How much content is enough?

How much content is enough?  Neither content strategy nor content marketing currently offers a complete framework to guide how much content a brand needs to produce.  Each has a distinct orientation that is largely reactive to the problems it is most concerned with.  These orientations conflict with each other.  Brands need better guidance.

Why the quantity of content matters

Everyone involved with content agrees about some basics:

  • content is important to the success of brands
  • doing it well can be expensive
  • it is important that brands make an appropriate investment

Brands will reasonably want to know what is the right amount of content to create, and how much is enough.  They don’t want to waste money creating unnecessary content, and don’t want to miss the benefits that can be gained from quality content because they produce too little.

This seemingly simple question — how much content is enough — turns out to be surprisingly difficult to get a consistent, straightforward answer to.  It’s a basic question with profound implications, affecting both the size of investment in content, as well as how that investment is structured.  It’s also the question, more than any other, on which practitioners of content strategy and content marketing are likely to disagree.

If we look at general tendencies, we see that content strategists more often than not advise brands to offer less content: to be more selective in the content they present and the messages they communicate.  Content marketers tend to advise brands to offer more content: to be more active in how much content they communicate with audiences.   I am sure each approach will acknowledge exceptions can apply — but the contrast between the emphasis of the approaches is stark.   The question of how much content to offer reveals a deep philosophical difference between the approaches, and the different ways each perspective values content.

Let’s review a few anecdotal statements for clues into how each approach thinks about the issue.  I will then ask “lateral” questions to consider strategic issues related to the statement.  These “food for thought” questions aren’t intended to challenge the value or accuracy of a fact or opinion expressed, or meant to imply anyone said something they did not say.  Rather, they are meant to spark a wider exploration of ideas associated with the topic of the statement.  I present them because I feel that much of the discussion to date has not been giving sufficient attention to these issues.

Content strategy perspectives on content quantity

Content strategists emphasize the tradeoff between the quality of content, and its quantity.  Improving the quality of content for audiences is a major purpose of content strategy.  Offering less content can result in better quality, for many reasons: the content gets more attention when created, it is keep up to date, it is easier for audiences to find, and it provides a clearer messaging to audiences.  Among content strategists there is even concern that content marketing is worsening the perceived problem of too much poor quality content.

Margot Bloomstein, an influential content strategist and author, speaks about having a“quantity verses quality discussion” with clients, where she asks them:  “Can we do it better, not just more?”    “Should we be just writing more content, or should we be looking at that content and saying, is it laser focused” to meet communication goals?  She asks clients “are they meeting objectives, or are we just doing more content marketing, and hope?”  Food for thought: Can you shrink your way to greatness? 

Jonathon Colman, a respected content strategist, currently at Facebook:  “If you want to see who the leading organizations of tomorrow are going to be, take a look at who’s doubling down on content — not quantity of content, but quality of content experiences and services.”  He summarizes: “Quality > Quantity!”  Food for thought: Can having high quality content alone substitute for not addressing a topic your audience is interested in, and expects you to provide to them?

The UK Government Digital Service (GOV.UK), implemented one of the highest profile examples of content culling: it cut out 75% of its web content, and improved the experience for audiences in the process.  “We don’t care about traffic, we don’t care about numbers. We just need people to get the information,” Sarah Richards, content officer, told  a Confab session last year.  Food for thought: Does this approach work for organizations that don’t have a captive audience?

Content marketing perspectives on content quantity

Content marketers believe that content is a cornerstone of marketing, and consequently more content needs to be created to support marketing.   There has been a rise of content agencies, and in-house content staffs have expanded quickly, an indication that more marketing content is being created than ever.

Like content strategists, content marketers acknowledge that content quality is important, and should not be sacrificed for the sake of producing more content.  But while they recognize the potential tradeoff between quantity and quality, they don’t see it as an iron law that can’t be overcome.  In other words, more content doesn’t necessarily have to be poorer quality, and therefore more content can be desirable.

Content marketers worry about not being seen by audiences.  So while quality is mentioned, the clear emphasis of the content marketing community is on producing more content.

Joe Pulizzi  of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI): “Australian, North American and UK marketers all produced more content over the last year compared with one year prior.”   Food for thought:  Are all these brands wrong to be producing more content? Alternatively, are they all seeing benefits from producing more?  Are some wrong, but others right, when following the same basic advice?

A CMI survey of B2B marketers: “Producing enough content is the biggest challenge.”  Food for thought:  What’s the true constraint?  Is this a real problem, or a manufactured one?

Red Rocket Media, a content marketing agency, writing in econsultancy: “Creating more content gets results,” and they present data they say proves it.  Food for thought:  Will offering more content get the brand more love, or just better vanity metrics?

Is quality or quantity more important?

There is a philosophical difference between content strategy and content marketing.   I’ll use a grossly simplified analogy to illustrate this difference (accept my apologies in advance).  Content strategy is about magnetism; content marketing is about outgoingness.   Content strategy believes people will find you if you are likable, while content marketing believes if you find people they will like you.  Quality enables magnetism for a brand; quantity (or at least the availability of fresh content) enables its outgoingness.

The focus on quality verses quantity by itself does little to inform us about how much content is enough.  It’s important to understand what someone has in mind when they talk about quality.  Everyone agrees quality matters, but don’t necessarily agree what quality is.  Most people agree what quantity is, though they don’t always agree why or how it matters.

Quality is rarely robustly defined, so it remains largely a subjective judgement. People have many different ideas of what constitutes quality: ranging from like-ability to high production values to informational accuracy to content utilization.  Personal ideas about quality shape many of the assumptions used to develop goals for content.

Content strategists will argue the right amount of content is the amount that supports the goals of a defined content strategy, which will be unique to each organization.  Content marketers will argue as well that a plan with goals are needed, and the right amount of content is the amount that satisfies these goals.  Both perspectives might scoff at the idea that one would ask how much content is enough, in the absence of a strategy or plan.  They might consider the question naïve.  But brands would be reasonable to push back and ask: What is so mystical about the utility of content that prevents us from getting a sense of what is the right scale for content?  Can getting a sense of appropriate scale for content only be determined after some lengthy strategy review process?  Are there no guidelines at all?

Given the conflicting advice about how much content to produce, brands need better guidance.  This guidance needs to look at the complete picture, and not just react to worries about falling behind other brands in some particular area.  And that guidance needs to be specific about what is helped and hindered by a particular approach to increasing or decreasing content.  Most general advice either unrealistically promises “you can and should do it all” or vaguely advises that “it’s necessary to strike the right balance.”

Quality verses quantity is just one strategic trade-off that needs to be addressed in a content strategy.  It’s an important tradeoff, and one that deserves a deeper examination, especially given the wide variation in how people refer to quality.  There are other factors such as engagement, visibility and relevance to consider when determining how much content is enough. Each of these factors has its own tradeoffs.

So to answer whether a brand should be creating more content, or less, it pays to understand how different content goals will influence different directions for content quantity.  In a follow-on post, I will discuss in more detail how looking at four dimensions of content can help brands understand better the appropriate level of content to produce.

—Michael Andrews