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E-Marketing Performance Blog

Content is Dead. Community is King.

I can hardly bring myself to say the old cliche about content being… well, you know. I think it’s one of the original cliche’s in the SEO industry. And as redundant as it has become, for whatever reason we keep hearing it over and over again. And every now and then a new studies pops up seemingly proving proving, once again, that content is… uh, good.

But much like a TV producer suggesting “video is king” or a radio advertiser demanding that “audio is king”, so goes the SEO demanding the same about content. Content has its role–and an important one at that, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of online marketing. Not even close.

But the roots of the “content is” movement are important for our industry. The mantra was first heard in the early days of the search engine optimization industry when SEOs were doing nothing more than throwing a bunch of keywords on a page and hoping they rank well. Little or no thought or consideration was given to the readability of the web page. After all, it’s only rankings that mattered, right? But those of us who learned to game search engines slowly began to learn something that those in the marketing industry have known for years. Words sell. Or turn people off, depending on what’s written and how it’s written.

So the movement to developing good content–real content–was an important one for our industry. But to get there we had to have the content mantra beat into our head over and over (and over). We got it. We know.

The king is losing his grip on the kingdom

But like any worthy cause, we’ve reached a point where the mantra has been used and abused to the point where we use whatever we can find to prove once again that content is… y’know, that. Take a recent study by OPA and Nielsen//NetRatings that shows that Internet users are spending more time than ever on content bases websites.

Share of Time Spent Online
Commerce: 13.8%
Communications: 32.0%
Content: 49.6%
Search: 4.5%

That there seems to confirm what many have been saying for years. Content is… uh, great for web marketing. And I’ve seen a few posts around the blogosphere and forums using this data to make that connection. The problem is, it’s not really there.

With the rise in popularity of blogs and social media sites it’s no wonder that more people spend their time reading online than anything else. While time reading and gathering information online has increased, time spent shopping has actually decreased, down over 2% from a year before. But does that tell us anything about marketing online? No, not really.

We know people like information and we know they like to communicate. We also know people like to shop and online shopping has continued to increase year over year. All this study suggests is what we spend most of our time doing on the web. Well, true enough, I don’t spend most of my time shopping.

Since when is it the goal of ecommerce sites to get people to spend a long time on their site? Isn’t it more important to drive shoppers to the sale and get the conversion? Step 1: Get traffic. Step 2: Keep visitors engaged. Step 3: Close the sale. That’s not necessarily a process that necessitates long periods of time spent on a site.

In no way do I want to diminish the importance of content on ecommerce websites. Having a database of information that helps visitors make their decision, helpful tutorials, etc. can improve your visitor’s overall experience and keep them coming back to your site. But the goal of all of that is to lead people to the sale.

Community killed content and stole the throne

If I were to interpret this data I wouldn’t necessarily come away thinking content is… so very important. What I would conclude, however is that we need to build websites that meet a number of users needs. Adding more content to your ecommerce site is not the magic bullet. What is, however, is creating a great user experience and providing just the right amount of information and customer engagement that shoppers need to get to the conversion goal. That can be done through a number of means.

Many online stores are already paving the way by opening the door to ratings and reviews. Others are doing that by creating blogs to disseminate important and relevant industry information along with tips and tutorials. Still others do that by creating an information database that can visitors frequent to gain additional insights.

I might suggest that the best ecommerce websites are not those that build content around their products but build a community around the product interest. By creating a place where shoppers can come and gain information, learn more about the products and discuss or share information with others and then make purchases as well, will do more for sales than simply creating a shopping website.

By building a community you not only sell more products but you build brand recognition and customer loyalty. And both of those are worth far more than a single one-off sell. So while content may not be dead (not by a long shot, really), there is a new king in the online marketing industry. Long live community. Long live the (new) king.

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