it were possible to some newbies or even authors of the content, similar to how uservoice allows you to distribute your votes. Or have redeemable emailed extra karma to refer a friend sign ups.) -It's tough, but ultimately it comes down to member/moderator advocacy elsewhere.
Advocacy starts at home, too. I'm going to commit to making substantive comments here on Inbound at least twice a day.
hoping others will join in.
The ironic thing is that, although the big reason I don't interact on the SEO contributions because they're already "popular enough" and would like to spend my time on community growth/inclusion, I don't comment on SEO because I'm less comfortable with it than most of the contributors here. Everything I've learned about SEO was through osmosis while I was at SEOmoz. Ha. :)
I agree with you, that us moderators have the challenge set to generate more discussion on less-popular topics. I also think offsite advocacy in online circles where there are more general marketers (like MarketingProfs) is really important, too.
Perhaps we can make small goals to generate awareness on popular online marketing resource sites. Hopefully the submissions and trackbacks are getting noticed by the authors in their GA dashboard.
Hi Paul, that's true, I agree with that. I've tried to submit some posts about UX (which I'm sure Jonathan can relate to, given that that's the industry he's gone into) and they've not performed as well as SEO posts might have done. But given that "inbound marketing" was championed by Rand (CEO of one of the biggest sites in the SEO industry) and that this very site was co-created by him, I think it's a given (however unfortunate) that people here love SEO posts over other areas, even if "inbound" refers to wider areas. Please don't misunderstand - I'm not defending that fact, just making note of it. For what it's worth though, I think the industry's getting there, and Jonathan's post will certainly help in the industry realisation and readjustment.
Just as I was by Wil Reynolds' "Real Company Shit" talk at MozCon, this post slapped me across the face (in the best possible way). Thanks, Jonathon, for an editorial that not only points out the ugly elephant in our room, but in the very way it is written exhibits the principles it calls for.
I'm taking the pledge. And now I need to go redo my whole talk for SMX Social Media, already overdue!
I definitely agree with the sentiment behind this post, but like Ian said above, I kind of shake my head at it as well. The SEO industry is really self obsessed. There is good and bad in every industry, there are also different tastes in every industry. The SEO industry is not unique in this. Some people like to read the financial times, others like to read the back pages of the local rag (in the UK that would be the Sun). Maybe some people like the really short tips, maybe they don't have time to wake up and read 5 pages of epic strategy we "feel" they should love. Your readers are your consumers, so if you aren't just writing because you like writing (if there is a business reason), then it really doesn't matter if you feel they should like your content over others. That's not how this works. Sure it's great to lead and change their mind, but if that's not happening, then it's because not all people want the same thing.
Most of what's written about in the SEO industry is just repackaged ideas from people like Todd Malicoat, Aaron Wall, Rand Fishkin, Bruce Clay etc etc or it's just ideas taken from other marketing industries. Even Will's famous RCS presentation isn't anything new, it's just been packaged up really well (Will is an amazing speaker). There is nothing wrong with that, as those ideas, repackaged and given to a room full of people who haven't seen them before still add huge amounts of value.
I also don't agree with Mike King (who I really respect) in that the SEO industry needs more Ted like talks on strategy. In my opinion it's a lot easier to do a TedTalk with blue sky thinking vs delivering a practical case study of how you've used that thinking to create value for your customers. SEO conferences in general are lacking in any type of data to back up the big visions that are presented. Lot's of people presenting these visions are not implementing the very things they are asking other's to do. I talk with people who have been to this conferences and they come away full of ideas, but with no direction in terms of how to implementing them. Presenting a strategy based all around how Coke is adopting "Content Marketing" sounds great at a conference but has very little value for 90% of the people in that room.
If we are talking about crappy content being retweeted + shared by a group of people who just retweet + share that content, then it's easy to just avoid that. Don't read their content, don't follow them. Why is this an issue?. This also happens with great content. There is a particular group of marketers who are all friends and consistently retweet their own content, share it and let others know how awesome it is. There is nothing wrong with this, groups of people tend to form based on friendships and the content quality then becomes irrelevant.
This is a great post to get people talking and I agree that the quality of content in the SEO industry is really poor. I tend to read content on CRO, Analytics, general marketing strategy. Guess what, there are examples of poor content in these as well. There isn't as much as SEO's tend to do things to death, oh content is the next big thing, let's f*cking do that to death, and that is never going to change. 90% of the SEO industry is following, only 10% is really leading.
Actually I think the main problem here is that SEOs are usually not writers, and a lot of people have seen their business model ripped up over the last year (build links, spin articles, build links, etc.) In a bid to keep their revenue stream afloat, they've flocked to content marketing as if they know what that means, but they're still not writers. They'd do well to either go on a writing course, or better, a journalism course, or hire someone who can write - and use their SEO skills to help get that content noticed.
