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Is Content Still King or Have the Gatekeepers Won? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 328)

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It’s that time of year again, one where someone suggests that content marketing as we know it is dead. And when it’s someone like Rand Fishkin, it’s worth listening to what he has to say. But… is he right? Is content marketing still king? Or have the gatekeepers won? Are we dependent on gatekeepers — and the rules they put in place — to get our messages in front of our customers?

How about… no?

I’m not trying to diminish anyone here. Rand asks an important question. But maybe the questions we want to ask are, "How should we think about content marketing today? How can we make content marketing work for our business?" Those are the topic of this episode of Thinks Out Loud.

We’ll look at what works for content marketing, not only for content creation, but also content distribution. We’ll talk about what you need to do to ensure your content reaches the right customers today… and how you can be ready for tomorrow.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 328: Is Content Still King or Have the Gatekeepers Won? Headlines and Show Notes

Show Notes and Links

Here are the regular show notes detailing links and news related to this week’s episode. Be sure to check out all the links that matter for your business once you’ve given the episode a listen.

Free Downloads

We have some free downloads for you to help you navigate the current situation, which you can find right here:

Thinks Out Loud is sponsored by SoloSegment: SoloSegment increases large-enterprise, B2B website conversion with easy-to-install software that automatically connects website visitors to the content they need to see to achieve their goals. SoloSegment does this using anonymous data and machine learning ensuring privacy compliance, addressing the many anonymous visitors, and improving the efficiency of marketing teams. Visit SoloSegment.com.

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Contact information for the podcast: podcast@timpeter.com

Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks

You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:

Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud

Recorded using a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Mic and a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface into Logic Pro X for the Mac.

Running time: 17m 40s

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Transcript: Is Content Still King or Have the Gatekeepers Won?

Well, hello again, everyone. And welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter, this is episode 328 of the big show, and I am thrilled to be back. I’m sure you’ve noticed, I hope you’ve noticed, we haven’t had an episode in a while, and there’s a host of reasons for that. We’ve been making some changes here around the business, we’re in a new location soon to be announced, and we’re going to be making some changes to the podcast, things that we can do better. I hope you’re going to like that, and I’m looking forward to hearing from you about what you like and what you’d like to see changed as we go forward. You can just drop me a line at podcast@timpeter.com, I’d love to hear from you.

Gatekeepers Gonna Gate. Should That Stop You?

In this episode specifically, I want to talk about a post that really got a lot of attention, oh, three or four weeks ago from Rand Fishkin, and Rand is the founder of SparkToro, he was the founder of Moz.com, and he had a really interesting and provocative and thought-provoking post about the incentives to publish no longer reward the webs creators, meaning that the incentives for people to create content for their own websites just don’t exist in the way that they once did, that it is harder for your content to get seen, it is harder for your content to get in front of your customers than it once was.

Rand Fishkin Asks Whether Incentives Have Moved Away from Publishing Content

Rand’s post prompted a lot of debate and discussion around the idea of, "is content still king? Is content dead in the way that we’ve been using it? And is having a place where you can put your content less important than it used to be?" This is a topic that is very, very near and dear to my heart. I speak about this a lot.

And I want to start by saying first, I have an enormous amount of respect for Rand. He is brilliant. The guy founded Moz.com, as I mentioned, he founded SparkToro. He is one of the nicest guys I know, he gives platforms to lots of people, he’s super helpful, super responsive to the community, so I don’t want this to turn into, "Rand Fishkin’s a jackass," or something like that. That’s of course going to be the pull quote I’m sure that people will take from this, and I don’t mean it that way at all. I think Rand’s a great guy.

"Content Doesn’t Work" Has Been Done to Death

I also think it’s true that this debate exhausts me. And what I mean by that is every couple of years, we seem to have this discussion about, is content marketing dead? Or if you want, is SEO dead? Or is social dead? Which, given all the bad news about Facebook in recent weeks, is understandable.

Content Is Still King

But of course, content is still king. Let’s just get that right out there.

If you don’t have content, you don’t have search. You cannot appear in search results without content. If you don’t have content, you don’t have social; your customers, your friends, your family, your fans, your followers on social, have nothing to share on your behalf. They may still be creating content on your behalf, they may still be creating and curating a positive experience, a positive brand story on your behalf, but they may not. And obviously we depend upon our customers to participate in that creation, in that curation, so we are very dependent on our customers for content, if not ourselves. So, there is no marketing as we know it without content. That was true 150 years ago, that was true 50 years ago, it will be true 50 years from now.

This isn’t a new debate by any stretch. Our good friend, my very good friend, Mark Schaefer, has been banging this drum for quite some time. First in a blog post he wrote way back in 2014, and later in his wonderful, wonderful book, The Content Code. I talked about this in an episode called "Digital Gatekeepers and the Death of Organic Traffic" more than a year ago. I talked about this and a similar question on Biznology way back in 2011 when I asked, "Whose brand does Google want to build?"

You have to bear in mind that the term information overload was popularized in the book Future Shock by a guy named Alvin Toffler, which was first published in 1970. So 51 years ago. And the term itself probably predates the book by at least five or six years, if not 10. So, the idea is at least 50 years old, 50, 60 years. If you want to go back even further, there’s a great quote that said, "The abundance of books is a distraction." And that quote was said by a guy named Seneca the Elder sometime around 100 CE. That’s 100 Common Era. S about 2000 years ago. So, the idea that there’s too much content is not even remotely new, we’ve been talking about this for, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say about 2000 years.

