What is Content? Learn from 40+ Content Definitions

With all of today’s hype about content marketing, taking a step back and looking at what content is in the first place might bring some signal to all the noise.

Defining something as broad as “content” is a bigger task than you might think. You’re probably thinking of a definition of content now and it’s likely a bit different than mine.

Content is many things to different people and situations due to context. Fundamentally, content = information. Content = experience. Content = nothing specific. These are all observations shared with me by digital smarties ranging from Avinash Kaushik to Joe Pulizzi in a poll I ran on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook last week.

From the 40+ responses a few themes emerged. I hope they provide you some insight into what content is and where it fits in your business. They might even offer perspective for answering an even bigger question: what is the future of content?

Content is Information (practical, functional, tactical)

 @ MeetTheBossTV – Content is: engaging, relevant, reliable, interesting, entertaining or enlightening in the form of text, image, video or audio.

Heidi Cohen G+ –  Content is high quality, useful information that conveys a story presented in a contextually relevant manner with the goal of soliciting an emotion or engagement. Delivered live or asynchronously content can be expressed using a variety of formats including text, images, video, audio and/or presentations. When used for marketing purposes, content should incorporate the organization’s branding, be void of any form of promotion, and use a call-to-action to be trackable.

Scott Hepburn G+ –  Information designed for consumption, seasoned for enjoyment, and packaged to share.

Bryan Eisenberg (Facebook) – Think of Web content as the public conversation that happens between you and the visitor, whether the conversation is one-way (from you to the visitor), two-way (between the visitor and you), or conversation among visitors.

@ derekhalpern – Content comes in any form (audio, text, video), and it informs, entertains, enlightens, or teaches people who consume it.

Courtney Ramirez G+ –  It’s the stuff you publish – which covers writing, visuals, video, presentations – etc. It can be published on blogs, webpages, social accounts, etc.

@ dogwalkblog – words, photos, video, sound

Kevin Cain G+ – Content is a compilation of information, ideas, and messages that are translated into some kind of written, visual, or audible format for others to consume.

David Erickson (Facebook) –  Relevant, compelling, timely and valued knowledge and/or entertainment.

Evyenia Wilkins G+ –  Content is anything you produce that your audience can consume with its senses.

@ bigboxcar – Content is anything produced & published either sporadically or planned. And this content can be used to then create more content.

Sarah Webster Worsham (Facebook) –  Content is something that provides information to the viewer/reader/etc. Good content provides value.

@ MjGlobalCom – foto, video, blog, infographic, interview, article, montage, editorial, review, mashup, meme, story, song, how-to, lists, tips

@ contenttribe – Information that is useful, has a context, easy to consume, device agnostic, shareable and non intrusive.

Todd Greene G+ –  Simple: Information. Good, or bad

@ _nicoleespears – Original and opinion-charged copy with a focused message and personalized voice.

@ scotcarlson – Information –designed for consumption & further distribution across the web (ideally includes multimedia and sharing elements).

Charlene Burke G+ –  Content fills a space. The space defines the type of content.

@ derekedmond – any medium designed to execute a message. Could be text, video, image, audio, etc

@ lifewithlevi – Quality words that make sense. Whether humorous, informational, or advertorial, content needs to be relevant AND engaging.

@ brettasnyder – Content is any form of authentic communication b/t a business owner & audience that serves to solve a problem/help the audience

@ JLBraaten – I’d define content as information presented on the web

Content is Experience (Useful, Purposeful, Outcome Oriented) 

Avinash Kaushik G+ –  Content is anything that adds value to the reader’s life. It can add value by making them smarter, making them laugh, making them do their job better, rush to their child to share the video, make a contribution to a charity.

Vincent Green G+ –  I am content on a warm summer’s night with a roaring fire in the pit and some cool beer. Some scotch & cigars to close.  Content in the fact that my content is generating. Mmmmmmmmm

Mike Grehan (Facebook) –  I wish we’d stop talking about content – manure is content and so is cold porridge… not many people want to consume it though! How about creating an “experience” as opposed to content?

Kathryn Aragon G+ –  Content is any information that builds trust and authority among your ideal customers.

@ jillvan – Think of your brand as having legs. The left leg, content, makes people care. The right leg is delivering on your brand promise.

Joan Damico G+ –  Content is any communication in any medium that serves a purpose, whether it be to influence, educate, inform, warn, express one’s self or spark conversation within a given context.