In our SEO/Inbound communities, we understand metrics. We understand how people react to titles, why it matters to have keywords in them, why lists attract higher CTR, etc. It brings you traffic and how can we not practice what we preach? After all, these tactics do deliver results, even though they might be short-term focused...
*But I totally see your point.* I blogged about a similar topic last week, arguing that marketers are becoming sensationalists with their content (X Ways to Do Y), and not focusing on the long term. We want people to read our posts because WE'VE published them, not because it contains an irresistible title. I look at Seth Godin's posts and I am inspired by the amount of people being influenced by his blog. He earned his authority and built an audience, slowly.
And for us, this authority comes with doing RCS, always providing value, and most importantly, doing things for the long term.
Great thought-proviking post, Jonathon!
This was a seriously great post man! I would elaborate on why I liked it so much and what I would compare the ideal to, but I think that has been perfectly expressed in the already present comments (they beat me to it). your analogy of the session ID's and Parameters though is nail on the head. I have to say I have been guilty of posting one of these "4 tools of so-and-so" posts, in fact on the SEOmoz blog (4 tools to smart twitter automation or something or other) but I still believe that I truly get the most out of the nearly philosophical posts such as Ed Fry's post of bypassing Google by niche branding. Posts that really make you open your mind and think about the wider scope, by doing so you will fill in the dots and create the tactics. If you are just looking for the next way to get a link then that is all you will have, one more link. I'm going to try to point the future of my posts in a more "mind opening" way while minimizing the amount of "tools and tips" posts that I put out. Thanks man!
On a brighter note, it is heartening that a Jonathan Colman can write an article and ensure every SEO veteran out there reads it. In the long run, this community bonding will only help generate more insightful studies and observations on marketing on the web.
My feelings are that Jonathon is on the right side of promoting more good stuff, rather than calling to eradicate the 'bad' stuff. In terms of the wider argument, however, my sense is that too many are too aggressively opposed to what they see as unimaginative, dare I say 'worthless' content (albeit mostly discerned from titles rather than what has been written).
Most people are not setting out to write terrible blogs. The vast majority, I suspect, want to be proud of what they produce. It was only five or six months ago that I was writing "What Star Wars Can Teach Us About Basic SEO Truths" and "3 Ways Jimmy Carr's Tax Avoidance Apology Can Make You Better At SEO". I liked those posts. They weren't going to win me any awards or establish me as a great writer, but they were fun to put together, they were a little bit clever (I thought) and they met the remit I had been given by my then-employer.
I think about things a bit differently now and I wouldn't use that structure if I were writing today. Does that mean I shouldn't have written them? That I learned nothing from that process and from the feedback I received? Everyone has to start somewhere and it doesn't take much to persuade a writer lacking in confidence that they have nothing worthwhile to offer, whether stated explicitly or not.
A big part of finding your way in this industry is learning who to trust, working out who's philosophy is a match for your own and making meaningful connections with your peers. You're not going to get very far down that road if you're too scared to take the first step out of your door. My feeling is that we should be encouraging people on their way along that path, rather than building barriers and roadblocks for them to navigate before they've even really found their feet.
It's true! Time for some TAGFEE: I myself did an entire presentation about Battlestar Galactica and how it relates to SEO and web performance tuning. And the thing that I understand now that I didn't quite understand when I did it is that these sorts of schemes are a crutch you use when you're unable to make the content as lively and engaging as you know it should be.
Andy Davies, Steve Souders, Matt Mullenweg are people who can do that when it comes to site performance (everyone should follow them). I couldn't do that on my own, so I added in the BSG elements. That worked so well that I added in a Star Wars theme to a later presentation. Hell, I even did a Twilight theme after that. Now I'm trying to challenge myself to do presentations with stronger content that don't rely on the crutch of pop culture. We'll see how that goes... :)
I really like this point brought up by John:
I'm a very casual blogger and when I post, I'm mostly looking for feedback on some ideas or want to share something that worked for me. It's gotten to the point where I have ideas I want to blog about, but don't, for fear that people will think it is too unoriginal or uninspiring. Is that where we want things to go?
I'm not an excellent writer. I probably never will be. But I have ideas. I enjoy discussing my ideas to see where my peers can help me take them. I also prefer to try and have this conversations on a blog as it has more staying power than a G+ thread or some other platform.
I think about publishing for myself, but without the constructive criticism that I personally am looking for, I'm not sure what the point is. The temptation to play into cheap tactics (memes, pop-culture, titles) gives you an almost guarantee you will receive some immediate validation for writing a post.
Should people avoid writing Irresistible and Click-worthy Titles, unless the post has the guts to match?
As others have mentioned, stop following people who tweet posts you don't enjoy. Don't promote posts you don't enjoy. The echo chamber of crap will then only exist outside your walls.
We still have a ways to go for only curating truly exceptional content here on Inbound. I love SEOmoz and think it is the single most valuable site in our industry, but I don't think every single post is exceptional. Same with other top blogs. I'd like to see the inbound algo continue to lean towards conversation over upvotes.
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