The term ‘digital divide’ has been with us for some time now.
It was originally coined to describe the widening gulf between those individuals who adopted and embraced all things digital and those who didn’t. For example, the household whose children had access initially to computers and then the internet.
Due to this ‘early adoption’, those who did were able to benefit from a range of education, work and lifestyle advantages their laggard cousins didn’t – everything from cheaper airfares to a significant foothold in a more lucrative employment market.
More recently this blog has discussed the notion of a digital divide existing amongst our smaller businesses, with those who do embrace the digital world enjoying a raft of compelling advantages over their slower competitors.
But much of this benefit was around the adoption of technology. Since digital technology has now been with us for some time, a newer player has emerged to create an even greater wedge between those who have and those who haven’t.
That player is content.
Content becomes king again
It’s fair to say that content – the words, pictures, video, audio and various other files that represents the ‘information’ half of the ‘information technology’ world – is truly revolutionising the marketing effort for the world’s businesses.
Whereas in the past a business simply paid a media player such as a newspaper, radio or television station to broadcast the short slabs of commercial content in order to reach new markets, nowadays it is equally the volume and treatment of the content you provide that attracts new customers via the internet.
It does this in any number of ways.
Search engine magnets
First, the content you put on your website, in blogs and even in social networking conversations is the bait that attracts search engines to find, store and rank your website in their results pages.
This is a chapter on its own, suffice it to say that, very generally, the more search engine ‘optimised’ content you can create, and the more you can link it to your own website, the more prominent your business will be in search results. The result of so much content being more website visitors and, in turn, sales enquiries.
But that’s not all.
Content is also used to provide valuable information to both new and existing customers who are prepared to provide you with their details either by email or within social networks to improve their lives or business. And allow you to become their supplier of choice when they are ready to put their hands in their pockets.
Because it costs nothing but your time to distribute this content, it means that small businesses now can achieve an audience of radio station proportions at no financial outlay at all.
Content even lowers the price of your paid online advertising. What many business operators don’t realise is that Google’s AdWords does not provide top placement to simply the highest bidder for the required keywords.
Google (and its ilk) also takes into account the relevance of the content of both of your advertisement and the webpage you are sending your traffic to, leading to a lower rate and/or higher placement when this relevance is high.
All of this emphasis on volume and regularity of content is well and good for those of us who essentially write for a living. But what about those who don’t?
An unlevel playing field
What many e-business commentators neglect to grasp is that the words that fly off their fingertips to create this online content is something both scary and difficult for many of the world’s smaller business operators.
Not everyone is a wordsmith or even that proficient at this kind of communication. Just ask anyone who has ever had to gather content for a smaller business operator’s new website.
And having it created by a professional isn’t small bickies.
Perils of the content poor
Even if they can generate content easily, they may operate a business where, literally, not much happens; or at least not much that is worthy of commenting or elaborating on; or that prospects and customers will sign up for.
Because no matter how exciting the latest development in washing powder might be to the manufacturer or even the retailer, most consumers just aren’t that interested; certainly not enough to attract their all important signup to a newsletter or social network.
So businesses that by their nature live in such a content vacuum are much more poorly placed to take advantage of the significant benefits their more content-friendly fellow businesses are.
And sadly that means that many of the marketing spoils of the digital revolution are going to remain out of their reach – at least in the absence of increasingly deep pockets.
In addition to being a leading e-business educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs.