Tag Archives: content-quantity

Establishing the right quantity of content

Brands need to understand what key variables govern how much content they should produce.  As noted in my previous post, content strategists and content marketers tend to offer differing advice, and the rationale for their advice generally will focus on a specific aspect of content.  In this post, I outline how common goals for content can impact desired content quantity.  By having a more complete picture of impacts of different factors, brands will be better able to make informed decisions about how much content to produce.

photo of newsstand in Rome

What problem does growth solve?

Having a strategy for content is essential to implementing any content program, otherwise one is going to waste effort and miss important opportunities.  But even before developing a strategy, brands would benefit from having some sort of guideposts for understanding the utility of having more content.  Brands need a sense of what criteria to consider before they hire someone to help them develop a strategy that is based on goals that reflect assumptions about their problems.  That kind of criteria-based framework is not common currently.

Content strategy and content marketing each offer a perspective missing from the other.  Brands will want to ask what is their biggest issue: Is it having too much content (and too much poor quality content), which is overwhelming their audience, or is it not being heard in an increasingly noisy world?

Neither the strategy or marketing approach currently has a good conceptual framework for guiding the right amount of content over the long term. As a content strategist, I have a strong affinity with the approach of not pushing to add to an already large content stockpile, when this stockpile appears unvalued by audiences, and even by the brand itself.  That said, I believe this approach is valid only for the short term.   Though “less is more” can be an effective strategy in the short run, “more is more” will need to be where brands get to, provided it is done correctly.

Managing symptoms of too much content

One issue in particular draws much attention: that there is too much content, too much information, and too much of that is deemed poor.  Less attention is given to why so much content is out there.  There is an unspoken disdain for the people creating this content, as if they were foolish or willfully spiteful.  A common criticism admonishes those people in organizations who think of content “as a commodity” and who rush to publish “as much as possible.”

Rather than demonize the creators of unloved content, it is perhaps more constructive to understand their motives.  Content is created because there are incentives to create it that are based on a presumed demand for it — though the signals for the demand are often hard to read and are frequently misinterpreted.  It’s not just content that is growing: all kinds of things in our home and work lives are proliferating.  Marketers today need to communicate about hundreds of different toothpaste products, for example, not just a few dozen.  Complexity is a reality, even if one doesn’t like it.   What seems from one perspective to be unmanaged complexity, from another perspective can be seen as richness, diversity and choice.  The goal should not be to impose simplicity on audiences, but to hide complexity from them.

To grasp why quantity can be a hot button issue, consider the audience context.  Quantity can generate complexity for audiences.  Audience attention is adversely impacted by having to deal with irrelevant content. It is not just the amount of attention they are able to offer, it is the amount they are willing to offer.   Audience attention is capped, even if elastic within a narrow range.  Brands must manage quantity properly because audiences have limited attention to give to a brand’s content.

It is comparatively easy to stick to the safety of producing content for areas that one is absolutely sure that solid demand exists.  This is what GOV.UK did when it cut 75% of its content.  It is more difficult to interpret what content that one does not offer that one should offer.   It’s also essential to understand what content deserves fixing.  Rather than cut poorly performing content, it may be more beneficial to transform it.

Two kinds of quality problems: bad content and sad content

One should be careful not to equate poor quality content with useless content.  Content may not meet audience needs fully, but still offer them —  or the brand —  some value.  Such content is sad content, not bad content.  Brands should determine if there is a quantity surplus problem (too much useless content, but the rest is fine) or quality deficit problem (too little content is useful compared with the potential demand for it).  The two are not automatically the same issue, even though they often conspire together to damage the experience for audiences.  Brands face a choice: keep only useful content, or make all content useful.

Bad content should be cut: it offers no value to either the brand or the audience.  Sad content, in contrast, is content that in some way is valued by the brand but not the audience, or less commonly, valued by an audience but offering limited value to the brand.  Sad content can reflect general quality problems, but it also can reflect more specific issues relating to how to connect the right content with the right audience.  It may not be visible to an audience that is interested in it, or it might not be as relevant as it could be because it doesn’t provide sufficient details on the issues that matter most to them.

Brands have many goals for content

Sad content can be the by product of poorly executed attempts to realize different kinds of goals for the brand.  Rather than deride sad content, it is more useful to try to understand what it is trying to accomplish.  Generally these goals fall in four areas:

  • more frequent engagement with audiences
  • giving more specific kinds of information for audiences
  • providing more thorough explanations
  • getting more visibility, and helping audiences discover what you have to say

Each of these goals is worthwhile.  The following table summarizes how different brand goals relate to the quantity of content produced.  A goal may suggest producing less content, producing the same amount (but improving the quality), or creating more content.

Brand needs: Strategy: cull content (less content) Strategy: improve existing content (same amount of content) Strategy: expand content (more content)
More frequent engagement with audience     x
More precise content to improve relevance   x x
Better overall content quality x x  
More visibility in social or SEO x x x

The impact of goals on quantity

Engagement

The only unequivocal reason to create more content is to have fresh material to offer audiences.  This is a useful only to a limited degree, since only a portion of your audience will be willing to give more of their attention to the brand, and even for these people, there is a limit on how much attention they will be willing to offer.

