Copywriters: eHow, About.com, Ragan and co are costing you money
October 31, 2013 • Glenn Murray
I was surprised when I read a great post on Ragan.com
Recently I read a great post on Ragan.com. And I was surprised. Not that the author wrote a great post. He’s a great writer. (G’day David! 🙂 What surprised me was that a post of this quality saw the light of day on Ragan.
Most Ragan content – at least the writing related content I read – is snooze-worthy.
So I commented
“I was surprised when I read this post. In all honesty, I subscribe to Ragan because its content/copywriting/writing posts are normally so banal and simplistic, they’re great debate-blog fodder. Well done, David. :-)”
The post’s author challenged me
The next day, David, the author of the post in question, challenged my comment:
“You know what every publisher loves, getting slammed on their own site. 🙂 Thanks for liking my post, but go easy on Ragan.”
Props to David for defending his post host, but I honestly don’t see why I should go easy on them. Do you?
Copywriters have a responsibility to call these sites out
I think it’s my responsibility to give them a bit of a serve. I starting replying with another comment, but as usual, I got ranting, and it turned into something worthy of a post of my own. And here we are…
Ragan and co set a bad example
I don’t mean to take a cheap shot at Ragan, but sites like this set a bad example, content-wise, and it impacts us all. Here’s why…
Most of Ragan’s writing articles are superficial re-hashes of the same old boredom. ‘Write to your audience’, ’10 tips for tightening up your writing’, ‘How to put your reader to sleep in 7 easy steps’…
It’s like all the authors are building their posts from the same small box of Lego.
And they’re not alone. Just look at eHow.com and About.com. I’m sure you can name plenty more yourself.
Yet they still have a lot of readers. So at a glance, what’s this suggest? It suggests you can attract a lot of readers with superficial content.
So business owners and marketers go out and try to emulate Ragan (and eHow, About.com etc.). Step 1: Find a copywriter or journalist who can churn out hundreds of vanilla articles, for peanuts. And that’s why writers are constantly saying things like this (another comment on David’s post):
“… how can underpaid, underappreciated writers who produce quality work get paid accordingly? We have a catch-22 here. No one wants to actually *pay* for quality content.”
But surely if vanilla content made these sites big, it’ll work for us?
The trouble is, these generic/vanilla sites target a vast audience of geographically dispersed, largely undiscerning readers. Readers who, in the case of About.com and eHow, at least, have interests that are equally widespread, and little subject matter knowledge.
Now, while that might sound like a recipe for success, most business owners and marketers are in a completely different situation. They don’t have the means to target vast, dispersed, undiscerning, unspecific, ignorant audiences.
And, in fact, most wouldn’t want to, even if they could. The typical business owner / marketer is targeting exactly the opposite audience. Their likely readers are people in a specific location, with a specific, specialised need and a very low tolerance for content that doesn’t serve that need. Quite often, they’ll know a bit about the subject matter too.
You slop a say-nothing post in onto their plate, and they’ll be on their way.
And that’s exactly what happens if you’re paying $10 per post.
Then why did it work for eHow and co?
eHow and co have targeted their audiences very strategically, with great skill and, no doubt, a lot of investment (just not in the content). Or, as I suspect is the case with Ragan, they started out with great quality and let it gradually slide over the years. Or they had great luck and unbeatable timing. Or they were pimped by a big brother (a media company or corporation backed and promoted them). Or a combination of these things.
Plus they got big before Google was smart enough to stop them.
So say-nothing content served a purpose for these companies. But it wasn’t responsible for their success. And it certainly won’t work for 99.99% of companies that try it.
Do so at your own risk.