What is Content? (Yes, We Just Asked)

Sometimes, the obvious isn’t so obvious.

Content is all around us and you may work with it every day – but have you ever wondered what “content” really is? SEMRush, the traffic analysis tool, estimates there are more than 5,500,000 Google searches every month in more than 1,100,000 variations inquiring about content in one form or the other. And if you were to flat-out ask Google to define content, you’ll get 534,000,000 possible answers to your question.

So, what is content? The answer might not be easy after all, as the nature of content and its multiple facets can be inherently complex. At the same time, we depend on a clear understanding of content to increase our chances of successfully planning, producing and maintaining it. How can we create content successfully, if there are varying understandings of what content really is, even within a single team? How can we define content disciplines such as content strategy, content marketing and content governance without an understanding of the concept?

No, we cannot give a simple answer to this question either, but we can share with you a structured definition that we’ve found to be incredibly helpful. This definition can create transparency and clarity for everyone involved with content – from writers to business executives and marketers.  

Meet the Americaneagle.com Digital Content Quadrant

Content means different things to different people; perspective and context are important. A software company might define content as software code. A newspaper may define it as articles and ads. Content can refer to web pages, numerical data, educational webinars and more.

The Americaneagle.com digital content quadrant was designed to make defining content in a given context simpler and provide digital teams with a universal understanding of what content in their specific case is. It categorizes digital content by “content complexity” and “content targeting”.

Content Complexity

Stories have always existed in a range of complexities. We tell stories to one another every day, no matter how simple. Perhaps the goal of our story is to get our partner to do the dishes, or put the baby to bed. If your story is a success, you’ll get what you want. In some cases, your story is fairly simple and needs only one message. Other stories are made up of several sub-stories, spanning multiple communications over an extended period of time.

Content Targeting

In the past, the attitude towards content was very much one of quantity over quality – a numbers game that largely ignored specific needs, goals, pain points and motivations of a target audience. Today, we increasingly see a need to produce high quality, targeted content that meets the needs of its audience.

The Americaneagle.com Digital Content Quadrant, developed by Wolfgang Gruener, Digital Strategist at Americaneagle.com.

Quarter 1: Individual Content Structure

The first segment of our quadrant relates to how content is consumed at the individual level, such as a single page or document, and is designed to define its core content characteristics. Individual digital content can be organized as a three-tiered model. Users on your website will interact with content at different levels, directly, actively and indirectly.

  • Tier One: Content that is Consumed Directly
    • Content that you can see and consume immediately, e.g., a headline, paragraph text, or an image that naturally complements the text.
  • Tier Two: Content that Requires Action
    • Content that provides a certain level of information at a visual level, but requires action from the user to be truly beneficial, for example call-to-action buttons and menu items.
  • Tier Three: Content that is Consumed Indirectly
    • Content that a user may not be aware of consuming, for example meta data written for SEO or even content that is placed on other websites, but may be consumed as part of the acquisition experience. This content is not part of the active user experience.

Content should be purposeful, intentional and valuable, no matter which tier it falls into.

Quarter 2: Site Content Structure

The second segment of our quadrant relates to content cohesion, and how the user progresses from one page or piece of content, to the next. Content on your website is always an ecosystem that needs to be cohesive and functional - with elements working together seamlessly across your site. Each web page, video or pdf has a micro-story to tell, but together, a macro-story is told, contributing to a successful content journey.

Quarter 3: Content Personalization

As content creators we need to understand our audience, to enable the best response to our content. Content personalization is not about special features or functionality, it’s about using the right words and tone for your reader.

Whether you have one or ten user groups to account for, you should have an in-depth understanding of, and persona for, each. You should also have an understanding of their goals, the challenges they face and what will motivate them to engage with and act on your content.

Create content that maintains and nurtures your relationship with each user, as they move through the funnel and embark on their own content journey.

Quarter 4: Content Progression

With the creation of a content journey, we see content and user progression. Content progression refers to the mental shift required for the user to process the information you have provided and act on it.

Content is a journey. Always.

Consider your content journey. Perhaps your webstore sells cakes. A user will arrive on your website and see that, yes, this store sells cakes. They are guided towards cupcakes, and told why they should care – perhaps your cupcakes are organic, or come in unique flavors. Finally, they’re told how to buy your cupcakes.

Hearing: Getting heard is a matter of effort; if you invest enough effort you’ll be loud enough to be heard. In a crowded bar, you can hear people talking, but it doesn’t mean you’re listening to what everyone is saying. If there’s someone, somewhere, with an increased volume to their voice, chances are that you’ll hear it. But you may not be listening, and will only focus your attention on what you care about.

Listening:  However, if what is said is relevant to you, there is a chance that you will begin to listen. When you’re listening, you’re paying attention. You’re engaged. Remember: quality content will not only raise the volume of your voice online, but it will amplify your opportunity to be listened to as well.

Processing: When a listener relates to what they listen to, they continuously process and apply information. Conversion goals on websites are always a result of a conclusive chain of hearing, listening and processing.

Create the Content Your Users Are Looking For

This blog post is a simple introduction to the vast world of content and what this term truly means in the context of content strategy and especially content experience. Use it as a starting point from which to create a dialogue and connect with your users – to borrow a quote from Andrew Davis: “Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.”

Connect with Americaneagle.com

We’d love to connect with you to discuss what content is to you and how we can help you build content experiences to compel and captivate your readers. Contact us today or read here to learn more about our services.

About Author

Rachel Bennett
Rachel joined the Americaneagle.com team four years ago and is based at our London office. Rachel is a Digital Marketer and Content Writer. She works with clients to improve SEO and UX, run email and social campaigns and more. She also writes content for a wide range of clients, including blog posts, landing pages and whitepapers. Rachel has experience working within the web industry on various content management systems. Rachel studied for her BA in English Studies at The University of Nottingham, England. She enjoys drawing and travel.

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