Everything is NOT Content

We’re tossing “content” around a little too easily these days. It’s becoming another vague generic word like “stuff” or “crap.”

Not the adjective meaning fairly happy, but rather “items held within a larger container,” as the stuff in a book or a blog.

The Moz (formerly SEOMoz) is cheapening the word by telling us “Everything is content!”

Except it’s not.

In his latest blog post on The Moz Blog, “Why Local Businesses Don’t Need Big Budgets for Their Content Marketing, author Matthew Barby says, “Content is:”

  • the staff within your business.
  • the design of your shop/office.
  • your products and services.
  • the menus on your tables.
  • your company values.
  • your customers.


As sick to death I am of the phrase “content is king,” I’ll tattoo that on my ass before I ever agree that “content is everything,” or even any of those things Barby named.

It is not, as Barby says, cupcakes, staff uniforms, foam art in your latte, or the barista’s smile as she hands over your cupcake and arty latte.

Unless you’re a writer, artist, videographer, photographer, podcaster, or musician, the stuff you do isn’t content either. And if you are, you probably don’t want to cheapen your work by calling it that.

Real creators it stories, art, videos, photos, podcasts, and music.

Most Things Are Not Content

Old Ovaltine magazine ad — Now THIS is content!

From the early days of “paper content marketing.” Or as those poor fools from the 30s called it, “advertising.”

Do you know what content is? Words, images, and sounds. Stories, pictures, movies, podcasts, and music.

Do you know what it isn’t? Everything else. Everything other thing in the world that are not words, images, and sounds.

If I can’t read it, watch it, look at it, or listen to it, it’s not content.

If I can eat it, it’s not content. If it’s a person and his or her clothes, it’s not content. If it’s the squishy feeling we all get from maximizing our company’s potential to provide mission-critical customer satisfaction, it’s not content.

Using the word this way will eventually just cheapen the word and make it as useful and nebulous as “stuff.” I’m certainly not going to coin the phrase stuff marketing.

The word usually refers to material contained within another item — contents of a thermos, a book (hence the term Table of Contents), a speech. It has expanded to include video, audio, and photos, but that’s as far as I think people need to take it.

I’ll agree that the staff, their uniform, and latte foam art are features and reasons to like that business. But to call them “content” cheapens both them and the tenets of content marketing.

Do You Know What We Used To Call Content Marketing?

I blame the Content Marketing movement for starting this. They’re the ones who started calling “persuading people with information” content marketing.

Before then, we just called it marketing.

It was just a thing we did. It was brochures and trade shows. It was TV commercials and newspaper ads and CD-ROMs. It was corporate videos and scripts for radio commercials. Then one day, when I was as old as Kurt Cobain when he died, we started using this Internet thingy, and my company was the first in our industry to have a website.

The other companies laughed at us for getting suckered into this fad, until we started kicking their asses and taking away sales worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then they scrambled fast to catch up.

Do you know what we called doing marketing on the Internet back then?


And do you know what we called the text and the photos on our web pages?

Text and photos.

But we didn’t call customer service, uniforms, or any of that other stuff “marketing,” because it wasn’t. Our accountant wasn’t marketing. Our shipping coordinator wasn’t marketing. Our warehouse guy wasn’t marketing.

We certainly never would have called them content.

But now the latest jargony buzzword is Content Marketing, because we produce stuff to be consumed; Internet Marketing, because it’s marketing on the Internet; Digital Marketing, because it’s now happening via mobile apps and not just the Internet; and, urp. . . urp. . . barf.

Honestly, I don’t care if you debate the subtle nuances of calling it Digital versus Internet Marketing to 10 decimal places. It doesn’t matter. Because it’s still just marketing. It’s not special marketing. It’s not some new brand of marketing that no one has ever done before.

It’s still just persuasive words, pretty pictures, and pleasing sounds.

So can we just skip the happiness-and-rainbows fancy jargon, and stick with the areas we can control that actually persuade people to buy our, uh, stuff?

Because no one is going to walk into a content shop and ask the contentista for a half-caff content with light foam, and a chocolate content with extra sprinkles.

That would be stupid.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.


    1. Great bit of content, Erik haha!

      Always looking for people to challenge what I say, and I do agree with some of the points that you make; however, as you can imagine, I disagree with a few as well.

      You state, “If I can’t read it, watch it, look at it, or listen to it, it’s not content.”, but surely all of the examples you then go on to describe fall within these boundaries? Fancy looking cupcakes – you look at them to appreciate them, it isn’t the taste that we’re focusing on here, it’s their uniqueness. Likewise, unique staff uniforms are observed and have become a huge part of many companies branding.

      Yes, it does sound a little pretentious to call everything ‘content’, but it’s more a mindset that I was trying to highlight than a call for a change in terminology. When smaller business start looking at the different aspects of their business as ‘content’ then it leaves a lot more scope for creativity – the solution for many traditional online marketers seems to be very black & white – write some articles or create a graphic… this is something that kind of frustrates me.

      But hey… just my take on things. One quote I really enjoyed within this article is:

      “Honestly, I don’t care if you debate the subtle nuances of calling it Digital versus Internet Marketing to 10 decimal places. It doesn’t matter. Because it’s still just marketing. It’s not special marketing. It’s not some new brand of marketing that no one has ever done before.”

      I completely agree – we love to rebrand and rename things to give the perception of added value. To be honest, that was one of the things that I was trying to get across in my article on Moz – where we call it digital marketing, internet marketing, engagement marketing or whatever you want to call it now, a lot of it all focuses around content in one shape or another.