Why Content is No Longer King (And Who’s Taking His Place)

Why Content is No Longer King (And Who’s Taking His Place)

Reader Comments (130)

  1. Lovely, lovely piece.

    Thanks for underscoring the need for clarity of purpose, because with website building made easy, creating web garbage has also become easier. Sifting through the trash to find jewels of information that are truly helpful can drive a person blind.

  2. Time is money.

    If you read free content from a blogger on a regular basis, you assigned value to it whether or not you choose to admit it.

    So, when that same blogger then asks you for money (at a reasonable price) for more of the same valuable content that you would gladly spend more of your time reading, it should only be viewed as a mere technicality that you hit a shopping cart submit button before reading further.

    Damn good write!

  3. Larry, I love your site and agree with every word you’ve said.
    Context is the new king and that opening scene of Basterds was Tarantino at his best. I’ve found that weaving the laws of page turning fiction into compelling copy is one of the best ways to leave your readers, buyers, or clients happily turning pages, or eagerly buying your products or services.

  4. My definition of content already included context, but I found your post valuable because it revealed an assumption I’d been making that not everyone would necessarily be thinking about when I used the term “content”.

  5. Great piece . . . and en endorsement of one of my “strategies” which is to start of with an “Imagine you are etc.”. Often our message reaches people who, at the time, do not wish to know what problem may be bothering them. As a result, solutions fall on deaf ears or blind eyes. Sometimes you have to grab the reader and make him aware of the “context” before you can proceed with your message. Back in the 60s when I taught a course on survival, my promo piece was headed “Imagine it is winter, its cold and the kids want their supper but you can’t start a fire because you fear you hear a plane.” My course was preparing people if they didn’t want to be “found”. My course was well attended.

  6. @Shane, @BaguioTravel: Excellent points. For me, my minutes are more important than my money. I would rather pay for well delivered information, neatly assembled than wade through tons of swill – of which there is no shortage.

  7. I have been proclaiming for years now that Content is NOT “King” or even “Drag Queen”! LOL Nobody can even explain what “Content is King” (a phallocentric sexist phrase) means? It’s an excuse for crap web design and for blabbering irrelevant noise on Twitter, I suppose. Poor presentation (like sleep-inducing Power Point) will cause content to never get consumed. Thanks for this verification of my thesis! :^)

  8. I suggest, while indeed the King may be dead, long live the King, that a less feudal system is emerging where content, context, capacity, and culture merge together – surrounded by conversations.

  9. I have to agree with what’s said, this is truly a lovely piece. Well written, good arguments and a clear context. Nice!
    Also kudos on how you noted the difference between a visitors *context* versus a site owner’s * purpose*, and how these are two different beasties.

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. A great, and I would *assume* commonly overlooked aspect that you have brought up here.

    If one does not understand context, then it’s game over before the first word is typed.

  11. Great article. I often see blogs that do not have a direction, and although they have interesting topics, they fail to capitalize on the full potential of their niche. When you combine great content with your overall goal (i.e. context) you can achieve what you set out to do a lot easier.

    Rob – LexiConn

  12. While there are some decent points here, unfortunately the analogy is very weak. Context is a part of content; but you’re trying to narrow ‘content’ down to include only the words, not the whole experience. In your movie example, the settings, the imagery, the scene, the sound, are all still part of the content. On a Web page, the images, audio, video, and other elements are also part of the content. Content does not just mean ‘written words.’ Maybe the problem people are having is that they are isolating ‘content’ to limit it to writing, instead of understanding what it really is; it’s everything that is created that makes the experience. There is context within it (or at least there needs to be). Stop trying to think of content as something that first appeared with blogs (a ridiculous starting point anyways) and look at what content actually is.

  13. I couldn’t agree more. Even when content was king context was still important because content alone doesn’t sell or encourage a desired action. Copyblogger should be considered a Duke or maybe even a Prince in this equation!

  14. Larry, I have been thinking and writing a lot about this lately. I do not think content is dead, it is just coming to a level playing field with context. In my company, World 50, we gathered the top executives in the world to collaborate – and even with the top academics or consultants on the planet present – they still wanted to hear more from true peers. This was context AND content – it takes both to knock it out of the park.

    Rick Smith

  15. Liked this plenty. The communications model I studied included a big cloud around the sending and receiving of messages called “frame of reference.” If context is always on our minds and in our writing, communication happens. It’s vital that we share some aspects of a frame of reference, from language to more subtle cues, in order to facilitate true interaction.

