In 2011, “content farms” were Internet magic in the United States. Legions of freelancers wrote for pennies on the dollar, with companies hoping quantity would win out over quality. For a few years, it absolutely did; one of the biggest content providers in America, Demand Media, was once worth more than the New York Times. But by the end of 2013, Demand’s fortunes turned as stock prices sank, co-foudner Richard Rosenblatt left the company and unique site views plummeted. What happened?
Google gets part of the credit thanks to its infamous “Panda Update” aimed at kneecapping the search rankings of sites that publish low quality, spammy or repetitive content. But the change goes deeper; companies and consumers alike now demand a different kind of content, a new kind of hybrid known as “brand journalism.”
At first this sounds like an oxymoron. Journalism should be fundamentally unbiased, while brand advocates wear bias proudly on their company-tailored sleeves. As a recent Advertising Age article points out, however, old school journalism was in many respects a kind of superior brand storytelling—a way to capture reader interest without garish calls to action or paragraphs stuffed with product superlatives. And so the content market rolls on, informed by social-savvy consumers and companies weary of the same-old, same-old produced by lumbering content firms.
So what’s the future of Web content? My money is on what I like to call “intrinsically valuable” pieces; marketing and SEO copy that feels less like assembly line literature and more like good writing. It’s the kind of content that actually gets read, rather than just momentarily pumping up search ratings and falling flat when it becomes clear there’s no real backbone; it’s concise, clear and powerful.
And it’s not easy. I’ve learned that lesson over five years of copywriting, five years of taking every job that came my way and discovering what worked, what didn’t, and what really got the message across. The Web content market is changing for the better, and I’m excited to see what comes next.