How to create better content (part 1)
This is a two-part article. In part 1, we’ll look at what better content is, what it does, and what it can do. In part 2 we’ll look at ways to create better content, including the importance of keywords, why your niche matters, why you need to be clear on who you're writing for and why, and we'll also look at the specifics of being specific.
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I have an issue with the term 'better'.
Better than what?
Better according to who's set of rules?
According to Google's dictionary, better in the context of content
an adjective that's defined as:
- 1. of a more excellent or effective type or quality.
So, let's go with that.
Because better in terms of content or a service as a whole is highly subjective, let's look at a broader context.
First though, I have a confession: my first stabs at content were awful, pathetic, wretched little excuses for content. I had no idea what i was writing about, who I was writing for, or why my point of view mattered or was in any way relevant.
I was clueless about the importance of linking trains of thought together, and my material lacked structure, discipline, focus, and intent.
Does your content provide more detail or a higher level of refinement or clarity? Mine didn't. At least, it didn't when I started out. So I set about changing the status quo.
A few years ago I looked at all of the content on this website, I copied it to a Word document for reference and as an archive, and then I deleted the contents of the entire site.
All of it. Whoosh! Gone.
Doing that was equal parts terrifying and liberating all at the same time. Now, I had no other choice other than to start again from scratch. So I set about creating a content strategy plan to help me create better content: better content for me, and better content for the people I was setting out to help.
I deleted everything so that I was free to start again, and so that I was better equipped to create content that delivered more insight over the long term, both for me as a writer, and for the people I was writing for.
I decided that what I'd had wasn't helping anyone, so i set out to learn what I could do to correct things.
4 questions that may change your outlook on your content
I'm going to ask you the same four questions I asked myself before I deleted everything on this site to begin again. Be honest.
- How is the content you already have helping you and the people you serve?
- Does your content make a difference to other people by virtue of your unique experiences and perspectives?
- If you're 100% honest with yourself, is your content really the best it possibly can be?
- If your content can be improved, what will it take in terms of time, effort, and thought for you rework things so that you're happier with it?
Where you honest with yourself? I know it's challenging to admit you might need to do a lot more to bring things up to a higher standard, but in the long run, that effort is worth it.
When I asked myself these questions my answers were:
Q 1. It isn't.
Q 2. Not really.
Q 3. No. Damn it!
Q 4. Work. Lots of work.
These days, my content is still a work in progress. But at least now, my content has structure.
Yes, your answers to these questions might involve extra work.
Yes again, your answers might depress you or piss you off.
If you're really honest with yourself, your answers may not be to your liking.
I'll get back to the question of creating better content in a moment, but first, let's look at the meaning of content.
Without content, all web pages and websites would be empty.
Content is the foundation of all online communication, whether that's as written articles, videos, podcasts, slide shows, social media posts, essays and opinion pieces, checklists and prompts, and any sort of digital product, such as a course or special report.
There are basically two kinds of content:
- the kind you create
- and the kind you consume.
You're either producing content or you're writing, creating, or recording it.
The article you're reading now is content you're consuming.
As I'm writing this now, I'm creating content.
In the best traditions of Mission: Impossible, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to create the best content you can to make it worth someone's while to consume it and to for that person to then act on what they've learned.
For the purposes of this article, I'm going to talk about written content. If your preferred content is video or audio, substitute the term that applies to your particular situation.
Unlike other forms of writing, online content serves two purposes.
1. it attracts readers.
2. it attracts search engines, page rankings, and website visibility.
Attracting readers and search engines requires specific, subject-related words called 'keywords'.
If your article is about something someone heard someone say something about, you're being vague.
I mean, seriously? Who heard what? From whom? About what?How credible is the source? And so on.
We have no idea because the phrasing doesn't contain any keywords, that is, there's nothing specific to tell us the article is about tomato growing in pots on an east-facing balcony, or that it's about the best places to surf in the Bahamas, and so on.
With those kinds of additional details you automatically appeal to people who are interested in those activities or topic.
So, when your article's title and its body clearly communicate that you're writing about amateur birdwatchers in northern Borneo (or whatever) you are being specific.
However, while specificity is great, what constitutes better content to you may not mean better for the preferred recipient of your content. I'll explain more in a moment. But first, let's look at the specifics of specificity.
Why specificity matters
When you're creating content, specificity is key.
No one going to GQ Magazine is looking for beauty tips for teenage girls. No one watching Fox and Friends is expecting anyone with differing political views will be greeted with an open mind.
If those birdwatchers in our example above have discovered a new species of parrot you're being even more specific than simply writing about bird watchers in a certain place.
You're telling your reader who did what, where they did it, and why it matters.
By using keywords and specific styles of writing you increase the appeal and relevance of your content. By specific styles I mean lists, 'how to' articles, informed opinion pieces, first-hand accounts and so on.
By increasing your appeal and relevance you improve your content's visibility. Enhancing your visibility means you maximize your presence in your niche.
Over time, these factors work together to help you generate more awareness and interest in what you have to offer. Aware and interested readers are more likely to take an action, such as becoming a subscriber or buying something from you.
Once someone is a subscriber you can continue messaging to them over time. Once someone buys something you can present them with related offers. Do you see the sense in all this?
This way, specific content helps educate, delight, inform, move, touch, and inspire people. No one is coming to my website looking for advice on fishing in Florida or how to book a safari in Kenya.
You can use content in simple, article-based forms, or your content can be a series of social media posts or emails. You can even package material in a linked or related series in product form that you can sell. You can also use linked content you share on other sites to drive traffic to your website.
But doing all this well requires time, effort, work, and planning.