  16. LH, given that a lot of people seem to consider content to be something that merely takes up space on a web page, I think the analogy is apt and the lesson (unfortunately) necessary. Most people still don’t understand that content and content marketing are not the same thing. Context makes the difference.

    Why are the critics always anonymous? Why don’t you want us to see your content?

  17. I think Larry is right to treat content and context as separate–but clearly related–considerations. If for no other reason, it forces me to consciously consider the context before creating the content. To treat context as part of content–at least for me–runs the risk of taking the former for granted and hence making the latter less powerful than it would otherwise be.

  18. Larry:

    Really enjoyed the piece. You took what could be a complicated idea & boiled it down to an easily digestible (and incredibly important) concept that people need to understand for ANY marketing to be successful.

    It goes to show why researching your target buyer(s) is so important. Once you know who you are trying to reach the context FOR your content becomes much easier.

  19. the question is will prime minister overthrown the king, or ‘i’ will be king loyal servent. but what the point have content without context (it may work, but not that high) and what the point context without content (this definitely never work).

  20. For those who saw and appreciated the Tarantino scene I referenced in this post, there’s another one you should check out: it’s fromthe 1993 file “True Romance,” which he wrote but didn’t direct (Tony Scott did, a nice pairing). The scene is an 11-minute masterpiece of context and dialogue, absolutely terrifying and cool, yet just two guys (Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken at his best) talking things over (it should be noted that one of them is tied up at gunpoint). Happens about 1/3 of the way into the movie.

  21. “Why are the critics always anonymous? Why don’t you want us to see your content?”

    Brian, LH has a dream that one day anonymous commentors will not be judged by the color of their context, but by the content of their colorful comments. 🙂

  22. Pretty powerful observation! That’s so true though, and I think it forces us to re-examine our ideals. The “everything is free” web 2.0 menality got us to think unselfishly. Now perhaps this idea of context being king will help us to think wisely, to finance our ideals.

  23. Thank you for this article. Context! I have given myself a sore throat trying to convey this exact message to clients. I use the word “evolved” quite often but “context” is obviously the piece I was missing. I had a conversation this morning with someone who said they didn’t expect anyone to hire them because of their website, they just want it to look good so they wouldn’t be embarrassed. It seems many people can’t make the leap from a brochure/self focused site to a user focused destination for their customers. They can’t understand why/how their content can make a difference. I will direct them to your post.

  24. While I am not a large fan of the flowery language used the point in this article is very valid. However while context is a huge issue, I would still place content as first on the list. You are more disappointing by a pretty package with nothing inside than a poor package with something great inside it.

  25. Content – in my opinion – is guided by the Value Proposition (it defines context) designed for the target audience. Patently then content lies within context when the message reaches its target. Otherwise it is just content.

  26. Larry and Janice: I almost compared that scene to the one at the beginning of Basterds this morning! I LOVE that scene, and Tony Scott’s lens filter aside, Tarantino himself couldn’t have directed that scene better. That scene is one of my favorites, not just Tarantino, but ever. A masterpiece of context and dialogue indeed.

  27. Writer Dad,

    How about the ending scene of Swingers where Vincent Vaughn’s character saw the content of the woman’s baby-like flirtations in the diner. Knowing only content made him look like a context jester when he found out she was making baby faces at her own baby and not him.

  28. Sean,
    Can you imagine being on the set the day that was shot? Such power. Such raw abraiding power. That film is not easy to watch and yet , surprisingly it is one of my favorite Tarantino films. He does comedy in it too. The guns drawn scene near the end?

  29. Janice,

    “Baby, that was money”

    Now, that line is a classic example of content/context. Taken literally, it means something totally different. In the context of how the movie used it, it’s contextually richer.

  30. Larry,

    Thanks for the insightful and thought-provoking post! As the great Integral philosopher Ken Wilber states, “Context is everything.” And you convey how much power and clarity is found by simply understanding the context for the content we create.

    I do have a question about your closing statements. When you said “And in each case, when we understand the context we’re working in, we achieve our goal.

    And so, too, does the reader. Because their context isn’t what you’re selling, but what they’re seeking to take away from what you’ve written.”

    I didn’t quite get how the reader is seeking to take away a context from what you’ve written. Could you clarify that, please?


  31. Another great piece, Larry. We need more context, structure and character in a blogging world full of cloned, cookie cutter posts. I love that your work always marries my love of film and writing and inspires me to support one with the other.

  32. I’ll bend a little and allow context the title of Prince Regent but, not King. The throne may sit idle but it is not fully abdicated. This theme of this post works best for individuals & organizations who have already matured a bit in social media & content marketing.

