The age of “content noise”

We need to have a serious conversation with ourselves as business owners and as digital marketers. We need to sit down and ask ourselves some “back to square one” questions:

  • Who are we?
  • What is our message?
  • What value are we adding to our respective industries and customers?
  • Who are we trying to reach?
  • How do we reach them?
  • At the end of the day, what are we trying to achieve?

These questions seem very basic and fundamental in question, but in practice, they seem to be unanswered, wading in a sea of confusion. I say this because content on the internet has hit an all time high, but not for the right reasons. It’s no secret that we live in an age of mass content. I mean, MASS content. Everywhere you turn - there’s content.

I don’t want to be misunderstood in saying content is a bad thing. It’s not. In fact, you need it now more than ever, but content these days seems to be created for the pure sake of being created. There’s no clear goal or audience. It’s the digital equivalent of throwing everything you got against a wall hoping it will stick. SEOs and digital marketers alike are telling their clients and bosses, “We need more content!” But the “why” in creating content seems to be the missing link.

Instead of driving a Humvee, we need to be driving a GPS loaded, economically friendly Hybrid. I need to know where I am going, and I don’t need the extra “fat” to weigh me down getting there when it’s necessary or providing value.

Content Is a 24/7 Industry

In preparation for this post, I was reading a study that was put out by ACI Information Group discussing the amount of content created by the minute on the internet. The numbers are truly astounding, and keep in mind, these statistics are by the minute (and it’s from 2014):

  • YouTube uploads 72 hours of new video
  • There are over 200,000,000 emails messages sent
  • Google receives over 4,000,000 search queries
  • Facebook users share 2,460,000 pieces of content

...and these are four out of the 15 data points available in this piece. Content is nonstop and it can be hard to distinguish between valuable content and content that can be left alone to widdle away.

But that begs the question, “What is content noise and how do I know when I am seeing it?” To me, “content noise” is encountering a piece of content that doesn’t live up to the offer or value it’s portraying in it’s title or description. It’s a waste of my time in that it didn’t offer me anything new or offer insights. It exists and that’s about all it has going for it. I know when I encounter it

So, I reached out to some of Marcel’s favorite industry writers, authors, researchers, and all around smart people, and asked them the following question:

How do you define "content noise" and how do you know when you’ve seen it?

Enjoy their answers below!

What is “content noise” and how do you know when you’ve seen it?

Bill Slawski of SEO by the SeaBill Slawski

Bill is the Director of Search Marketing at Go Fish Digital and President of SEO by the Sea. You can follow him on Twitter at @bill_slawski.

“I don't use the phrase ‘Content Noise’, but I am cautious about the concept. Ideally, when you create content, you should do so with a concern for the impact that it might have upon the mindsets of your intended audience. You need to be concerned about the impression you create in them of you. If some cognitive dissonance, or uneasiness is created by that content, that is a warning signal that it might not be something that you want to use. You want to create content that your audience feels comfortable talking about with others,and sharing socially, and having represent them. It can also help if it creates a sense of authority or expertise, or both.”

Cyrus Shepard of Moz

Cyrus Shepard

Cyrus is the Director of Audience Development at Moz. You can follow him on Twitter at @CyrusShepard.

“I define content noise as ‘content that demands attention while failing to provide unique value.’ Consumers of content have limited attention, and when you ask them to spend that attention without delivering something of equal or greater value in return, you create an attention deficit which makes it easier for the consumer to ignore you next time. If you answer ‘yes’ to the question ‘Can I ignore this content?’ then you know it is noise. The key to success is creating content you don't want to ignore.”

Neil Patel of Quick SproutNeil Patel

Neil is everywhere. He co-founded Kissmetrics, Crazy Egg, & Hello Bar, but you may know him best as the guy behind Quick Sprout. You can follow him on Twitter at @NeilPatel.

“To me content noise is fluff. When you read something that doesn’t teach you anything or doesn’t leave with you with something of value, you are reading content that is full of fluff. You know when you see it because these content pieces aren’t well written and don’t go into much depth.”

Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing InstituteJoe Pulizzi

Joe is the founder of Content Marketing Institute, the leader in content marketing training and education. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoePulizzi.

“There has always been more content than we could possibly engage in. Sure, there is more content being created every day, but audiences continue to have different needs, which means the opportunities to influence customers with content is greater than ever (since consumers are in control and there are no barriers to publishing entry).

The companies that fail to tell a different story will fail. The companies that don't consistently deliver will fail. Those that find a content niche where they can be the leading expert in the world, then develop a platform of consistent and useful content and build an opt-in audience, will succeed. With all the "noise" we are seeing more companies find success in this area than ever before.“

Rand Fishkin of MozRand Fishkin

Rand is the “Wizard” of Moz. You can see him every Friday via Whiteboard Friday. You can follow him on Twitter at @RandFish.

