“Content Free” Content


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I haven’t whined in a while, so pardon me for this indulgence. We all know that content is critical in engaging prospect and customers. Let me rephrase this, “good content is critical…..”

Clearly, organizations are getting the message about content, the problem is they are forgetting to provide the content. A couple of examples, in cleaning out my email this morning, I’ve actually encountered several offers that I’ve found interesting. I dutifully clicked the links to get the information the emails were enticing me with.

In the first case, I get to a beautiful landing page. A nice picture, with nothing more than, “Enroll in the service.” Well, I wasn’t sure what the service was. The email was well constructed, it served its purpose by motivating me to “click” for more information. But there was no more information. I wanted to understand the offering before enrolling, but there were no other links, just a picture with and “Enroll” button. I had no desire to enroll in something that I didn’t know what it did. I started thinking, “if this is their content, then can the service be much better?” We all know vaporware, perhaps this is nothing more than vaporware.

Did they think a pretty picture and an “Enroll” button was a minimum viable product? (I even tried some experiments to see if I was being subjected to A/B testing–couldn’t see that I was.) Perhaps it was an experiment, perhaps they did get some valuable information with just the click. But now my guard is up. Future emails from them, from anyone else. I’ll be more skeptical. If it isn’t clear in the email, I won’t waste my time.

The content was non-existent. There was no description, no value proposition, no press release, nothing about the company, nothing. Just a landing site with a picture and “Enroll” button. I’m steeling myself for the phone call on Monday. Yes, it was a trackable link. They now know, if they pay attention, that I clicked, and they should be calling me. I’m not really worried about it, I know they have nothing to say, other than “Enroll.”

Another was from a software vendor. I’ve been a long time user of this software. I’m a big fan and have recommended it to hundreds of people. They came out with the inevitable annual upgrade. It was a significant repackaging and repricing (upward). I wanted to learn more. What were the new features, were the new capabilities worth the close to doubling in price? Dutifully, I clicked on the link. Again, I hit a stunning landing page. There were some fancy graphics, a few icons with short phrases like “Enhanced Collaboration,” “Increased Productivity,” and so forth. There was even a button to “Learn More.” I clicked on that, the page refreshed, a new background image came up and the same icons and phrases came up. I was confused, but saw another “Learn More” button, I clicked that and was taken back to the original landing page.

I thought, “No company can be this callous or careless in providing information about its products, it must me my error.” I started wandering the website for more information. I couldn’t find it. The site was filled with stunning graphics, great icons, and phrases that would make any copyrighter proud. But I couldn’t find more information. the most detailed information I could find was in the press release–but that pointed readers to the website for more information.

Again, I thought, “maybe there isn’t much to this upgrade, maybe they just hope I will blindly buy.” Oh, I forgot, every page did have a “Buy” button. Clicking on that meant real business. gone were the graphics, icons, and cool phrases. The clear intent of this form was to get my credit card and the other relevant information to capture my money.

The final category is, perhaps, the worst. It’s content that’s actually a thinly disguised “buy mine” sales pitch. You know the kind–you get an email about a new white paper or research on an interesting subject, you get it, and it has a couple of bullet points on generic issues, then transitions into a pitch on “why you should buy my product.” Today’s was “New Insights In Sales Productivity.” As you might guess, I was quite interested. I responded, filled out the form–figured I was already on their mailing list–and download the “white paper.” It had 3 bullets on sales productivity from distinguished research firms (CSO Insights, Forrester, and Aberdeen). I had actually seen the referenced research reports months ago. But after the 3 bullets, the rest of the white paper was a product data sheet with a “special discount” if I bought now. This is content–but it was misrepresented and had the unintended effect of making me angry with the company that sent it.

These are not isolated incidents. More and more, I’m seeing content that is content free. I see this in all kinds of offers, but it is particularly strong with web based services enticing you with a “freemium.” I’m sorry, I don’t have the time to enroll in and try a freemium blindly. I don’t want to give all the enrollment information, set up an account, give you my credit card (just in case) until I know what you do and how it will help me. I’m too busy to experiment blindly.

I’m a terrific fan of Eric Ries’ work. His concepts of Lean Start-ups and Minimum Viable Product are powerful for learning and adapting quickly. However, I think too many are mis-applying the concepts with their approach to minimum viable product or minimum viable content. I know the fact that I clicked on the email link and didn’t click on the “Enroll” means something. But it has made me more guarded about future experiments and things wasting my time. In the ever escalating volume of clutter (disguised as experiments), I am ever so much more skeptical.

I know we are all visually oriented. Pictures, icons, symbols and graphics can be very powerful. I know that a picture is supposed to be worth 10,000 words. But sometimes a few words (not 10, 000) are needed to get prospects and customers to understand, engage and buy. Visually stunning landing pages may be cool, but if they are content free, then they server neither your prospects, customers, or you. They just look pretty.

Right now, at least with me, these Content Free pieces of content are having an unintended a completely opposite impact. I am not interested, I will not waste my time. I will not engage. If you are promising to provide your prospects and customers with meaningful content, then deliver on that content. By doing so, you will build the relationship you want.

Are you providing meaningful and impactful content to your prospects and customers?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. With you on this 100%, and sadly because of the contentless content, I spend almost no time on the Internet anymore.

    But here’s a theory, Dave. I think the reason this has happened is that its profitable. Generally. For many, the effort goes into traffic generation, and free traffic generation via search engine referrals. Search engines are not good at separating the good, useful stuff from the strings of words, etc that are, in effect, worthless, and it’s MUCH easier to create poor content than it is to create insightful content.

    Also, in informational sites that are ad supported, you have the issue that the content is simply a vehicle for the ads, and the generation of eyeballs is prime. In fact, in many ways the poorer the content, the more likely visitors to click on ads, and generate revenue for the site.

    It’s perplexing to see poor content on sites that are trying to sell products and services, but I think of it this way. To create really great content (top 5% that isn’t everywhere else and has “quality”) is really hard, and once you do that, the challenge is then to get people to read it, digest it, and say: “Oh, this is great, I should come back and learn more”.

  2. Robert, thanks for your commment. I tend to agree with much of what you say. Unfortunately, in trying to stand out in all the garbage there is on the web, the volume of noise and clutter continually escalates.

    It is difficult for those quality content providers to stand out from all the garbage. But the good news, is once they are found, your last line in the comment is pure gold—you become a trusted content provider and they come back for more and for a deeper relationship.

    Thanks for taking the time to present your views.

  3. You’re right, Dave. One of the more interesting shifts in the internet (I digress here), is that while once it was enough to have great content to succeed with websites, etc, now, you have to market the heck out your content to get found. For people like me, who dislike taking part in things “just to market”, it’s spelling the end of an era.

    Changes in search engines, and in particular, Google, have made it near impossible to continue to generate free quality content and put food on the table. Over the last two years, google changes have quietly killed off a lot of the small Internet folks, and I’m moving towards ceasing to write content for our sites.

    I know I CAN’T find the great content I used to — most is rehashing of rehashes, and I if I have to continue to look through 10-20 pages of junk search engine results, it’s just no fun.

    Similarly, if my sites, that used to rank at the top of their subject matter for a decades, now draw 80% less visitors. For us, and a number of other quality webmasters, it’s not feasible to produce that free content.

    So, that’s another reason why we may see less independently generated content of high quality.

    The poor quality of results in search engines tells me that you don’t HAVE to write insightful thought provoking content to attract visitors via search engines. And that’ s number one reason we aren’t going to spend hours writing meaty material if nobody will see it.

    When one sees sustainable crap, always follow the money to see how the system rewards it.


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