Joe Pulizzi G+ – Compelling information that informs, engages or amuses.

Chris Baggott (Facebook) –  An element that engages a person

Lyndon NA G+ –  Anything on a URL that can be used (be it read, looked at, downloaded or interacted with).

Brian Massey G+ –  My definition of content is “information with a purpose for a targeted audience.” Information may be text, video, audio, photos, etc. Purpose might be to educate, entertain, or persuade (convert).

@ connell_vs_life – Relevant information – whether it be written or auditory or visual that someone wants to digest, and dissect and experience.

Dan Bischoff G+ –  Such a broad question. Could be spam, could be some technical writing on the back of a product, could be ad copy, etc. In marketing, what it should be is: anything that creates brand advocacy, leads potential customers down the conversion path, or nurtures leads and current customers.

@ brianhalligan – Content: units of visual or auditory info that drive reactions by telling stories, asking questions, or supporting conclusions

Kevin Dugan G+ – Content is broadly defined because it’s changing. I think the definition is the issue and the opportunity. It’s also defined differently based on your background. Content is the monkey in the middle of the audience and the outcome. Yeah, Zen, right?

Barry Feldman G+ – I’ll simply say: the answers to customers’ questions

Andrew Johnson G+ –  Content is anything created to be engaging, clever, insightful, beautiful and intelligent, and should fundamentally connect with your target audience.

“Content” is Too Ambiguous to Define

Matthew T. Grant G+ –  Lee – your question, and many of the answers, highlights what is problematic about the term “content”. If one can reasonably begin a response with “Content is anything…” then content isn’t anything in particular. “Content,” in the end, is the generic binary term to “form,” where form could be a physical form—a box, a jar, a bottle—or a conventional form of media—a video, a show, an essay, a blog post, a play, a novel. Thus, I like the definitions above that basically say “content=information,” in the sense that content is the stuff that goes in various forms.

Olivier Blanchard (Facebook) –  The thing about the term “content” is that it’s just vague enough to mean everything and anything, which is to say it doesn’t mean anything at all. It’s essentially a word that means “stuff to fill an empty space with.” It could be photos, video, marketing copy, thorough analysis, poetry, farts, vacuous nonsense, cat hair or cheese cubes. The only thing it hints at is that there is a finite volume of the space it must fill. Ironically, the word itself is a vessel for more content: Here’s an empty word. Now fill it with meaning.

Tom Webster (Facebook) – I’ve always hated the term, to be honest. It reminds me of the eternal cereal box disclaimer: contents may settle due to handling.

How Do YOU Define “Content”?

Clearly, content is a necessary part of business and consumer communications. It is through content that the people we’re interested in discover, consume and act on brand information. Content leads consumers to brand experiences and are often the experience itself.

With a firmer understanding of what content is, I think other key questions worth answering involve how content is structured in organizations, what’s a good model for unifying content and finally, what’s the future of content?


How would you define “content”?

Lee Odden: @LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of TopRank's B2B Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.

View Comments (8)

  • There is no mistaking it, buyers are evolving in how they shop for solutions. Sales is nolonger the keeper of the product information keys. With as much as 70% of the buying process now complete before a salesperson gets a call, we must all embrace the need to improve content that helps buyers buy. In addition to being informational, if it generates an emotion the emotion is the glue that helps it stick in the mind of the person reading it.
    Another post I plan to share in my network
    thank you

  • Hi Sir/Madam i thing there are no mistake in buyers to shop their needs, the 50% of buying process is completed before the sale personel get a call.

  • Hi Sir/Madam i thing there are no mistake in buyers to shop their needs, the 50% of buying process is completed before the sale personel get a call.

  • This is fun; I feel like I'm in school, debating philosophy or law (or marketing). The adage "content is king" tells us that content must deliver value; in order to bring traffic, it's gotta be relevant to what people are searching for. I'm in the "information" camp... content can take many forms, and can be humorous, but no matter what should educate.

  • Lee -- Thank you for including me in this impressive roundup! Wow 40 different definitions of content. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  • The problem with defining "content" as "information" is that you must then define "information." I'm cynical about the phrase. It seems to have come to mean, "We've got to fill up space, and content is whatever fills that space. Who cares if it's 'Citizen Kane' or 'Snakes on a Plane"?

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