“The flood of content to which web-connected people are exposed on a daily basis has risen exponentially in the last 10 years. Our brains are rewiring to keep up, but part of that process means filtering out an ever-growing percent of what we see. For marketers and content creators, the growth in content exposure means a growth in difficulty of standing out - the more noise, the harder it is to be signal. My belief is that the greatest skill to overcome this is empathy - being able to put yourself in the shoes of your audience and their influencers to know what they want, need, and actively seek. I hope to see many more marketers embracing empathy in the years ahead.”

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Barry Schwartz
Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable

Barry is founder of Search Engine Roundtable and CEO of RustyBrick. You can follow him on Twitter at @rustybrick.

“To me, content noise is content developed by rehashing what other content producers have put out on the web. This is without adding any new insights, data or other value. Typically this is done with the intent of trying to rank in Google or low cost content bait. “

Christy Correll of Honey Tree MediaChristy Correll

Christy is the brain behind Honey Tree Media in Denver and a Moz Associate. You can follow her on Twitter at @denverish.

“Content noise is information that does not add value to the conversation between the brand or person producing the content and the audience the content is meant to reach.

To add value to the conversation, content must be useful, engaging, and trustworthy. It must be targeted to a specific, known audience.

The noisiest content is created without a specific audience in mind. Content that is created for the wrong audience, or an audience that has not been well-researched, is also doomed right from the start, destined for a short role as mere static before fading into the background altogether.

People are adapting to today’s content-saturated world by only paying attention to the information they are already looking for. If a blog post, for instance, doesn’t answer a question you have -- or make your life easier or more enjoyable in some other way -- you may skim its title, sure. But you will certainly not take the time to read it, much less share it with anyone else.

To save time and energy filtering content, people are increasingly relying on content curated by people they trust. They are becoming more particular about who they follow on social platforms, setting up automated filters for their news feeds, and subscribing to newsletters that deliver the best articles on the topics they care about straight to their inbox.

People are also using apps that make it easier to find, consume, and share valuable content. Apps like Nuzzel, News 360, Feedly, Pocket and Buffer (my personal favorites at the moment).

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The bottom line: How to avoid creating content noise
When creating content, the key to making it stand out is to tailor it to your targeted audience’s needs and desires. Answer your audience’s questions, and connect with them on an emotional level. Create content that adds value to the conversation between your brand and your audience. Anything less is just noise.”

Aaron Wall of SEOBookAaron Wall

Aaron is the founder of SEOBook, a digital marketing tips, analysis, and training website. You can follow him on Twitter at @AaronWall.

“I am not sure that I have ever thought of the term "content noise" before. I certainly have heard of the term fluff, but that is only one type of noise. Other types of noise would include things like people who outright shill for a particular player (Google gives exclusives to some sites which routinely give you Google's view while claiming to be a neutral journalistic enterprise), misdirected public relations spin (quotes which often say nothing while talking up the importance of celebrating vague catch all terms like "technology" and "innovation"), and people who start from the desired conclusion and work their way backward (for instance, some people in the SEO niche have believed for over a decade that links were unimportant and remain utterly unimportant to this day).

Most people in the SEO industry view strategy as worth next to nothing, which in turn means a lot of opinions which contrast the Google Gospel are not published with the frequency they once were. Google has done a fantastic job of divide and conquer, marginalizing and disenfranchising independent SEO practitioners. ”

The way you get around some of the above issues quickly is by knowing the biases of the sources in advance. The easiest ways to determine the biases is to be well experienced in the field, such that you can compare what others write to what you have experienced. If someone's experiences confirm some of your own (especially if they go against conventional wisdom) then you can learn to trust those sources a bit more. It is not that you are looking for broad-based consensus or someone who doesn't make you think, but rather signals that people are testing, learning, thinking & not just parroting something they saw elsewhere without filtering it & putting it into context using perspective from their own experiences.

Another filter is that quite often quality and frequency of publishing are inversely proportional. Blogs like Sugarrae and Johnon.com rarely publish new posts, but they are well worth reading whenever they do. Some of the sites which publish more frequently do also catch a lot of important issues, but also have lots of filler, so you have to look at the headlines on some of those & then just read some of the stories which sound like they might be more important.

To find some of the bigger issues going on I like to track tech news on TechMeme and check out the daily newsletter from SearchEngineLand. Sometimes Barry highlights important issues on SERoundtable too. I follow a couple people on Twitter like John Andrews who seem to dig up a lot of important stories, chat with great people like Cygnus on Skype, and participate on our member forums almost every day, where some members find other important issues which may not be discussed broadly in the industry. In addition to the above sources, some people regularly email me interesting links, some people send them to me on Twitter.”