    I work with small/emerging business and for many, content provides context for their marketing context itself. Sorry for the somewhat circular references but, for these folks the “content” that is their unique story, knowledge, products, skills, experiences, attitudes and opinions trumps context all to hell and back, at least at the outset. There’s is not a work of fiction, manufactured to meet a certain end.

    Their initial foray (lurch?) into social media marketing (content marketing?) and a conversational relationship with clients and prospects only achieves as much contextual life as their content validates. Don’t possess sufficient content? No context.

  33. Thinking about context in education, smart teachers know that placing content in a context relevant to the student makes all the difference in their learning.

  34. Dude,

    This is brilliant. Of course, it just means that “Content is still King”, but it also means that internet business should put content into perspective of their larger strategy.

    Brilliant reframing of the ‘ol “Content is king” cliche.


  35. Nice one, Larry! I thought I was too busy to read this post, but you got me in and kept me to the end. Really good stuff that has got me thinking. Many thanks! P. 🙂

  36. @Steve Haase — happy to clarify, Steve. What I meant was that context is such a powerful and clarifying tool, it makes content even richer and more useful. Which is what the reader came for. Other readers here have commented, and correctly so, that the line between content and context blurs, and that the sum exceeds the parts. So, by that measure, a piece enriched with empowering context will send the reader away better informed. Which is synonymous with better served.

    Now, how does this serve the writer? Because a well-served reader is a trusting and loyal one, and the benefits of that require no elaboration. Content isn’t always the most potent sales strategy. Not all buyers are engineers. The majority of products and services today have an emotional component (trust and confidence) that is independent of price and features. That’s what contextual selling, and writing, is all about.

    Hope this addresses your question.

    @ gogo — thanks for this powerful summation. Think I’ll send the few nay-sayers who have chimed in here to your post.

    To those naysayers (you know who you are) — you get to be right, content still rules. And to say that context is irrelevant is, well, naive. The point here, and I’m sorry if I contributed to you missing it, is that content without context cheats both the reader and the writer out of available benefit, because context ALWAYS enriches content. Context is point of view, it’s empathy, it’s an unspoken acknowledgement of need and agenda, without apology or intrusion.

    TV advertising is almost all context with very little content (that cool little Etrade baby/spokesperson is pure context, as are the Budweiser Clydesdales and virtually every other conceptual approach), and yet it serves both “reader” and writer.

    The point is simple, really: context is empowering. It’s a killer sales tool. Use it and your content will be richer.

  37. Great piece Larry and just as useful as Storyfix has been for me lately. Your post reminds me of some IM launch videos that I’ve watched this year. When you set the context appropriately, many people don’t even pay attention to the words/text.

  38. That’s great, Larry; thank you for clarifying. And your engineer comment really got me–I’d be upset with you for the stereotype if it weren’t so true!

  39. Oh my, what a breath of fresh air — beautifully written with clarity and depth. You have both drawn out the distinction between content and context, and wrapped them in the same burrito. Delightful work. Off to master the art of context as strategy!

  40. Hey Larry,

    Context can make the same thing great or mediocre.

    If a watch was sold online on some budget-looking store (or even at Amazon), even a fairly low price of $200 would elicit a “I dunno…”

    Take that same watch and put it (in a picture) on a shiny little pedestal, black background, and smooth spotlight, and then use gorgeous font to display an elegant and luxurious description (and maybe add that only 200 will be made), then state the price as $2000, and enough people will go “I HAVE to have this” to sell this watch out like pancakes.

    Remarkable content + the most effective context = maximum wins (whatever they may be).

    Nice reminder on not just focusing on content but making sure the context is right as well,

  41. Hi,

    interestings aspects written.
    But in my opinion audience is the real king.
    You can write the best content generating context the best ever what is worthless having no audience grasping it.


  42. Larry,

    Great article! Content will always be king in my book for the simple fact that without great content you’ll never get your most wanted response. However, its the context that pays the bills.

  43. Excellent post Larry! I think you’ve really given people a lot to think about. At first I was unsure about where you were going, but your argument really stands up well and backed by a great example of context in the form of Tarantino’s strategy; he truly is the master.
    Look forward to reading more from you.

