Why Words Matter: “Information” versus “Content”

Grass Roots Mattress

This is not how your website information should be viewed

Are the words on your website the equivalent of shredded newspaper and cotton balls stuffed into a lumpy mattress, just to give it some body? Didn’t think so.

And for that reason, I’ve decided to stop using the word “Content.”

That word is all over the internet these days. Marketers, professional writers, everyone talks about it. They utter the phrase “Content is king,” and promise that those who produce it will never lack for work. Websites, videos, advertising, television productions — everyone, we are told, needs “content.”

This may simply be my own foible, but I’ve recently decided that the word “content,” in its current marketing use at least, is a bit insulting. In my opinion, it insults the one who produces it, the one who owns it, and the one who sees/hears/reads it.

In its simplest sense, “content”  just means “something that is contained.” So a Table of Contents refers to everything a book contains; the contents list on a food package describes everything that went into making that food, and a border guard may inspect the contents of your luggage. But that variety of uses hints at my first problem with the word “content” as it prevails in the marketing world today.

Cardboard box

A cardboard box. With stuff in it.

In the above usages, it doesn’t actually matter what that “content” is – chapters in a book; wheat, fruit, or preservatives; socks, shirts, or toiletries. The word is general enough that all it really means is “stuff that’s inside something else.” So tell me — if you’ve got a website, is that how you want your information described?

When I see the phrase “website content,” my first thought is “filler.” The owner may not always mean it that way, but I think of website owners scrounging around to find something — anything — to fill up pages on their sites. And when you discover that there are “article mills” paying people the pittance of seven to ten dollars for a 500-word article that they can sell as cheap “content” to websites — it’s clear that a great deal of what is called “content” is indeed meant as nothing but filler. Something to occupy space, to give a false impression of substance. Yet often, something that is barely readable.

Although it, too, uses the word "content," Social Media Examiner is chock full of valuable information.

Now think of what the word “information” conveys instead. Doesn’t that suggest that there is actually something of value on that web page or in that video? Something that you know and want to impart to someone else? Something that will make it worth a reader’s or watcher’s while to visit your website? Something they can learn from, and take away and use?

To use “content,” as far as I’m concerned, inadvertently insults every party involved. (And no offense to great websites or marketers who use it; I just think they haven’t thought through all the implications of the word.) A website owner should be proud of the valuable information on his or her site, rather than thinking of it as a mere space-filler. A writer or videographer should be able to do good research and produce information, entertainment, or art that has real substance and value, rather than being required to churn out something that will just take space or be a keyword-delivery system for search engines.

And the reader or watcher should expect not to find stuff that’s just designed to fill the container called a website or a video. Readers of websites should be respected and given something with real meat in it, real value. And in my opinion, that’s good information, instruction, or something else with substance. And none of that is filler. Or, as far as I’m concerned, “content.”

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