Andrew Ladd

*the digital strategist, not the hockey player

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One for your noodle

February 6, 2024

Not to toot my own horn too enthusiastically, but I wrote a silly little article for the Ten4 website last month about what pasta packaging can teach you about user experience design — and people loved it. I think I got more comments about it on LinkedIn than on anything I've ever posted there, some from people I've never even met. (The bar for this somewhat depressing metric of success is admittedly quite low, but a new record is a new record.)

I bring this up only because I think it reveals something meaningful about The Great Content Heap, which you might otherwise know as the internet. It's full of people trying to get you to click on their link and dwell on their page and do whatever particular behaviour they have managed to monetise for themselves. Speaking of LinkedIn, you only need to spend about five minutes there and you'll see about seven different articles telling you about all the content hacks you should be using to get all those clicks. You know the sort of thing: short sentences, lists, "shareability", SEO-friendly headings, etc. etc. etc.

My silly little pasta article did none of that. (Well, maybe it did the "curiosity headline" thing.) But mostly it was just me, a person who cooks a lot of pasta, sharing an obscure observation about packaging design that resonated with anyone who had also cooked pasta recently — and more importantly, that made people think about something beyond the original, silly observation. It's pretty much a textbook example of what I used to teach students in Expository Writing, back when I did that for a living. Hook them with something small, take them somewhere large.

But what really seemed to tickle people, interestingly, was one particular line: a throwaway joke about the (non-)existence of an imaginary Central Pasta Authority. Three or four separate people messaged me about the Central Pasta Authority to riff on the joke themselves.

And in The Great Content Heap, a piece of genuine, human content like that resonates more than it might otherwise. When your feed is full of people trying to optimise and monetise, someone cracking jokes about pasta is a welcome break. It invites them, implicitly, to participate. If you can tie that to a valuable or illuminating point about something else, you're onto a winner.

Or, to put it another way: there's still real vaue in good old-fashioned content writing. It's worth investing in. One silly rant about pasta, done well, is worth five optimsed listicles if you want to build real, long-term, deep, human engagement. So if your job involves adding to The Great Content Heap in any way, make sure your plan leaves room for quality, and not just quantity. It's not going to solve all your problems on its own, but it's a piece of the puzzle you can't leave out.