In Defense of Content

Just the other day, I was on the phone with Judi Muller, the designer I work with on the Williams-Sonoma’s Connoisseur newsletter, and we got to talking about the projects she’s working on at her agency, Media 27. They do some great work over there and have a great eye for style, design, and photography. You should check ’em out.

Anyway, we got to talking about my business of content. Throughout my career, designers, art directors, photographers, et al., say repeatedly to cut the copy. Those visual folks hate the content. (They might not, but that’s what it sounds like to my martyr ears.) Judi told me that content, good content, is really hard to find. Indeed, she went further and said that good content is crucial to the success of any project or campaign, I was shocked. Of course, I believed that and had staked my business on the fact that good content was king, but to hear a designer say so was like manna from the heavens.

And then, as I was spinning through the Fast Company email newsletter that I receive daily, I saw this article about Google’s recent battles with content farms. Click here for that link.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, hit the nail on the head for me when he wrote: “I think good quality content comes from either really passionate fans, or from paying proper journalists a proper salary to write. But paying people a very low amount of money to write about stuff they don’t care about — that doesn’t work.”

I’d add that good content also can come out of professionals who take the time to learn the ins and outs of the industry they are writing about. For instance, I pride myself on diving into every one of my client’s industries and learning what they do, how they want to communicate their message, how their competitors are communicating and what will strike a chord with their clients (current, potential or past). That’s the same philosophy I used during my journalism and book writing days.

And, while I know it’s crucial, I just don’t believe that copy (whether it’s used on a website or in an ad) should be rife with buzzwords that are only there to capture a search engine’s algorithm.

Mr. Wales seems to agree: “Where I think you really fail is in the other corner of the axes, where you’re paying very little, and the people you’re paying don’t actually care about what they’re writing about. All they care about is having the right keywords to get traffic from the search engines. Whether the information is actually informative, accurate, entertaining, or interesting is really secondary.”

I understand this is my prejudice — content is vital to the success of any project. Design is crucial to capture attention. No doubt about that. But, please, whether your content comes from us or not, please be smart about how you say what you need to say. It makes us all better.

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