Creating Powerful Content (and Why the World Needs It)

powerful content and the Sistine Chapel

The news industry is essentially creating a race to the bottom when it comes to quality. Major online publications like AOL have started cranking out cheap and tiny bits of content, hoping to cash in on local news and the long tail. With plunging ad sales and a tough economy, the only way to keep the online doors open is to cut costs (and lower standards). Or so they think. It’s not about being prolific any more, it’s about keeping the doors open with pageviews.

There’s really two schools of thought when it comes to producing online content strategies:

The School of Quantity

The School of Quantity, like the name implies, puts an emphasis on churning a lot of content. The more girth you can add to the site, the better. You’re hoping that the long tail catches you, helping you to reach a lot of people once or twice. You may not rank highly for competitive keywords (if that’s your thing), but the beauty is of the quantity approach is that you don’t have much competition.

The benefits of quantity is that search engines can’t read. They can parse text, find similarities and all that good stuff, but they don’t care about proper sentence structure. Just make sure that a few keywords are sprinkled liberally across the page, and you’re golden.

For the online world, an emphasis on quantity looks like it might be a promising plan.

The School of Quality

This school of thought is about creating limited content that has higher impact. Instead of publishing 10-15 short tiny posts, this strategy might only produce two incredible posts a week. This won’t get as many pages indexed in the search engines, but it creates more followers.

A fantastic example of this is The Oatmeal. Matthew Inman creates incredible cartoons that attract gazillions of links by publishing high-quality cartoons once or twice a week. And he’s created a viral, rabid following in the process.

If you’re producing content online, at some point you’re going to have to choose one of these two paths.

Why I Love the School of Quality

david and high-quality content

A long time ago I had a great gig at a popular tech blog that allowed me to post technology deals on a daily basis. For a college student, it was a fairly lucrative job. But I hated it.

Creating mindless, copy-and-paste content is exceptionally hard. There’s no thinking, just a process. The process got old quickly for me.

It’s draining not to be able to create things that measure up to our full potential.

Creating High-Quality Content

Creating magnificent content isn’t easy. Otherwise every website and newspaper would just be chock-full of fantastic writing. But that’s not the case, is it?

Creating powerful content demands a few things:

Sometimes projects just have to sit for a while before they’re perfect. Expect multiple revisions. Expect lots and lots of thinking and planning. Oh, and did I mention all that attention to detail that goes into it?

But eventually you’ll start seeing progress. In the end, it’ll all be worth it. You’ll actually be proud of what you created.


I’d bet everything in my wallet right now (er…$7) that more people are going to desperately start searching for Quality. As online content becomes less like a craft and more like a machine, it’s going to create a void of exceptional stuff online. Consumers need to be challenged and awed, and people flock to others who do huge things that they sink their whole heart in to.

If you’re just creating content to crank a buck, than the Quantity path might work for you. But if you want to create a sustainable business or lifestyle, you’re going to burn out. You’ll hate every minute you spend slogging away at the keyboard. Trust me.

It’s the perfect time to create something powerful. Drop some jaws. Spend that extra time and effort. (Jon Morrow believes that popular bloggers spend anywhere from 2 to 10 hours on each post.) Is it worth it? I think so.

You can’t change the world with a bunch of “meh”.

You might also want to check out The Long Tail (and Why You Shouldn’t Worry About It). It’s a nice companion article to this piece.

Photo of the Sistine Chapel by John Linwood, photo of David by Robert Scarth

Leave a Comment

{ 32 comments… add one }
  • Anna August 9, 2010, 3:13 pm

    I’m so happy to read this article and find your blog! I’m recently out of grad school and starting two businesses at once – my psychotherapy practice, and a creativity organization through which I create public art and give workshops on creativity and manifestation. It’s exciting to be out in the “real world” and I’ve been drinking in lots of web content on marketing / social media / law of attraction, etc, as I teach myself how to make my businesses work.
    At first it was depressing, finding sites that had some good info, but the whole design of the site was SUCH CRAP, omg, it looked like it was churned out in 5 minutes, with lots of special deals outlined in red, etc. And then certain twitter feeds, chock full of affiliate links and devoid of a human personality! It made me anxious – omg! Is this how the real world works? Do I need to be tweeting out useful articles 10x / day??
    Even though I started and sold a successful small business a little over a year ago, I feel new to marketing and business, in general. There is always so much to learn! So I realized that there’s a lot I don’t know but seeing these sites that want to sell me something through making me feel anxious, I thought to myself, that can’t be the only way to succeed, and if it is, I don’t want to work like that, anyway! And with one of my businesses being therapy, it’s really dumb to try to get clients by making them feel anxious! Therapy is a business that literally runs on integrity. I recently put my psychotherapy site online ( and was feeling a little worried about how long it took me to create, but ultimately I knew I had to do it the way that felt right for me, and since I’m creating something really important, I wanted to do it right. So thank you for this post – it reinforces an intuition that I felt a little alone in, and gives me hope that my personal style of quality over quantity will indeed get me somewhere :)

