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Saturday, May 27, 2006

On content writing and quality...The challenge of marketing "the good stuff"...Part I of at least II...

This multi-part post starts about twenty years ago in a small north-central Kansas town. There was a doughnut (or donut, if you prefer) shop with a large hand-painted sign in the window:


That sign stayed up for years.

Now, let's jump back to the present. This time, we are in a rapidly growing suburb of a major metropolitan area. This morning I bought some gas at a nearby convenience store. They are looking for a few new employees. The sign on the door says:


Funny? Maybe. Sad? Sort of. My point? Lousy writing is everywhere. My real point? That makes marketing quality writing more difficult.

Now, here's some more of the story. My family knew the donought people. Not only did they make awesome apple fritters, they were also decent people who were of at least average intelligence. I stop at that convenience store regularly. I talk with the manager who wrote that sign about everything from civility in public spaces to weather trends. He's a smart man for whom English is a second language (much like many content buyers, by the way).

So, with that in mind, let's think about content buyers. Do they want quality work? Sure. Most of them do. Those who don't care as much about quality are usually intentionally making that sacrifice for the sake monetary savings because they are running sites that will make money from search engine traffic and Adsense ads. Those decisions are intentional (see this post, for instance). Overall, however, people tend to want quality.

If you asked the doughnut people if they wanted a quality sign in their window, they would say "yes." If you asked the gas station manager if he wanted a good sign to let people know he is hiring, he'd say "yes."

Here's the kicker--both of them would tell you they already have a quality sign even though you and I know they do not.

That's because they cannot distinguish between good writing and bad. That doesn't make them stupid, it just means that they don't have the background, interests, etc. to differentiate even repellant writing from quality.

Now, the case is usually not so obvious when it comes to freelance content buyers. They usually can separate the horrific from the decent. However, after writing reaches a certain level of decency, it may look great to them even though those who are more attentive to language use will see problems.

Here's a case in point. Today, I was looking at a website that sells content to webmasters. They seem to have a fairly successful operation. I looked at a few sample articles. The samples do communicate an idea, at least to some extent. They also use some decent vocabulary. They are free of spelling errors. If you cut and paste one into Word, it won't find that many mistakes. To many, it probably appears to be decent content.

However, it isn't. It is second-rate. There were at least a dozen different mistakes (not to mention some general awkwardness) in the first paragraph of the first sample alone. It was bad writing and Mr. Talley would have given me a D and made me do a rewrite if I would have handed it in high school English. Professors Charlton, Boucher or Smith would have flunked me in college without batting an eye if I gave them that article.

So, here's the big question: How can you market quality to those who cannot discern quality? It's tough, that's for sure. If Content Done Better is a half-cent more expensive than someone who is churning out poorly written content that "looks" good to those who aren't able to distinguish between bad and good, I might miss out on that job unless I can show them the difference and why it's important.

Even more importantly, perhaps, can you make a compelling argument that it IS important?

I think you can and that you can successfully market "the good stuff." That will be Part II of this discussion...