Is There Any Point in Putting Quality Content Online?

The ongoing discussion of quality versus quantity content has been going around in circles for as long as we can remember, back in 2009 when this Wired story on Demand Media prompted a flurry of responses online, talking about the end of quality, researched content, and predicting that all good writing on the internet would be taken over by regurgitated re-writes from freelancers paid to write quickly and without editing.

Michael Arrington posted as much on TechCrunch, and Aaron Wall forecasted a similarly depressing trend on SEObook.

The alarmism over this subject is warranted, sure, but here’s the fundamental issue — the idea that good, hand-crafted content will disappear is premised on the idea that nobody wants to read a properly researched, well-done article.

And that’s just not true.

Why Quality Content Can’t Just Disappear

Sure, if you’re looking for “donating a car in Dallas” and Demand Media can provide you with a 5-part video series on how to do it, fine. But in forecasting the end of all quality content, we’re assuming that the search engines only care about generic responses to keyword searches, because that’s how they make their money.

Right now, a pretty good argument can be made that that’s true (from a revenue standpoint), but looking at the way social media is continuing to change the way we find content, it’s clear that generic search terms relying 100% on Google’s static-XHTML algorithm are not going to be the only way people get their information into the future.

Will People Settle for an Ultra-Generic Internet?

I’m not convinced — a world where every single obscure question anyone could ask on Google gets answered by a low-paid freelancer cranking out AdSense-optimized pages is not the internet people will settle for.

Right now it’s happening with consumer electronics, where it’s near-impossible to find a non-affiliate link just by searching in Google, and as this happens more and more, people will get frustrated. As they do, they’ll stop going to these pages, Google will stop making ad money off them, and realize (if they haven’t already) that these practices are diluting the quality of the web severely.

And then where we will turn? I hope it’s back to hand-crafted, quality content that gets shared and linked and passed around. The stuff we knew was great in the first place. This doesn’t solve the problem of how people who create that content actually get paid to keep doing it, but that’s a larger problem currently being faced as the issue of “content” goes through a kind of revolution, and we intend to keep talking about it here on the blog. It could all end badly, of course, but the world of marketing — and that’s what a lot of this is, in the end — has its ups and downs, and no one can exactly predict the future.

The McDonalds Analogy

Just because McDonalds exists doesn’t mean great restaurants (and mediocre restaurants, and charming-but-average little osterias, and so on) necessarily have to go out of business. The internet is a big place, Google is a gigantic player, but just as the Big Mac didn’t sterilize the American palate (despite what some people might suggest), Google’s embracing of Demand media and their keyword-heavy formula doesn’t signal the ultimate end of quality content online.

For a look back in time, and a further take on some of the reactions to Arrington’s piece, take a look at Carl Franzen’s post on the Atlantic or Sonia Simone’s take over at Copyblogger.

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