This is a guest contribution from James Scherer.
Do you struggle for content inspiration? Do you feel like every article you write is exactly like another you’ve already written or read?
You’re falling victim to content stagnation, and it’s something we all deal with.
Perhaps you need a refresher, a reminder, or just someone to give you a few new ideas - a nudge along the way.
This article will give a full look at how to encourage and capture readership, optimize for action and engagement, and get the most out of your content – the full gamut of content marketing best practice.
I’ll refocus you on the five steps that you need to take to create interesting content that get shares, comments, engagement and loyal readers as well as content that generates leads.
Let’s make sure you’re doing this content creation thing right.
Step #1 to Creating Awesome Content: Grab their Attention
I wish I could tell you that the title of your content doesn’t matter anymore, that your content’s readers, visitors, viewers and listeners have grown more discerning in the past couple years and now it’s all about the quality of your content: the expertise, experience and analysis you throw painstakingly into each and every article, podcast, video and presentation.
Unfortunately, I can’t do that for you.
Your content’s title is hugely important to its success – not just because of search optimization but for clickability, shareability and engage-ability.
Without a title that snaps, grabs the eye, intrigues, frustrates, scares or humors, your content will fall flat on its face, no matter that it’s the second coming of Gangnam Style.
Content Title Formulas that Work:
- New! Never-before-seen Insights into [your Job/Sector/Relevant Subject]
- Exclusive Strategies from [Sector Expert/Authority/Boss]
- 23 Things you Need to Know in Order to [Succeed in Some Way]
- 10 Tricks to [Achieve a Goal]
- How [Your Field/Relevant Subject] is Like…
- How I [Did Something Unbelievable/Surprising/Awesome/Terrible]
- 16 [Amazing/Awesome/Sexy] Things you Need to Hear About
- Are you Making this Huge Error that’s [Leading to a Bad Result]?
- How do you do [Activity]?
- 52 Ways to [Improve in Your Job/Your Sector/Relevant Subject]
Step #2 to Creating Awesome Content: Optimize for More than SEO
It’s taken me a bit too long to accept this fact, but fact it is nonetheless: SEO is antiquated and incomplete, a universal term of use we should steer away from.
Let me back that up, because I hear some of our SEO readers sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches.
Optimizing your content for search is still hugely important, but we should stop using it as an umbrella phrase when what we actually mean is optimizing for readership, engagement and conversion.
Optimizing your Content for Readership:
This is the general SEO stuff: the strategies we implement to get our content to the top of the front page of Google.
- Use H1s (title) and H2s (sub-headers) and where applicable. Ensure these include keywords.
- Put alt text on your content’s images and videos relevant to the content’s subject.
- Avoid keyword stuffing (keep it to about 1 in 25, depending on sector).
- Place meta tags within your content.
- Consider long-tail search keywords and niche topics (rather than competing with the corporations).
- Link intelligently by including keywords in your links. Never use “Click <here> for more information”. Instead use, “Learn more about SEO in my article <How to Easily Optimize your Blog for Search>” (see how I did that?).
Optimizing your Content for Engagement:
Content engagement, also known as social shares and comments, is not only important because of the Hummingbird Algorithm (Google’s update to SEO a year ago that placed more importance on social endorsements) but because the more your content is shared, the more readers you have. Duh!
- Have a title optimized for SEO and another title optimized for social platforms (shorter, more Buzzfeed-like). Include one in your URL and a different one in your social toolbars.
- Ensure your content’s header is social-friendly so it shows up whole on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
- Include “Tweetable” statistics or takeaways (with a link) throughout your content to encourage a specific social share.
- Ask for questions, comments or examples from your readers at the end of articles.
- Be an active commenter on other people’s sites (as well as your own).
Optimizing your Content for Conversion:
We’re blogging for business here, not musing about the trials and tribulations of maternity (unless you are… In which case you still need to be optimizing your content for conversion!)
Think about it, is there any real point in your article being at the top of Google’s search results or having a million readers a week if nobody’s acting on your CTA buttons, downloading your ebooks, registering for a free trial or subscribing to your email list?
No. No there’s not.
Here are a few ways you can optimize your content for a real-world conversion (something that helps your business in a concrete, measurable way):
- Include links to your email-gated content on the sidebar and bottom of your blog articles, podcasts, webinars and Slideshares.
- Implement click pop-ups and email subscription toolbars so readers or viewers don’t have to be sent to a separate landing page and tab to convert.
- Don’t link to competitors.
- Link to related articles and resources on your site (increasing the value of engagement) and external content where you’re business is mentioned (increasing the level of trust and authority).
- Test CTA button copy to determine what “Ask” resonates most with your readers.
- Implement exit pop-ups promoting email-gated content relevant to your content’s subject matter. For instance, implement an exit pop-up with “want to learn everything there is to know about landing pages?” and show it to unique visitors (once!) as they go to leave the page.
Step #3 to Creating Awesome Content: Format Your Article Intelligently
The longer you can keep a reader looking at your page, the less likely they are to leave it, the more likely they are to share it, and the more likely they are to convert on one of your “Asks” spread across your optimized blog.
