Thanks to the glut of average content being published every day it is now essential that your content is exceptional. Otherwise you are wasting time and money. In this post I will share some of my simple tips gleaned from more than ten years of content marketing experience to help you create better web content.
How can you make your content as effective as possible?
Web content has elements of both art and science to it. It is first and foremost about communicating ideas and expertise, offering solutions and giving value in an easily digested format.
Text based content is still the number one way we have to communicate online. Videos, podcasts, gifs, interactive content, VR and AR all play a role but the written word is still King.
Search engines are beginning to get better at recognising a small range of images and Google is currently working on a major initiative to get users to help them with object identification.
But, in the meantime we can see video, images, graphics, interactive media as being supplemental to text based content.
Let’s look at some of the main drivers of effective content.
1. Identify your purpose
What is the reason for the content?
Who does it help?
Are they potential customers/clients?
How does it brand you as an expert?
Before creating any content there must be a purpose. We need to be supplying answers or solutions to satisfy demand. Every aspect of the piece should reflect a clear target and purpose.
When we ask ourselves what our potential customers want to know we can draw on all customer touchpoints at all stages of the customer journey.
For example, one piece may be created for the very top of the funnel that targets people with more general questions. These are people who are not familiar with your brand and the purpose is to give value but to move them closer to the conversion point.
Another piece might be directed at someone who already knows the brand and is at the point where they are on the edge of making a decision to purchase a particular product or service.
Then there are pieces that give value to those who are existing customers/clients.
The general purpose might be sales but it also could be demonstrating leadership, sharing high levels of expertise, taking users on a journey or offering relevant, entertaining content.
2. Focus on relevance
This is extremely important. If the content is not relevant to what your business does, you are wasting energy and money. Off-topic content confuses both human users and search engines. What does this business do again? There must be a connection so brainstorming topics and identifying possible content based on what you think your customers might like outside of what you do is unhelpful.
Stay focused, find ways to be the expert online in every aspect of what you do.
3. What is your tone of voice?
Professional? Corporate? (hopefully not) Casual? Relaxed and personal? Friendly? Academic? Intellectual? Technical? Industrial? Niche?
There are many options and combinations available depending on what your business does and who your audience is.
Apart from some specialist niches, a combination of friendly and professional is usually the best combination. Good use of language, well written, correct grammar (mostly) are important but so is engaging with a reader one on one. Imagine you are sitting across the table from a colleague or friend over a coffee and you are explaining something to them that you understand well. The use of “you” and “your” is very important. You are relating to one person – the person reading your words. This may be happening hundreds of times at that instant but you are still talking to one person when they read your words.
4. Add visual interest
Blocks of words are boring. Text alone is boring. You need to add interest and visual cues or explanations to what you are expressing. Or you might just want to make the journey more enjoyable with the addition of fun images.
This is wide open with photos, videos, gifs, graphs, charts, drawings, cartoons and more available to make your piece interesting and visually appealing. Stock images should only be used if they do not look like stock. Photos of multi-ethnic business people smiling at a leader around a table with laptops and smartphones are of course completely off-limits. Likewise, businessmen shaking hands, young people in a park with laptops or someone holding up a sign with your topic on it should be avoided like the plague they are.
Use images that say something. Images that are unique. Images that are lateral. Images that are interesting.
5. Best practice in structure
Structure makes content readable and enjoyable. You should be able to follow a narrative and this should be easy to follow through subheadings as you scroll through a piece. We have all been to websites where the content is served in big blocks – long paragraphs, sentences that go forever.
Each section should address a particular idea and it should be introduced with a sub heading.
Bullet points, numbered lists, graphics, quotes, click to tweet and more will break up the piece and make reading a pleasure.
So, it should look something like this:
• Social shares
• Bullet points
• Summary and call-to-action
6. Spend time on your title
The title is the most important part of your work. It is what people will see on social media or in Google Search results and they will make a decision to click through and read the content based on whether they think it will be worth their time.
So, you need to invest a good portion of your time into this area. Ask yourself: If I saw this title on LinkedIn/Facebook/Twitter/Google would I want to read the content? Do I feel like I would miss out if I don’t? Or does this sound like exactly the answer I am looking for?
The balance is to be compelling without resorting to clickbait (e.g. 10 incredible epic fails from television news readers – you won’t believe number 5!!).
7. Craft a compelling introduction
After the title, the next important element is the introduction. This opening paragraph will either compel a visitor to read on or will lead to them leaving.
Say something provocative. Tell a brief, interesting story. Let the reader know what value they will get if they read on. Ask questions and then tell the reader that you are going to answer them.
You only have a few seconds to engage with your reader so make it good.
8. Don’t forget your call-to-action
What’s the point of investing all of this effort if your visitor gets to the end then leaves possibly never to visit again? You have a visit in analytics but so what? How can you give the visitor further value or encourage them to take a particular action.
These can be varied – here’s something else you might be interested in, sign up for more, contact us, here is a special deal, here is a service or product related to what we have just been talking about or Buy Now.
You have given value, now it’s time to ask for something from your visitor.
9. The importance of SEO and social signals
Content does not exist online without SEO. Optimising content allows easy crawling by search engines and higher ranking when it is indexed. Metadata, alt tags, categories, open graph protocol, heading tags and keyword research all help your content to get found and build incremental growth in visitors.
Social signals are also important – popular content that is shared a lot will rank well in most cases as long as targeting is considered. This also leads to social proof. People are more likely to share a post that has been shared many times than one that has very few shares.
How can we help?
We can look after everything here. We can identify topics, research and create content from scratch. We can optimise and promote it and can measure results. However, we find that the best results come from a collaborative effort which involves key team members from your organisation who are able to share their expertise with us.
Everyone has different levels of writing ability and we don’t expect people to be able to craft compelling, well-structured and targeted content right out of the blocks.
So, for your project we may only need the facts – a series of bullet points that share insights – and we can do the rest.
Or you might want to go a bit deeper and create a full post then we edit, target, optimise and add calls-to-action.
We work with you to ensure you are not publishing cookie cutter content like most other businesses out there. Every piece of content should be unique and exceptional.
It takes time and effort but it is better to publish one piece of amazing content every couple of weeks than it is to publish generic, same-old, same-old content every day.
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Mike Morgan works with innovative businesses in New Zealand and Australia developing custom web marketing strategies integrating SEO, Content Marketing and Social Media. Mike has been featured in 41 Rising Stars of SEO and Top 100 Most Followed SEO Experts on Twitter and has his opinions on SEO and Content Marketing published on a range of global content marketing blogs.