What Is “Content Shock,” and What Does It Mean for Freelancers?

Even if you aren’t familiar with the term “content shock,” chances are you’ve experienced it firsthand. Content shock is, in essence, information overload. It refers to the unprecedentedly large amount of content we’re presented with on a daily basis and our inability to consume it.

In a recent article for ReadThink, “master marketer” Janessa Lantz takes a look at content shock (what she calls “peak content”) and the impact it has on content marketing. According to Lantz, “the information age is arriving at its natural conclusion and we’re all drowning in it.”

As a result, it’s becoming harder and harder for publishers to get attention. A 2015 study by Buzzsumo proves this: Out of one million randomly selected posts, 50 percent received eight social shares or fewer, and 75 percent received social 39 shares or fewer.

So what does this mean for content marketing in general? According to Lantz, the answer is less content. But this isn’t an entirely new trend. In fact, marketing expert Mark Schaefer predicted content shock as far back as 2014, stating:

“In a situation where content supply is exponentially exploding while content demand is flat, we would predict that individuals, companies, and brands would have to ‘pay’ consumers more and more just to get them to see the same amount of content.”

This shift away from high-volume publishing is bound to have an impact on the thousands of freelancers who rely on the creation of this content to make a living. But how, exactly? Here are my predictions.

1. More long-form content

If there’s anything the last two years have taught us, it’s that more and more publishers are making the switch to long-form content – and for good reason. Research shows that long-form content is directly related to higher rankings in Google search results: The average length of the content in the top 10 results for a given query is typically over 2,000 words. Common types of long-form content include e-books, whitepapers, industry reports, and other kinds of in-depth guides and resources.

As a result, freelancers will likely see a shift away from shorter, more general content assignments to those that have a higher word count and require more in-depth research. Our own freelancers are already experiencing this change. In 2014, a majority of the writing assignments available to freelancers on our WorkStation platform were between 100 and 200 words. Today, most of our available assignments require between 600 and 1,000 words.

2. Higher-quality content

When it comes to long-form content, though, word count isn’t necessarily the defining factor – it’s the quality and the depth of the content that really count. According to a 2015 study by Searchmetrics, “High-ranking sites are shifting their focus from using keywords based on search queries to trying to understand the user’s intention as a whole.” The content on these high-ranking sites is therefore much more holistic, covering all aspects of a singular topic. It’s also easier to read, with a higher average Flesch readability score.

To stay relevant in the face of content shock, then, freelancers will need to learn how to create content that is both comprehensive and easy to understand. More importantly, they’ll need to learn how to create content that is inherently unique. By “unique,” I don’t just mean that it isn’t plagiarized; truly unique content offers information that is well-researched, highly valuable to readers, and relatively inaccessible elsewhere. Considering the overwhelming amount of information that’s available to users online, this is no small task. However, it’s an imperative one if freelancers are going to succeed in this changing landscape.

3. An increased demand for specialized skills

This increased demand for quality content will likely come with an increased demand for freelancers with more specialized skillsets. That’s part of the reason we launched our new Project Center platform: More and more of our clients are wanting to rigorously vet freelancers based on their specific skills, experience, and areas of expertise.

Moving forward, then, it will be increasingly beneficial for freelancers to have expert knowledge in a particular field, such as technology, education, automotive or food. In addition, it may be helpful for freelancers to specialize in specific types of content, such as infographics, quizzes, images, lists or videos.

4. Potential for greater business relationships

In their quest to curate a more qualified workforce, content marketers and publishers will likely seek to establish more substantial business relationships with the freelancers they employ. Creating content that performs well online isn’t easy, so when a client finds a writer who can create Internet gold, they’re unlikely to let that relationship fizzle.

This is another reason we created OneSpace Project Center: to give freelancers the opportunity to create more meaningful partnerships with clients. When you’re able to position yourself as an asset to a company, you have a greater chance of securing more long-term work.

Conclusion

Not everyone agrees that we’ve reached Lantz “peak content” stage. In a recent article for Buzzsumo, Steve Rayson argues that the volume of content being published online is actually increasing, not decreasing, and he believes we could see a doubling in the amount of content published online next year.

As the old adage goes, nothing in life is certain but death and taxes. There’s no way to accurately predict exactly which way the content marketing industry will go. Regardless of the changes that take place, however, freelancers still stand to benefit from growing their expertise in a particular field and learning to specialize in specific types of content.

Here are a few good resources for those wanting to learn more about the changing trends in content marketing:

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