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“Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.” – Bill Gates, Content is King

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Why is content king?

The essay was one of the first publications with such an impact on the industry. But what are the main takeaways?

Digital content is easily accessible

Reading the full version of Bill Gates’ “Content Is King” essay over 20 years later is a peculiar experience. Most of his predictions were a best practice at some point since their publication, and many are to this day.

One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create. The Internet is the multimedia equivalent of the photocopier. It allows material to be duplicated at low cost, no matter the size of the audience.

Bill Gates, “Content is King”

Gates saw content as much more than just raw copy, insisting that even software falls into the category.

Content is king for SEO

SEO from 15, 10, or even just 5 years ago is dead. It’s (almost) all about user experience now. Search engines can look at a variety of metrics related to your page to determine whether users love it or hate it. If you give visitors a free tool that solves their problems, they will keep coming back and they will reward it – not only with leads and sales but also with higher visibility.

Everyone can (and should) take part in the content craze

The essay recognises the Internet as a fantastic medium for entertainment and information, putting emphasis on the ease of sharing content on the Web.

But the broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate.

Bill Gates, “Content is King”

Low distribution costs and a larger audience than traditional media make digital content a great medium for companies of all sizes.

Unfortunately, not everyone got the memo. In 2015, 60% of small businesses didn’t have a website. That was nearly two decades after Gates’ essay. In 2019, the numbers weren’t much better, with several polls pointing at 28-40% of small businesses without a website, varying because of different size criteria and data samples.

As harsh as it sounds, a small company without a business website in 2019 was 23 years behind the market leaders.

And if you’re worried about outranking “the big boys”, don’t. With a precise strategy, you can get a slice of the pie, even as a freelancer or one-person business. How to pick your SEO battles with the giants is a topic for a different post (or even a book), but don’t be discouraged. It can be done, and we see it every single day.

Do you have content strategy tips?

First of all, do you participate in the content craze? And if the answer is “yes”, what tips do you have for others? Let me know in the comments.

Digital content differs from print

Many people think that whatever the medium, we will appreciate the same excellent piece of content. Sadly, reading a news website isn’t the same as publishing a book in a digital format.

The latter is still a book. The medium changes, but the purpose doesn’t.

On business, entertainment, and information websites, people scan content instead of truly “reading” it.

But to be successful online, a magazine can’t just take what it has in print and move it to the electronic realm. There isn’t enough depth or interactivity in print content to overcome the drawbacks of the online medium.

Bill Gates, “Content is King”

It’s not the same as grabbing a newspaper and reading articles thoroughly during your daily commute. Many people will use their smartphones instead and what they’ll do is likely a mix of:

  • reading the headlines and excerpts on a news website
  • scanning individual articles
  • using social media posts to catch up on the news

These scenarios are entirely different from what motivates people to reach for a newspaper, and that affects how you create digital content.

Content marketing is a long-term process

Even though Gates acknowledged it in 1996 already, most people struggle to understand it at first. But we can see where their confusion is coming from.

Most guides and industry resources put a high weight on immediate content distribution. Once you publish an article, it’s crucial to distribute it right away. You have to spend much more time on distribution than content creation. It’s a commitment, and it doesn’t stop when you hit “publish”.

People misunderstand this as a short-term success when in reality, it’s just laying the groundwork for long-term success.

For the Internet to thrive, content providers must be paid for their work. The long-term prospects are good, but I expect a lot of disappointment in the short-term as content companies struggle to make money through advertising or subscriptions. It isn’t working yet, and it may not for some time.

Bill Gates, “Content is King”

If you visit news sites these days, you’ll notice that subscriptions are working. Paywalls are becoming increasingly popular. They’re still frowned upon because we’re all used to content being “free”, but I believe everyone will ease into this model. And I’d also like to think that paying for online content will be an improvement for everyone.

But only if it’s executed correctly. In the end, eliminating annoying popups and ads with a small monthly fee should benefit everyone.

For me as a reader, this is a quality of life improvement. As a content creator, a quality of life improvement for you as a reader gives us a boost in engagement and user experience metrics. The content can then rank higher and reach a wider audience, to improve their lives too.

It all falls into place, doesn’t it?

Nearly three decades on, most businesses still don’t believe Gates

According to research by the Content Marketing Institute (2021), 75% of B2C content marketers say their organisations outsource content creation. About half of them also report that small (or even one-person) marketing teams serve the entire company.

They might pay for the content, but it doesn’t seem like they pay an awful lot of attention to the content, does it?

Bill is not content with that 😔 (Pun intended.)

After all, he predicted that as the web evolves, the content will become more and more important.