  44. @Jan — of course you’re right, I won’t argue with your point. But… I fear you’ve missed mine. Context is what allows content to “sell.” It’s what pounds it home for the reader. You’re right, poor content won’t bring readers back to your page. But content drenched with effective context will not only bring them back, they’ll bring thier friends and their credit cards with them. Because context empowers content to that extent. In today’s highly competitive online environment, we can’t afford to view what we write simplistically. Stating that content is always the king isn’t wrong, it’s just simplistic in a way that steps over the dollar to pick up the dime. Hope this clarifies what I was going for in this post.

  45. what a fresh piece. sometimes, it feels like everything is just regurgitated over and over, but not this time. this was helpful and insightful.

  46. As a new writer to the blogging world there is so much to consider when writing a piece. This is definitely something I need to consider more when creating my blog. Thanks.

  47. This is a great way to add value to content. This blog made me look at content and context is a different light. This will defiantly help me in the future with copywriting and blogging!

  48. Context being defined by relationships is how I understand the notion.

    @jenx67 Best way I know to write fresh material is to do something fresh.

  49. Effective content is always rooted in the customer (audience) value set — one that is shared by the marketer (content creator). Otherwise, content carries no context to the reader, and will fail at engagement.

    Content is still King, but it needs a Queen to most effectively ‘rule,’ and that Queen is Context.

  50. That made me think – but context is part of the content right? I have been providing good contents for my blog in the hope of driving visitors and increasing some revenues as I monetize my blog.

    In my opinion, to produce a very successful blog, you must provide good content but content alone doesn’t stand. There should be a Queen for a King and that Queen refers to marketing.

    So, in effect, CONTENT (KING) + MARKETING (QUEEN) = Successful Blog.

  51. This is a very interesting thought. Though every content will have a context attached to it, the fact that we often tend to ignore the context is something worth noting. What is to be borne in mind is the point that we need to visualize the context before we can write and interesting content.

  52. Content without context is like an engine without fuel. It is context that drives the content. On the other hand, it’s content that leads us to the context. So, we can never underestimate or undermine content.

    Search engines understand content and not context. At the same time, content without a good context does not appeal to readers.

    So both content and context go hand in hand.

  53. This all rings true, as we have always said in Real Estate business, disclose everything. We have to remind everyone, because who you are (context) tends to dictate what you prefer to say (content).

  54. Very good post, i still think content is key as without it we have no context so i think they work hand in hand which i guess is the key elements from your post.


  55. “A commercial context doesn’t diminish the value of strong content.” That line…is just damn genius. For real! Selling stuff and offering real value and inextricable. Can’t have one without the other…yet so many fear any attempt to sell something is going to cloud any value they’re offering. It’s just not true, and it’s an irrational fear of sales that we need to get over!

  56. No. Content is not king and neither is context. Presentation, Context & Content must work together on a fairly equal basis. You seem to think in terms of old fashioned hierarchies, American Idol mentality, who’s the “king”? We don’t like kings, they tend to oppress and exploit.

    You can have the most incredible content and context, totally urgent and relevant and helpful to your audience…then jam it into a crappy looking website, full of distracting ads and hype, and not put enough paragraph breaks into it.

    Then your content and context will not get much attention. “Content is King” is the mantra of poor web designers.

  57. This reminds me of a disturbing trend I noticed when I really got into social media back in August. A lot of people are talking but not saying anything.

    That’s why my blog is still kind of sparse. I’m new to the game but in 3 months, I already have taught a class here in NYC and now have two clients that I market for. But I don’t have much to say still.

    But what I said 3 months ago is just as accurate then as it was now:


    Don’t market unless you have something to say! Same thing with blogging! Don’t write if you’re really not going to say anything!

  58. The thing about a topic like this is that it gets supporters on both sides that just aren’t going to change their minds on where they stand.

    I stand on the side that still says content is king, regardless of some of the other stuff that’s said about it. Kind of like what’s more important, having a body or being able to walk. Without the body, nothing else matters, and that’s the same with content.

    On another blog, someone else wrote that SEO was king instead of content, but to me the same thing applies. Without content, there’s nothing.

  59. I don’t know if I totally agree. It is semantics I suppose, but to me content is still on the throne and the queen is on vacation.

  60. Well, I actually think content is King. And if content is King, branding is God. And that’s the problem. It takes so much time to build an audience, to get your voice heard. You have to be your own writer/editor/marketer/researcher. No matter how much you try to educate yourself and how efficiently you work towards your goal, being a God is the hardest thing. Not every established and respected blogger always makes great content. But they have built the brand and they can get away with it. Or better yet, starter bloggers can have great ideas but it just sounds better when the gods say it.
    I am doing my best to achieve my goals, but hey, I am merely human. Analogy intended.