It also requires shifts in your thinking.
With all this in mind, let's get back to my earlier point about the concept of 'better'.
If you have you ever read an article or sat through a video or a webinar and learned nothing of practical use you are not alone.
If you have you've just consumed what I refer to as time-wasting content.
Time-wasting content makes you wonder why you bothered and leaves you wishing you could get that time back.
Content that promises a big reveal but that leaves you wondering
if that's all you get is a meaningless time suck.
As the saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. While my articles are often long, I do my best to offer value for time so that my readers get more out than they put in.
In my experience, a lot of content wastes its reader's time because it:
- goes for length over substance. If you can say what you need to say in 100 words or in a 30-second video, why
write 1,000 words or make a 10-minute video?
- focuses on perfection, look, and design. While style can make a difference, a simple and life-changing message that lifts people into the light has more impact.
- talks too much about the writer or the creator. The real hero and champion of your content isn't you, it's the people who read your stuff or who watch your videos. I struggle with this and do my best to put your needs ahead of my own.
- promises a big finish but often comes up short. I stopped watching webinars because most of them follow the same pattern of repetition weighted towards a pitch for someone's product or service.
NOTE: [Some of the points above were influenced by Larry Kim's 2018 article, 7 Traits That REALLY Define High Quality Content on Wordstream.com.]
If you don't want to join the ranks of this kind of content creator, how do you beat them? By creating better content!
A quick search on Google turns up all kinds of material on how to create better content. What follows are a few thoughts of my own.
In my experience, better content depends on what the reader, viewer, or listener is looking for, and on how skilled the content creator is at tapping into that desire and aligning what they're offering with what people are looking for.
In my mind, better content:
- Educates without lecturing.
- Encourages without bullying.
- Enlightens rather than befuddles.
- Inspires rather than putting someone down.
- Ignites people's passions rather than crushing their dreams.
- Prompts positive action instead of pointing out failures.
- Offers a way forward.
- Shows people a path forward.
Here are 12 ways to create better content of your own that will help you stand out from the crowd.
- gets people thinking, helps them overcome barriers and stopgaps, and offers solid, actionable steps towards something newer, fresher, and more rewarding.
- tells compelling stories by offering involved narratives that pull you in, putting you in the middle of the action and offering alternative perspectives.
- asks why not instead of why; it urges you to think "how about this?" instead of telling you that you idea has been done or that it will never work.
- gives facts, figures, statistics, and verified evidence that
it weaves into the conversation in meaningful, memorable, and compelling ways.
- offers a knowledgable viewpoint based on practical,
real-world experience that takes you firmly by the hand
and leads you through the maze.
- provides simple explanations that leave you feeling empowered, smarter, and better equipped to move forward.
- never assumes it's always right (or that you as the reader are wrong). Content ought to be plastic, in that it's updated with new details as they become available.
- Addresses your concerns and questions and offers helpful, insightful answers and solutions.
- Sets the scene, introduces ideas that are easy to grasp, and uses logical progression to walk you through the material being presented.
- Generates hope, by creating a sense of excitement, advancement, and accomplishment, and builds sets the scene for more discovery by creating anticipation.
- Uses grammatical devices to increase comprehension.
Metaphors, quotations, similies, and analogies to build mental pictures.
- Uses story and compelling narratives to involve you in the meaning and message. Stories and narrative can introduce interesting perspectives that your readers may not have thought of or that they may be unfamiliar with. Stories put your reader in the middle of the action, narrative then invites you to consider the action from a range of viewpoints and and from a variety of points in time.
So, what's next?
That rather depends on you, on what you're looking for, and on how much effort you're willing to put in if you think you need to improve.
If your content can check off all the items above, congratulations.
If it meets or exceeds all of these measures (some of which you may not agree with, I'm sure), then you don't need to do anything else.
From my perspective though, there is always room to improve.
I wasted the first eight years of my online "career" producing plodding, uninspired nonsense. I can say that now but at the time
I was convinced I had everything buttoned down.
These days, looking back at some of my earliest content, I can't quite believe how bad my writing was and how muddled my ideas and thinking were!
If what I've shared here helps you gain some degree of clarity as you decide what to do next, good.
Now that you have an outline of what better content can be and what it can do (from my perspective that is: your opinions may differ), why not look at some of the content you've already created to see how you might apply some of the points I've shared to improve both what you create and how much your readers
get out of it.
Why not look at some of the content from a handful of your competitors to see how their material helps you; how it moves, touches, and inspires you, and at how it's constructed.
What are they doing with the construction of their content that you're not doing?
Knowing what you know now and based on what you've learned from what I've shared above, how would you improve their content? How would you make it more user-focused?
I'm not suggesting here that you copy anyone else's material or
that you share your opinions with other people. Instead, take these ideas as mental exercises that you can use to improve what you create so that your material increases in relevance and salience in comparison to the content offered by other people in your niche.
As I mentioned above, this is a two-part article.
In part 1 we’ve looked at what better content is, what it can do, and how it can set you apart.
In part 2 we’ll look at ways to create better content, including the importance of keywords, why your niche matters, why you need to be clear on who you're writing for and why, and we'll look at the specifics of being specific.
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Marketing, branding, and social media strategist. Happy hubby, movie geek, and keen cook.
Originally from the UK, Gary Bloomer lives just outside Philadelphia, USA. Online, he's been answering questions about social media, marketing, and branding since 2009.
A talented writer, an award-winning graphic designer, and a regular contributor to the Know-How Exchange
of MarketingProfs.com (one of the Internet's leading marketing websites), he's known for giving practical, non-nonsense, BS-free marketing and branding advice.
Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn
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