Content Shock isn’t the problem. It’s the solution.

content shock

By Mark Schaefer

I was at a conference this week and the speaker after me was an SEO expert of some kind. I was sort of paying attention but one slide made me look up. It said this:

“The key to SEO success is to saturate the content landscape.”

On the surface, this seems … yucky. We want quality over quantity, right?

Well … it depends.

In a world over-flowing with content, is saturation really our salvation? Let’s explore this idea.

Content Shock in action

A few years ago I wrote a post called Content Shock. The premise was simple: As the supply of content increases exponentially, the cost of competing through content will increase. In fact, it will become so expensive to compete with content that the strategy may be inaccessible for some businesses eventually.

Many people characterized this post as “controversial” … which always confused me because it’s just common sense. When there’s too much of something (or too little of something) in any human, natural, or economic system there has to be an adjustment. Content included. Simple economics.

In fact, we can observe signs of this assessment all around us. One dramatic example is Facebook.

Organic reach on Facebook for most businesses has plummeted over the last five years. Why? Too much content. An average Facebook user now may see 2,000 stories a day on their feed — far too much, so Facebook has tuned its algorithm to block out the increasing wall of noise, which usually means our business content.

As organic reach has declined, companies either had to spend more to improve their content or spend more promoting it — but either way the cost of content marketing goes up. We now learn that Facebook is running out of ad space and ad costs will be going up again. As the cost of content marketing increases, some will eventually have to find another alternative.

Simply put, that is the economics of Content Shock in the real world.

Putting Content Shock to work for you

The most important foundation of a content marketing strategy is influencing the long-term health of your site’s domain authority.

Domain authority is the secret rating scale that Google uses to determine whether search traffic should go to you, or to your competitor. Domain authority is a critical indicator of the credibility, reliability, and usefulness of a website. The higher the score, the more search traffic that will be directed to a website.

We cannot know precisely what goes into Google’s calculation, but we know it is a combination of factors such as:

  • The age of the site
  • Size of site (number of pages)
  • Quality of sites linking back to you
  • Quality of sites you link to in your own content
  • Relevance of the content
  • Keyword matches and density
  • Consistency of published content
  • Timeliness of information (is it constantly updated?)

Increasing a company’s domain authority (and search appeal) would mean consistent concentration on improving these areas.

Google doesn’t share the precise domain authority rating for any website, but companies who specialize in search marketing analysis have developed standardized tools to provide an accurate estimate.

I recently worked on a marketing strategy project for a company in the Northeast U.S. and did an analysis of their domain authority versus the competitors. I changed the names, but here is how the situation looked:

content shock

You can see that my customer, ABC Corp., is in a heap of trouble. Competitors like Gridlock and Navient have created so much content for so long that their domain authority — and the resulting benefits from Google — are nearly unassailable. One of these companies has eleven blogs that it populates several times a week, and has been doing so for years.

In essence, they have created Content Shock for ABC Corp and many of their competitors. They have simply overwhelmed many competitors with content.

Becoming Google-sufficient

Does the content have to be great? That depends. It has to be at least good enough, consistent enough, and current enough to win the search battle. Your content does not necessarily have to be great. It has to be Google-sufficient.

In this case, there is a dog-fight among the top 3-4 competitors and the content is actually superb. These companies have multiple blogs, they’re creating original research, they have essential whitepapers and videos.

So for my customer, not only is their niche overwhelmed by content, it’s overwhelmed by fantastic content.

Content strategy does not start with content

Let’s go back to that SEO slide one more time: “The key to SEO success is to saturate the content landscape.”

I guess I have to agree with that. We can see here that Content Shock isn’t the problem — it’s the solution. This is the goal. Create Content Shock for your competitors by saturating your niche.

My customer is late to the game — they’re in shock! — so we’re going to have to find some clever ways around the problem. But for many marketers out there, the content strategy is always the same: Let’s start a blog (or live video, or podcast …) without really looking at the information density situation in an industry. That is so frustrating to me. More content is often NOT the answer.

If my customer simply just started a blog, you can see this would result in years of fruitless frustration. If your marketing department can’t give you an assessment of the information density in your industry and a plan to combat it (or maintain a lead) then you need to be asking some hard questions.

So in the case of my customer, what IS the answer? Is content marketing a hopeless proposition?

Calling on the Content Code

In my book The Content Code, I have recipes for content strategies in just such a situation. Clearly, we can’t compete by just doing what the competitors are already doing. We need to find new ways to maneuver by finding vulnerabilities in the market … which I was able to do. In this case we are exploring a strategy that would involve:

  • A new type of content that is un-contested in the industry
  • A new distribution methodology to get our content seen in new ways
  • Tapping into influencers as contributors and partners
  • A curated industry newsletter that could go around the competitor dominance by solving a critical customer problem through content.

Content Shock is occurring in some measure in every industry vertical. Before you jump headlong into creating content, step back, assess the information density in your marketplace and think through a content blueprint that will really work.

Make sense?

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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