Too Much Content: We Can’t See the Trees for the Forest

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I recently received a comment on my post, 11 Blogs Every Small Business Person Should Be Following, that got me thinking about where content marketing is headed. Chuck Kent, who by the way is a brilliant content strategist and sociable guy, had one criticism on my list: Seth Godin’s blog. I’ve heard many people criticize Seth’s blog because, more often than not, there isn’t much substance to it. Generally, he writes 2-3 sentences with the intention of stimulating his audience’s thinking. Unlike many prolific bloggers and content marketers, Seth doesn’t make extensive lists or produce groundbreaking quantitative research. Typically, Seth leaves his audience with one simple, succinct, thought-provoking idea. And that is exactly why I think it’s so valuable

On December 5, I made a decision to clear off my to-read shelf before the end of the year. Okay, technically, there are hundreds of books on my to-read list, and I will never catch up. There’s just too much great stuff out there. However, of the books I’ve already purchased, I had 26 left to read. I’ve been reading like a mad-man and, although I have 12 days left, I only have 8 books left to read.

But, do you know how much I remember from each of these books? Not much. I can tell you about the general argument each one is making or the story each one is telling. I may be able to recall an interesting case study or conversation. But I would imagine that I remember less than 5% of what I’ve read–and this is all in the last two weeks!

Now ask me about a Seth Godin post that I read. The amount of what he shares that I can actually remember will probably be inverted. I may even be able to recite the entire post. Why? Because books are filled with many ideas, cloaked in elaborate narrative. Seth Godin gives us one simple idea.

73 Statistics that Show 52 Reasons why 19 Businesses in 7 Different Industries are Doing 37 Things Wrong by Using 3 Different Automation Tools on 5 Different Social Networks

Who among us hasn’t seen articles like this? Now, I’m not saying that these types of content aren’t useful. It’s great to have access to so much information. The more data available to us, the greater the reason we have for accepting an argument. Some of my favorite articles have been long lists of interesting statistics, reasons, tools, etc. Here are a few of them (yes, ironically, it’s a list of “list posts”):

List posts have been shown to generate a ton of traffic. People clearly want long strands of information. But why are lists posts so popular? The same reason, I think, that people read books. Because these posts provide more evidence for an argument. Think about it. You don’t care about each of the 9 ways social networking are misunderstood. You only care that social networking is misunderstood, and the “9 ways” simply serve as evidence for you to reach that conclusion. We remember the fact that social media can be used to deal with angry customers, that the online world is full of marketing myths, and that we can’t bounce back from anything, not the ways that we can use social media for customer serve, the myths that exist in the online world, or methods of picking ourselves back up. We remember the arguments; not the evidence.

Let’s Get to the Point

As much as I love list posts and long articles with lots of research and data, I think the future will be about clarity. There’s just too much information out there. We want content that simplifies our options–not content that gives us more things to consider. I think we’re going to see more Internet memes, more photo quotes, more short videos, more Godin-esque blog posts, and so on. We’re going to see more “concept marketing” and less “content marketing.” We’re going to see a trend toward condensed information. We aren’t going to want the 47 reasons why. We’re just going to want the idea.

No, of course, I’m not saying that we aren’t going to want evidence. We will simply want to assume evidence. We’ll want quick insights from resources that we trust. Yes, we’ll want there to be data behind the claims. We just aren’t going to want to see the data. We just want the idea. We want the concept. We want something we can remember and act upon. So, my recommendation? Start making your content more concise. Give people ideas and make the data available upon request. In a world of ever-increasing clutter, simplicity is what will resonate more than anything else.

4 comments
willrussellmktg
willrussellmktg

Spending the afternoon revisiting a few of the 12most writers blogs, and particularly enjoyed this post Doug! "There’s just too much information out there" is absolutely true.

 

Over the last year or so I've noticed that my blog posts more and more are lists, bullet points, plenty of sub-headings...basically, more clear and concise. I rarely stick around when reading other blog posts if they're just chunks of text, I like short, sharp concepts which - should I be interested in - I can research further on my own, and so have tried to produce this in my own writing.

 

All the best to you in 2013 my friend!

Diana Schneidman
Diana Schneidman

Doug,

 

You’re a thought leader, you think outside the box, you’re the voice of the future, yadda yadda yadda.

 

But seriously, I admire your post. You make an excellent point. And I love the “73 statistics” headline.

 

Still, I see two issues.

 

First, Seth Godin is the Nicholson or Springsteen of the internet. He’s so big he creates his own reality.

 

Most other bloggers are aiming to grow their “tribe” or whatever you want to call it through SEO, or at least partly through SEO. A few sentences don’t get the job done for normal human beings (who also get a limited number of inbound links, likes, votes or whatever). While Google supposedly can assess quality through its algorithms, I doubt that limiting yourself to under 100 words gets the job done.

 

Second, in effect, we readers are already limiting ourselves to reading the summaries, also called subject lines, tweets, titles, or headlines. For every 300 communications as concise as “Yr Biz Shd B Using Social Media” that I see, I actually click on and read perhaps one.

 

I agree that taking common knowledge and compiling it into a numbered list is no longer compelling.

 

In contrast, your singular voice sets you apart and attracts readers.

 

I think we are getting sick of the same old same old. To follow someone, we look for new ideas, humor, photos that are more interesting than the standard stock stuff, and other uniqueness.

 

And of course lots of people are looking for promises that the writer will show them how to rake in huge amounts of cash with very little work.

 

-Diana

 

douglaserice
douglaserice moderator

 @Diana Schneidman Diana, thanks for your thoughtful comment! You make an excellent point about SEO. The more high-quality, relevant, informative text, the high search engines will rank the web page and the more people are likely to link to it. And you're also correct about the whole Seth Godin thing. It doesn't really make sense to compare his success to the success of an average content marketer. Nevertheless, as you point out, I do see a trend toward speed-reading, browsing, getting the headlines, etc. and away from reading word-for-word and wanting to know every last data point. Who knows? Maybe i'll start writing 1,000 word posts but including a 100 word synopsis at the beginning of each. That might work on both fronts...

Diana Schneidman
Diana Schneidman

 @douglaserice Doug, sometimes I start with a summary paragraph. I put it in bold and indent it so it stands out from the rest of the article. Then I can give my keywords more prominence in this summary, while the second paragraph serves as the lead and can be more creative in its construction.

 

-Diana

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