Fresh content keeps people coming back to a web site. No matter how great your site looks, how wonderful your text, and how fabulous your graphics, few people will visit your site over and over again just to see something they’ve viewed already.
If your web site provides a repeatable service, like automated translations or HTML validation, you can get away with leaving your site alone. For the vast majority of sites, though, if you can’t give your visitors new material from time to time, you’ll lose them. It’s a bit like being stuck on a treadmill that you can never get off of; you’ve got to keep updating your site’s material, or your site suffers. All webmasters want high quality content for their web sites, but generating that content yourself isn’t easy. Fortunately, plenty of people churn out all sorts of material that you can use.
Whether you realise it or not you’re already familiar with this sort of material. Your daily newspaper typically consists of some locally produced material and lots of items from content providers. The comics, most columns, horoscopes, and many of the articles in the newspaper come from people who don’t work for that paper.
The companies (syndicates) that do this sort of thing are latching onto the web as the newest and best market for such canned content. The prices for canned content range from absolutely free to somewhere between “Oh no!” and “You’ve got to be kidding!” A large amount of the free material comes in the form of marketing information. (Loosely translated as thinly disguised get-rich-quick schemes.) But after you cut through the dross, you can find plenty of high quality, free material out there. So if you’re running a small web site, you don’t need to break open your piggy bank to get the good stuff.
In addition to the people who deliberately provide material for web sites, you can tap a mine of content from folks who surrender their copyrights by deliberately placing their work in the public domain. You can also find an abundance of material that was once copyrighted but has fallen into the public domain because of its age. The fact that it’s old, however, doesn’t mean that it isn’t of interest to modern audiences. People enjoy authors such as Beatrix Potter and characters such as Dracula just as much today as they did years ago.
The particular advantage to this content is that, unlike syndicated content, it isn’t being sent out to a million other web sites at the same time it’s being sent to you. The drawback, however, is that you have to track it down yourself, and the authors rarely make any kind of commitment to provide you with more material (assuming, of course, that they’re still alive). What you really have to do to keep this approach going is to work the search engines on a regular basis. Search for phrases like “public domain”, “no copyright”, or “copyright free” and then sift through the results to find what you can use on your site.