When Bill Gates wrote "content is king" in his essay back in 1996, he was predicting the future of the Internet. In hindsight, he probably didn't expect the phrase to become a content marketing canon for years to come. But 23 years in the tech world is like an eternity. His prediction already stood the trial of time but can it maintain its relevance in 2020 and beyond?
“Content is king” was a prediction on the future of the Internet made by Bill Gates. The founder of Microsoft used it in his essay in 1996 where he shared his thoughts on the direction the Web is heading in.
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.
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”
His essay was one of the first publications with such an impact on the industry. But what were the main takeaways?
Gates saw content as much more than just raw copy, insisting that even software falls into the category.
Reading Gates’ essay over 20 years later is a peculiar experience. Most of his predictions were a best practice during the last 23 years and some 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. In a sense, 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”
He recognised 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 aren’t much better, with several polls pointing at 28-40% 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 is 23 years behind the market leaders.
In our experience, it takes a lot of effort to carry this point across to clients. Many people think whatever the medium, the same good piece of content will be appreciated. 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 and the circumstances are only a bit different. On business, entertainment, and information websites however, digital content is scanned rather than read.
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 smartphone instead and what they’ll do instead could be:
These scenarios are entirely different from what motivates people to buy a newspaper, and that affects the guidelines for the digital content.
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.
People misunderstand this as a short term success when in reality it’s just laying the groundwork for long term effects.
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”
The short answer: yes.
The long answer is that Google’s algorithms have evolved from basic keyword crawlers, and technology such as voice search 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.
Researches expect voice search will account for over half of search queries by 2020. This doesn’t come as a surprise considering humans can speak roughly 3 times as fast as they can type. It’s easier and faster to get the answers to our burning questions via voice search. Smart assistants are still far from their peak performance and they need our help. In this article, we’ll show you how you can take advantage of the newest trend by optimising your content marketing strategy for voice search.
While your paid ads might attract clicks and visits, you’re only ever going to retain the visitors by providing enough value. For that, you need content which is crucial to communicate the value. Content builds your brand.
You can find proof in everyday life. Airports and airlines have been offering premium lounges for their passengers for years now. But it took them some time to adjust to the “new” world, and they’re slowly adding content such as digital newspapers to their services.
And guess what?
People love it. Even for a service which includes expensive food, beverages and comfortable lounges, the content has become more popular and in-demand than the premium offering. And we could include dozens of similar examples.
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 a 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:
The digital world changes by the hour, and yet content is arguably the only thing that stood the trial of time. You’d have a hard time finding a tech prediction from 1996 that will be accurate in 2020 and beyond.
Industries that were here long before the invention of the internet relied (and still do) on content.
Content will change, but it’s here to stay.
Originally published Dec 03, 2019 9:07:00 AM, updated October 23 2020.