  61. Content is slave, not king. It’s enslaved to the needs of the intended audience, to presentation, to authenticity, and to other conditional aspects.

    Branding is mostly a gimmick of ad agencies to make a product seem to be better than it is, or a magical aura that gives it a false halo of elitism, artificially dreamed up, imposed, and enforced via hype and brainwashing.

    Like “Afghanistan is the good war” and “WMD in Iraq”, etc.

    True “branding” is what happens in the customer’s mind as they use a product to solve a problem.

  62. Well, I am not a consumer. Not when I am the writer. I am the producer. I am not talking about appealing to consumers’ needs. Whether we should adjust to their needs is another issue. But:
    – The “branding” just doesn’t land on the consumer’s mind. You can solve all the problems you want, but unless you establish your authority/brand/whatever you want to call it, you are nothing. So that’s why “branding” is more than a gimmick.

    – Maybe you are right. Maybe content is slave for most people. Maybe it should be for me too. But I can’t let that. My writing is my baby and I’d rather put it out there than have a baby just based on the demands of people. I can adjust or edit but I can’t create just to satisfy others.

  63. What I mean is that just pumping out tons of self-impressed content will not help you achieve your goals.

    If you have a blog, what indeed are your goals? For many bloggers, they wish to share their insights and expertise. The ultimate goal is to help others, spark conversations, and attract clients or customers.

    “Content is King” is often proclaimed, while ignoring the needs and interestes of the intended audience. Presentation, meaning web design, is often poor. SEO fundamentals are lacking. RSS feeds and links to their Twitter and other social media participations are non-existent or shoved down to the bottom of the home page.

    “Content is King” is sometimes the mantra of the self-obsessed blabbermouth who thinks every word is gold just because it came out of their mouth.

    Content, by itself, understood as raw material, is no key to success in anything. Lots of people have lots of content, and everybody’s bored with it.

    Perhaps this patriarchal male-domination phrase “Content is King” is intended to mean that a fancy website that is never updated with relevant information or entertainment is not as effective as one with frequent additions, which is true.

    I just think it’s good to challenge common phrases that people tend to parrot without considering all the implications of such sentiments.

    Good debate here. I hope we all have learned something valuable!


  64. I don’t mean every word is gold. I mean for some people every word is just personal. And sometimes people let go of the personality to attract. I am just saying it is easier to lose track of what you want to say while trying to make it more audience-friendly.

    I am a blogger/writer. As a blogger, I am a rookie. I am learning something new everyday and I love Copyblogger for the resources it offers. But I am just in the process of finding a balance between quality content and smart marketing. I guess I know what my problem is:
    Although I am a writer,I studied business and advertising. 🙂
    When I say I feel content is king, and branding is god, I merely compare the power of the two. Yes, it is difficult to market crap but then again, lots of people are becoming great at it. I am just torn between emotions and logic and well, I guess you can understand why…

  65. Pinar you remind me of a character in a Rudyard Kipling story, and I love Kipling! LOL I enjoy our discussion here, courtesy of CopyBlogger.

    You will find your own distinct “blog voice” as you experiment and try things. I’ve been blogging for about 7 years, and still grapple with what content to post, how to say what I want to say, how personal vs. how professional to be, etc.

    Sometimes I drift too far from my blog’s Purpose (social media analysis, web usability topics, web content development, music marketing, small business strategies).

    I’ve been using Twitter as a place to test out writing ideas. I’ll tweet a bunch of statements, adjust my ideas according to feedback from Twitter pals or unknowns, and eventually write a blog post based on the whole mess.

    I’m a contrarian. I like to challenge stock phrases, mantras, proverbs and slogans.

    Best wishes to you in all your projects!


  66. P.S. Pinar, I absolutely LOVE your blog and your other web content locations. Will be posting comments at it later. You know how to create great titles for blog posts, and your blog design is incredible, one of the best WordPress blogs I’ve ever seen.

    You’ve nailed it sister! I feel ashamed of myself for presuming to lecture you on anything! I shall sit at your feet and LEARN!


  67. Thanks, I am glad you liked it : )
    I understand the contrarian part, thought. I have always loved being a bit of black sheep. It makes you challenge everything but after some frustration, comes stuff you will never forget.

  68. Larry,

    Thank you for this post. I will be visiting your website today. I know that I will learning more from you.

    I am an inspirational speaker here in the Philippines. And I know the importance of careful consideration of context to the success of my speeches.

    Thank you for the reminder. I will be visiting your website today. I know that I will be learning more from you.

    God bless.

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