The Content Mill: Can Quantity Beat Quality?


content millI think the role of “content” in the marketing mix is one of the most fasciating discussion topics around.

How much is enough?

How do you break through?

Can you win on the back of quantity alone by overwhelming competitors?

So I was delighted to have the opportunity to thrash this discussion around with the brilliant Tom Webster on our latest Marketing Companion podcast. In this latest edition, we talk about:

  • The dirty little secret of content marketing
  • How quantity works against quality
  • The Hubspot Problem and the content mill
  • Quantity and the discoverability advantage
  • Guest posts — Strategic advantage or content snacks when you need a meal?
  • How is SEO adapting to new content realities and search?
  • The most important content-related metric
  • How content marketing is like a retail price war
  • Why content marketing encourages plagiarism

Yes, that is a lot of ground to cover in a 30 minute podcast but I think we get the job done and have some fun along the way too. Hope you enjoy the show and I would love to see your comments in the comment section below.

To listen now:

Other Ways to Listen to the Podcast:

Program note: Christopher Penn weighed in with another perspective on this topic of content and SEO. Worth a read!

All posts

  • Very interesting discussion. I find one of the most difficult challenges I face as a sole blogger on my site is frequent content which I will be proud of.

    With regards to guest posts, I think if you are a relatively small blog and do not have the influential power of a site such as your own, it is difficult to find quality bloggers that are willing to put in the time and effort for relatively small return (clicks, publicity etc). If my blog was a lot larger and well known then I would definitely consider guest posts from the right people, probably those I know through the site or social networks.

    Hopefully, as you mention, the Google algorithms will start to focus on social shares, interaction and simply the effort that the author has put into their content.

    You mention that you only look at ‘return visitors’ within your site metrics. Do you not feel that ‘Bounce Rate’, ‘Pages Per Visit’ and ‘Time On Site’ are also important? Recently my bounce rate has dropped significantly and the ‘pages per visit’ and ‘time on site’ has obviously risen, these are important metrics to me as it shows that visitors are spending time reading my content and also moving through my site to find or view more than just the landing page.

  • First, I wanted to thank you for your consistently excellent and thought-provoking comments Barry! All of your points here are significant.

    You’re correct that there is certainly a “critical mass” factor that can impact the quality of contributors you can attract. However, there is also an element of reciprocity. If you contribute to somebody, it’s likely they will return the favor too.

    When I was starting out, I wrote tons of guest posts. I don;t feel this was a tremendous boost to my blog in terms of traffic but others swear by this. However, it did help attract some reciprocal guest posts.

    In terms of measurement, about 80 percent of the people show come to my blog are new visitors. They may find me through a search or maybe a Twitter link. Because of this dynamic, it really skews bounce rate and time on page. I could probably take a little time to view bounce rate or time on page for return visitors, but generally I am satisfied with just keeping an eye on the return visitor number.

    I think this is a highly sensitive metric tuned to quality. I have been doing this long enough now that I usually know when I have written something interesting and original. If I do good work, the visitors return! It validates that I am on the right track with the content relevant to my readers.

    My belief is that if you work on producing results that get readers to return it will drive the right behaviors in your business.

  • Sunny

    I really enjoyed the discussion on your blog post. I speech also. 😉

  • Thanks Mark, appreciate it 🙂

    Good point regarding the bounce rate etc, I will take that onboard. I do agree about the reciprocity, on the few occasions that I have either written a guest post or received one (this is below 10 in total) I have felt that, as well as the benefit in terms of marketing, I have benefited just as much in the new contact I have gained.

    Cheers 🙂

  • What a great start to my week. I have this internal debate about guest posts pretty frequently.. both on my professional blog and my personal blog. I love introducing my readers to new people and I like traveling to other “places” as well but I’m not 100% sold on the idea. Maybe I need to up my game on who I ask 😉

  • Mike B

    Great post. My wife and I have this discussion often. A content mill is just like the “Puppy Mill” just banging out content for content’s sake. If you pay a writer at a rate that they have to pump out 8 pieces an hour to make a wage they could live on, what type of writer are you getting and how much of a quality job could they be doing? takes a different slant to this as it is run by a professional journalist and only hires specialist journalists in a specific field. The newspaper and magazine industries are dying and there are quality writers that are available that know how to grab the reader’s attention in the 1st couple sentences, know how to tell a story, and get to the problem trying to be discussed by asking the right questions.

  • Need to focus on strategy first to answer that question. I am working on a post with some data that shows that my readers really want “me.”

  • Hubspot’s only emotional tie with me is a negative one — because they ask for a LONG form opt-in each time they offer new content. Seems like they (of all people) would have the technology to not ask people who are already on their list to fill these things out each time. But I agree, I don’t have a relationship with any of their writers, either. So I think they do a good job of overwhelming the internet with their massive amounts of quality content, but think they could make a few changes and do an even better job.