Your title, hook and introduction get them to stay for the first 10 seconds (the most crucial section of your article as, if they stay for more than 10 seconds, the chance of them leaving drops like a rock):
Beyond those first ten seconds, your articles (or podcasts or webinars) needs to be structured to encourage readers to stick with it and stay engaged.
Here are a few best practices that will help you do that:
- Segment your articles with bold, clearly visible subheaders that grab the eye of your reader.
- Include an image once every segment (if possible) to keep the reader visually stimulated.
- Use bullet-points or numbered lists in your sections to communicate your message or advice clearly and quickly. This also increases the chance that someone skim reading will pause for a moment.
- In both podcasts and webinars, give a short breakdown of the points you’re going to cover at the beginning
- Where possible, include exclusive tips and tricks (in all types of content) that you tease your audience with at the beginning and only include at the end. In webinars and podcasts, test hiding your big secret without telling people when exactly it’s going to be.
Step #4 to Creating Awesome Content: Incorporate Awesome Images
Articles with images are shared twice as much as those without.
But I’d like to emphasize that it’s not just any image that encourages a share or keeps a reader scrolling. You have to be using awesome images.
Put time into original image content (even if you’re just drawing over and citing someone else’s pie chart). Put time into getting to know PhotoShop, GIMP, even Google Drawings or Presentations.
For instance, I made this with the Google Presentation tool in about 6 minutes:
I know. It’s awesome.
Images not only encourage social sharing, communicate data and statistics quickly and grab the eye of the reader, they also humanize your business and make your articles more visually appealing and scrollable.
When used badly, however, they can cause your readers to go elsewhere, your articles to flop socially, and your authority to decrease significantly.
Stock images, for instance, are increasingly recognizable for what they are. As a result, they’re increasingly becoming one of the chief causes of a page bounce:
I mean, c’mon:
And don’t force an image. They should always serve a purpose (as “teamwork” rarely, if ever, would above). Instead, communicate the stuff that adds to the value of your article (statistics, case studies, industry report findings, etc) in a visually appealing way.
Step #5 to Creating Awesome Content: Be Unique
Content audiences (the people that listen, read and watch your content) are fickle creatures. They’re skim-readers, hyped up on coffee with not enough time on their hands and an urgent desire to, essentially, channel-surf content.
Channel surfing is actually a pretty solid analogy now that I think about it.
Your content audience is like a TV watcher before we had Netflix: sitting slouched on their couch hitting the “up” button on their remote control, searching for something they haven’t seen before. More often than not they’re disappointed (as your “10 Marketing Best Practices You Haven’t Seen Before” article is a blatant lie).
But sometimes they land on your article, give it the standard three seconds, and decide they’ll put the remote control down on the couch, cross their arms, and watch.
But how do you ensure your content engages your reader more than the other 100,000 shows on TV right now?
Tell a Story:
People like content relevant to them. Even more than that they like content relevant to them written by an author recognizable to them with a story they can relate to. The more like your reader you can be, the better your content will be.
That’s not to say you don’t have to tie your story into genuine, professional analysis of changes or best practices in your sector – but make it interesting and make it recognizable.
Transparency in marketing is becoming best practice (just look at Buffer if you want to know what I’m talking about). It’s about being an open, honest, modern company – a company that plays foil to the murky, underground goings-on of multinational corporate giants or the federal government.
Consider articles entitled something like:
- “5 Lead Generations That are Working for Us Right Now”
- “The 10 A/B Testing Mistakes I Tried that Failed Miserably, and Why”
- “10 TImes I was the Mayor of Fashion Faux Pas City”
- “5 Divorce Mistakes I Wish I’d Known About”
- “A Step-By-Step Guide to Our Sales Funnel”
What is it about you as a content creator that sets you above your competitors. Is it your ability to pump out content, your silky-smooth podcast voice, or your never-ending anecdotes that entertain and educate?
Increasingly your content audience is looking for something to differentiate you (and your content) from that of your competitors. It’s like when applying for university or a job: readers are receiving thousands of applications every day and they’re struggling to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Here’s what I recommend: make your application bright pink, printed on poster paper, covered in golden glitter, or make it a pop-up book. Do something that sets you apart.
A few recommendations to set your content apart:
- Become a visuals guru, incorporating awesome graphics into every one of your articles, videos, webinars and ebooks. It might take you longer, but it’s worth testing the ROI.
- Create a content persona, mascot or alter ego – something to make your content entertaining.
- Find the niche in your niche, and own it. Be the go-to expert on a specific part of your sector.
Or, honestly, just get creative every once in a while (I’m not talking about every single article) but test adding personality to your content periodically to see what kind of return you get.
Hopefully that’s given you a refresher course (or even an educational one) on how to optimize your content for readership, engagement and loyalty.
Content marketing is officially (there’s no arguing anymore) the best way to increase your business’ online profile, generate leads and ensure brand authority. It can be a challenge though, don’t get me wrong.
My main recommendation for creating content that snaps, crackles and pops is to put time into how you start your article. Focus on finding the right topic, the right title, the right structure and the right way to make it different. Then start writing.
Originally at: Blog Tips at ProBlogger