What does the word ‘Content’ mean anyway?

Many solo entrepreneurs I’ve met always make it known to me how much they despise the word ‘content.’

In the web sense.

Nobody’s quite sure what this word means.

Because content on the web doesn’t seem to have quite the same meaning as when content is used in other ways in life, e.g. content of a jar, content of a box.

No.

And that therein is the problem.

It lacks a true definition unto itself

The first problem with the word ‘content’ is that it’s often used interchangeably with ‘copy’. This is a common misconception, because copy is a form of content.

There are many different ways you can publish information on your website – from copy to video to audio. If you can think of content as a group label for all these different formats, it will help you get more comfortable with the idea of content.

But the other problem with how we think of ‘content’ is that, unlike how we consume video/audio/text offline, content isn’t designed for deep periods of use.

People’s attention spans are shorter online. They scan copy rather than read in depth, searching quickly for answers to their enquiries.

Video content for the web, for example tutorials, are also shorter and more to-the-point. We simply don’t have the patience (or broadband) to sit through long-winded explanations.

You’re either given what you need quickly, or you hit the back button.

So often, solo entrepreneurs misunderstand, or don’t bother to acknowledge, how the web is a unique medium unto itself, just like print, with its own specific ways of engagement.

Because of that lack of understanding, they treat their websites like an online advert for their business, instead of a place to showcase their expertise.

Worst of all, they produce content as they would if it were offline.

Over the years, I’ve seen web copy written like it’s a sales presentation, company brochure or academic research paper. Huge swaths of text nobody has time to read on the web.

They write in giant paragraphs, keep the tone formal and basically treat a web page or blog post as the digital equivalent of a sheet of paper.

And then they wonder why no one online cares about their work!

I definitely feel strongly about this problem and want to help solo entrepreneurs understand that the purpose of content online is not to be read like book content but to –

Initiate conversation.

That’s what all online content should be doing.

And to ultimately build relationships

Anyone visiting your website for the first time has the potential to become a customer, fan or follower of what you do.

Since the majority of people visiting your website won’t know who you are, all they have to make a judgment call is your content.

If you want those people to love what you do, you need content that matches what they expect from you.

Content that fits their short attention spans, yet is also rewarding to experience, that is memorable and fulfilling.

Content that is so unbelievably useful and of value, that your visitors won’t hesitate to follow you, sign up to your newsletter, or perhaps contact you about your services.

That’s the role content plays in your solo business.

Content marketing, content strategy, web content – I completely understand how cold and soulless these words might sound. I actually think they’re the wrong words being used to describe content.

Because actual content itself is endlessly vibrant and exciting, filled with ideas and questions and knowledge – all for your visitor to enjoy and learn from.

Just like conversation is.

Don’t let content fool you

So when you next time get stuck on your latest blog post, your next web page, think about your content as you having a chat with a friend or prospect. And record that conversation as you type. Don’t get stuck on the “what does content mean?” thing, your visitors will be happier for it.

Image: gualtiero