How “content is king” transcends digital marketing

Let’s be clear about one thing: the concept of “content is king” has transcended digital marketing.

It’s not a new idea. It’s not just for online content either. But it is an idea that, whether you’re aware of it or not, is influencing every decision you make as a marketer.

The prophetic phrase changed much more than just digital marketing. Gates argued his statement using down-to-earth examples when the Internet was still an abstract concept to so many.

Paid advertising is becoming less effective

We’re part of a culture that uses AdBlock and downloads third-party YouTube applications to their phone to get rid of ads. It’s not a coincidence that “advertising” methods like influencer marketing are thriving. The more natural ways of selling are what people long for.

But that’s not all. Content can fill the gaps that advertising can’t.

When you consider search intent, there are a ton of searches where people just don’t want to see an ad. They’re looking to solve a problem with knowledge, not with a purchase. It just makes sense to establish a presence in that area and tap into the early to mid stages of your funnel.

Social media is booming – and that’s content, too!

What is TikTok if not a library of content?

Sure, a lot of it is purely for entertainment purposes.

But when people started using TikTok to search for holiday and restaurant destinations, it showed the true potential of the platform and its search engine.

And then there’s the “bone of contention” on traditional platforms – LinkedIn, and especially Facebook. If ads were effective and people wanted to see them, do you think these platforms would “crush” the organic reach on their platforms?

Every marketer and their dog says they can’t remember the last time something had a satisfying organic reach on Facebook. Ads bring money, but since they can’t compete with organic content, social media platforms have to “silence” organic posts and force you to spend on ads.

The rise of generative AI – is content still king?

Absolutely. And here’s why.

In the simplest terms, the mainstream generative AI is like an auto-complete tool. That’s how it works behind the scenes.

The language model analyses the dataset and predicts which word should come after the previous one.

That’s hardly content creation, is it?

It’s also prone to the quality of the dataset. Initially, ChatGPT doesn’t have knowledge prior to 2021. This renders it useless for a ton of writing use cases.

So no, you don’t need to worry about being replaced as a writer. And you can put away the champagne if you thought you’ll pass as a writer just by using generative AI tools.

Natural content is still king. It won’t be replaced by AI that soon, if ever.

Web content is king, and it’s a well-oiled machine

It all falls into place, doesn’t it?

One thing leads to the other, and suddenly everyone wins.

Or so you would think.

It might be controversial and hard to believe, but as a society, we still don’t understand what Bill Gates was telling us in 1996. That applies to both content creators and readers. It’s harder to blame the latter, but I won’t cut marketers any slack.

The long answer is that Google’s algorithms have evolved from basic keyword crawlers, and technology like voice search has popularised natural long-tail keyphrases.

Your website gets most of its online exposure based on the user experience for both organic and paid traffic. That will only be more and more relevant.

Bonus tips

Examples of content types for business

As Gates pointed out, “content” is a broad term. It’s usually treated as a synonym of raw copy, which is an accurate but not comprehensive description.

At the core, all the types we’ll list derive from copy and so does traditional content. TV, radio and other media can’t exist without it. Just think about the resources required to produce a movie, then take the script away and the entire industry collapses.

But going back to business website content, the core types are:

  • Website copy and written resources. Just like with movies, if you build a website without telling a story, it will be meaningless. From headings and the call to action text to blog articles and downloadable resources, the written content is at the core of everything you do online, affecting your conversion rates, organic traffic and brand identity.
  • Video. Dubbed as the future years ago and proven to increase conversions, video is a step forward from the written content. It can be included in the hero section or as an engaging separator for your lengthy articles. It also speaks to our lazy nature. People would rather see your story than read it.
  • Visual content. One of the content types that often gets diminished to “images”. Visual content includes your display ads, UI elements, infographics, descriptive and decorative photos in your articles and viral social media pictures.
  • Social posts. While they’re created using all of the above, they are a content type on their own. Social platforms are a form of media on their own and while they are often put in the same category, they’re also much different. The best times to post vary between them, they promote different types of content, your tone of voice on Twitter and LinkedIn doesn’t have to and shouldn’t be the same, the organic reach on Facebook isn’t as efficient as on Twitter, and more.
  • Services. While it might sound surprising at first, your services can be a form of digital content. It won’t apply to most industries but if you include a web app on your site, such as a handy calculator for your potential customers, this will give them an incredible value that your competitors can’t match with written content.

How to write content like a King

Writing for the Web is nothing like the essays you had to power through at school.

Grammar and style are still important, but the latter totally differs from what you’re used to.

Learn how to write online content

Originally published Dec 03, 2019 9:07:00 AM, updated May 8 2024.

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