Precision

To offer greater relevance to audiences often involves making content more precise.  Generally, this will involve adding more specialized content, or content with greater detail.  The simplest example of this are any of the big content providers: Amazon, Wikipedia, or Netflix.  They provide relevance to audiences by offering a big range of content addressing very specific interests.  Alternatively, a brand may improve existing content to make it less general, and give it more thematic variation.

Overall quality

To improve overall quality of content requires resources.  Generally, brands need to devote more resources to their existing content to make it better in terms of being topical for audiences, up-to-date, well written, having engaging media (quality graphics, photos, video) and so forth.  Although some incremental quality improvements are be possible with constant resources, most perceptible improvements will requirement more resources.   If additional funds aren’t available, brands face a strategic decision of whether to reduce the amount of content they offer in order to produce better quality content.   The “less is more” strategy can improve satisfaction with the more limited set of content that is published, but carries a potential cost of alienating people seeking content that is no longer available.  GOV.UK reduced duplicate content, and content that received little traffic, as part of their content culling.  But by drastically limiting content it may have reduced the level of self service and information transparency available to the UK public.

Clearly, any expansion of content will place a strain on content quality.  The case of Wikipedia provides an example.  Wikipedia is appreciated for the breadth of its content.  Many brands, from Apple to the BBC, use Wikipedia content in their products because Wikipedia is unrivaled in its breadth.  However, the quality of Wikipedia articles is quite variable, and despite having a sophisticated quality control process, poor quality content is not uncommon.  Even though Wikipedia is not a commercial product, the same issues confront commercial brands.  At times, it may be the case that publishing something is better than not publishing anything, when brands know their customers expect certain content from them, and the brand feels it has a responsibility to offer this content.

Visibility

The most difficult factor to gauge is how the quantity of content affects its visibility on search engines and in social media.  This is obviously important, since it impacts the discoverability of content, which in turn affects a brand’s ability to attract the audiences it desires.  On an atomic level, brands can promote individual content to raise its visibility through social media campaigns or search engine marketing, for example.  But the collective visibility of all the brand’s content is influenced by how audiences relate to the profile of the entire body of content.

Some agencies, such as Red Rocket (cited in my previous post) argue that more content automatically leads to increases in impressions, click throughs, rankings, and social media metrics.  Matt Cutts of Google notes that big websites don’t automatically get higher search rankings, so adding pages by themselves won’t improve search rank.  But he notes because additional pages typically drive more search queries and more page linking, these will help attract more visitors.

It can be argued that smaller organizations that need to attract interest around a specific core message will do better to limit the amount of content, so that audience traffic is directed to a limited set of content, rather than scattered across many different items of content.

Visibility involves a mixture of overall authority (utilization) of all content, and the authority (use) of specific items being promoted.  If a lot of content is weak, and fails to drive traffic, sharing or discussion, then the collective value of this content is weak.  If a few items are able to drive traffic, sharing and discussion, these items can be influential.  However, it can be risky to have expectations for gaining influence in a handful of content, hoping that it will become popular.  Relying on a narrow set of content to drive popularity could either involve narrowing the range of audiences it will appeal to only the most mainstream, or else trying to be too broad to find popularity, and failing to gain strong appeal from any group.

So from the perspective of content visibility, more-is-more, assuming the content is unique enough to get search and link traction.  Big sites having pages with high traffic also get a halo effect, where more niche pages are likely to get a lift through their domain authority.  When a brand is perceived as a source for content, it becomes a destination.

Can more content be better for audiences?

In several dimensions, audiences benefit from access to more content.  How does this square with the systemic problem that audiences face regarding information overload?  If attention is limited, does more content improve relevance, or lessen it?  This is the key question for brands.

In the future, brands should be able to produce more content that is more relevant for audiences: higher quality, more specific and precise, and delivered when audiences want to see it.  Audiences won’t feel overwhelmed, but more engaged, because the content more closely matches their specific needs and interests.  Developing this capability will require:

  • improvements in content production capabilities,
  • improvement in content categorization and discovery
  • improvements in content delivery intelligence

Note that such improvements are not free and will cost money.  Also, process and technology improvements won’t eliminate the problem of sad content, even if they reduce the issue.

Perhaps most importantly, automation and process alone won’t create great content.  The content with the most outsized impact will likely be content that received the most human attention, just as it is today.  Examples from award winning advertising and journalism show us that thoughtful and creative content gets the most engagement, and resonates more strongly with audiences.  Even when using technology to carefully optimize pages through repeated A/B testing, human attention and judgment are crucial to improving engagement.

The field of content is far from having an easy-to-understand and reliable framework to guide the right amount of content to produce.  But I hope that this overview provides practical guideposts to frame that discussion.

— Michael Andrews

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