What Great Brands Do That Good Brands Don't in Content Marketing
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Editor’s Note: This post is one of Convince & Convert’s Top 10 Posts of 2016.
Creating high-quality content is critical to content marketing success. With more than 2 millions blog posts published every day, you need a way to make your content stand out.
But you’re probably wondering, “How do I create high-quality content that drives traffic and engagement?”
Today, I will make things easy for you. I am going to show you 17 techniques you can use to improve the quality of your content in no time.
The goal of a headline is to get your readers to read the first sentence. If you do not capture your reader with a good first impression, you will lose them. You’ll have wasted your effort in creating the content, no matter how good it is.
On average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. – David Ogilvy
There’s one main reason this is important: Most people will share content based on the headline alone.
All great headlines have one or more of the following characteristics:
Here’s how you can create great headlines:
The first step is to create three benefit-driven headlines. We will be testing the effectiveness of these three headlines later.
You can create benefit-driven headlines using various headline formulas. In this post, I use the Ultimate Headline Formula as an example:
Noah Kagan has analyzed almost one million headlines and found that list posts got the most shares. Whenever possible, you should include specific numbers and data in your headline.
For example, let’s say you are writing an article about losing weight. Some examples of headlines using the Ultimate Headline Formula might be:
If you are stuck in creating headlines, you can use this handy tool, Portent’s Title Maker:
Refresh the site to create another headline. Once in a while, you might be able to get some great headline ideas.
The next step is to ensure each of the three headlines you have created is unique.
How do you make sure that your headline is unique? Simple: surround your headline in quotation marks, and search it on Google. Here’s an example:
Note that you must use double quotation marks to get the exact result you want. You want to see Google telling you that there are “no results found.”
You can also check your headline using the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer. Just pop your headline into the analyzer, and you will get a score.
The headline analyzer summarizes the quality of your headline into a single score. The analyzer also lists down ways on how you can improve your headline. You should try aiming for a score of 70 and above.
According to CoSchedule’s guide to writing better headlines, you can improve your headline by:
You might not know which headline is the best for your article, so you’ll have to test.
Fortunately, we have affordable tools around. In this example, I will be using Optimizely. It is great for A/B testing, and it’s free! Once you set up your Optimizely account and install the Optimizely WordPress Plugin, place your three headlines in the plugin.
Every test has a goal. The default goal is the number of visitors and engagement. You can set more goals in your Optimizely Platform.
You might have heard that Google likes blogs that constantly update. Thus, you published as many articles as you could in the 400 to 600 word range. But despite your time and effort, there aren’t any significant improvements in your traffic. There are no improvements in user engagement, social sharing, and conversions.
You can’t build an audience in 2015 with 400-word posts. You just can’t.
– Brian Dean, Backlinko
Here are some facts: SERPIQ conducted a study of pages that rank on Page 1 of Google for over 20,000 keywords. They found that longer articles ranked higher in Google.
Professor Jonah Berger from Wharton found that longer content was 76.8% more likely to go viral. The average word count of a top 10 result in Google was over 2000 words.
The bottom line is this: you want your content to be at least 2000 words. If you can write longer, go for it. The caveat here is that your content needs to be useful. There is a difference between long-winded and helpful.
So why have we seen so many blog posts that are about 400–500 words? How can so many people get it wrong Because writing 400–500 words blog post is easy and cheap. For just $5 from Fiverr, you can get content for any keyword up to 500 words. This is a great deal when so many people are not able to craft out time for content marketing.
Notice the number of reviews the writers got. This is the content that floods the internet every day: crappy, 500-word content. You can do better than this!
Creating longer content is by no means easy. It takes time and effort. But over time, it will pay off. Remember: it’s better that you create one high-quality post than five crappy ones.
Here are some tips for crafting longer content.
In 2014, Buzzsumo and OkDork conducted a study of 100 million articles. They wanted to find out what makes content go viral.
Infographics and list articles received way more shares compared to other content types. List articles work because they’re skim-friendly, and your readers know what to expect.
