Our industry talks about striving for quality content and engagement online. It’s not about counting followers or web visits, we say, it’s about providing value, interacting, creating meaningful relationships. Having a few raving fans instead of thousands of indifferent passers-by.
It’s a noble proposition, but it still doesn’t seem to be true. Quantity still rules on web. It’s easy to find:
• one-picture-per-page slideshows that drive page views at the expense of user experience.
• competitions determined by votes (read: traffic entrants can bring to the site).
• breezy “top 10” content that tends to pull in large numbers of readers.
Why is quantity still king?
Society: the mechanisms of hit movies, songs, and bestsellers have trained us well.
A love of big audiences: people naturally want as big an audience as possible for themselves, a message they believe in, or the website that they’ve invested effort in.
Follow the money: each new visit to a site is an opportunity to earn advertising revenue. One metric that ad networks use to value a site’s quality (and therefore remuneration) is its traffic. More visits = more ad revenue.
Measurability: quantity is so easy to measure online. Quality is more of a guess based on pages viewed per visit or time spent on the site. People tend to use the high-quantity=high-quality shortcut.
Publicity: Media love to profile the viral video with millions of hits, or the celeb with millions of Twitter followers. People are drawn to the perceived instant publicity of getting to the top of their category in views or traffic.
We need more companies like Klout that show quality of influence beyond numbers of followers, which is on our profiles like a badge of honour. We need more web editors that are trusted to profile the best-quality web content and bring the most interested, passionate readers to it. We need better metrics to evaluate engagement. Until we do that, it’s still a popularity contest on the web. Down with the Count!