    • glen August 9, 2010, 3:39 pm

      Anna, I’m so glad that the article was helpful. Yeah, when in doubt, invest in quality.

      That’s my new mantra ;)

  • Sean G July 27, 2010, 6:29 am


    Thank you for the link to that video. I ended up watching the whole thing and got some great tips. I particularly like Tim’s suggestion to break traditional blogging rules and also to emphasize posts of passion.

  • Sean G July 25, 2010, 4:37 pm


    I found your blog from your guest post on GetInTheHotSpot. I totally agree with this post. I too love the school of quality. I’d rather produce less quantity and more quality posts. Not only for personal reasons but also for the readers of my blog. Like you said, when I look back I’ll know the effort was worth it even if it takes longer.

    Right on Glen!


  • Michelle Adams July 20, 2010, 8:33 am

    Nice post Glen. I’ve been one of those who spends hours on posts too, but up to this point I’ve never been happy with what I end up with. I’m fine with the message I’m making but as far as being a ‘writer’ with flare, or some quality that just jumps off the page….well I just don’t have it. I’m interested in your thoughts on whether someone should ‘give up’ on trying to be a ‘writer’ when they clearly don’t ‘have it’?

    I read Seth’s blog and the simplicity of his style leaves me gobsmacked. I have some serious knowledge to impart but can’t seem to get it out in less than 1000 convoluted words per post most of the time, and even I can see it’s boring ‘reading’! “Great message, but oh so boring.” is the comment I would leave me!

    Maybe I need to try harder and read more of the tips you share in the links out from this post. I just wonder if it’s like flogging a dead horse though and some of us (namely me! lol!) would be better off doing something that comes more naturally? On that note…I’m much better at spotting brilliance than I am at creating it; I only came across your blog recently and am so glad I did, bookmarked it straight away. :)

    • glen July 20, 2010, 12:52 pm

      Wow, thanks so much for the really kind words! :) Made my day.

      Ok, for the rest of the comment:

      I’m interested in your thoughts on whether someone should ‘give up’ on trying to be a ‘writer’ when they clearly don’t ‘have it’?

      Well, at that point I’d ask yourself this: why are you writing? For income, or pleasure? Or both? Because if it’s just income, then it’s not worth it to struggle like that. It should come easy(ish). Doesn’t mean you’re Shakespeare, and it totally shouldn’t be too easy.

      I mainly stay with the writing because, well… I like it. A lot :) It’s more for me than anyone else! :) But hopefully we all win when knowledge is shared.

      I’d try experimenting with other mediums like video. If you have knowledge, find some way to get it out there. It’s your duty! :) And you might find video more freeing than traditional text. Just an idea :)

      Oh, and thanks for the bookmark. Means a ton!

      • Michelle Adams July 20, 2010, 8:42 pm

        Thanks for the detailed reply Glen, much appreciated.

        Video is not my thing either but I’ve yet to try podcasts, so that could be the next cab off the rank. Failing that, I might just direct everyone to all the awesomeness that you and other folk create. :)


  • Sukie Baxter July 14, 2010, 11:15 pm

    I love that you included a picture of a cathedral in this post. My impression upon entering the very first cathedral I’d ever seen–Notre Dame in Paris–was to be brought to tears by the amount of detailed, painstaking work that went into something that these people so deeply valued in their hearts. I was awed at their vision of building a lasting monument to their deepest passion.

    • glen July 15, 2010, 6:40 am

      It’s actually the Sistine Chapel. I couldn’t think of a better example of someone creating powerful “content” than Michelangelo :)

  • John Sherry July 14, 2010, 10:36 am

    What a ripper of a post Glen. I subscribe to the less is more philosophy. Keep the quality, ditch the amount. Focus on strong, compact posts full of depth in some form and not just being a word machine and that art will soon be appreciated and shared by the blogosphere. It’s what everyone wants. Not mini War and Peace’s four times a week. And, you not only talk the talked, you posted the post and wrote the blog. Nice one!!

