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What is good content today

General discussion of how things have changed

     
3:19 am on Apr 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Wait, is that actually a question of "what is good content?", how can that be? we all know what good content is, right? so then describe it, can you create a list? would that be something clear and precise? or the list would be about magic words like: engaging, interesting, well written... something that makes you click, etc?

So there you go, want success? do something good, original, well done and innovative. Ok that was easy. I guess you get the idea of what I'm talking about.

In general:
  • good content points to trustful clear and precise information about a topic.
  • Something valuable because it's true and up to date (things can change over time), it must also be interesting enough to keep people reading to the end of the page.
  • It must have pictures, it helps to explain many things.
  • Pictures must be directly related to the topic.
  • Having links to references or authority sites is also good.
  • It must be written using a proper language regarding the topic and your audience.


How? it must have some shape, like paragraphs cut into ideas, different sub topics, headers, you can also shape your text using ordered lists, text is also a visual thing, not just something to "read". And yes, it must be original, something you can't find exactly alike on other sites or it will cost you credibility, or it will mean penalization by search engines (unless you learn how to quote properly and insert decent references giving credit to your sources, etc etc).

I could go on. Sometimes things can seem "less complete" but it's not because I lack information, it's because I have lots of it and you can't put everything on the first paragraphs. I was an editor on a media company and we received training in many ways, this was in the era of "paper" and sure things changed when the web became a worldwide thing, on yes things changed (how you write a piece), and then it was obvious you HAVE to chance many things and style depending on your publication (target, context, destination).

But that's not what the thread is about. Sure I covered some general points but let's jump to my main topic for discussion about what is good content: what if you have done all of that but people don't read your work, or FAIL to read it?. Sounds stupid right? the method of delivery has changed, the web has changed, and most importantly: people have changed.

What?
Remember we are in the era of 140 characters, many people won't ever read past paragraph 2 on a piece of text. Many wont finish a reading unless it has self explanatory childlike drawings or pictures. Many would read your content but will fail to understand it. I have found myself more and more writing for adults feeling I'm writing for retards.

I have informative texts on some websites that still are well ranked as sources of information, yet I started receiving FAR too many questions by contact form regarding those texts... questions that are already answered on the article itself. It became so boring that I just deactivated the contact form appearing on every page, sure, I took measures to discourage direct contact, I created some sort of filters for that.

"Sure is your site, your writing, etc", no. Things have changed. Before noticing this change on "the web" I first noticed it at work between some coworkers and specially among high commands. In the past they could ask you about a report and it had to be clear, precise, informative. Then new people couldn't deal with the information, they just wanted to read on the report "Everything is fine, good! have an awesome day". Anything longer would mess up their minds.

I'm not the only one seeing the web has become an ocean for dumb and dumber people day by day. My approach to this is "forget them", if they are this dumb I will not worry if they don't like the publications", I mean intelligence seems to be going down. Traffic is important, but if you consider good content something that must please most people, then I guess you are on the wrong way, on the way to build websites for dummies.

Couldn't afford a shorter post for this.
Feel free to post your approaches.
3:45 am on Apr 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Textual content has a technical side (composition, grammar, spelling, reading level intended) and creative side (style, voice, exposition). That's what CONTENT is.

What the above is User Engagement and like Einstein (paraphrased) "you can't fix stupid".

Fix the users attention and comprehension skills (vote better and sincere bureaucrats while moderating what they do and how the public schools are held accountable).

Better yet, ban television, limit FB to 15 minutes a day, theater going to once a month, and require ONE actual paper-leafed book read each week. Your content may not be at fault, but there's no doubt that the race to the lowest denominator in education has produced this current state of affairs.
5:12 am on Apr 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Thanks tangor, that's exactly what's happening, a new lowest denominator in education, bad quality, also the short span in attention younger people is used to... and... older people also got used to (but not everyone). I see high education professionals now writing with their feet actually.

Something I missed on the original post: not just the decline of quality questions by contact form, people who actually read the articles (no need to question because the answer is there), that became constant questions that shouldn't exist because again, the answer was already given.

In the middle of what I experienced with those websites was the request of permission (to use the content) in diff places, now replaced by requests to make their homework more easy.

And then, what I should have included from start: now people asking terrible questions, poorly written. A transformation of what I got used to "terrible questions" into short requests like -send me more-, -I need names-, -who was first- (first what?)

More and more stupid people. I moved on from "what the hell is this" to "let's put some filters" and now into "wait... new audience won't exactly engage with this content (and it's not my fault, they are just too stupid).
6:15 am on Apr 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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What is good content today?

This is what brings the answer(s) to what the user is searching.
3:49 pm on Apr 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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a new lowest denominator in education
When you teach to the lowest common denominator, eventually you reach a point where people don't understand what a denominator is.

now replaced by requests to make their homework more easy
Agreed! I used to get lots of e-mails asking permission to use/cite parts of my original site. In the last few years, they have been mostly "im doing a report on [subject] send me the info you have on [subject]" (the lack of punctuation or capitalization or even courtesy is common).