  • I do subscribe to the blog (so no more opt-in!). This is my little daily dose of depression because there is no way to compete with that team of writers! I do realize that my audience is a great one and I blessed to have people like you stop by!

  • Megan Conley

    I was just having this conversation with a friend last night! We were commiserating on the pressure to play the social media “game” (ie. optimizing titles for SEO, targeting influential guest bloggers, etc.) at the potential cost of authenticity. I really appreciate your perspective about letting your audience find you based on your genuine interests and voice. The point about the short-term strategy vs. long-term strategy really resonated as well. In the end, it’s about creating a body of work and perspectives that will represent (and distinguish) your brand – short cuts aren’t the answer. But in a”instant results” society, I think we’re in for an uphill battle.

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  • Rodger

    @businessesgrow:disqus This was a great discussion on the quality vs quantity debate. We can compare this to magazine vs TV news content. Gay Talese wrote timeless treatments that endure, but Walter Cronkite’s commentary was fleeting, yet valuable for the moment. I think there is an argument and strategy and best practice for landing somewhere in the middle. Organizations have the opportunity to do both, and should.

  • I truly believe you are right Megan. I have faith that Google will push, push, push to reward original content and quality work … not backlinks and content produced my bots.

  • A valid perspective Rodger. Thank you!

  • Megan Conley

    Absolutely – and the truth is we need Google to help validate this distinction between quality and quantity and make it the industry standard.

  • jmctigue

    Hi Tea, FYI, HubSpot does have “smart forms” now that streamline that process down to collecting just a few form fields (if any), after the first time you sign up for something. It overcomes your objection and allows you to do progressive profiling if that’s your strategy. I believe they are using smart forms now, so maybe they’ve heard your concerns.

  • Wow, I really enjoyed the podcast and the validation that scampering hither and yon looking for attention on the internet was a bad social media strategy. I know what first drew me to this blog was the authenticity of the content. And that’s why I keep coming back. And because I always learn something. (Tom’s voice is a bit dreamy. But you sound very authentic, Mark.)

  • jcrowe_openview

    The lack of personal relationship with HubSpot (or any other company/corporate brand writers) is a really interesting one. Do you think certain companies can pull this off because of the audience’s connection with the overall brand (they just love HubSpot and could care less who the specific writer is)? Or do they really need to have “rockstar” in-house personalities in order to develop stronger & more authentic relationships (ex: Joe Chernov at first Eloqua, now Kinvey; Michael Brenner at SAP; etc.)?

  • I personally think having a rockstar helps. I see very little engagement on blogs where the writer is an unknown quantity.

  • Yes, I think they are fighting the good fight : )

  • Ha! Laughing out loud. Thanks for the “try” on voice compliment Pauline!

  • “i have a hard time creating connection and loyalty to the brand, because of a content machine that they’ve created.” you nailed it. content farms are machines. and machines are the “soul” behind things like…elevators. elevators might be the quickest route to the top floor, but the stairs are the only way to access the penthouse. and the penthouse is where the real fun happens 🙂

    I agree with you and Tom whole-heartedly. long-term quality will win, every time. and it’s funny, the more I pour my own stories into my articles, the more of my ideal clients come calling.

    it’s great to hear your voice, Mark. I really enjoyed this conversation.

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  • Also: props for “hither and yon.”

  • I have to believe that the connection you speak of is measurable, and has as direct a tie to the metrics that matter as “hits” does.

    I’ll take your word for it about penthouses.

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  • I’m glad SOMEBODY was happy to hear my voice. Take that Mr Velvet. Thanks Jessica!

  • and great to hear Tom’s voice too! both of you are steller speachers 😉

  • Great podcast. Glad I found it via a Marcus Sheridan post today.

    The Hubspot problem you mention is interesting. Yes, they are a content machine, and they wholeheartedly eat their own dog food when it comes to practicing what they preach… but they know their target market. (Maybe you are not it, and that is why it seems annoying?)

    Why do they do it? Because it works! The data says it works. The amount of leads they get is astonishing. The staff they have to write their incredible content and the employees on hand to respond to the massive leads they receive daily is huge in comparison to the majority of the sites and businesses out there.

    The “Hubspot problem” is not really a problem. They are a model of what works on a huge scale. Sure, they may not have author recognition like yourself, or a Chris Brogan. They have so many authors it can be a bit hard to build that relationship on such scale. So I do agree with you there.

    But, how is what Hubspot does any different than many other content machine sites like SearchEngineLand, Mashable, The Huffington Post etc? Do you follow and know every author on those sites? The blatant difference however is what they are selling. Hubspot sells an awesome Saas software, while the others sell advertising. Hubspot knows that for every post published they will average x visitors (some new, some returning, some in whatever stage of the sales funnel they track) and that will gain x amount of leads and x amount of sales. The others look at the traffic data and have stats they can sell future advertisers on how many eyeballs will see their banner ad.

