Content Is KingFor the last few years, people in the digital marketing industry have been chanting “content is king” like a mantra. Heck, I bring it up so often in my blog posts that they’re in danger of becoming the basis of a new drinking game. There’s no doubt that the importance of content—or, more specifically, quality content—has grown significantly since Google started churning out updates based on adorable black and white animals. Why then are so many pundits already proclaiming an end to content’s short and glorious reign?

The Coronation of Content

A lot of people credit Bill Gates with starting the whole “content is king” meme because of an essay he wrote in 1996 that was entitled, appropriately enough, “Content Is King.” However, Gates was less concerned with marketing content and more concerned with monetizing it on this new and exciting thing the kids were calling “the Internet.”

So Gates may have popularized the phrase, but its current incarnation has little to do with him. Some folks may argue with me, but I firmly believe the ascension of “content is king” to memehood is mainly due to Google’s recent branding efforts.

Google vs. SEO: Optimization Smackdown!

There’s been a long history of animosity between search engine optimizers and the search engines themselves. In its earliest incarnation, SEO was focused on developing webpages that would appeal to the search engines. Unfortunately, this often resulted in pages that were little more than a wall of text, filled with repetitive, meaningless keywords and other gibberish. As long as the page was ranking well in the search engines, nobody really cared about the customers who might be clicking the links.

Once Google started driving the industry, they began cracking down on these attempts to game the system. They tweaked their algorithms incessantly, causing websites that had been performing well to suddenly plummet in the rankings. They issued warnings to SEOs that the days of black hat tactics were at an end.

And so, around about 2005, the word was out. Google resented the way SEO had leveled the playing field, and so they were singling out small businesses and penalizing them so they couldn’t compete with the larger corporations. Google wanted absolute control over the internet marketplace, and was out to destroy anybody who opposed them. Google had declared war on organic search marketing. GOOGLE HATED SEO!!!

It was an argument Google couldn’t really win, and so they reframed it. Rather than appeal to the people in the SEO industry who felt slighted and persecuted, they took their message to the masses. Google cared about its users, and wanted nothing more than to provide them with the best internet experience possible. When somebody used Google to search for something, they wanted to make sure the results were as relevant, useful, and accurate as possible. They weren’t fighting a war against SEO; they were fighting a war for better online content.

And you’d have to be some kind of Philistine to be opposed to that!

So Why the Controversy?

To be fair, I don’t think anybody is arguing against quality content. In fact, it isn’t the “content” that most of these folks disagree with, but the “king.” They feel that content is just one of many important marketing factors, and that elevating it to regal status diminishes the importance of the others.

So yeah, publishing several articles when you are starting is good just to have a base. At a certain point though, you have to realize that your audience won’t just come. In the end you need the analytics data, you need the right tools and you need the research.

Daniel Sharkov, Reviewz ‘n’ Tips

I truly believe that we’re living in the attention economy. If you manage to grab your audience’s attention, that’s half the battle won. While content is important, it’s often the way you present your content which determines whether it strikes a chord with your audience.

Douglas Idugboe, Smedio

Content is how you get traffic. Content is also how you keep loyal readers and customers happy. So, what’s the problem? Online, you only have a second to grab someone’s attention. And during that second, people make snap judgments about you, your business, and your website. Before. They. Read. Your. Content.

Derek Halpern, Social Triggers

Others feel content is a tool—a means to an end—and that embracing a “content is king” attitude may lead to producing content for content’s sake.

[T]he goal of content marketing is to build up familiarity and trust with your prospective customers. In this case, the content isn’t designed to sell a specific product or service, but rather to sell you, and to interested potential customers.

Bernadette Coleman, The Moz Blog

Writing great content is a fantastic start—it’s how people hear about you, how they get to know you (at first) and learn how you can help them. But it’s not where they open their checkbook—or PayPal account—and confirm that they want to work with you… [T]he bottom line is that all of that hard work doesn’t always result in sales—not all by itself, anyway.

Jules Taggart, Amp&Pivot

Finally, some simply feel the “content is king” aphorism is too vague, and feel there needs to be more emphasis on quality, rather than quantity.

Good content can be incredibly valuable, like 6-billion-shares-per-month valuable. Creating good content also can be incredibly frustrating and unproductive when it’s conducted in a less than thoughtful way.

Eric Krell, Direct Marketing News

Frankly, although I still consider myself firmly in the “content is king” camp, I agree with all of these points. Rather than indulge in a false dichotomy and engage in a debate where everybody is basically on the same side, I’ll simply agree to the following concessions:

  • “Content is king” is hyperbolic because it implies that content takes precedence over all other marketing efforts. Content is one of the many valuable tools that we, as digital marketers, have at our disposal. It’s important, but it doesn’t stand alone.
  • “Content is king” is misleading because it implies that the purpose of marketing is content. For artists, producing content is a worthwhile goal. For businesses, producing content is a waste of time unless it serves a greater purpose.
  • “Content is king” is vague because it implies that quantity, rather than quality, is what really matters. If you want your content to serve your business well, it needs to be original, engaging, well-written, and informative (or at least entertaining).

So is content still king? In the interest of meticulousness, I suppose it might be more accurate to start claiming “Quality content is one of several marketing tools that can be useful when it comes to engaging your customers and/or driving traffic to your website.”

But I probably won’t. Hail to the King, baby!