How to Create Better Content in 2018

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Content Marketing

Many marketers would do better if they tried to create better content, not just more content.

Or as Larry Kim told us on the Rethink Marketing podcast, “Content marketers are very clueless when it comes to defining what exactly is quality content.”

He suggests we identify our content outliers that do extremely well in engagement (i.e. page traffic, downloads, social engagement, etc.), or what he calls unicorns, and milk them for all their worth. In other words, make unicorn babies.

Are you making unicorn babies?

As Ann Handley told us on the Rethink Marketing podcast, “Obviously, you need a certain quantity in order to be relevant, in order to be communicating with your audience at a cadence that makes sense,” she said. “But I think that you also really need to think about quality. And I think that’s true now more than ever.

According to the Content Marketing Institute annual content marketing survey, 78 percent of B2B marketers said one of the factors contributing to their success was adopting a content strategy that resulted in producing better quality content and using it more efficiently.

How do you identify what is quality content? 

The first order of business is having a deep understanding of your target audience and their pain points. this sort of customer intimacy will guide what content you need to produce (or from the customer perspective, what questions you need answered).

If you’ve been creating content for a while, the next thing to do is get a better sense of how your content is performing. You can use internal analytics tools, such as what you get with Act-On, or use Google Analytics, or both. If you are just starting out, get a sense of visitor traffic, pages per session, and behavior flow.

If you’re more advanced with your analytics, you should be measuring how your content marketing is driving lead growth. So, from your blog, how many people are taking a desired action (such as filling out a form to download an eBook or watching an on-demand video). If you are measuring the effectiveness of those eBooks or videos, measure how many known contacts become marketing qualified leads.

Don’t fear the data. Knowing what content is working and what isn’t means you can focus on the stuff that does work and stop wasting your time on what doesn’t. As a content marketer, I appreciated being able to prioritize my to-do list.  And if you’re just starting out, your analysis will be a little imperfect. Keep at it, and you’ll get better.

Once you begin to know what is working, as Larry would say, double down on it. For that awesome blog post that is getting thousands of views this month, consider turning it into a webinar or on-demand webinar, or convert it into an eBook.

At Act-On, we have adopted what we call the Rule of Four. For every piece of content we create, we want to leverage it at least four times in four different formats. So that eBook becomes a series of blog posts, as well as one or more videos, and stats/quotes from the eBook are used in social media, and we wrap it all up with a with a catchy meme, GIF or podcast. Or we reverse that order.

Seven questions to help you create better content in 2018

You’ve done your research, but still stumped on how to create better content? Answer these seven questions:

1. How useful is this content going to be to my audience?

Answer honestly. Even if you’re about to publish a glossed-up version of a press release, how useful will it be to your prospective customers, or company employees, or whomever the intended audience is?

2. How can I make this content more useful to my audience?

Could you add a downloadable worksheet or action plan your audience could use? Could you include a comparison table for them to make a decision with? Could you set up a basic calculator, so they could input their specifics and get personalized information back?

3. Could my headline be better?

If you really want results, there’s no better single item to work on than your headline. Some studies have clocked a strong headline beating a weaker headline by 35 times the shares. And yet, way too many of us spend barely five minutes crafting our headlines. Compare that to the old-school copywriters, who would invest literally half of their entire writing time for a project on the headline.

For advice on how to write better headlines – and a few tools to help you cheat and write great headlines fast, see our post, “How to Write Headlines That Get Shared And Drive Traffic.”

4. How can I make this more visual?

About 65% of us are visual learners, so if you really want to get your message across, convert it into a simple infographic. Or just add a killer quote that’s been made into an image.

If you thought, “It takes 4-6 hours to make an infographic, and my agency said it would cost $2,000 to make an infographic,” please reconsider. I’m talking simple infographics. You can make your own in less than 30 minutes with any one of several infographic creation services, such as Canva or Pablo.

We’ve created a couple of Photoshop templates to turn a quote from the post into an instant graphic.  This doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to create, but it’s WAY more shareable than a text-based tweet would be:

Is this a fabulous infographic? No. Will it get a lot more attention than a quote buried in text? Yes. Will it work in social? Yes.

5. Is this optimized for search engines?

SEO and content marketing are intricately linked. You can’t really successfully do one without the other. And yet, many content marketers profess to be clueless or nearly clueless about SEO.

Please change that. Good, actionable SEO really is not all that hard to figure out. And we’ve made it even easier for you. Check out The Powerful Guide to SEO for Startups and Small Businesses. You can also watch our on-demand video on SEO + Content = Recipe for Success.

6. Have I added any examples, research, or quotes?

We’ve talked about the importance of visual content; this tip is about helping people visualize what you’re talking about. Just as “a picture is worth a thousand words,” an example often illustrates a point far better than a few more paragraphs could.

Sharing research is another ideal way to beef up your authority. With stronger authority, people are more likely to trust you. They’ll be predisposed to agree with you, which is a powerful persuasion technique. Original research is a great way to create content campaigns that can run throughout the year and year after year. Orbit Media Studios has its annual blogging survey; Content Marketing Institute has its annual content marketing benchmark survey.

Quotes are another way to convey authority, but by leveraging other peoples’ authority. For example, if most of us spouted off our opinion about a complex issue that we had no authority on, few people would care. They’d think, “Who is this person?” and be gone.

However, an executive at a major company can spout off their opinion about their industry, because they’re in a position of authority and power. Despite our lack of authority, we can get people to believe our message – we just borrow what other people in authority have said and line it up with our argument. So we punctuate our content with quotes from influential people and voilà: Most people will now accept our opinions, even if we’re not industry giants.

We did this in this post with quotes from Larry Kim and Ann Handley, two major influencers in marketing.

Reach out to influencers to get original quotes or contributions from them. Many are far more friendly and willing to help than you’d think. This gets you great content and excellent advice, and it means when your content is published, the influencer will probably share it.

7. Is this written as clearly as possible?

The corollary to this question is: Is there an editor around that I can run this by? If you’ve got one, celebrate – and use them. Way too few posts get seen by actual editors.

Worried they’ll bust out a red pen on you? Please let go of that. Never fear a good editor. This person is going to make you look smarter. Who doesn’t want that?

But even before you bring your piece of content to an editor, try to make sure it’s written as plainly as possible. This means untangling a few sentences, but it also refers to jargon.

Could a newcomer to your industry understand your piece? Could your mother? The best writers manage to pull off the almost impossible – write in an engaging, educating way for both to the experts and to the newbies in their audience. In the same post.

Back to you

What’s your number one, no-fail way to make a piece of content better? Share your thoughts in the comments.