Is The Trend Towards Content-Communities Commodifying Them?

Author: Gab Goldenberg

Ads are increasingly being bought to promote content, rather than to create brand awareness or sell directly. What’s interesting to me about this is that it’s a trend growing in parallel with a trend amongst large, SEO-driven sites towards building blog-focused communities.

These content community sites typically follow this outline, with some variants:

  • Generic brand name geared towards the industry as a whole, which leaves room for subsequent growth. Eg Health World instead of Weightlifting World
  • (hattip stuntdubl)

  • Editorial content of varying depths but frequently at a high standard
  • User Generated Content (UGC) via blogs users can sign up for
  • Hawk their own products or sell loads of ads
  • Supplement with forums, reviews, blog comments (though frequently there are none, or they’re not taken seriously) etc.
  • Don’t link out, or else only to sites not germane to the industry (eg mainstream news)

The first site that did this in an industry is probably rolling in dough.

Ditto the second.

And the third.

The fourth a bit less.

The fifth still less.

Does the sixth elicit a yawn from health readers who’ve seen it before and wonder why they should sign up here when they’re already part of sites 1, 3 and 4?

Does the seventh get ignored entirely?

This leads me to ask…

If quality content becomes a generic commodity, how do you achieve competitive differentiation? If community becomes a commodity, how do you achieve competitive differentiation?

The trends also seems to imply a tax for late-comers who want to develop content communities of their own.

Aaron Wall loves to point out that newbies are always the most populous group in an industry.

What that implies is that the first handful of sites to establish themselves as content communities can continue to grow by virtue of attracting newbies to their midst. They can rank for newbie topics/terms.

Newcomers to the space can’t target newbies as easily because they don’t have the domain authority to rank for short-tail terms. Even with equivalent-quality content, the sites won’t rank.

So to attract users and establish their own base of authority, new sites need to:

  • Play public relations to get authority and attract users
  • Buy ads to build up a user base
  • Spend money on making incredibly remarkable content (in which I include tools and the like)

Bottom line:

There’s a tax on late-comers.

These late comer sites will have to expend significant sums on marketing to catch up. And chances are, that further commoditizes content and lowers margins.

How do you overcome that?

Come by tomorrow for part 2: What Notoriously Closed Facebook Can Teach SEOs About Competitive Advantage

This post was guest-written by Mark from Red Fly Marketing, with 3 divisions: a full service Dublin search engine optimisation firm, a general Ireland online marketing firm and web design services.

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Comments

  1. I think the answer to this is yes, it is commodified, which means one really has to do some homework before even trying to get a site established. To stick out, or establish a place, I think one has to develop their own 'brand'. A unique perspective, a unique image. Then it has more chance of standing out from the crowd. Going head to head with other companies with huge marketing budgets, while possible, is pretty tuff. Using their research knowledge you can kinda piggy back along. Regards, JeromyS

    Comment by Jeromy - February 1, 2010 @ 3:30am
  2. hey Jeromy, Yeah, I think the unique perspective and image is a great point, though it's challenging to develop that. I just wrote a post for Wolf Howl about using big publishing houses' research knowledge. Hope you'll like it! Gab

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - February 3, 2010 @ 3:52pm
  3. Although it can be pretty discouraging to enter a particular space or niche when you see the incumbents. Let's not forget that with enough time, effort and persistence you'll eventually reach the top of your niche. Take a look at Demand Media & their website eHow. About.com was the king of the content mills until eHow came from left field b/c they had enough resources and tenacity to start going after the content market. Also take a look at PlentyOffFish.com; I'm sure they weren't the first dating site to come around, but they're one of the top ones to beat now. So yes, late comers are at a disadvantage. But that's the beauty of the online space, underdogs (technically speaking) still have a shot at becoming big in their space.

    Comment by Marc - February 5, 2010 @ 7:59pm
  4. Good point about eHow vs About.com . That said, About.com is marginally better than eHow. As to PoF, I don't see how it's a community, though your point about underdogs is fair.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - February 10, 2010 @ 2:34pm

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