Lately, I've been involved in several discussions about quality and customer service. The upshot of those conversations is disturbing to me as a provider of content, but should be of even greater concern to consumers of content.
READER SAFETY NOTICE: I am not going to get into the endless discussion about the future of journalism and newspapers in this post. So if that is boring you to tears, feel safe reading on!
Quality, accuracy, even clarity are dead. Word count is king and if you can add 4-5 SEO-vetted keywords into your 100-word blog post, you can call yourself an SEO Content Expert. That may get you more writing work - of course, you will have to do a lot of it unless you are offshore.
- A marketing professional told me recently that he wouldn't pay more than $5 for a blog post and that any writer who charged more would be find it hard, if not impossible, to compete for business.
- Online sites like elance and odesk have lots of writing opportunities, but most are offered at cents - not dollars - per post.
- A friend contacted me with a job opportunity writing blog posts for a large national information provider (a company that should both know and value quality content). The company wanted 10 blog posts on three different topics written in a week, including SEO keywords and backlinks. For this, they would pay $100. Even the most rudimentary, slapdash effort would make this a $5 per hour job. Of course, it is double what the previously mentioned marketing professional would consider paying.
So what has happened to quality? If quality is immaterial, what will make a business' blog on social media, pet care, marketing, health care, fitness, education, or one-handed music instruction - stand out from the incalculable number of others just like it? And what does it mean for the business construct between you and your readers/customers.
Quality is made up of several elements.
Information. Research. Time spent gathering accurate and relevant information is critical. And, since we now can assume that much content online is written by people making under $2.50 an hour to do it, I am not sure a quick Google search is going to cut it.
Clarity. Any reporter will tell you the hardest part of doing anything is taking the mass of information you've gathered and trying to piece it together into something that makes sense. Without the ability to take information and see it as a path to a point, then you are just notebook dumping.
Relevance. How well does the information relate to your business? It takes a bit of effort to make sure you understand someone's business, areas of business you are particularly expert in, areas you want to highlight, specific goals you want to achieve and audiences you want to reach.
Arts and Crafts. Good writing is a craft. It is knowing how to critically assess information, find the needle in the haystack that will connect with readers. At its best writing - even journalism - can be an art as well. Now it is possible that we have come to accept workmanlike recitations of "facts" out of Wikipedia as what passes for "writing". But I think we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. Every blog writer isn't going to be F. Scott Fitzgerald, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't expect something that makes the 200-word journey from not knowing to learning something worth taking.
Why does this even matter? As traditional journalism declines and the newspapers that were once our most trusted sources of information are replaced by glitzy websites and blogs, we are pushed more toward the internet to find information. That's fine, but we cannot expect that every site out there is holding its contributors to high standards. It may be hard to even identify the true owner of a site. A talented high schooler can create a site that makes them appear to be a major corporation. As a consumer, you must be more discriminatory in information you accept and the sources you get it from.
But what about the ubiquitous business blog? I mean, everyone has one. So what's the big deal?
Your blog is designed to add value for your clients, to help you stay in front of them, to connect and develop relationships with them, to offer information that elevates you above your competition - and, yes, for the SEO value as well. But all those reasons demand that you hold up your end of the bargain with your readers/customers.
Most business owners are busy managing their businesses and they aren't writers to begin with. So take your content seriously and develop a relationship with a blog writer who learns your business, researchs key topics, writes clearly and compellingly and gives you posts that put your business in the best possible light.
Accuracy. Clarity. And maybe even a little art. Do your customers deserve any less?