There’s something equally frustrating and hilarious in the way “content marketing” (as a discipline and as a business need) is usually approached. There’s the rare, but very justified skepticism at the discipline, and at the jargon surrounding it (which, I agree, can get unbearably pretentious), but the consensus is that “content is king”.
A motto that general praxis rarely reflects.
If what we do is the practical manifestation of our ideas, if we do according to our thoughts, a worrying amount of people are strongly convinced that content should be as cheap as possible.
Agencies, small and mid-sized businesses alike do everything in their power to allocate as few resources as possible to this (we’ve all agreed) very important part of marketing strategy.
There are two aspects of having to compete with people who charge 17 USD for a 2000-word article, that I’m less-than-happy about:
1. The fact that there are people to whom that is an incredible amount of money. Inequality concerns me, and this is inequality screwing us all up.
2. The fact that most of that cheap content is bad, and the fact that some businesses that are full of potential don’t care or can’t tell the difference.
About the fever dream of automating "content writers"
But, as technology, (specially what might be correctly or incorrectly labelled as "AI") progresses, paying 17 dollars to a content writer from an impoverished nation starts to look like burning money, and automating content writing becomes a seductive possibility.
So, why not pay 50 cents per article, to use a program that spins articles from content farms?
Enter products like Articoolo, which not only fail to fulfill their promises of unique content with minor flaws, but also threaten this already bastardized job.
Of course, content writing is a creative job, so it’ll be very hard to automate in the short-term… right?
There’s something we need to revise.
The general goals of content marketing
Technically, content marketing has the goal of enticing, of engaging the potential customer by helping them solve a problem or learn more about a certain discipline or topic related to one’s product.
For instance, a Wordpress hosting service is likely to produce a listicle about “the 10 fastest-loading Wordpress themes (2019)”, to attract those looking for fast-loading themes.
The user gets interested and enters your company's website. Now they know you exist and you provide a service they might be interested in. They might stick around for a while and take a look at what you have to offer, or they might bounce.
The content shouldn't only provide value, but also lead the user through a journey that ends when they've made their purchase.
Our work is never over. So, from that point on, we've got to work on a multifaceted effort called "client retention", but that's a different story.
Is content marketing new? No, it’s not. Products have been advertised through “content” for decades, be it in trade magazines, radio stations, or soap operas.
As Saul Hansell wrote, in a 1998 New York Times article about the challenges the internet would pose for advertisers:
“ P.& G. grew to be the nation’s largest consumer products company in large part by grasping the storytelling power first of radio, then of television, and by using those media to tell the company’s own 30- and 60-second stories, like the constant battles of Mr. Whipple to find time to Squeeze his Charmin in peace. And often, those narratives were inserted into 30- and 60-minute stories of a serial genre that Procter helped create just for that purpose: the soap opera.”
Of course, soap operas or magazine articles about how to make the most out of your [Specific Brand and Model] lawnmower weren't made with the goal of producing quality fiction or quality journalism.
But, still, the idea of giving the job to someone with lousy grammar or to a defective machine would have seemed ridiculous. The material had to meet a certain quality standard, it couldn’t be unwatchable/unreadable to the target audience.
Although it didn’t require as many resources as other entertainment formats, producing it was expensive.
Of course, doing content marketing on the internet has far lower costs than making a soap opera or editing a paper magazine. So, with less at stake, those in charge of marketing (especially at small businesses or startups), might try to get the content thing out of the way for 15 bucks apiece.
And, of course, this article would be incomplete without mentioning SEO. The idea that “content” is just filler to throw around high-ranking keywords hasn’t gotten its deserved death yet.
But it’s twitching and turning, and it's becoming a greater and greater drag with each new Google algorithm update.
To rank, your website should have a good, clean and responsive designed and well-written, well-researched content. A high-ranking website is one that is relevant and linked on other high-ranking websites .
Keyword stuffing won't do the job, you need “expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness”.
You can’t get that for pennies, you can’t get that from someone who can’t afford to take the time to get to know your product.
On the other hand, considering the goals of content marketing, synthesized a few paragraphs above, trying to get very low-quality content to work can be seen as underestimating and insulting your target audience.
Some final personal notes
I could be considered by some as cheap third-world labor — even when what I do is not cheap.
But I’m in South America, and that single piece of information is enough for some prospects to lower their price expectations. If the guy you’re hiring is in Argentina, you want to pay them pennies, right? Mmmm, where are you?
In what currency will the clients that this guy brings you, pay? Are you charging pennies?
Foreign freelancers from devalued economies should be cheaper, yes, but within an acceptable range. I’m not gonna dig a hole in your bank account, hiring me should be an affordable investment.
Hire me because I’m good, not because I’m cheap.