I spent a few minutes this morning playing with the analyzer at I Write Like. This is a tool where you paste in a paragraph that you have written and it will quickly analyze the text and compare your writing style to that of famous authors. I pasted different paragraphs I’ve written for various blogs and the tool alternately came back with the names Harry Harrison, Arthur Conan Doyle and twice with H. P. Lovecraft. (Does this say good things about me? Not sure I want to ponder that.)
The internet is full of fun “time wasters” such as this, although the term time waster is truly open to the interpretation of the user. Maybe you find Death By Caffeine informative enough to put it in a different category, but see no value in The Useless Web. And therein lies an important point. The definition of spam for users is subjective. What is a waste of time and space to me may seem worthwhile to someone else. A blog post I find useful might seem basic or unnecessary to another reader. (For the record, I personally don’t deem either the Death by Caffeine or I Write Like apps as spam)
Spam as defined by a search engine may seem clearer, at least on a surface level. Going deeper into the questions of “what is spam?” and “do I create spam?” is where things get interesting. Fortunately there are ways you can determine if you are adding to the morass or adding value. Of the six ways listed below, the first five do not paint a clear picture by themselves; they are each subsets of a larger data set. You’ll need to consider how each piece of information works with the others. The sixth suggestion should always give you a pretty good answer to the question.
What do the engagement statistics in your site analytics tell you?
Look at statistics for both your site as a whole and individual pieces of content. How long are visitors staying on your site? Are they visiting many pages or leaving immediately? Are visitors coming in from many different resources and coming to pages other than your home page? Quality content catches people’s attention, useless content repulses them. You should see visitor engagement in your analytics.
What do your reader comments tell you?
Crickets? Spam comments only? If your content is placed in a format that allows for user comments and nothing is happening you either have no traffic or your content isn’t inspiring enough interest or emotion to generate interaction.
What does social media tell you?
No, this doesn’t mean that if your work hasn’t “gone viral” it is spam. We’ve all seen amazing content fall flat and utter garbage capture the attention of the masses. Because let’s face it, sometimes the masses are misguided. But are there tweets, shares, pins and pluses by someone other than your mom or your employees? Are people saying good things? Do you get traffic from social media?
What does your link profile tell you?
Take some time to parse your profile, break out the links that you’ve acquired through your own efforts and those that just come in because others are deciding to link to you on their own. Wait?!? No one is linking to your site without you asking for the link, paying for the link, placing the link yourself? Ruh Roh Shaggy. Ideally you should be getting links naturally, and not just to your home page either. The good stuff should generate some sharing and links.
What does a competitive analysis tell you?
It is a reality of business that some niches and markets have more spam in them than others. What is going on in your space, your niche? How high is the bar for original content? Is your industry full of bloggers and creators regurgitating the same thoughts over and over again? Or are there competitors that constantly promote useful blog posts? Entertaining media? Assessing what your competition is doing is important; it gives you truly actionable information. Knowing what others are contributing allows you to see opportunity as well as see where you may be blending in with the crowd or worse. Use this to learn how to provide real value, to challenge yourself and your team.
What does Jiminy Cricket tell you?
This is the one that stands on its own, the one where you let your conscience be your guide. Its ok, no one is looking right now, it is safe to ask yourself in your own head “do I create spam?” Do you sometimes take a blog post that someone wrote yesterday and rework it without adding any original thought or information to it? Did you rewrite the article that arrived in the hard copy of a trade journal last week? Did you write about something without first actually implementing it yourself to get real world knowledge?
To spam or not to spam, that is the question.
If you look at all of the factors above, and the pieces come together to show a site that serves its target audience well, then chances are you’re not a big part of the spam problem. It is really up to you as a site owner or content manager to set some high standards for the articles, infographics, videos and images you create. Making a good editorial calendar and content plan can really help you stay away from creating garbage, as can investing effort and possibly money into research, case studies and new ideas.