When you are writing a list, take extra steps to:
You might have clients or readers that have benefited from your advice. Write about them and what kinds of results they have achieved. Readers like to read examples of how one can achieve the results they want using your strategies. If you do not have any concrete example of your own to show, don’t worry. You can always quote what others have done, though your own experience is preferable.
Action Item: Create a list of real-life examples you can use to fuel future content ideas.
Most of today’s online content lacks depth. Take a weight loss article, for example. A predictable list post might contain tips like tracking your calorie intake. You can do better by making a list of common questions and answering them:
You want your content to stand out by having the depth. Your readers love insane levels of depth in their content. They love content that holds them by the hand and gives them all those rich details.
Action Item: Look at your best-performing articles. Think about what kind of questions your readers might have after reading your article. Do not assume anything about them.
Your introduction is the second most important element in your content after the headline. The goal of the introduction is to get your reader to read further. I have seen articles with long introductions that bored the heck out of the reader. This is not what you want.
Of all the visitors that land on your website, roughly 10% never scroll down. To get more people to read your content, you need to have a powerful and compelling introduction.
How can you write an introduction that makes your audience read further? Neil Patel has written a great post for Hubspot on this exact topic. Some of my favorite tips on writing introductions are:
Revisit the introduction after you complete the body and conclusion. Ask yourself whether the introduction met the above guidelines.
The common mindset in content creation is to write for as many people as possible. If you do that, your content is almost guaranteed to be average. Appealing to everyone will result in you appealing to no one.
Having an audience persona also helps to make your content more in-depth and relevant. Doing research on your audience persona will also help you generate content ideas.
Personas are fictional representations of your ideal customers, based on real data about customer demographics and online behavior, along with educated speculation about their personal histories, motivations, and concerns.
You can start developing your persona by looking at your existing customers. What are the types of customers that you love having? If you are selling to businesses, your customer is the person you interact with most. If your client base is not large enough, then think of your ideal customers.
Use LinkedIn to help you find the individuals within these companies. If possible, extract a Twitter profile. (Unlike LinkedIn or Facebook, Twitter is open, making it easier for you to conduct research.)
If you are targeting consumers, you can use Twitter advanced search to find your customers. Search by relevant keywords or hashtags. You can also look at the followers of your competitors.
The next step is to find out your target audience’s interests. Browse through what they are sharing in major social media like LinkedIn or Twitter. When you are skimming their feed, note the following:
Bonus Tip: Read the comments of these posts, and find if there is anyone who has a problem worth solving.
Your goal is to end up with a list of topics that will interest your audience.
Based on your research in Steps 1 and 2, ask yourself the following questions:
There are no real rules as to what kind of information you should include in the persona. A few features to consider include:
By now, you should have a brief description of your personas’ demographics, needs, and behaviors.
When I wrote this article, I used my wife as the target audience persona. We were just married, and she is looking for cheap beaches near Singapore where we can go. She doesn’t want to go to places that are too crowded with tourists. We just want a quiet and relaxing honeymoon.
I observed that my wife doing the following in her research:
She did the above for every potential beach she found. Imagine how much time she’s taking!
With this information, I wrote a blog post. I provided the estimated costs for two people and the best time to go to each beach, for 13 less well-known beaches.
With a target audience in mind, you will be able to write about their specific needs and give them what they want. This article gives the essential information, all in one place.
If you are having trouble on finding blog topic ideas for your audience persona, check out this guide on blog topic generation.
Action Item: Decide your target audience persona for your content. List the persona’s goals and greatest worries. Plan your content taking the persona into consideration.
After determining your audience persona, the next step is to choose a topic. And here is where most of us got stuck. We write content that our readers do not care about, and in the end, it is just a waste of time and effort.
You have to write content that has proven popular. One way of applying this concept is using the Skyscraper Technique by Brian Dean.
The first step is to find content in your niche that is link-worthy. This means the content has already generated tons of shares and backlinks. Before you start, make sure you have a list of keywords that you would like to rank for. Here are a few ways to do this:
Use Google and Ahrefs.com
Search your niche in Google. Always search for informational keywords instead of product-based keywords. For example, you should search for “How to grind coffee beans” instead of “coffee grinder.”
Then look at the top performing content.
In this case, “how to grind coffee” seems to be performing reasonably well on Facebook.
The second method is to use Buzzsumo. This time around, I searched for the keyword “grind coffee”:
In this case, I saw that there is an article written by Great Coffee Grinders with 1.2K Facebook shares.
You can rinse and repeat with other keywords you have in mind related to your niche. Find an article where you know there is social proof in both backlinks and social sharing.
Once you have decided the topic you are going to write, look at the best content right now on that topic. The best content will be based on your research in Step 1. Ask yourself: Can you make it better? Some quick ways your post can be better include:
If you have trouble finding topics for your content, here are some tips:
Brian Dean recommends that you beat the best content at every level. This includes the length, design, and how current is it.
There are two ways to generate lots of buzz in content marketing: produce event-based content (e.g., posts related to the latest Star Wars movie), or create evergreen content that will be relevant to your readers for a long period. Whenever possible, always choose to produce evergreen content.
A good tweet peaks at 18 minutes. An evergreen blog post lasts for years.
– Kevan Lee, Buffer
Evergreen content can generate sustainable traffic if done right. Event-based content’s traffic will tend to drop after the hype is over.
You do not have to keep updating your blog to generate traffic. Always publishing high-quality, timeless content will generate traffic even when you are not writing.
One of my favorite books is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This book was written almost 80 years ago, and yet the advice and lessons are still relevant. Even today, there are still people leaving reviews on Amazon. This is the power of writing evergreen content.
Studyweb.com writes that evergreen content should have the following characteristics:
How can you create evergreen content? Here are two easy steps to get you started:
When it comes to creating evergreen content, you should always write for beginners. Most people who read your blog are beginners. Experts do not search for answers in their niches—only beginners do. Thus, target your content on beginners in order to grow.
When you target your content at beginners, your content should be free of assumptions about your reader, as well as free of technical jargon. If there is any industry-specific vocabulary, you should take the time to explain it in your article.
Create a handful of evergreen content. As your blog grows over time, link these posts together.
It is easier for your readers to understand and apply a specific topic. It is also easier for you to write a specific topic. Think about a broad topic that interests you, and narrow it down to a niche. Take this post, for example. Narrowing my topic might sound like this:
My broad topic is content marketing. My specific topic is creating high-quality blog posts. My target audience will be those who are looking for ways to improve the quality of their content.
Good content is actionable and insightful. To make yours better, provide a content upgrade in exchange for an email.
Content upgrades are bonuses specific to the content that your reader is reading. It is not a generic ebook or toolkit that you offer on every page of your site. Done right, you will be providing high-quality content and building your email list at the same time. In fact, Brian Dean from Backlinko has boosted his conversion by 785% with content upgrades.
Some examples are content upgrades are:
How do you create upgrades for your content?
It is way easier to provide content upgrades when your content is actionable.
Sometimes you have to write non-actionable content, like when covering industry trends. In this case, you have to ensure that your content upgrade is actionable. One example is a step-by-step guide on how to take advantage of the industry trend.
List the actionable techniques, step by step, in a document. In this format, ignore the why. Focus on the techniques and how to implement them.
Having a template or worksheet for your reader can help them implement your techniques.
Run through your summarized article one more time. Write down some templates you can create that can make your reader’s life easier. Some examples are:
By including a content upgrade in your article, you are already 90% ahead of your competitors. If you have the time, go above and beyond by directing some effort into the design of your content upgrade. Some simple elements that you should consider in designing your checklist and templates are:
Finally, add a download link to the content upgrade in your article. There are a variety of tools you can use for this. I prefer using OptinMonster, but others prefer Ninjaforms, Leadpages, Sumome Leads, LeadIn, or email marketing software like Mailchimp or Aweber.
Unless your target audiences are academics, you want your content to be readable. This means:
User experience begins when your content is readable and legible.
