ARTICLES | CONTENT CREATION
How to create better content, part 1
By Gary Bloomer
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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.
But first, a confession: 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 is
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.
Before we dig in I need you to know that my first stabs at content were awful, pathetic, wretchedly lame.
I had no idea what I was writing about, who I was writing for, or why my point of view mattered or why it might be in any way relevant.
I was clueless about the importance of linking trains of thought together, and my material lacked structure, discipline, focus, context, reason, and intent. I know: that's quite a laundry list of woe.
If, having looked around at the content of your competitors you know your material provides more detail or a higher level of refinement or clarity than everyone else's, I'm happy for you and it's likely that you know more about this journey than I do.
Yet when I started out, and if I'm honest now, looking back, my content was a mess. Rather than let this beat me, 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 took a deep breath and deleted the contents of the entire site.
Whoosh! Gone. TOAST. All of it.
Performing that one single action was equal parts terrifying and liberating all at the same time because right there and then I had one of two choices:
OPTION 1: I could give up. I could admit defeat, forget the very idea of setting up a website through which to share my unique perspectives on marketing, branding, and business, I could give up on my dream, and forget about launching anything.
OPTION 2: I could start from scratch. I could admit my shortcomings, I could knuckle down and buckle up and get my shit together and I could create a plan and figure out where I'd gone wrong, how I'd screwed up, and I could come out swinging—even if that meant the process taking more time.
I chose OPTION 2 and I set about creating a content strategy plan to help me create better content by which I mean creating better content for me, and creating and better content for the people I was setting out to help.
Better as in more structured. Better as in more in-depth. Better as in more personal. Better as in more helpful.
By deleting everything I was free to start again, and in doing so, 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 the content I'd originally created wasn't helping anyone, either me or anyone else—so I set out to learn what I could do to correct things. For me this was as much a journey of discovery as it was a realization that I knew much less than I thought I did, which at the time was a tough pill to swallow. Now though I have no regrets about taking the action I did because it led me here, to this article, to this webpage, and it led me to you. And all because I realized I needed to answer four important questions, which I'll get to in a moment.
But first, let's look at what content is, what kind of content might be right for you, and what your ability and willingness to create content can do for you and for the people who buy from you.
Content can be:
1. Text-based, meaning it can be in the form of written social media posts; blog posts; emails; scholarly, peer-reviewed papers; white papers; special reports, and in the guise of extended publications such as a book). If you like to write, text-based content is an ideal way of sharing your thoughts, opinions, and ideas.
2. Image-based, meaning it can be in the form of photographs; drawings and sketches; charts and graphs; infographics; presentation slides, and any combination of any of these with added texts and possibly with a narrated voiceover.
3. Audio-based, meaning it can be journalism and reporting; music; interviews and spoken word; sound effects; music, theatre, play, or performance-based, or event and activity based.
4. Video-based, meaning it's a film, video, or image-based recording or presentation of an interview, or of you, or of other people, or of an event, of a landscape or of an activity, or of a talking-head style presentation.
Or content can be any combination of all four of these elements.
The choice is yours.
And given both the relative ease of availability these days of both online and real-world tools, resources, and processes, and the general low-barrier-to-entry in terms of cost, accessibility, and ease of use, your ability and capability of creating content that's easy to distribute has never been easier.
Where you once needed expensive and complicated video cameras, studio environments, and editing and production facilities to produce most kinds of audio or video material, you can now record, shoot, edit, distribute, and either upload or live broadcast high-quality audio and high-definition video from most cell phones, tablets, and laptop computers.
Where you once needed a writer, an editor, a photographer, a publisher, and a graphic designer (or all five), again, you now have a host of easily accessible and relatively inexpensive tools and resources at hand to help you write, edit, and proof articles, to help you crop and edit photographs, and to help you professionally present and share an almost dizzying range of top class design and presentation elements.
If you have an idea, a product, a message, a story, a credit card, and access to the Internet. In many cases you don't even need a credit card, all you need is access to a cellphone, social media account, and a Wi-Fi connection!
If you can't type or hate to write, there are any number of tools (some of which live right on your phone) through which you can dictate a message or an article.
If you don't want to appear on video you can use an audio recorder to record a podcast. If you think you're a crappy photographer there are any number of website from which you can pull high quality, public domain images, meaning you don't have to fret about copyright.
Speaking of photography, the camera built in to most cell phones these days is often as good as if not better in terms of image quality than most top-rated digital cameras were back as recently as 2005!
Likewise for video quality, with most cell phones these days having far greater memory capability and allowing you to record, edit, and upload high definition and 4K video to practically any online source via fast, reliable bandwidth data connections.