It used to be that if you had good content, other sites would link to it, giving you traffic and eyeballs (and Page Rank). These days, if your content is good, it gets shared on FB. People see your preview image and read the first few words of the first paragraph (included in the FB preview), then like/write comments on the FB re-post without even reading the original content. In many cases, the initial paragraph may be completely opposite of what the rest of the content is about, yet the FB re-post gets widely (and sometimes wildly) shared/cited as a source.
4:28 pm on Apr 12, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I agree with the general sentiment, and, yes, attention spans are now much less than they were. It's a fact that people now use their mobile almost all the time, commenting on TV shows as they are broadcast: 140/280 characters-worth. They are multi-tasking, even when they are out at dinner, their phones are in constant use. It's not just the younger generation, it's many age groups.
I'm surprised there aren't yet more psychological problems being reported through tech being always on. Perhaps there is!

Traffic is important, but if you consider good content something that must please most people, then I guess you are on the wrong way, on the way to build websites for dummies.


Quality is a key, imho. Just because people want bite-sized text to consume doesn't mean they are not fed quality by webmasters and developers such as yourself. There are plenty of people that want quality, but they just want it in smaller chunks.
Keep up the standards, and serve what your consumers want.
There's traffic to be had, imho.
7:23 pm on Apr 15, 2018 (gmt 0)

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When you teach to the lowest common denominator, eventually you reach a point where people don't understand what a denominator is.

@LifeinAsia -- I like that. May I quote you on my website homepage? And if you are agreeable, how should I attribute the quotation? Thanks.
5:45 pm on Apr 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Remember we are in the era of 140 characters, many people won't ever read past paragraph 2 on a piece of text.

That's always been true. (It's one of the reasons why newspapers traditionally have used an "inverted pyramid" writing approach, with key facts in the first paragraph, more detail in the second, etc.)

In any case, every publication has its own target audience. The New York Times doesn't dumb down its stories in the same way that The New York Post does, just as The Times doesn't strive to please readers who are addicted to The Daily Mirror. Our own site reaches an audience that's highly educated (also with high average incomes), according to Quantcast, partly because of its topic and partly because we focus on delivering in-depth information to people who actually read. I'm sure that we reach some people who have short attention spans, but those people aren't our target audience, although they might be a great fit for another type of site.
6:07 pm on Apr 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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May I quote you on my website homepage?
Sure!
And if you are agreeable, how should I attribute the quotation?
I PM'ed you. There's a famous business professor/writer with the same name as me- wouldn't want the credit to go to him. :)

Thanks!
6:07 pm on Apr 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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a new lowest denominator in education

When you teach to the lowest common denominator, eventually you reach a point where people don't understand what a denominator is

And in many cases I have seen: One becomes who/she hangs-out with.
10:22 pm on Apr 16, 2018 (gmt 0)

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The problem is literacy. Once you have the option of writing everything down and looking it up later, you no longer need to remember anything.

:: snicker ::
3:53 am on Apr 17, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Write something people want to read. To Hell with that pondscum intellected Google drivel on what makes a good website. That was only a Wikipedia page with a shopping cart.

Don't listen to Google's FUDbuddies in the media and on websites such as this. They are not your friends and many of them probably have shares in Google. Don't trust them.

Figure out what your visitors want to read and see and create it. It is that simple and that complex.

Regards...jmcc
3:10 pm on Apr 17, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Figure out what your visitors want to read and see and create it. It is that simple and that complex.

I agree, but I don't really know what to do, it's so simple in the short term but actually complex in the long term (macrocosmos). I have old articles/publications and a lot of people sent congratulations about that, those emails were well written some short, some not so short. I can put a big mark on a calendar when FB and Whatsapp became massive "tools" and not saying it directly affected the world but they did somehow, since then it seems people were no longer able to understand old and well written publications, I still got congratulations on some but the messages looked like extracts from a chat, some were even "one word" (good!, thanks!). I get it. Then the use of punctuation and upper/lowercase kind of vanish, people became zombies.

Quite easy to say "you are writing for the wrong public" or "change your style, but it's not that easy. It's not about new articles, it's about old articles that performed really well, publications that made people ask for permission and post some on newspapers, magazines, etc. People used to write, I used to reply (and I got a "thanks man"), today I get contact by websites but I know for personal experience that sending any info will rarely (like never) will get me a reply, instead it's like sending free info. Sure I stopped replying and sometimes will only take 1 seriously per month. So it's not the content, really, people changed.

