Back when I started writing for the Web about nine years ago, before I joined the team at Sametz Blackstone, nobody really talked about “content.”

Words were either “copy” or “text” — or if they were published via a blog platform, they were “weblogging.”

Essentially, you wrote what your client wanted, and that was that. Testing methods were fairly archaic, and a profound lack of search competition meant even awkward sentence structure generated results.

The words we write for client websites now are still often just called “copy.” And weblogging is now “blogging.”

But now our clients want to talk about content, too.

Let’s get this straight: website copy and blogs are forms of content and always were, but the definition of content has blown up; it now serves as the umbrella term for everything you say about yourself or whatever it is you’re talking about, anywhere you say it, whether you use text, images, or a variety of other media.

If you post something somewhere folks can see it?

Content.

Now, I don’t actually want to get into what content is or isn’t, or  what it means to have a strategy for it. There are approximately 80 bajillion (excellent and not-so-excellent) articles and posts about those topics, all at your Googletips.

I’m more stuck on WHY all those articles are necessary.

Certainly…

  • the rise of social platforms has opened up a universe of discussions that never could have happened before…
  • companies and organizations and individuals are now subjected to more public scrutiny than ever before — for better or for worse…
  • more and more people are leaping onto the Internet to make their fortunes or make their point or make their way, with a diverse range of motivations…

…so we’re madly in flux, with multiple channels and venues and variables in play. People want to get heard for every reason under the sun — but somewhere along the line, they’ve figured out that the people who snag eyes and ears have something called great content.

There it is again: Content! You need content! Content is king! It’s a brave new world, right?

So you go to all the trouble of writing and posting and tweeting and “Facebooking” a million things, and then…. nothing.

Huh? I thought content was important?

Well, it is.

But something else is more important.

While the way we communicate and share has evolved and expanded (and some might say, exploded!), one thing hasn’t changed at all: the most successful individuals / companies / organizations / boy bands are the ones who provide their audience, fans, customers, consumers, and clients with exactly what they want, whether in terms of their products, services, or messages (content!).

And maybe a good portion of the population doesn’t want it…  but someone does.

Sometimes it happens by accident, and a little bit of kismet turns an idea into a sensation. But more often than not, someone took the time to figure out what’s needed or what’s wanted, and what works — whether via research, trial and error, evolution, or good questions, posed in the right directions.

Sure, this might seem like a lot of trouble when you’ve got something to say, but before you do, ask yourself: do you care?

Not in a touchy-feely, “hug it out” kind of way, mind you — but in a “does this matter to anyone but me?” way.

Successful content — about whatever, for whomever, on whatever platform, and to whatever end — requires the same thing any successful venture does: that you know what others care about, and that you demonstrate that knowledge by providing it for them (and not just what you wish they’d wanted in the first place).

Or, if they don’t know they care yet, figuring out the way in through the things they do care about.

If you have no idea what your audience is looking for, or how they’re reacting to what you’re putting out now… and you’re not so much trying to find out?

Your content won’t be successful.

If you don’t care about giving people something they’ll value — but rather what you value, because it’s really, really important?

Your content won’t be successful.

If you can’t figure out how your goals align with those of your audience or you’re not working to strengthen any alignments you’ve found?

Your content won’t be successful.

If you’re not paying attention to the other people who talk about the same stuff you do?

Your content won’t be successful.

If you’ve come up with incredibly clever taglines and fantastic copy and informative posts that perfectly embody everything you are and you honestly think everyone else will love it, too, because you took so much time doing it... but you don’t verify that with anyone else?

Your content won’t be successful.

Face it: you can have the most UX-friendly structure! and author-friendly CMS! and a great messaging architecture! and keywords that seem bang-on! and the most search enging-optimized content for those keywords! and the best authors posting super often! and writing that shoots like laser beams from the screen to zap the eyes of your readership… but unless it’s what matters to your audience?

Your. Content. Won’t. Be. Successful.

If someone has to beg you to care about what the people you’re speaking to want to hear — that you should want to provide them with value, that you should be meeting a need, or at least a want — you’ll never get where you mean to go.

So work on caring first — with all the open-eyed listening and asking and noticing and research and responding and adjusting that entails — and content second.

And see where that gets you. Besides everywhere… and far.