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Gerry McGovernKiller web content is the future

by Gerry McGovern

June 2005

 

Do you have a nose for killer web content? Do you have a gut instinct when a piece of content is working and when it isn’t?

Your website is just not going to reach anywhere near its potential if you don’t have killer content published in a prominent position, such as your homepage. I’d like to stress the word prominent, because if your killer content is down with the filler content, then many of your customers or staff are never going to see it. Because even if they find the page or the set of search results it is on, they may miss it, because they scan read, and when the eye sees lots of filler, the mind automatically assumes that there’s no killer around.

Killer web content is the content that your customer would kill for—it’s the stuff that they really care about. For Apple iTunes, killer content would include U2’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb or Eminen’s Encore. Without these sort of mega-movers, any music store would be at a serious disadvantage. No matter how powerful Amazon.com is, without J.K. Rowling’s next book, they are going to hurt.

I know what you’re probably saying now: “Well, my website certainly hasn’t any killer content like that.” Not true. You may not have a mega hit, but you surely have content that your customers really care about reading. Because, if you don’t, then things are even better.

If you can’t identify any killer content, then here’s what you should do:

SHUT DOWN YOUR WEBSITE. RIGHT NOW!

If you did shut down your website right now, would anybody really care? If you have to pause for even a second before replying—“Why, of course, lots of people would”—then you’ve got a problem. If you’re asked to justify the value of your website, you must come up with specifics. If all you can do is offer up lame vague statements, then not just your website will be undervalued but so will you.

What do you care about? No, what do you really care about? A house? A home? Your family or local community? A new car? Respect among your peer and friends? A promotion? The satisfaction of a job well done? Going running or playing on your team? Going to a film or to a play with your loved one?

I am a marketer and communicator by training and experience. I came across the Web around 1993. The first time I saw it I was reminded of a promise I made myself as a child.

I had a love of Westerns. I would watch those wagons move towards the American West with envy. So much open space, so much promise. I felt that I would never find that sort of wide open opportunity in my lifetime. So I made myself a promise. If I ever came across a wide open space, I would hitch up my wagon and head West.

Back in 1993, the World Wide Web sure as hell looked like a wide open space to me. The world that my Mosaic browser was showing me was stunning. I found it hard to believe that I could be sitting in an apartment in Dublin, Ireland, and with a click of a mouse, before me lay the world.

I’ll tell you what I care about. Of course, I love and cherish my family. But what I professionally care about—the big thing that drives me—is to make a difference. To pass through this life and leave some sort of mark along the way. To speak and to be listened to. To write and to be read. And to be remembered as someone who did something useful. (And if I make a lot of money, sure won’t that be marvelous.)

From the day I came across the World Wide Web, I made it my mission to make my career out of it. It has been quite a ride. I learned to hand-code HTML, helped design search engines, and content management software. I had a company that was valued at a quarter of a billion dollars, and nine months later went bust. It was hectic, at times traumatic, but ultimately a thrilling and life-enhancing experience.

Through it all, I believed in the fundamental importance of content. The Web was all about content, in my opinion. If commerce is about selling with people, then surely ecommerce was about selling with content? The words, the images, and to a lesser extent the audio and video, were the essence of the website.

If you think this is blatantly obvious, and that such a simple statement should be blatantly obvious to everyone involved in the Web, then think again. I have always championed the importance of content, but I’ll tell you it was hard going during the Nineties.

Even today, I keep meeting people running major websites who think content is a trivial thing. They’ll focus on the technology, then on the graphic design, and at the last moment, they’ll look for some content. They’ll want this content created as cheaply and quickly as possible.

Content is the gold of the Web—the hidden asset—and yet for so long it has been treated like coal; a low cost commodity that is best published in bulk. In 2005, I know of a major website that has sub-contracted content creation to a company, and is using “quantity analysis” to measure the efficiency of this company. Yes, quantity analysis! They expect this company to churn out a certain number of words per day. They don’t care about the quality, only the quantity.

I have talked about web content in 31 countries, and probably half the states of the United States. I could fill a book with incredulous stories about how content is treated as some menial commodity, about how so many people just don’t get it when it comes to the importance of content.

The great business thinker, Peter Drucker, has said that we’ve spent the last 50 years focusing on the T in IT, and that we’ll spend the next 50 focusing on the I—the information.

There are two fundamentally different views of information out there. One sees it as a bunch of bits and bytes that needs to be efficiently stored and transmitted. The other sees it as the process of communicating knowledge. I believe in the second view, and I think that’s what Drucker is talking about.