    I agree to a certain extent that every post has to be of high quality. But what defines quality? Is it the length? Is it the subject? Sometimes you just have to ship it. I would say for people or businesses just getting started, quantity is very important from a search engine (seo) perspective. But it has to be targeted. And, who cares how many visits a particular piece of content gets you if you do not have a well optimized website ready to give your reader an ability to take another action that you want them to take?

    I do not see content becoming less important any time soon. Sure, Google will eventually knock off content farms, or people ripping you off. But Google, Bing and the others are throwing their eggs into the quality, original content game… and tying all that to author rank, social signals etc.

    As one grows their brand (personal or business), grow their following, and become more of an authoritative writer, they may be able to get away with less content because they have so many people willing to comment, share their content or engage with them. But I would say that this is tricky as well. If you have a schedule that readers are used to, and you drop off the face of the earth and reduce your posts to a minimum, your readers may stop caring and sharing. And there goes your autor rank.

    Quality is in the eyes of the reader or consumer of ones content. One must focus on making content (as much as it takes) targeted to the end user that they are trying to reach. This is just the hand we are dealt now, and the game we must play. If organic traffic is what you are after, what other choice is there? Do the work and play the game.

    Anyway… sorry for the long response here. I am cutting myself off now.

    Just subscribed to your podcast. Looking forward to hearing more.


  • First of all, thank you for this amazing comment and welcome to the blog and podcast.

    I probably was not clear enough about the “Hubspot Problem.” I actually like and admire Hubspot. The problem is not with them, it is with me. I can’t keep up with that stream of content. Unless you want to get into an expensive content arms race, who can? And if you did, then HubSpot would double down.

    And that’s the problem. The people with the biggest budget will win. Not necessarily the best product or the best content. The sheer volume will trump everything … and I believe it more than just a short term issue.

    So actually, I am nearly in complete agreement with you, but I don’t thin the problem is diminished. Many thanks Doc. Well done.

  • Thanks for the response Mark… much appreciated.

    I see your point more clear now, and I feel your pain. I am in the middle of rebooting my personal and business efforts, trying to plan my content, and it is a bit daunting to say the least. Maybe it is especially painful for us as we are in the same industry, trying to talk to many of the same people as someone reading Hubspot content.

    I agree with the budget sentiment, but I think it is a matter of allocation. Depending on the business, moving budgets around to hire the right people to create the content, and getting the whole company involved would help. Shifting yellow page or radio spot budget to hiring content producers. I think you mentioned accepting guest posts as well? That is a great way to generate content, along with new eyeballs. I dunno, there are ways to make it happen if a company really wanted to.

    I think that a good majority of businesses have the ability to compete right now on their very own payroll, but just do not know how to do it, or where to start. Will they be able to compete at a 4+ post a day stride like Hubspot does? Probably not. But devoting the time, resources and effort into it now, rather than after everyone else does, is going to get any business ahead of their competition.

    Thanks again for the reply. Looking forward to chatting more.


  • Hey Mark, hope everything is going well with you. This was a great podcast; just subscribed to it.

    I always enjoy a good debate about quantity and quality. There’s no right answer to this dichotomy, since so much depends on what you define as “winning.” Without understanding the objectives, and whether the goals are short- or long-term goals, the argument is relatively moot. You can impress people with frequent content, just like you can impress people with learned manners and politeness. However, just like it can be easy to spot a facade on a mean-spirited person, the low-quality content will be exposed with time. Which is why the quality vs quantity arguments also depends on the time-frame of the running comparison.

    My take on the whole SEO and “content marketing” game of cat and mouse is that the high-quality bloggers will continue to thrive even more as Google improves their algorithms. I believe that many company and personal blogs that have an SEO objective take the “easy” way out with content and write content for what they think Google wants. The guidelines for writing for Google provide a relatively simple process: find some keywords, write a blog post with some strategic linking, use the keyword naturally, etc.

    When writing for SEO, it becomes easy to forget you’re writing for people. Writing for Google is easier than writing for your audience because connecting with your audience takes time and effort. For Google, there are plenty of guides you can find online to write SEO-optimized blog articles. Ultimately, the SEO game will separate the good from the great. The great will keep pushing the limit, unafraid that it may be “bad for SEO,” with their content, constantly trying to connect with engaging articles. As Google gets better, these “pricing wars” of content will decrease as the path to blogging success will be less and less defined by where you rank on SERP.

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  • “When writing for SEO, it becomes easy to forget you’re writing for people.” — That is one of the biggest dangers of all I think! Thanks for the great comment Pavel!

  • RhondaHurwitz

    Mark, you are more similar to Hubspot than you realize. You both create marketing content people love, and you both drink your own champagne … leading the right prospects deeper and deeper until they discover the solution being offered. Social shares play a role in your discoverability, as theirs. It’s like watching two great athletes with very different styles … both ending up in the same place. You’re not competing with them, you’re playing your own game.

  • I like that. It’s been awhile since somebody (kind of) called me an athlete. You are my new BFF.

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