My Recent Depressing Realization about All This Crappy ‘Content Marketing’

One of the things I do every day is blog. I haven’t been blogging here as much because I have too much work these days. I’m blogging on LSA Insider, Search Engine Land and its sister sites Marketing Land and MarTech Today.

As a person who has been writing or editing in some capacity for more than 25 years I take “content” seriously and try my best, often under intense time pressure, to be thoughtful about what I say. Which is why I became somewhat depressed this past week when I was struck by an epiphany of sorts about all the content, surveys and reports that I’m constantly receiving from tech companies and PR folks.

The market is awash in “content” and content marketing — reports, infographics, surveys and so on. A majority of it is garbage.

Before I get to my “epiphany,” a digression about an earlier one. Years ago I was in Moscone Center in San Francisco for one of the then-massive AdTech events. I was standing on a mezzanine level looking down at lots of people seated at various “bistro” tables. These were mostly male attendees presumably doing “biz dev” meetings. There’s nothing wrong with that.

However, my realization at that moment was that in some way, shape or form each of these conversations boiled down to one essential thing: “I want your money.” It was kind of horrible.

I had a similar feeling earlier this week when I realized that the 50+ pitches I see every day from companies and PR people are really just about SEO, about getting links. All the studies, surveys, reports and “content” being generated — so much that most of it is lost in the noise — is really about links. In some cases it’s about generating downloads for sales follow-ups. And in a fraction of cases it’s about branding and “thought leadership.”

If you work with Forrester Research or a comparable firm to create a report, you’re paying $20K – $40K or more. Then the PR firm is getting at least $5K or more per month to pitch your content to somebody like me. And because it’s mostly created for purposes other than exposing the information in the report it’s usually mediocre. But almost nobody in the system cares; it just needs a hook or some data to get pickup — and links.

So the sponsoring company winds up spending perhaps $50K overall and may not get much if any exposure or coveted links or leads. For every 20 pitches featuring a report, I’ll ask to see one or two. I may write about one. I have very little time to do more than scan these docs for top-level findings, let alone read them carefully and digest their implications. But most of the time they’re not intended to be read that way.

Beyond the realization that this is all about SEO, nobody is really very invested in the “content” they’re promoting — except in rare cases. It’s all part of a giant, relentless, impersonal marketing machine.

I write some of these sponsored reports myself on behalf of LSA and some of our members. When I do it I try to work closely with the company on questions that I think are interesting or important to the broader industry and develop interesting data and ideas. I’m often late in delivering them because I care about the work and what it says. (People want quick turnarounds because these docs are highly disposable or perishable.)

I’m somewhat sleep deprived and so chalk my mood up to that. But all this strikes me as pretty horrible and empty.

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8 Responses to “My Recent Depressing Realization about All This Crappy ‘Content Marketing’”

  1. Mike Blumenthal says at

    Greg
    On the one hand you are very right…. we have taken something critical to our learning and made it into something horrible… and perpetual marketing machine. 

    On the other hand what YOU (or I ) write can be based on what we care about and what we want to learn and what we hope others might learn. 

    As long as the reason that you write is because you feel the need to and you are learning something from…. eff the rest of the world and keep writing good stuff. 

    You have at least one reader that gets meaning from it. Me. 

  2. Greg Sterling says at

    Thanks Mike 🙂

  3. Steve Dale says at

    Content overload. I say “Uncle” to Google. I give up with SEO and I’ll allow you to Lord over me with AdWords. We now focus on making paid search work for all of our clients. Everyone wins. We don’t have to come up with new content for 80+ sites. We hyper focus on AdWords and our clients are fat and happy.

  4. Jacob says at

    Hey there!

    I love this post. In most case people see money not passion into a work. That’s why in each working area you got some really good and are stamp as mentor, model and the other ones don’t see the passion they just see the money! So this is sad but this planet roll over to things: gravity and money! But to me is cool to see some person that actually care about what they do or say. Cheer man!

  5. MiriamEllis says at

    Hey Greg,
    Thoughtful insights from you, and it’s true: in one way, it is all about the money or the links or what have you. The same can be said of print advertising, TV commercials, etc. But, on the other hand, classic literature was written for the same purpose at the end of the day – earning a living. The “romance” part of writing is whether or not you care. I’ve read that Alexandre Dumas was paid by the word and Dickens was paid by installment. It was up to them whether they wanted to write drivel or write something of lasting value.

    I’ve had the same sensation you’ve described experiencing of “this all boils down to X”, but I honestly do care about what I’m writing, and for whom I write (local businesses). That makes an important difference for me in how I feel about my professional life, Greg, and having read your work for years, I sense that you care about your industry a great deal. I think one secret lies in trying to understand how to present a topic in a way that makes people either comprehend or remember it in a way they otherwise wouldn’t. I’ve read so many history books and biographies, and it’s the ones with the excellent writing that helped me remember the facts, while the poorly written ones failed to imprint anything valuable on my brain.

    Hang in there! Don’t stay in that depressed space if you can help it. See if you can see this from other angles. Writers and educators do need to earn a living, after all!

  6. Neal Polachek says at

    Greg, 

    Dare I say you are being so Trump like – saying exactly what is on your mind. While not my POTUS is risking humanity every time he opens his big, dirty mouth, you are simply telling the truth about the state of the Internet. Who reads all the massive amounts of content that are being shoved through the massive Internet pipes that we fund through hard earned cash. I think content is perhaps an excuse for doing business the old fashioned way – one prospect, one customer at a time. If we turned off social media and email during the work day and only had a telephone to communicate and engage with people – imagine the conversations that would result, the relationships that we ensure and the business that would be transacted. Instead – we are left to process, emails, texts, posts and pick and choose which ones might be worth responding to. How about this – let’s get on the phone and chat for 30 minutes putting our texts and emails on hold and see the magic happen. 

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  9. Mike Blumenthal says at

    I just wanted to point out the irony that you two ping backs from content theft sites that apparently scrape MarketingLand. 

    No irony in that. 🙂

  10. Greg Sterling says at

    Exactly

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