Exploring What Content Curation Is and Isn’t, What it Can and Cannot Do

In my last entry, I discussed the pivotal role that compelling, current and relevant content plays in SEO performance. And, while being discovered and getting traffic is an important part of online success, it’s only the first step. Actually engaging site visitors once they arrive at your site, getting them to consume the content that brought them there – and ideally more – is an equally important step in the conversion process.

The rook. After the King, arguably the most valuable and versatile piece on the board.

Beyond engagement, getting users to share, link back to and reference your content is a further important hurdle. And lastly, establishing your site as a subject matter authority, a thought leader, and a helpful, valuable resource, is the final step in becoming a regular destination, one that users will bookmark and refer others to.

Content Quality over Quantity

So, while the SEO aspect is impacted at least to some degree by content quantity – though this is quickly changing with the evolution of search engine algorithms, most notably Google’s Panda and Penguin releases – the more downstream aspects of engagement and conversion (however you define this for your site or business), are driven purely by content quality. And this is where many content curation strategies all too often fall down.

The same things that make the creation of compelling original content challenging – the investment of time, effort, talent, and money it requires – also apply to curation, albeit to a lesser degree. And, similar to content creation, the approaches to curation vary greatly. As one might expect, the same is true of the results. We all know sites that use content-mills and armies of loosely-affiliated, poorly paid and minimally vetted freelance writers to churn out volumes of low quality content a mile-wide and an inch (or often less) deep, but how many of us bother to read their blabber, much less forward it or share it online? Poorly “curated” content suffers from many of the same ills.

Simply locating and sharing of content is aggregation, not curation. I have seen brands do this using automated systems with minimal human involvement. And it shows. Effective curation involves locating online content, categorizing it properly, and reviewing it to assess its editorial quality, the salience of the views or insights expressed, and their originality. This simply cannot be automated. Next, a good curator will then add to and improve the curated content piece further, perhaps by explaining how and why it relates to the point of interest, thereby establishing relevance. Finally, a good curator will add their own point of view (or that of the company or brand employing them), which may either be aligned with the original piece, or in opposition to it. Such contrarian curation can be particularly effective in crisis management situations, or where an organization would like to clearly differentiate themselves from others, or distance themselves from certain issues. Doing this well requires experience, editorial skill and original thinking.

Content Curation Increases Efficiency and Reach

If done well, content curation can be an effective force multiplier for brands and sites. For one, even a solid, well-conceived and executed curation program will allow brands to generate relevant content entries more quickly and with less effort than creating them from scratch. Secondly, it allows brands to leverage and tap into emerging trends quickly and properly curated content will be innately aligned with popular keyword trends and thus able to capture long-tail search traffic around them. Curating and linking to outside content may also invite reciprocal back-linking by the original content source. Finally, by curating and linking to content from others, your message may be perceived as more objective, given that the original source is unrelated to the brand doing the curation.

So, returning to our original chess reference in the title of this entry, while original content may be king, it is also expensive, unwieldy and often slow. Curation, similar to the rook on the chessboard, is more nimble and an effective multiplier, but not a substitute. Together, the two approaches make for an effective content strategy.

About Daniel Backhaus

Dan has close to 15 years of experience in the field of information technology, brand development, and interactive marketing, working with brands that include Bayer AG, BMW, Daimler-Benz, Deutsche Bank, H&R Block and Wachovia. His diverse background includes service in our nation’s military, and stints at Xerox, TSYS, several technology start-ups and leading interactive agencies in Europe and the United States. Originally from Germany, he has lived and worked in Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece and England before settling in Atlanta in 2005. A PMI-certified Project Management Professional and a Six Sigma greenbelt, his experience includes digital strategy, solution sales, new business development, enterprise systems implementation, project and program management, SEO/SEM and Web Analytics. Dan holds a BS in Business Management from Arizona State University and an MBA with concentration in international business from the European University in Montreux, Switzerland. The parent of three young children, Dan’s interest in environmental sustainability issues stems from concerns over their future well-being and his international background have given him an enlightened perspective on the challenges we face and the approaches other countries and societies have taken in addressing them. Dan blogs about technology, his love of writing, interactive marketing, brand development and strategy and whatever or whoever might have pissed him off the week before.
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