Content Distribution Is Harder. But It’s Not Impossible

It is also true that content distribution is harder. That’s a fact. It is definitely getting harder. I had a blog post, or excuse me, a podcast episode, episode 213, so what, 120 episodes ago? That said, "Deal with it. Digital Makes Marketing Easier for Everyone, Which Makes Marketing Harder for Everyone." And yet we’ve all heard about the cool new show on Netflix, whether it’s Squid Game at the moment, or Stranger Things, or The Crown, or Bridgerton, or The Queen’s Gambit, or what have you, and we’ve heard of the amazing new podcast or album on Spotify and the fantastic new book on Amazon that everyone is reading and so on.

Start With Great Content

Why? Because it’s great content. Folks binge watch entire television series in a weekend because they caused reactions like, "OMG", "LOL", "WTF", right? If the only reaction we muster is "MEH", meh, we shouldn’t be surprised that no one looks for it. It’s really critical that we are creating great content. It’s table stake. Bad content will not get you there. So yes, we have to have the right target keywords that attract sufficient search volume, that’s necessary, but it also has to be content worth reading, content that’s worth weeding, content that’s worth sharing. It has to be interesting, useful, and yeah, provocative enough that people will choose to seek it out and share it with their friends and family and fans and followers. We always have to ask, "So what? Why does anyone care about this?"

Include Content Distribution — Content Ignition — From the Beginning

We also, and I think this gets to the crux of Rand’s point and Mark’s point when each of them talk about this, is we have to have content distribution thought out. Content that doesn’t move, that lacks what Mark Schaefer calls "content ignition", is never going to get seen, is never going to actually be effective. Content can’t get seen without appropriate distribution, whether it is your friends and family and fans and followers sharing it, or whether it is you putting it on social channels like Twitter, like LinkedIn, like Facebook, maybe not this week, but you know, content that you don’t have a way of getting in front of people isn’t going to go anywhere, is going to have no advantage to you.

Where Does Rand Fishkin Publish His Thoughts? His Website

Now, here’s where I take the most issue with what Rand Fishkin has said specifically, and this is why I wanted to talk about this in the first place; is that Rand decided to talk about why content creators lack incentives to publish content on their blogs, by publishing content on his blog. He is building expertise, he’s building authority, he’s building trustworthiness if we use Google’s formulation of EAT. You cannot establish expertise, authority, and trustworthiness, if you don’t create content, and you don’t establish a brand if there isn’t a place where your content consistently lives.

Think about the problems Facebook has had in the last couple of weeks where they were down for hours and hours and hours. There is a long standing belief that don’t build your brand on rented land, and this illustrates one of the reasons why you don’t want to do it. I actually take issue with that formulation because there’s benefit to using rented land to find customers. You also have to give them some place they can go. You have to give them some place where your content can live permanently.

Do you really want to depend on Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn or Snap or TikTok to never change the rules on you? Do you really think that’s wise? I know that Mark Schaefer and Rand Fishkin don’t, and how do I know that? Because they publish these things on their website. They’re creating great content, great content that people love and people share and people engage with, and they’re sharing it on social, they’re using these channels appropriately to reach customers, which is great.

Also, they are doing it on a platform that is theirs. This is why I’ve talked about "Hub and Spoke" for a long time, because "Hub and Spoke" — the hub is where your content should always live, the spokes are how you reach out beyond that hub to reach new people. So it’s not one or the other, it is very much one and the other.

How To Make Content Marketing Actionable

Now, to make this actionable for you, I’d recommend you ensure that you’re fully embracing a spirit of great content in everything you do. Think Netflix. Think, "Is this something that someone would want to spend a weekend streaming?" Okay, sure, most businesses, your content is going to help to be held to that standard. But what if you tried, what if you shot for that? You might fall well short, but you’re still going to be better than 99% of the other content people are creating from their businesses.

You want to make sure that anything that goes out with your name on it, your brand name on it, is worth publishing. You should make sure that the specific format, whether it’s text or audio or video, works best for the point you’re trying to make. And you want to ensure that you’ve included customers that are likely to use, but if you don’t do the former, if you don’t make sure you’re creating great content, then I’d also agree with Rand Fishkin and Mark Schaefer that the latter stuff probably isn’t enough to help.

One last way we’ve tried to make this actionable, is we’ve built a simple best practices checklist for you that you can download on timpeter.com as part of this episode’s show notes. Just go to timpeter.com/podcast, and look for episode 328.

Conclusion: Is Content Still King or Have the Gatekeepers Won?

So, is content king? Definitely. Definitely, without question. But the king can only rule if the people in the kingdom know what it’s saying, so think in terms of how distribution works, think in terms of how content gets in front of your customers, think in terms of whether or not it’s content worth being in front of your customers, and whether they’d want to share it with anyone with their name on it before you put it out there in the first place, because content is only king if it’s given a chance to be seen.

Show Closing and Credits

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all of our past episodes, by going to timpeter.com/podcast. Again, that’s timpeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 328.

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Sponsor Message: SoloSegment

As I do each episode, I’d like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment has introduced search as a service with easy business results oriented, automated functionality that makes it easier for your customers to find the content that matters to them and helps the customers accomplish their goals. They do this while protecting customer privacy. You can learn more about SoloSegment and all of the great work that they do by going to SoloSegment.com. Again, that’s SoloSegment.com, not just search results, business results.

Show Outro

With that said, I want to say once again how much I appreciate you tuning into the show. I know this has been a crazy year, I know I haven’t been here for a few weeks or actually a couple of months, but I appreciate you hanging with us during this period, and it means so much to me that you choose to listen every single time. With that said, I hope you have a great rest of the week, I hope you have a great weekend, and I’ll look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe, and as ever, take care, everybody.

Tim Peter

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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