The drawbacks of changing your style, you might be creating a monster. It seems most people are lazy by nature, I worked on a media company (newspaper, radio, tv) the largest in my country and region, not something ordinary. I was in charge of a set of websites (nothing to do with news) and sure the same happened. Their response was to create

1. Shorter articles
2. As full of images and drawings as possible
3. Short and polemic titles
4. Different set of wording

You know, like writing for someone very dumb. There was a response and it increased the contact by readers. The result was cheap, and so the contact we received, people were unable to understand dynamics to win prizes (weekly contests) and we had dumb and dumber people calling just to have the instructions explained, this is actually embarrassing to tell as a story. The traffic went down due to many reasons and then the heads demanded constant updates (2 per day). From those websites (7) only 1 survives, 1 is frozen with old content and the other ones are gone. In my days we had 7,000 daily visitors.

Yes you can say something new came along, it's not writing but wait. There is more. The Newspaper (printed and online) faced the same issues, in that company and others (the thread is not about the death of newspapers, don't get confused, sure they are dying but this is a different illness). So the company created a new newspaper:

A. It was shorter, like 20 pages
B. LOTS of pictures, big, huge
C. Simple text, short paragraphs, you could copy a full story on a napkin
D. Click bait titles
C. Dumb writing, is not "easy" to understand, in fact it's easy to misunderstand

The result was impressive, great sales, great circulation and after a while online versions of the cheap newspaper was created. Later on the newspaper became a separate company, there was one set of owners for everything, now they wanted to become independent and after many issues they did, they are a separate company (with green numbers) while the original newspaper is still struggling with red numbers. Soon, the competition did the same, and now we have a set of diff low quality newspapers. Some professionals in the field (writers) said this was affecting the education of the readers as a whole, I didn't agree 100% back then, now I think they were on something.

They changed their style, things went bad. I honestly think if they didn't create that low quality product someone else would have anyway.

Today I'm finding myself with a nice set of skills for writing and it seems I have to get drunk to be able of writing like the new wave demands it: dumb texts for dumb brains. While creating good content has never been easy, sure today feels a lot difficult than in the past, specially when I'm given clear clues of the audience "write for stupid people" sure it feels difficult to push your brain into that, I'm actually getting tired of writing.

And then after a self explanatory text such as this one... you can earn yourself a question such as "so the newspaper didn't have sports section" I mean, people can react with totally unrelated conclusions. And you wonder if they ever got to read the article, and if this is worth the time anymore.
6:37 pm on Apr 17, 2018 (gmt 0)

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This is what brings the answer(s) to what the user is searching.

In the other hand, Google already brings the answer to what the user is searching ...
9:22 pm on Apr 17, 2018 (gmt 0)

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If the heart is not in it, the content will suffer. Not from lack of skill producing it, having the desire to WRITE it. That's another fail for "good content".

I don't worry about the poorly educated (most of whom are college students working for some kind of liberal arts degree that will not prepare them for the real world but sounds really cool on a resume). I write for the ones with active brains, even if self-taught, interested in the topic I like to write about. There aren't as many as there used to be, but they are still there, they are loyal, and--if site geared for it--convert pretty consistently.

I don't worry about the two thumbs, one eye and half a mind users. They aren't serious in the first place.

So, good content is what your INTENDED AUDIENCE wants. Decide what kind of audience you desire and write for them. That simple.
8:43 am on Apr 18, 2018 (gmt 0)

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While I have made similar observations to the other posters here, I don't think that it is completely down to the dumbing down of people in general: though, no doubt, the very early internet users were better educated.
I put the patterns observed down to multiple factors:
1. Small mobile devices are inherently unsuited to consuming long-form articles - people just want one fact from your page while hurriedly looking something up on their phone, and are impatient to have to read through a whole article.
2. Google's continued encroachment via knowledge graph etc where they provide instant answers only encourages this behaviour. The user has probably only visited your web page because Google has not gotten around to providing the short version of the answer yet.
3. Related to point 2: The reader who has looked up the more general topic: i.e. 'widget' rather than 'very specific information about a characteristic of a specific model of widget' is probably more likely to read an entire article, rather than just be interested in the width of said widget nozzle. These days it is unlikely that someone searching Google for 'widget' will find your site. You probably have a much bigger proportion of readers that arrive on your pages through very long and specific search queries.
4. By attempting to replace lost search engine traffic with social media traffic, we have opened up an entirely new can of worms: how many times do we see people making comments about a shared article, when they clearly haven't even read it.

I'm sure there are many more.

Another behaviour that I've noticed on my own sites is where people ask questions in the comments section that are clearly answered in the article itself, or where they ask about the timetable that is linked to from the article (i.e. too lazy to click on a link).

Don't even get me started on Facebook groups where people seem to believe that nobody has anything better to do than answer questions such as "what is the weather forecast for tomorrow?".

As for writing style, it has always been my understanding that articles written for internet consumption should use tabloid-like short sentences since people tend to scan articles looking for facts rather than 'enjoy the prose'.