Stop Treating Content Like a Commodity, Please

A commodity is a tangible good that’s defined to the point of standardization. It is fungible and has an established market value. A classic commodity is a barrel of oil. When you buy a barrel of oil for the fair market price you know exactly what you’re getting, and you can’t tell your barrel from the next.When you buy content from a writer as if it’s a commodity, you have little idea what you’re getting.

This is because its value can fluctuate once it’s published. The value you can derive from great content can be astounding. Increased traffic from search and social, brand recognition, sales conversions and more. However, paying for content by the word has a very loose correlation to this value creation. Additionally, in some cases, it may even be counter-productive to creating value. It’s common sense that writing has more impact when it’s concise. This reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous quote:

“I am sorry for such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

For some time, the SEO industry has preached that winning at search means producing the most content with little focus on quality. However, this strategy is blown apart when you factor in social’s ever-increasing impact on search results. And the fact that content is almost useless if it doesn’t drive some form of conversion. If content doesn’t drive social and conversion, it’s likely just SPAM.


With SPAM around every corner, just a fraction of the immensity of content produced on the web each day drives significant business value, and it’s extremely difficult to standardize and define. Content like this has its own soul that resonates with its intended audience, and it’s unique as you are. You may get content like this every once in a while by paying by the word, but it’s a crap shoot.

I don’t have the perfect answer to this SPAM-producing conundrum we’re in right now, but I ask that businesses and writers alike start opening their minds to post-publish compensation based on traffic, social shares, conversions and other variables that denote real value. Even a mix of compensation, with some up front and some later, makes far more business sense. This type of compensation is difficult to measure and delays gratification, but I fear what may happen if we continue to incentivize writers by the word.

Content Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

Panda isn’t the only update Google will release that focuses on content quality over quantity. I believe social media relevance search algorithm updates will have some of the most dramatic impacts on quality over quantity in the near future, and they will have nothing to do with word count. Let’s start treating content as unique and limitless in its value when done right. It can’t be one-size-fits-all.

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