Erin Everhart of Search Engine LandErin Everhart

Erin is a leading contributor to Search Engine Land and the Lead Manager, Digital Marketing at The Home Depot. You can follow her on Twitter at @ErinEver.

“Content noise is that dangerous place we get to when users have become so inundated with content from all different companies that they effective aren't hearing anything at all. They're immune to it,and frankly, overwhelmed by it. There are two things that have contributed to this content noise:

1 - Content consumption has massively increased just by the sheer number of ways users can access it (social media, email, ads, blogs) and how they access it (desktop, mobile, tablet, watch?).
2 - The "content is king" mantra has saved our industry because it refocuses us on what really matters but he's slowly killing us because of the sheer amount of content that companies are putting out. More is not always better!

We need to be careful about how much we're putting out, and more importantly, how we're measuring it. To eliminate the noise, don't relate on industry best practices or standards because your audience may react differently. Look at your own data: What type of content has the most engagement? Gets the most shared? Are there things (both type and topic) that your consumers are simply ignoring? Figure out what your users like, and focus on creating that content.“

Content creation moving forward: Removing the “noise”

As shown by the answers above, content noise comes down to creating content that doesn’t provide value to the readers. It’s merely being created for the sake of being created, because content is something “you need to do” or something “you need to have”.

So, where do we go from here? While the answer to that is heavily dependent on your industry and your audience search intent, the fundamentals of creating content and providing value are rather basic. Here’s what you need in order to create compelling content at the most basic of levels:

Brainstorm with your team

  • What are your goals as a company or brand?
  • What are your core focus areas or high value queries?
  • What value do you bring to your industry?
  • What makes you not the “best” option, but the ONLY option?
  • What data do you have to back that assumption up?
  • What personnel can write content for your site or outlets?
    • Remember, everyone has potential value or expertise to bring to your online presence and brand - again, not just words, but value

Research your audience / industry

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What are their goals?
  • What are they actively searching for?
  • Where are they currently participating in conversation?
  • What industry language do they use in search and discussions?
  • How do they digest their content?
  • What information is missing in your industry?
  • How can you align your company goals with your audience’s goals?
  • Here's a quick resource on content gap analysis from Edge Multimedia
  • Not sure how to ask questions or survey your audience? Check out this resource from Lifehack
  • Take advantage of great tools like Open Site Explorer and SEMRush to get a handle on your competition and what's working / not working for them
    • How can you tweak this to fit your company?
    • How can you make it better?

Build out content on the site based on your research

  • Mind your obvious onsite SEO fundamentals (titles / meta descriptions / schema / content length and language / etc.) (resource)
  • Lay your site architecture out in an easy to use / understand fashion for your audience (Information Architecture for SEO)
  • Are the keywords you are targeting transactional? Informational? Navigational?
    • What’s the logical “next step” that you can include in your content?
      • Think of your marketing funnel and inbound marketing
  • Repurpose content through video / images / guides / e-books / how-tos / etc
  • Take advantage of internal site search functionality
    • What are users searching for on your site?

Distribute that content through social platforms / industry blogs / email marketing

  • What kind of links are being acquired for high ranking content?
    • Are those relevant to your audience/business?
    • How do you acquire those links or links similar?

Participate in the discussions that are happening in your industry

  • Social
    • You could take advantage of features like Twitter's Advanced Search and start fielding questions
    • Use your content to answer those questions
  • News sites
  • Industry forums
  • Q&As

Starting with a goal for your content that is based on relevant and in-depth research is the most important aspect for your content. If you have a clear goal in mind, or action that you want the audience to take, the rest of your content creation and distribution become more clear. It’s the starting point on the map for your journey; if you don’t know where you are, how do you know where you’re going?

With all of this being said, never create content for the sake of creating content. Never create content without knowing your goals and the audience it needs to reach. And never underestimate the value of your time, and most importantly, your audience's time. Doing any of the above will not help you or get you ahead in any fashion. Instead, it will frustrate users in that they didn’t get the outcome they expected, and it will frustrate your team when leads or conversions stop coming in. Provide value, not just in content, but in every action you as a company take, and always have a goal in mind for that action.

If you feel your content isn't performing the way it should or is not resulting in conversions on your website, our SEO experts are standing by and ready to help where they can. We will audit your content and website to see where missed opportunities are creating obstacles for your website's performance and pass along tips to help you remedy those current issues. Feel free to contact us today and we'll be in touch right away to discuss your business goals!

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