The difference between “content” and “content creation”

“How can we make sure we get some visits to the site? We need to SEO right?” The client asks.

“No, I’ll say it again and again that the best way to boost your hits is to write unique, authoritative content,” I say, noting that “unique, authoritative content” is Google’s parlance, not mine.

I can see the hockey stick-style traffic charts for people who blog regularly and those who don’t. And if “blog” is a weird term that grates on your nerves, you can call it “write” if you wish.

But the other day I was thinking about the kinds of blogs I write for, this one included, the kind I read, and the variations inherent in them.

As an example, there is no shortage of Apple-related blogs out there. Some of the bigger ones include The Loop, Daring Fireball, TUAW, 9to5 Mac, and Cult of Mac. I read them all.

The Loop and Daring Fireball are more like their respective author’s blogs than Apple blogs, but they have an obvious bent toward technology and Apple as a company. In the case of Daring Fireball, written by John Gruber, the site is generally a link to some other article or source, with a short comment. It works, it’s fun, and it’s one of my go-to sites in my feed reader. But it’s not that much different than the Huffington Post or some other aggregator at the end of the day. It’s just edited and curated together by a person I enjoy more than, say, 9to5 Mac.

9to5 Mac is a site that’s also an aggregated collection of reporting and sourcing from various entities around the web. It’s just collected in one place. There’s value in that and in Daring Fireball, but with exception of Gruber’s remarks and long-form articles, there’s not a lot of “meat” to the site. It’s nothing that hasn’t already been reported in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, or some other source. It’s interesting, but the general links that filter in on the site through the day aren’t really “unique, authoritative content”. But that hasn’t stopped Daring Fireball from having millions of hits and throngs of loyal readers or 9to5 Mac from being acquired by larger companies.

Compare that to something like Mother Jones or The Atlantic, particularly Atlantic’s City Lab. They’re all reporting on current events and situations. Atlantic Cities specifically is the most similar to the hundreds of Apple blogs that dot the Internet landscape.

Atlantic Cities takes on reporting, investigating, and aggregating about a specific topic (urban development). They pull together stories from all over the world, add to them more than most outlets, and share them. They write their own pieces. They pour through academic articles and journals that almost none of us would ever read otherwise.

So how does a site like Daring Fireball with a relative lack of “unique, authoritative content” compared to Atlantic Cities get so popular? The answer lies in how you define “unique” and “authoritative”.

By way of Atlantic Cities’ investigative journalism and writing, they’re doing what no one else is doing, they do it well, and because they follow journalistic standards they’re authoritative.

By way of Daring Fireball’s unique (and pithy) remarks, Gruber is doing what a lot of other people are doing, but in a unique way. And because he’s tempered his posts to commenting on factual information (SEC filings, quarterly reports, releases, reviews, etc.) and not rumors, he’s built the appearance and substance of authority.

Writing is hard work. It takes time, effort, and energy to refine the craft that a lot of people just don’t have the patience or skill for. The open nature of the Internet encourages people to share and discuss and critique. And therein lies the interesting approaches to “unique, authoritative content”. It’s the difference between just “content” for the sake of content and “content creation” with an effort toward creating what hasn’t been made before and a little luck in building the right audience at the right time.

About the author

Justin Harter

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