Everyone (including Google) says make quality content. In passing, this makes sense but when you really take the time to examine it, what the heck is good content anyway? Does that mean well written without errors? Or maybe a piece perfectly optimized for search? Or how about one with lots of images or video or other helpful features for readers? No wait, good content has to mean something written that is authoritative, informative, useful, shareable and (in general) a kick-butt piece of writing?
Truth is, it’s all of the above. The proliferation of the internet has caused something unique to happen. Suddenly millions of people who had no business producing content for the masses were able to do just that. One challenge for the internet over the past decade (and for those like search engines trying to organize the internet) has been sorting out good content from bad. This means users, left to their own devices, having to differentiate among content that may be of the caliber seen in the Wall Street Journal, or that written by someone who doesn’t care what they are writing about and just trying to game a search engine. With that said, I’d like to offer a few tips on just how to make a quality piece of content.
1. Make it authoritative
People look for content that is real, truthful, accurate, useful and otherwise helpful for them and their network. Typically, content like that comes from sources that the user already trusts. It can also come from sources that the user’s network trusts. After all, users trust some sources and if they can’t, they look to their friends on who to trust. So when you go to write about something, if you aren’t already an authority on the topic, find someone who is. Say you go to write content for a local real estate company on their blog. You know that your audience will be local people that the real estate firm serves. So reach out to local authorities in this area. This may be real estate attorneys, other realtors, local chambers of commerce, etc. Find anyone you can that is a trusted resource on the topic you are writing about and reach out to them by phone or by email. Ask them for an interview or approach them about writing a short piece for you. You may even offer them something for their time although chances are if they are getting exposure out of the deal, you may not have to. You may be thinking “well gee Shawn that sounds like a lot of work” and if you are, you’re right. Making good content is a lot of work and if your goal is to do something like this professionally and successfully, you will have to put the hours in and think outside the box. An example of a website that does this extremely well is Mashable. They have great contributing authors, well researched content and the setup of the site is focused on sharing,
2. Make it useful
By useful I mean interesting, insightful, helpful, something your audience will stop and say “man, I’m glad I took the time to read this”. Of course this is much easier said than done and not everything you write (no matter how hard you try) will end up being this way but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Optimizing for search should always be at the back of your mind however you should first strive to write something that will have meaning for your audience. For instance if you run a website that specializes in selling financial planning, you might write posts that offers tips on how to do the same. Give tangible advice that people can use right away. Content like this keeps people coming back and it also cements you in their mind as an entity that is helpful which increases the chance down the road that they will actually buy from you. A great example of site that does this well is Instructables.com. They have all sorts of posts with helpful images on how to do a variety of things from changing an alternator to reviving an old transistor radio.
3. Use other content besides text
Something that goes along with making content interesting is using elements that make a piece of writing more interesting to read. These are things like video and images. It is a known fact that people tend to scan content on the web until they find what it is they are looking for. Large blocks of text give people anxiety and with so many other choices readily at hand, you don’t have long to make a good first impression. Break up the beginning of your content with an image. People are more likely to keep reading what you have wrote (assuming its well written) if the first few lines are short. Use video and images to supplement or compliment the content you have written. For example if you are offering advice about something, having a video from another source or one of your own to help illustrate what you are talking about is very helpful.
The Biggest Apple blog does a great job of using imagery and video, http://www.biggestapple.net/
4. Do secondary research
The first point I made about being authoritative entails doing a lot of primary research. Sometimes this isn’t always feasible because of time constraints or perhaps the availability of resources. That shouldn’t stop you from doing any research at all. Even if you already know a lot about a subject, look up information that offers differing viewpoints. Perhaps there is something you thought you knew but didn’t. Look for studies, whitepapers, thesis papers, or other higher-ed related resources to bolster what it is you are writing about. This is especially important if you are just starting out and are not yet an authority on a topic. Don’t be afraid (and you should make it a rule of thumb) to cite these sources of information. This will not only show your audience that you probably know what you are talking about but it will make the content that much better in terms of reliability. You just might generate a few backlinks out of the deal in the process if you are creating do-follow links to authoritative sources.
5. Be passionate
This last one isn’t something that can really be learned. You either have passion about something or you don’t. If you don’t (even if you try to) it will show. Its ok if you still need to write about something you don’t care about. That’s where doing primary and secondary research comes into play the most. People who do web marketing, writing, and development activities for a living often have to assume the role of a person who may be more passionate about the subject matter than they are. If you aren’t working for others and you want to drive traffic to a blog or website using content, it’s important to pick something you like anyway. Not only will you be able to come up with loads of content about it, your passion will show through, you will be able to work at it for longer than others who aren’t passionate about the subject and you will be able to offer more helpful advice for people.
Hopefully these tips help you to make that elusive “quality content” that everyone is always talking about. What tips do you have for making good content? What does good content mean to you?