These past months there have been interesting discussions about the death of good unique content. It's a topic that got me sucked in, and I spent an entire day last week digesting every single post and comment. Two days, if you count the times I went back and forth to check new comments and updates.
Rand Fishkin's White Board Friday sometime in May started the ball rolling. He said that "good unique content" won't cut it anymore, which means we have to start publishing content that's "better than the best."
Clearly our space has become saturated with too much of the same thing, and shortly after Rand's WBF, this Inbound.org thread dared to ask the obvious—Does anyone notice how most Online Marketing posts simply duplicate each other?
Fact is, every morning when we open our feed reader, we find ourselves staring at a list of topics we've read of before, and headlines with basically the same syntax:
"N Ways to Do This or That"
"N So-and-so Trends You Need to Pay Attention To This 2015"
"N Whatever-Industry Blogs You Need to Follow Today"
Now, I do realize that in writing this post I am actually proving that the premise is true—nothing is original, and everything we blog about or share online is inspired by someone else's idea, a replication of an already existing content, or a curation of these existing ideas. And while this is true in so many levels, I want to think that writing this post means I have more to add on the table.
"Art is imitation," says Jon Wesley. He was basically saying that nothing is original, and our work is the sum of all the ideas we consume, what we observe works for others, the inspiration of influencers whom we admire, and the application of our own style.
True enough, if you read Brian Lenney's Inbound.org post, you'll know how much of this post is inspired by his.
It made me think about my own SEO/blogging influences, and my own experiences, and how much of my writing (and career path!) have been influenced by them.
Enter my Untold SMX East 2008 Story
In 2008 I attended my first (and only) SMX Conference in New York. I never really posted these photos online before, but I'm glad I have an excuse to share them now.
Here's how the Javits Convention Center looked like during SMX East in 2008 (it probably didn't change all that much?)
I hung out for a while by the SEO Moz booth (still SEO Moz at that time) and, seeing Rand, I asked if I could take a picture of him. He probably thought I was creepy. Still, he said, "Sure, OK!" and smiled at me. Fan girl with a shaking hand, this was the only shot I managed to take..
..and because I had to keep my cool, I didn't ask Rand for a re-take. (One of my life's greatest regrets.)
Fortunately this picture I got of Gillian was clearer! Hello, Gillian!
Nobody would remember I was at the SMX East 2008, not even Rand or Gillian. I came in and out of the sessions, unable to make proper connections, my stash of business cards untouched inside my backpack. I learned a lot alright, starstruck about the experience, but felt a lot of remorse.
This story probably sounds ridiculous to you if you live in America and attend these conventions twice or thrice a year. But many of our Philippine-based readers can understand where I'm coming from.
For us who live in the Philippines, attending SMX is a luxury. Consider the cost of a round-trip MNL-NYC ticket (say, $1200) and the registration fees (around $1,800), not to mention hotel accommodations. (I was booked at the Westin, which was about $300 per night). Roughly $4000 total, which, in Philippine peso, is equivalent to the cost of rent in Manila for one whole year. That's just how much of a luxury it is, which only means for me, being at SMX at that time was big deal.
Looking back, I still consider the experience a personal milestone, but I know I could have made more ROI with that $4000 (Php 180,000) price tag.
I should have been brave enough to make connections.
I should have asked a lot of questions.
I should have given away my business cards.
I should have asked Rand for another shot! haha
I should have made friends with Gillian.
I should have made friends with the woman sitting beside me during lunch, or the dozens of SEO experts I sat with during sessions.
Insecurity got the best of me (#thirdworldproblems), I got scared of rejection, and I missed out on the most important part of attending a prestigious conference like that—that is, to put myself out there and build relationships.
The thing is, most of my SMX takeaways in 2008 don't work anymore today, and the notes I took home with me do not have any more value. But if only I made connections in those two days I was at the Javits Center—the chance of a lifetime—maybe I get to keep some of those contacts until today.
My point is, taking Brian Lenney's lead, this story is unique to me. Perhaps, in our country, I'm one of the few people who had the privilege of attending an SMX Conference. For sure, I'm the only one who has that blurry picture of Rand! Maybe I'm the only one who's stupid enough to come in and out of a (social) convention not talking to anyone.
My story makes my take on this subject unique.
I never really thought of sharing this before, but something about Brian writing this piece that made me more brave to start telling stories.
There's a lot of lessons to learn from another person's story (yes, including her regrets). Lessons like, don't miss out on what matters because of the fear of being personal.
I understand that being personal is a predicament for us marketers. We are wired to think logically and strategically. Our left-brain is on full mode when we're creating strategic content. We become analytical, fact-based, and data-driven. And so we create content "that works" based on our data, and we miss out on striving to make a connection. We want to be "thought leaders" in our field of expertise, and in the process we forget to be personal, and vulnerable and intuitive.
I'm guilty of this too.
I think it's partly our fault as Content Marketers
We're the ones who keep recommending "sure-fire" ways to make headlines more clickable to begin with. Use an interesting adjective! Incorporate a number! Upworthy all the titles!
We're the ones who gave people the idea to re-create a piece of content that's already ranking in the search, and do a skyscraper technique on it.
We're the ones who need growth hacking strategies and find the fastest, most cost-efficient and most scalable way to do Content Marketing.
We're the ones who see our readers as too busy to read, so we create easy and "reader-friendly" content for them.
I'm not saying we stop doing these best practices
I will definitely continue applying them because they work.
Mary Green, Community Manager at Inbound.org, said it best, emphases mine:
It's annoying that people write these posts over and over, but they work, otherwise sites like Problogger wouldn't do it.
In the past clients would ask me, why should I share my opinion on this or that, why should I answer FAQs when other sites already do that? Simple, you want to provide the answer, on your site. Because regardless of what brings them to your website, you want to keep them there, and give them all of the information they need to make a purchase.
So, yes it'd be nice to have the greatest content and I hope more sites focus on that, but you need the other content too, and if your competitor is answering everything, guess where your visitor is going if you don't.
And I agree! After all, we recommend these strategies because data proves them to be effective.
But I also agree that we have to spin off these articles to have more heart, and personality, and maybe even honesty.
We have to start giving our readers the benefit of the doubt
Maybe, like us, they're tired of reading the usual content too. Maybe, like us, they're also looking for blogs that are honest, authentic, and inspiring; ones that will poke into their hearts and make them feel something and move them to make an action.
The good news is, many of us are beginning to see the error of our ways and starting to talk about options. The comments on this thread is proof.
In conclusion, I think our best bet is to keep creating data-driven and strategic content, but also be more in touch with the right side of our brains, be intentionally authentic, and start telling stories.
It's high time we practice a little bit of Content un-Marketing, Pablo Picasso our strategy—learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist—and risk losing a little traffic for the chance of gaining more targeted and engaged readers, if that's what it takes.
Me being at SMX East and spending all that money and not making any, well, friends, is just like us spending a lot of time and resources writing the usual content without connecting or inspiring anyone.
What good is it to know the best practices when you fail at connecting with your audience and making a lasting impression?