It’s Time for Accountable Content on Blogs

Essays by Shalon Sims on education, creative writing and literacy

It’s Time for Accountable Content on Blogs

We live in what is called the ‘information age’ and the world has been called the ‘Content Nation‘; people are now able to create content at rates that were truly unreachable even 20 years ago, and share that with people on the other side of the world.  It’s amazing–and very overwhelming.  Pete Cashmore (of Mashable) predicted that ‘content curation’–organization and sharing of the ‘best’ content online–would be one of the biggest web trends of 2010.

We all know the misery of googling a phrase and having to wade through pages of search results to find what we’re looking for–the never ending tweaking of the search phrase, clicking, scanning, back button, scroll, click, scan, back button, next page….  And it’s not only the amount of information that stretches our patience, it’s actually the poor quality of information that boggles us: advertisers trying to trick us, people on our Facebook posting what amounts to last weeks Inquirer (did you hear about the ufo over Jerusalem?), or bloggers passing themselves off as experts.

Which brings me to the topic of blogs: this morning I clicked on 5 links to different blog-posts on my Twitter feed, and only 1 of them was *quality*, in my opinion, and worthy of a retweet.  I felt dissatisfaction rising up in me: why do people write within a bubble?!  Why don’t they attribute their sources?  Why don’t they take the time to make their post connect to the knowledge community that they are a part of?  If they give advice, why don’t they tell you why they’re someone you should be listening to?

Frustration, by Sybren Stuvel on Flickr

I believe that this information overload makes it all the more important to create *quality* content, as a blogger.  I’m not just talking about ‘expert’ blogs–I’m also talking about artist, hobby, personal development, and even spiritual blogs, so don’t think you’re safe, just because you blog about your feelings, past experiences, or angels.  There are proven, tried and tested ways to improve the *quality* of your writing, and it turns out that this can also improve your page ranking with Google (see Extra Links below), so you have even more reason to do it.

Some Facts

According to Technorati’s 2010 State of the Blogosphere survey of over 7000 bloggers:

  • 79% of bloggers have college degrees: If this is off, even by a huge margin, it still doesn’t account for the fact that most people who blog don’t attribute their sources.  If you went to college, you learned how to write an essay–it’s called a Bibliography, or a Works Cited!  With hyperlinks, this whole process has been made SO much easier.
  • Consumers trust blogs approximately 15-20% less than they do other forms of media, such as magazine, newspaper, or tv.
  • 54% of bloggers say that they consider their blogging style to be ‘expert’.

Slow down.  Ask yourself, why are you blogging?

There are many reasons to blog–but it all comes down to one thing: communicating with other human beings.  Whether you’re doing this for profit or for fun, you have the choice to create content that will be valuable for your reader, or not.

In my research, I saw that some people avoid linking to other pages, because it takes away from the time spent on their page and the possible money they will earn from their ads.   In wordpress, I have the option of opening the link in a new window/tab, so I don’t see how this would be a factor; plus, this article talks about why this might not be as effective as you thought.

Another factor, it seems, is time.  Everywhere I look, people are in a race to get a new blog post out.  Technorati says that the average amount of posts per week is between 2 & 3.  I don’t really see how it’s possible to put out 2 or 3 *quality* posts, with high value to the reader (with attributive links and quality research)  in one week, unless you don’t have a day job.

Do you blog to make money?

Maybe you want to make money from blogging, and you know that everyone else posts 2-3 times a week, so you need to keep up, right?  that certainly happened to me, when I first started blogging.   But I wasn’t happy with the quality, and I realized the truth: According to Technorati’s survey:

  • 65% of bloggers don’t make money from blogging (the other 35% get paid per post or write for a corporate blog)
  • 65% of the bloggers who get paid per post made less than $2000 (USD) last year (from blogging).  On average, they earn $20 per post.
  • The people who get paid salary to write a corporate blog earn, on average, well below $20,000, which, in Canada, is below the poverty line.

I myself earn money from my blog; not from the blog itself, but through contracts I receive from people who see my blog and want to hire me for editing and writing.  Technorati’s survey makes it clear that this is the case for most people, so this only makes it even more important for us to write the highest quality blog posts that we can.  Yes, it will take longer, but yes, you will have a much higher quality piece of writing that will be of more value to your reader.

And if you’re of the mind to become one of those 10% who get paid more than $21,000, do you think you will get there by writing low *quality* posts?  See this debate amongst some top-bloggers if you don’t believe that this is an issue in the higher echelons of the blogging world.

An example of a horrible blog post

This morning I got an email with an offer to write blog posts for $20 per post and they sent me this link, to show me what kind of posts they wanted.  It’s the best example of a horrible blog-post that I could possibly imagine: there is only one link, and the author just spouts her opinion as if she’s an authority (that’s the ‘expert’ style that technorati mentioned is so popular).  But:

  • Who is she?  (click on her name and it takes you to a list of other names)
  • What makes her an authority?  (I couldn’t see anything that made her an authority)
  • Are there statistics or science, or professional opinions to validate what she’s saying?  (nope)
  • What books did she read that gave her these ideas?  (probably none, and if she did, she’s not telling us).

Or maybe, she was just so brilliant that she thought this great idea up all by herself!  BRAVO for her.  Blog posts like this are what some companies are looking for, because of what has been called, ‘Content Marketing’.  They pay $20 dollars for people to pop out ‘expert’ posts as if they were intestinal gas, and supposedly, this makes people want to buy their product/endorse their brand (“I just LOVE the Christian Tribune!).  Well, I will admit, if someone was only paying me 20$ per post, I’d probably write drivel too, but what kind of service are these companies and these blog-writers doing themselves?  What service are they doing their readers?

What about hobbyists, personal development, and mom bloggers?

You might be thinking, ‘well this need for links and research doesn’t include me–I’m just having fun talking about my feelings and my experiences.’

To you I would like to say that you will add a lot of value to your blog posts, and your own life, by taking the time to find out what other people have already said about the topic that you plan to write about.  Also, you can comment on those blogs and direct targeted traffic back to your own site.  You can put in links for the terms you use, and support your experience, opinions and advice by telling us how you learned what you learned.  We’ll appreciate it, I promise.

So, what is *quality*?

You may have noticed that I put little asterisks each time I used the word quality.  That’s because quality isn’t something I can define and put up a fence around: everything inside is quality and everything outside is not.  It’s subjective, and it’s true that many blogs don’t need to be ‘accountable’  in order to be of quality to their readers.  The *quality* I’m speaking of, though, can be defined as follows:

  • Statements of fact are supported by evidence, or by professional opinion.
  • Opinions and advice are supported by evidence, or by professional opinion.
  • References to other people/ideas are supported by links or sources
  • Credit is given to anyone from whom you got information.
  • The authority (or non-authority) of the author is clearly defined.
  • Statistics are sourced, if possible to the actual research they came from (Hint: if you’re having a hard time finding the source of a statistic, it’s probably because it’s a fake–don’t use it).
  • Quotes are sourced, if possible to the book or website they came from.

In Conclusion

I’ve decided as a personal challenge to only write blog posts that attribute sources properly, and I hope that you’ll consider the evidence I’ve amassed for you, and do the same.  I love to find blogs to comment on, or share on my social media platforms, but I refuse to recycle low *quality* writing, that exists in a bubble.  I also hope that you’ll be more skeptical in what you share on social media platforms, and check to see if the author is being accountable.

We’re part of a community and blogging is about conversations.  Show that you want to be part of a discourse on the topic you’re writing about–be a part of that discourse.

Extra links


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