    • glen July 14, 2010, 11:55 am

      I think you’ve hit on something here.

      “It’s what everyone wants.”

      That should be the litmus test for anyone trying to cook up a content strategy. You should have to ask yourself if you would actually read it. Oftentimes, the answer is NO WAY.

      Man, I love this discussion. Great thoughts.

      • Patty April 30, 2017, 6:30 am

        Taking the ovwierev, this post is first class

      • florida seat belt law May 17, 2017, 8:39 am

        Philippe,I couldn’t agree more. The memories are great but I’m glad that assembly and many of the aspects of manual memory management are a thing of the past. Working with garbage collected languages and concentrating on high level problems just makes more sense.

  • Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot July 14, 2010, 5:00 am

    Good old Jon Morrow – and you Glen:) Sometimes I feel like such a liser because I do spend about 6 hours on my blog posts. I write them in one or two hours but spend a lot of time editing, researching, linking to relevant posts etc. More is not better – smart people can see right through it and they won’t be back for second helpings if they don’t get satisfied the first time round:)

    • glen July 14, 2010, 11:50 am

      Thanks Annabel. Jon’s a pretty smart guy… don’t know if I deserve to be in the same company, but I’ll take it ;)

      “More is not better – smart people can see right through it and they won’t be back for second helpings if they don’t get satisfied the first time round:)”

      Booyah. Couldn’t have said it better :)

  • Cristina July 14, 2010, 3:38 am

    Hello there, this caught my attention on Twitter, and I’m glad I read it. I’ve always believed in quality over quantity, I totally agree with you. The only time when quantity is important is at the creative stage – then it’s better to jot down as many as possible, without self-editing; it’s hard to do for me, but I’m working on it :)
    I’m also happy to hear that I’m not the only one to spend quite a lot of time on each posts; English is a second language for me, too, but I hope to improve my writing with practice.

    • glen July 14, 2010, 11:48 am

      Thanks Cristina :) I loved this:

      “The only time when quantity is important is at the creative stage – then it’s better to jot down as many as possible, without self-editing”

      It’s hard to switch gears between rapid idea creation and slow, cumbersome editing. But it’s worth it!

      Great stuff.

  • yyam July 13, 2010, 9:28 pm

    I agree that a lot of the content online today have sensationalized headlines that draw you in but are more hype than anything of substance. I’d rather have fewer updates and genuinely useful content than daily doses of nothingness.

    Great post…got me thinking!

    • glen July 14, 2010, 12:11 am

      Thanks for the kind words!

      Yeah, I agree about the sensationalist headlines. I think if it’s done tastefully by authors who don’t use them ALL the time, then they can be really powerful.

      I think of blog headlines like I would a conversation: You can’t start every conversation with “HOLY CRAP THIS IS AWESOME LOOK AT ME!!”. Boy does that get old quick ;)

  • BebopDesigner July 13, 2010, 9:27 pm

    What a brilliant post! I’m still a rookie, but I hope with time and practice I’ll be able to produce content worth following. (English being a second language for me doesn’t help)
    I want to go for quality… no idea how, but I won’t lose hope.

    Thanks for the shed of light

    • glen July 14, 2010, 12:09 am

      Thanks Bebop. The best way to add more quality is to practice. I’ve been writing on this blog for over 4 years now, and I’m still nowhere near the kind of writer I want to be.

      But I know if I can keep plugging away, I’ll see results.

  • Leah McClellan July 13, 2010, 8:57 pm

    Hi, Saw this in my Twitter stream and glad I did. Good post and I totally agree. I worked–briefly–for one of the companies aka content mills that produces some of the quantity you refer to and, after writing 3 short articles, I said no way. Especially after reading some of the other stuff produced by this company and realizing–hey, I never, ever regard this stuff as credible, why should I write it? Plus I found some serious factual errors…eeesh.

    Thanks–working hard on quality :)

    • glen July 14, 2010, 12:08 am

      Thanks for the insights Leah.

      I think there’s a the lure of “easy money” with content mills. If you can pump out 500 articles a day, then you’ll be raking in the money in no time, right?

      Right? ;)