The “Content is King” motto of large media conglomerates like Microsoft and News Corp has been misunderstood by content marketers. They appropriated it to mean that content is the most important aspect of your visibility strategy. It’s not.
Content without shares and links is useless. Don’t forget who decides about the success in a social Web democracy.
Let’s try to find out how the Web really works and why nobody seemingly talks about it.
Still applauding the monarchy
When it comes to celebrating independence, Americans are true patriots. We’ve seen it again recently on the 4th of July. However, among all the flags waving and God blessing, many US citizens seemingly forget what it means to be truly independent. What I mean is the independence of thought.
American Independence has been declared in 1776, but people in the US still are hailing the king.
Don’t believe me? Why do marketers, publishers, webmasters repeat the “content is king” mantra then? Are only Brits using it? Do they want to denounce it? Do they mean to say that content is to be fought and people should fight for its independence? No, of course not. They use the metaphor without even thinking about what it really means.
Historically, “content is king” has been used by representatives of the British monarchy
to express the notion that it’s important to keep peasants satisfied so that they don’t rebel against the injustice of the kingdom. Back then it was “content is king” that is the second syllable of content has been stressed. Times have changed but the elites are using the same deceiving language it seems.
Content is king for those who monetize it
In the nineties of the 20th century the “content is king” idiom has been used in a new context by media conglomerate representatives to explain that corporations need to make money by monetizing content. Bill Gates of Microsoft said it for example and Rupert Murdoch of News Corp has said that again again and again.
Nowadays Google is the most fervent “content is king” advocate. They usually say things like “create great content” to rank on Google and succeed on the Web.
It’s intriguing that a corporation that neither creates content themselves on a significant scale nor uses it directly as an important ranking factor until recently (it does by now but it’s still just an insignificant one among hundreds) is so keen to convince you to create more of it.
Remember that both Microsoft and News Corp have been investing a lot in content creation.
Microsoft has been supplying the MSN portal for example while News Corp has been running numerous media outlets including TV, newspapers and radio stations. Google in contrast does not employ content creators.
You can only earn some “adcents” by adding their text ads to your content. I’ve done that too on one of my blogs but shortly before payout they closed my account over night without any explanation. Google relies on third parties (that is you) to create great content for them so that they can monetize it.
Without links content stinks
When it comes to you and me, content is just one optional ingredient of your online visibility. There are many cases where content is redundant for example. There are things you do not have to describe and explain in depth. People just want to take a quick look at the item, hit “buy now” and strike it though in their to-do list.
Imagine that in real life. It would be absurd to ask your customers in store to read about your products first before you let them buy.
Of course, content doesn’t always work like that. Some people read and like your content while others buy it in most cases. Still in many niches, content creation is an additional effort that is only needed to satisfy the need of Google for your content.
The only thing Google offers is a list of links. They succeed because they managed to provide the best selection of links a few years ago. Other search engines are better by now but nobody really cares because they are so used to “Google” that they can’t break their habit. It’s almost like smoking.
It’s not only that Google shows links as their main offer. They also use links to find out which links are the most popular ones. Those links being shown are not the best or most relevant ones at times. Why then? You may wonder Google doesn’t say “link is king” all the time? It would even rhyme? After all links are at the center of their offering.
Link is not king
Links are not only what makes the Web, otherwise disconnected documents would lie around on servers all over the place, links are also democratic. People nowadays decide what’s popular, successful and what is not online by linking to it or refraining from it.
Most people link by now without even knowing they do. You don’t have to learn HTML like during the early days of the Web. Every share on social media is a link internally. No matter whether it’s Twitter, Pinterest or Tumblr you use as long as your profile is public unlike the majority on Facebook.
You can’t simply go on using a monarchist metaphor and replace one king with another.
In case you want a king, just move to Saudi Arabia, there the king’s powers are medieval in scope. In case you live in the rest of the world, even the UK, you may want to consider why we have abolished most monarchies and why we value democracy so much.
Our political democracy is not perfect yet. We just elect representatives and have to shut up then. We have no direct influence on the actual decisions other than protesting in the streets. Corporations like Google are top down organizations with no democratic oversight. On the Web, it’s different. You cast a vote on each issue separately each time you share or link a page.
Link is president?
You might suspect that the new better metaphor is the one suggested in the headline above: “link is president”. I used it on purpose as a parody of the monarchist idiom. In reality it’s not just one link. It’s about many links. Trillions. Also there is not one person — even in the metaphorical sense — leading. It’s about the myriads of people who decide every day.
Most importantly, it’s not about content first and foremost but more about the people who are meant to consume it.
Thus, start with the audiences first. Consider who is able to link and share, then start creating content when it’s necessary.
So next time when you say “God bless America” while celebrating independence, do not say “content is king”
the next day because you are actually saying “God save the Queen” at the same time. In case you really need a saying simplifying the whole mechanism of the Web, say “link is president”, “link is prime minister” or “link is chancellor” depending on where you live. A link or share is a vote. Always remember that when choosing who to link to or what to share.
Scene from the movie Independence Day (1996)