There are several ways we can measure readability. A popular measurement is Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. The score corresponds to U.S. school grade levels. If your writing has a grade level of 6, a 6th grader would be able to understand your writing. Good writers have their content grade at below 8 for non-fiction. Let’s take a look at some examples:
Note: I compile these statistics by taking the average grade level of five articles.
How can we calculate the grade level ourselves, and how can we improve our writing based on it? There is a free application that did just that: Hemingwayapp. Just copy and paste your writing into this app, and it will give you a score of how readable your content is. You will also be able to see what sentences you need to improve.
After acting on these tips, you will see a tremendous improvement in your writing. Some additional tips to make your sentences readable include:
I love using data and statistics to support my point. There are two benefits key benefits of using data and statistics: it establishes you as the expert, and it improves the readability of your content through the use of charts and other data visualizations.
Collecting raw data by yourself is a lot of work. Although I encourage it, it might not be practical for your business. An easy way to get around this is to use data and findings collected by others. Do a quick Google Search of the following:
[keyword] + “statistics”
[keyword] + “data”
[keyword] + “survey”
[keyword] + “study”
You should find a wealth of information you can use in your blog post. For example, say I’m collecting statistics relating to content marketing.
I came across a great collection of statistics relevant to my topic, listed under, “Top challenges for B2B Content Marketers.” After collecting your data, load it into your favorite spreadsheet software.
Highlight both the labels and the data, and click charts. Select the appropriate chart.
After choosing the chart, you might end up with an ugly-looking chart:
I will usually do the following to make my charts look nicer:
This is the final result of formatting my chart:
Remember to add the source to these charts if you found the data online. These charts can be used as graphics for your post.
Besides charts, you can also provide images in your post. These graphics can include screenshots of how you perform certain actions.
A study showed that 100 of the highest ranking blogs had at least one image for every 350 words. This means that if your content is 3,500 words, you should have at least 10 images. Neil Patel collected some data about the types of images and social sharing in 2014:
He found that the three types of images with the highest number of shares were animated graphics, hand-drawn images, and infographics.
Not surprisingly, these three are the images that took the most time to create. Providing images in your content can be expensive and time-consuming. Not every business can provide top-quality images every time.
So how can you create custom images for your content? Simple. Just follow these steps.
Visit some of these free stock photo sites to collect images that might be relevant to your content:
I frequently use these three sites to download images. They are free (though some require attribution), and you can use them for commercial purposes. The trouble is that there is a limited selection with any free site. If you are willing to pay, you can go to commercial stock photo sites like Getty Images.
For example, let’s say I am trying to find images for my weight loss blog using Pixabay:
Sign up for a free account with Pixabay. Then you can download a high-resolution photo of the image you chose.
Canva is a great tool you can use to edit your images for free. You can use an existing template or set your custom dimensions:
I chose the social media template, which is 800px by 800px. After that, choose the layout that seems the most appealing to you.
Upload your image to replace the background image.
Finally, apply the filter and flip the image (if you want to).
This is my final image:
Not too bad for just five minutes of work. You can then download the photos from Canva and upload them to your article. Note that if you use any photos/layouts provided by Canva with $ sign, you will have to pay.
Your article should not just perform in a silo. Chances are, you have borrowed information from elsewhere to support certain points you are making. This is when you create a link back to the source of the content. In HTML format, the outbound link will look something like this:
<a href=”notyourwebsitedomain.com”>Not Your Website Domain</a>
Why do you have to link to proven authority sites? Because it increases your authority as well.
Not linking out might be the number one on-page SEO mistake that I see people make. I usually link out two to four times per 1000 words. That’s a good rule of thumb for most sites.
Keep in mind that the sites you link out to reflect on you. So make sure to link out to authority sites whenever possible. – Brian Dean, Backlinko
By referencing someone else and their work, we are using their work to improve ours. We should also give them proper recognition. In content marketing, we recognize their work by linking to their website. You are also giving a reference to your reader if they want to find out more.
Building outbound links is simple. Just make sure that you link to high-authority sites while you are doing your research for your content.
For content to be high-quality, it must be free of grammatical and spelling errors.