Your ability and willingness to create content can position you as the logical, trusted voice of authority. Your willingness and confidence to create content can help you stand out from your competitors. And it can instill confidence in the people who currently buy from you, and in the people who don't yet buy from you but who are looking for someone like you that they believe, like, trust, and that they see as someone who understands them.
Which brings me to those 4 questions I mentioned earlier, questions that may help change your outlook, both on the content you already have, and on the content you're likely to create in the coming months.
These are the same four questions I asked myself before I deleted everything on this site to begin again.
1. Who are you creating content for?
2. How does your experience qualify you to speak about your subject?
3. What do you need to do to improve the way you communicate?
4. Why are you doing this?
When I really thought about each of these questions in turn, my answers to each of them right before I adopted my scorched Earth policy was the same: I don't know for sure, which for me at the time meant completely re-evaluating what I was doing.
For me at the time, taking that drastic step of deleting everything and starting again felt like the right thing to do because once I'd taken that step, there was no going back: from that point on I was knew I either had to commit to changing what I was doing, or that I had to stop completely. And for me at that time, the second option wasn't an option.
For you right now, if you're confused or less than satisfied with where you are—content-wise—a similar step, that of deleting everything and starting again might be a rather more drastic step than you're willing to take right now, and if that's the case, that's OK.
As soon as I answered these questions and did so honestly and earnestly, as soon as I committed to only moving forward because i had nothing to fall back on, everything changed, not at first mind you. It took almost a year for the pieces to fall into place and for me to get to grips with what I wanted to create, who I was creating it for, why and how my experience made a difference, and why I was doing what i was setting out to do.
I realized my initial stabs at content were only for me, to help myself feel good about being someone with an opinion. Whoops.
I realize my experience was too limited and that i needed to put in more effort in terms of understanding what I was talking about. Whoops again.
I realized I had to completely retool everything—and I really do mean EVERYTHING—articles, context, reasoning, knowledge, understanding—all of it, so I admitted my failings, I hit the books, and I focused on my subject and on my ideal customer.
And finally and perhaps most importantly, I realized that my 'why' wasn't about me; that more importantly, that it was about people who may be in need of help with their small business marketing and branding and that my failings, my experiences, and my viewpoint might—just might—position me to help a few people like me: people from working class, blue collar backgrounds; people probably who hadn't had many of the opportunities of many of their more affluent friends and neighbours might of been exposed to, and who still wanted something more from like, from business, and from the world based on the notion that hard work, commitment, and effort really can pay off.
I know that's a lot of stuff. I realize it might be more than many of my readers signed up for or even expected.
And yet, I think it's important to be honest.
I think it's important to admit your shortcomings, to face your fears, to confront your doubts, and to admit and own your failures (in order to learn from them), and I think it's important to own your truth, even if that truth isn't that pretty.
I think it's crucial to record and to share our stories and to share real world examples, and i think it's vital to be open because sharing stories helps us craft compelling narratives that involve people in the meaning of our messaging.
Stories and narrative introduce interesting perspectives that your readers, viewers, or listeners may not have thought of or that they may be unfamiliar with.
Stories put your reader, viewer, or listener in the middle of the action, where your narrative then invites them to consider the action from a varying 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.
As I mentioned earlier, deleting everything if you have a large stash of content, well, that might not be the right choice for you at this point in time. For you, it may be better to stick with what you've got and to create a stash of content with which to replace anything you're less than happy with.
If your content is OK for now, stick with it.
From my perspective though, there's always room for improvement and who knows, a few years from now i might delete everything again.
What I do know though is that right now, I'm happy with the content I'm creating and it's beginning to make a difference in the lives of some of my readers.
I know that I wasted the first eight years of my online "career" in a
protracted endeavor to prove something that wound up with me producing plodding, uninspired nonsense. I can say that now but at the time I was convinced I had everything ironed out and 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 (on whatever scale of 'better' is right for you) 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 here to improve both what you create now and how much your readers, viewers, and listeners currently get out of it and how much more of an impact you could have if you shifted gears.
To be clear, I'm not holding my stuff up as any kind of standard to aim for. What I do urge you to do though is to 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? What do you see in execution of their content that you know you could do better?
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, I urge you to 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.
About Gary Bloomer
Gary Bloomer is originally from the UK. These days he lives just outside Philadelphia. Since 2009, he's answered over 5,000 marketing, branding, and social media strategy questions from small business owners from all over the world on the Know-How Exchange of MarketingProfs.com. His website is a love letter to the world of small business marketing.
To learn more or to get in touch, read the About page.
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