Holy Stupid Pendulum Swings, Batman!

Oct 20

Content vs. Design vs. Marketing plus LOST

This isn’t the post I planned this week.

I meant to write something deep, thoughtful and visionary to make up for recent self obsessed weirdness, but I’m too busy being frustrated by the arguments breaking out among the Online Voices of Authority.  Let’s listen in a moment: Rawr! Long Live The King! “Content is King!”

“The King is Dead – long live Design!”

“Marketing, Marketing RAH RAH RAH!”

“Ur Stoopid! It’s the Googlez!”

Then someone hit someone else over the head with a large and heavy metric analysis, and things got a bit bloody.

Having the Online Voices of Authority shouting at each other about what is the ONE TRUE KEY & KING just isn’t good for our Serene.

So I thought I’d hit the pause button, and bring a wee bit of rationality back to the discussion.

(Yes, I’ll get to the LOST part. Later. Trust me.)

What’s behind all the mayhem?

For a several years, The Voices of Authority have been advancing the “Content is King” theory of online success.  It was (and is) based partly on Big Media Business wisdom, but it translates especially well into blogging.  And this blog-tailored message was partly a response to the flood of SEO experts, strategies and metrics cresting right about then.

(If you’re new to the webosphere, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It involves tweaking your website so that search engines like Google and Bing will find you, and send you more (hopefully relevant) traffic. Metrics? They’re statistics, measurements that tell you details about your visitors, what they’re doing and where they come from. It’s all boring stuff to me, but the real webgeeks adore it. But back to our story)

All of the techy tweaks and number crunching did send masses of traffic to sites, but the traffic wasn’t paying off well.  No one stayed. No one subscribed. No one bought anything.

And so, the Content is King meme gained real momentum.

The idea was simple… web sites should be built for people, not search and analytical engines.  If you regularly produce good content, on consistent topics, the search engines will find you naturally, and your traffic will do things.

So things went well in the Kingdom of Content, for a while.

Monarch Monkeys... What more could you ask for?But as time went on, the Make-Money-Now Internet-Marketing crew noticed that Content is King was getting a lot of attention. A whole lot.

So they glommed onto the idea (because that’s what the Money-Now- Marketers do, they glom.) then distorted it to sell pre-packaged content services, article templates, keyword services, and so forth.  A lot of their products were, frankly, horrid, including automated “article spinner” apps that would search the web for existing articles on a given topic,  then mash them up to create a keyword laden mess that only Google could love.

It wasn’t pretty, and people started glaring at Content-is-King, blaming it for all of the ugly. And then the metrics and SEO crowd noticed they weren’t seen as the essential puzzle bit anymore, and got a bit antsy.  And a bunch of designers noticed that premium themes were taking out a chunk of their business. And marketing guys… well.. they’re always looking for the next argument, you know.

And there started to be a shift in that crowned-content meme. (Big Business is also changing its view of content, but that’s a whole other ball of rubber bands, and has to do with asset values, the economy and the shifting of views to the internet. If you’re really curious, you can read about it here: Time.com: Content, Once King, Becomes A Pauper. See? It’s a different thing. But anyway…)

Enter The Inevitable Backlash!


A few smart people realized that one of the best ways to be heard is to create controversy, to raise your voice in opposition to the Big Authority Voices. A few more noticed that the landscape seemed to be changing. They started yelling “The King Is Dead”. A few even holler’d out that “The Emperor has no clothes!”

And you know what? They all had (and have) a point.

When the “Content is King” meme took over online, it was important (in part) because there was suddenly too much competition online for an “if you build it, they will come” strategy to have a prayer of success, even if you optimized it till the metrics came home.

Now, in October of 2010? There is suddenly too much great content online for content alone to be a successful strategy for most people.

If you’re building your plan on content alone, and you’re just starting out now? It had better be truly exceptional content in every way – the sort of thing that people stumble over and talk about for a week, waiting for the next installment.

Yes, I'm feeling a bit sickly today. Why do you ask?

For this to work, you’ll need to be the online version of “LOST”. (see, I told you I’d get to the LOST part, eventually)

But even “LOST” wasn’t content, alone.

  • Lost had gorgeous, rich imagery and design.
  • It had traditional marketing out the kazoo (with a harmonica thrown in for extra interest).
  • It was wrapped up in savvy social-media viral, with extra online content and hidden games for fans; even after-the-final-credits, the prop auction kept people obsessively chattering about it.
  • And of course, no one does metrics like Network TV and their ratings obsessions.