If you are like me, you might not be someone who is well-versed in writing. Having perfect, error-free content is difficult for me. But that doesn’t mean we can’t cut down our errors. Here are some workarounds:
You should always check for grammar errors with your naked eyes first. If you’re not the best copyeditor, or you do not have the resources to hire one, you can use tools like Grammarly to help you.
Sign up for a free account with Grammarly. Download the Grammarly app to your desktop. Below is an example of the first draft of this blog post:
Grammarly will highlight the issues with your content and give you a score. To improve your writing, you should make a note of the mistakes pointed out by the software. By not making the same mistake, you will increase your score over time.
Grammar is not the only component to good writing. The other component is your writing style. To improve your writing style, I recommend you to read Everybody Writes by Ann Handley. Some tips of hers that I like include:
There are many more writing tips presented in Ann’s book. I recommend you to read it if you want to be a brilliant content marketer.
Viral content is actionable and solves your readers’ problems. Actionable content helps your readers take action. You can make your content more actionable by following these steps:
By writing the how, you are teaching, not just informing. Sharing how to perform certain tasks can better convince your readers that you are an expert.
Readers in 2016 have short attention spans. One way to capture their attention is to make your content that is scannable. Look at the following:
Which one do you think your reader will be more interested to read? Is your content more like the left or the right? If your answer is the right, you might have to reorganize your content.
You can use the following tips to make your content more scannable:
Emotion is one of the Share Triggers, according to the research by Dr. Jonah Berger. Content with emotion tends to generate shares. Such emotions include awe, wonder, anxiety, sadness, and humor.
Just before I got married, I published an article addressed to my wife with 101 ways I can love her.
This content went viral in social media, gathering more than 2,000 interactions in Facebook.
Needless to say, my traffic skyrocketed. I even started to have people follow my Facebook profile and add me as friends.
According to one of the comments made by my wife’s best friend:
This shows the type of emotions my dedication to my wife evokes.
So how can you inject some emotion into your content? Here are two quick tips:
Note that depending on your industry, emotions might not be relevant. Never try to force emotions out of your content.
Despite your efforts, there is a high chance that your reader might not remember everything. For every sub-topic, select one tweetable quote (i.e. less than 140 characters) that you want your reader to take away.
Motivate readers to share two quotes with a tool like Click to Tweet. Use the click-to-tweet button at the end of every sub-topic to encourage your reader to tweet your content.
Sign up for an account with Click to Tweet using your Twitter account.
Create a new tweet.
Click to Tweet will generate a tracking link to tweet the article based on your message. You can try adding a button or a simple call-to-action asking your reader to tweet your article.
Not every quote has to come from you. You can also use quotes from others, as long as it is relevant.
Your content should focus on your readers, and not you. Unless you are using yourself or company as an example, you should not be talking about yourself.
The problem with talking about yourself is that your readers do not care. Your readers only care about themselves and how you can help them achieve their goals. Take a look at this example taken from Neil Patel’s A Definitive Guide to Copywriting:
If this style of writing looks familiar, it’s time to change.
Start paying attention to your reader-focused ratio. The reader-focused ratio is the ratio of the words “You/Your” to the words “I/We” in your writing. Blog owners who provide actionable contents tend to have a higher reader-focused ratio, as follows:
To do this, do a search of “you,” “your,” “I,” and “we” using command/ctrl + F. Include a space before and after the word. This is to ensure parts of these words do not show up in the search. Add up your totals to find your ratio.
You should aim to achieve the ratio of 3. If not, find instances of “I” or “We,” and change your writing to accommodate the perspective of your audience. Reader-centric copy will look something like this:
Notice that there’s lots of “you” and “your.”
You’ve now seen some of my favorite techniques to improve content quality. Ready to use one of these high-quality content creation techniques? Downloading the free High-Quality Content Creation kit I made just for this blog post. It includes a PDF copy of this post, a summarized checklist, and templates to help you get started. I have also included three other techniques that I did not include in this post.
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Okay content is easy. Killer content is hard. This nifty eBook shows you the difference, based on our real-world work with dozens of brands. A must-read!