Content: Where's the return on investment?

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SEO has a lot to answer for. Primarily, the fact that the Internet is awash with redundant, duplicate, plagiarized and otherwise useless content. A result of individuals and organizations trying to increase their online visibility and organic search traffic.

Everyone has been told that "content is king", but almost without exception, the wrong reasons have been cited. It is worth investing time and effort in creating content, but probably not for the reasons you think.

If you have spent hours creating articles only to have no-one read 'em, and for Google to only send the occasional visit through some obscure long tail keyphrase, then make sure you read this article carefully.

Here are two points that you need to understand about the Internet before you can create a successful content based campaign:

1. SEO is a "bug"

SEO is a result of the generally poor web development techniques that were implemented in the formative years of the Internet. SEO is something that search engines encourage you to do so that your web platform is easy to index and your content is of reasonable quality.

As web platforms improve their quality, structural SEO issues will disappear since the vast majority of blogs and sites will be of similar quality. Only poorly designed, legacy websites will still benefit from improvements in this arena.

Google provides content creation guidelines"search engine optimized". They are not difficult to follow. It takes a day to become familiar with them, and a bit of time honing your Internet writing style.

What you have to say is the important bit - not whether you have stuffed ten keywords into the article.

2. Social will soon eclipse search

We are at the dawn of a new Internet era. We are moving from a situation in which everyone has their own web real estate and tries to drive traffic to it through search, to one in which everyone interacts socially through various networks and tries to build reach, authority, trust and influence.

Check out this article entitled "5 reasons why social is better than SEO". It continues to cause quite a bit of debate and expands on the idea that SEO is a spent force.

As more traffic flows through social networks, so it makes more sense to speak directly to people and cut out the intermediary (search).

The social revolution

If SEO is dwindling and people are going to spend more time finding the information they need from social media, then what is the point of creating content?

Actually, it's now more important than ever. But not just any content. Social content will be judged by humans, not PageRank algorithms in search engines. Articles and media will have to really contain value in order to drive some form of Return On Investment (ROI).

While search engines will index anything you create and add it to their SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), humans in the social context will only spread info they deem worthy.

Social has changed the goalposts

Instead of creating material that is finely tuned to fool search engines into thinking it is more relevant than it really is, content must now be created as a foundation for engaging with potential customers.

The benefits of writing in the age of search engines was primarily to drive traffic via organic search. The benefits of publishing in the social context are:

  • drive engagement
  • build trust
  • build authority
  • Increase reach
  • make new connections
  • increase social influence

In other words, content gives you a base from which to engage with people and become an influencer. By using it to start conversations, interact with other people, and spread your message, you can carve out a following that will help you to thrive.

You can learn more about how to create socially catalytic content by reading this article entitled "Social catalyst: One blog post; ten thousand twitter followers".

What is the ROI?

The return on creating socially catalytic information is not necessarily to drive Web traffic. Although, it will remain important to maintain your own website or blog and have people visit it because your website will still need to convert engaged people into customers.

The real benefit will be the social influence that comes not only from the material itself, but the social interactions surrounding it.

In other words, writing an article may inspire someone to ask a question. You, as the person responsible for starting the discussion, can help answer the question and generally encourage the evolution of debate and ideas around that subject matter.

This allows you to make new connections. New connections expose you to new opportunities. New opportunities are the life blood of any business.

So the ROI for content, in the social context, is to build influence, create new connections and drive new opportunities for business.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on what I have come up with here. Please leave a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter and Google+.