Still, if the content of LOST hadn’t been exceptional, none of the rest would have saved it from an early cancellation.

So what’s the point of all this longwinded-ness?

Despite reports of its premature demise, Content IS still King.

But design, marketing, social media and those metrics numbers thingys? They’re important to the success of the Kingdom, too.

They offer support, provide information, deliver and even shape the message. They’re like… well… Queens, in a polygamous marriage, or something.

(Yes, the metaphor has fallen apart. Let’s just move on like that last sentence didn’t happen, OK? Ahem.)

It’s not a question of content vs design vs networking vs marketing vs metrics. Each element matters, and ideally, each should be intertwined in everything you do.

  • Design elements set the tone for your content. Done right, they add value to your main content, and they can *be* content, in and of themselves. (Potentially viral content)
  • If your content is well written, and your site well organized with tags and categories, SEO keywording largely takes care of itself.
  • If you do the social media thing in natural exchanges with people, you’ll gradually gain influence there, too, develop link backs and more SEO strength along the way.
  • Good marketing is an extension of your content, and vice versa.  No, really. It is.
  • Those metrics, subscriber numbers, traffic, and sales?  They’re what happens when you get all of the above pieces working together.

Plan your path. Stay on it. (Except when you shouldn't)

The Final Dose Of Serenity.

If the battle of Voices in Authority have you spinning lately… take a deep breath.  Remember that most of them are selling their particular view, because it’s what they’re selling.

In many cases, what they’re selling is good, even an important part of the puzzle of success. But the puzzle doesn’t have to be done at once.

Websites and blogs and businesses in general? Yeah. They’re works in progress, evolving all the time.

Put a piece in place here, a piece in place there, and slowly, Each of those pieces will help your site/product/service gain visibility, credibility, focus and visitors. Your customers will find you.

So feel free to ignore the huge pendulum swings of the popular how-to-be-successful memes.  Follow only the voices that really resonate with you, and stay centered in your own content and plan.

You do have a plan, right?  Ok, we’ll work on that next.

In closing, I’d insert another LOST metaphor and something about how plans help you stay on the path, Batman, but that really doesn’t make much sense, and I should have edited the references out of the title to start with.  So instead, I’ll just repeat this line, because I really like it.

Follow only the voices that really resonate with you, and stay
centered in your own content and plan.

So. Comments. Just play nice, k?
Oh, I know you will, anyway. And m
aybe you could share which Online Voice of Authority messages threaten to pull you off your path & disrupt your plans? Or talk about how you know when to resist those Voices, and when to re-evaluate your own approach. I’d be interested in that.


  1. Oh, so I don’t have to pay too much attention to that argument? That’s OK then. I feel better already. And I don’t even watch lost.

    Although the idea that it ALL has to be right and fit together can be a bit overwhelming, too. Does that mean I have to be great at all these things.

    Sidenote: your point about there being too much great content out there is kind of funny. I mean, as a consumer, that’s a good thing, right?

    • Tori Deaux /

      Yay for feeling better already, Willie 🙂 Mission accomplished, then.

      And no! It doesn’t ALL have to be right. In fact, I have this idea that if we’re good enough at some of the parts, we can safely ignore others entirely. I mean, sure – if we want to take over the world, we’ll probably want to get all of these strategies in place and polished, be branded and SEO’d and what not.

      But most of us don’t really want to take over the world. We just want a reasonable level of success (however we define it). And for that? One or two well implemented strategies should do the trick. Or a handful of half-assed strategies, even.

      And if we DO decide we want to take over the world? we can hire someone to put the puzzle together. After all, every good World Taker-Over needs minions. They might as well be good at SEO.

  2. Great analysis of the rush to crown a new business model – insightful!

    It looks like, to me anyway, we’ll eventually arrive at something that blends the parts just like you predict with a dose of solid relationships and hard work thrown in for good measure.

    Funny – that’s how good business is conducted offline too 🙂

  3. Tori Deaux /

    Ohh, good point about how business is conducted offline.

    Maybe one of the shifts I’m feeling in online venues is … hmm… how to word this? The younger generations do not see such a distinction between online and offline. To them, the virtual world is just another way to interact and buy stuff, not a unique and special snowflake with different rules.

    Maybe the online business world is starting to catch onto that idea?

    • RIchard /

      Follow the leader’s moves there. Google wants to have fiber to every house in America by when? Why? video integration and consumption, of course. Why would we want that? Cause that is how younger and younger folks perceive their world? Gosh. Nice to plan ahead for those coming after us.