There’s nothing worse than spending days or weeks slaving over grade A, top-quality content, only to release it to an unwilling (or even absent) audience.
But let’s be real: this happens in every medium. Tons of amazing movies, novels, and albums are looked over and forgotten. There’s a reason why most SEO companies focus on the small but significant technical tips and tricks to push your content up the ranks – it’s impossible to guarantee that a piece will go viral organically.
And this trend in the SEO community over the years to value the technical tweaks over the nuances of content creation has led to an avalanche of articles filled to the brim with keyword tips and CTA tricks and metadescription cheats.
But when you look for articles that discuss the writing side of content creation, the resources are few and far between. These tips are limited to passionate yet vague statements revolving around the idea that you need to create amazing, engaging content.
The question is: how? Well, tons of ways. But in this article I’m going to talk about value, and more specifically:
You sit down with an issue of National Geographic and read a 2000-word piece on an ancient archaeological artifact, an undiscovered tribe, or unusual animal mating rituals.
If you Google the same topic and click on an article entitled “10 AWESOME Things Around the World to See”, you might get a glimpse of some of the same material.
But just a glimpse, and nothing more.
|Fluff is the generic travel ad with feel-good music|
Fluff is the overstuffed buffet with mediocre ingredients
Fluff is the photo album gaining dust in the attic of your grandparents’ house
|Value is a thorough blogging video detailing destination, local culture, and interactions |
Value is the goosebump-inducing, love-fueled home-cooked dinner
Value is the memories in your grandparents’ heads
Still unsure? Here’s a quick test to see if your content is more value-heavy or fluff-heavy. Read your piece and ask yourself, “Did I waste my time?”
Or better yet, if a friend asked you about your article, would you:
A) Summarize it for them
B) Link it to them?
If your summary is just as valuable as the article it summarizes, then you should replace your article with your summary and write it again.
Some of the businesses that we’ve worked with were initially slightly reluctant towards the idea of creating longer, more meaningful content. Some of the common replies that we get after explaining our approach usually go like this:
And we’ve responded to each of these comments the same way: You’re right.
But you have to think about how those statistics are made.
When generalized, reader experience tends to undervalue the average piece of content online, simply because the average piece of content is, well, average. Not under any fault of their own, but because many businesses were undersold the value of creating a consistent stream of well-written material.
So what happens when you do create a consistent stream of well-written material?
A number of things.
One more time: fluff slightly interests, and value greatly educates. And the truth is, nobody will turn down education from the right teacher.
Now it’s about knowing how to teach.
Sitting through a long, 2000 or 3000-word article, and halfway through you stop, rub your eyes and think to yourself: what in the world am I reading?
It’s all too common in the world of long articles. But what makes the difference between that kind of article, and one that you blaze through no matter the length?
Simple: it’s all about mixing the right roles.
There are three roles or skills you need to have when writing top, quality content:
This is a huge factor that we tend to overlook when talking about writing long, quality content. When you write past the 800-word mark, you’re giving the reader a sign:
This isn’t going to be a quick skim.
At this point the reader has to ask the question:
“Is this writing working for me?”
Here it becomes more than a question of whether the content is educational or not. We’ve all sat through boring, tedious, monotonous lectures from highly educated teachers and professors. These people have a lifetime of education but lack any ability to hold our attention.
And this is the difference between overbearing educational content and actionable educational content.
|Overbearing Content||Actionable Content|
|Overbearing content is proud of its knowledge and assumes it automatically deserves its readers’ attention|
Overbearing content is filled with info dumps that you have to slog through to find the key insights you need
Overbearing content is primarily concerned with providing all relevant information and material, then letting readers educate themselves
|Actionable content understands that it has to work to maintain interest through engagement strategies|
Actionable content is self-aware of its length and works towards highlighting key insights for the reader
Actionable content is equally concerned with reader reception, and helping readers get through the material
Write like the professor who wants to teach, not the professor grown idle with tenure. Because unlike university students stuck in class, your readers aren’t paying a fortune to be on your page.
So how do you write valuable, actionable content?
Actionable content is content you walk away from thinking, “Huh, that’s interesting”, or, “I learned something today.” It’s content that you want to keep reading, because it reads:
Leave the philosophizing for the books. When people Google something, they’re looking for answers, not dense musings.
People read content for the same reason they read a recipe: they want to know what they Googled, and they want it presented clearly and concisely. Which page is going to rake in greater readership: The pizza recipe that consists of a list of ingredients and numbered steps, or the pizza recipe that starts off by asking the reader why they enjoy cooking?
If you’re not sure if your article is filled with musings or actions, ask yourself this: are my pointers things that people could figure out on their own, or are they smart tidbits that only someone in my position could provide?
Let’s say you’ve got a coach training business, and you want to write an article about being a better coach. You want to express the idea that listening to your student makes you a better coach. So which is a better point?
Right now, both points sound relatively similar. But imagine if the second point wasn’t written, and all you were given was “Listen to Your Student”. That’s great, but how exactly can I grow as a coach by “listening to my student”? Aren’t I already listening? What else am I supposed to do?
You want to go for the more instructive and more detailed point, every time.
It’s the difference between a secondhand account and a firsthand account: a secondhand storyteller will tell you the knight’s journey from the castle to the dungeon, but a firsthand storyteller (the knight) will talk about the way his armor itched on the way there.
Speaking of knights and castles and dungeons – see what I did there? I took the intangible and wrapped it in the tangible, turning musings into visualizations.
A lot of what makes good writing good involves playing with your reader’s brain, whether you’re writing a fantasy novel or the next best article in your niche. You never want to spend too long in the realm of the unimaginable, because it’s harder to keep track of the unimaginable.
It’s like dragging your reader through a dark swamp – stay in it too long and the next thing you know, that “hand” you’re holding is a mossy branch.
The more difficult it is to keep track of your ideas, the easier it is for the reader’s attention to drift. And the moment that drifting begins, well… now you’re competing with every other tab, beep, and notification in arm’s reach. You might as well wave the white flag and call it a day.
This means you need to poke their brains. Use examples, analogies, metaphors. Evoke senses, actions, commands. Remind them of things they can think about and visualize, and draw the bridges between those ideas and the intangible ones in your post.
Half the job is writing the article. The other half is rewriting it.
This is because only when you finish the article can you clearly see what it lacks and the questions it might evoke. After reading your article, you need to ask yourself:
It’s all about being proactive, and creating the most thorough version of your article that can be made. Tie up all the loose ends, and if there are any ends you can’t tie up without taking the article too far off-point, then that might be better off as the start of your next article.
With your content and type of content, you want to constantly shake it up. There’s nothing more agonizing than scrolling through a website’s blog page, only to see that every single article is the same heartless listicle.
Show your audience that you’re not just here to fill in the word count. Engage them through infographs, memes, videos, GIFs, and even different kinds of articles.
Here are some of my favorite examples of different content:
One awesome page that truly engages the audience experience is The Virtual Water Project. The information itself is something you could find on any website based on the ideas of water conservation, but the way it’s presented is unique, fun, and new, mixing together the best of design and copywriting.
Good Horse is a site that promotes the horse owning lifestyle, creating content based on having horses for work, play, for sport, and more. Their content is created by Combination Horsemanship, a business that offers horse training services.
To truly engage their community, they’ve built a number of fun tools and calculators; everything from “How much weight can my horse carry?” to “Am I too big for my horse?”
Peter Pans Adventure Travel is an Australian business that provides tours and trip packages around Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Asia. What’s awesome about their content is that none of it feels like a blog; the articles are guides, tours, tips, personal insights from their customers and their team members.