What Makes Great Content Great?

Lauren Allen 9 years ago

Those of you who may have read my debut to the Zazzle blog a few months ago will know that I touched upon one of the most common problems that content marketers, like myself, often find themselves up against on a daily basis; the ability to come up with great article ideas that will help you to get ahead - and most importantly, stay ahead - of your competitors. (For those of you that didn’t have a chance to catch my piece, you can read it, here).

But, as my time at Zazzle as a Content Marketer has progressed, I’ve come to learn that this isn’t the only hurdle you’ve got to get over in order to win the content marketing race. Standing in your way is a far bigger hurdle that, if you fail to master, will certainly result in you coming last. This is of course, the creating-great-content hurdle. Because, just thinking of the idea is only part of the problem – it’s physically putting this idea into practice that will set you apart from the rest. You need to take your great idea and write great content from it.

Now, I know that from the outset you’re probably wondering, “surely writing content is relatively simply to do – all you need to do is come up with a title, write 500 words or so, slip in your do-follow link and voila! - Job done, right?” Well, although I can’t argue that this isn’t how content generally gets created, I can argue that this is certainly no way to make great content.

I recently came across a great SlideShare deck from Velocity Partners, who argued that, “the single biggest threat to content marketing is content marketing”. Why? Because, we’re all about to buried in crap” – or, as we at Zazzle like to call it, Content which Reduces the Ability to Please (C.R.A.P.).

And, I have to say, I agree with them.

They highlighted that as the demand for content marketing continues to grow, an increasing number of companies who aren’t specifically trained in creating high quality copy, will begin to churn out mountains of content, year after year, in a bid to keep up with everyone else.

The result? Weak content, that from the outset, will look a whole lot like the good content that creative agencies like us are working hard to create.

The implications? As soon as people discover how bad the weak content actually is, they’ll raise those giant marketing barriers and become much more reluctant to trust the next content that comes along – which of course, will be ours. Great.

The solution? We need to create completely mind blowing, totally amazing, top class content that will not only make sure we don’t get buried amongst the C.R.A.P., but will help us to make sure we stay at the top of it.

So, this all got me thinking. What exactly is the definition of great content - and more importantly – how can we make sure we succeed in doing this, now and for many years to come?

Well, that’s exactly what I’m about to show you:

What Defines ‘Great Content’?

So, we’ve established that we need to create great content in order to stay ahead of the game, but now what you’d really like to know is, what exactly is great content? What makes the ‘great’ content different from the ‘good’ content?

Well, quite simply, great content is content that goes that extra mile - for example; basic content may get read, good content may great read and shared, but great content is content that will get read, shared and talked about.

Of course you want to write content that is going to get retweeted, liked and commented on as many times as possible - because that’ll certainly help you to win the KPI race – but, you also want to get people talking about your content long after they first set eyes on it.

Why? Because, not only will that build up a positive reputation for you individually as the writer, but it will also help to work wonders for the agency or company that you work for. Once all of that Content which Reduces the Ability to Please starts being churned out from every company under the sun, it’ll be this reputation that helps you and your agency to rise above everything else and break through those marketing barriers should potential clients begin to raise them.

“So, How Do I Actually Go About Making Great Content?” I Hear You Ask…

…Well, as the title suggests, with great writing, of course.

When you’re creating content as a content marketer, you’ve got 2 clear choices. You can either:

A) Do as I described above: Think of a half-decent title to jazz-up your otherwise boring and unoriginal topic, try to write 500 words in basic English as quickly as possible and round it up by chucking in your do-follow link wherever it sounds best.

Or, you could take the alternative option of:

B) Take time to carefully research an exciting, new and unprecedented topic that you lay out in a perfectly written, grammatically correct and creative article, complete with a catchy title that will impress all that read it.

Now, if you’re a dedicated content marketer, it’s not going to take you long to decide which option you’d choose. Because in order to boost those SEO rankings, gain high exposure, and most importantly, get you that highly acclaimed reputation in the industry, you’ll undoubtedly want to go with option B.

And, it’s here that I’m going to demonstrate a few ways that’ll help you to take Option B and make great content from it:

1. Focus on Creating Strong Headlines

Now, I know that this may not exactly feel like a great tip given that writing a headline of a few words isn’t exactly the hardest thing to do, but believe it or not, it often becomes a hard task when you want to make it great and want to make sure it stands out from all the other titles out there. Part of creating great content lies with writing a great title, and it’s because of this that it becomes one of the most important aspects of your writing.

Why? Because, think about it; when was the last time you read a title and thought, “that article title looks really boring! I think I might give it a read”?
Exactly.  Never.

You need to write a great title that grabs your audience’s attention immediately – manage that and you’re halfway towards making great content already.

And there are a few top tips that will help you to do so:

  • Keep it short - Try and keep your title to a maximum of 70 characters. Any longer than this and search engines may cut it down, which would reduce the effectiveness of your article for content marketing purposes – and that’s not much use when that’s the whole reason you’re writing the article, right?
  • Keep it simple - Don’t overcomplicate your title and confuse your audience by using big, fancy words - make sure your title gets straight to the point about what your article is about. If you’re worried that your title doesn’t sound too exciting, try using powerful command words to catch readers’ attention.
  • Make sure your title is relevant to your content – Now, I know that this seems like a given since how can you have a title that isn’t much to do with the content people are about to read? Well, believe it or not, much of the C.R.A.P content does exactly this to try and lure readers in. Warning: Don’t follow suit – doing so will damage your content’s believability and will do no good for your reputation.

2. Your Content Needs To Be Simple, Concise and Creative

In October last year, I attended my very first content marketing meet-up hosted by the lovely people of Distilled. This meet-up was my first chance as a brand new content marketer to learn more about how to excel at my job from highly experienced individuals already in the industry.

But, there was one talk in particular that not only stood out for me on the day, but that also went on to instill how I aim to write all of my content today. That talk was ‘The Power of Language’ from the brilliant Vincent Franklin of QuietRoom.

Why did he stand out in particular? He quite simply talked a hell of a lot of sense – and it’s these teachings from him that can help to make your content utterly amazing.

He reminded us of the importance of choosing the right words for your audience when writing, by adopting some of the following techniques:

  • Write about the audience and engage with them – With any content you create, your intended audience should be your primary focus from start to finish. Why? Because, ultimately, your audience are the ones that will actually define whether or not your content is great or not – and they’re the ones who will go onto share, comment and recommend your content to others. So, it’s vital that you please them.If you read a sentence and get to the end and think ‘so what?’ then you need to re-think it. Because, chances are your audience will be thinking exactly the same.  Take time to think about exactly who your target audience is. Write sentences that talk directly to them, engage them with emotive questions and use language that will interest them.
  • Choose words that resonate - Close your eyes and think about the word ‘seaside’. What do you think of? Sandcastles, ice cream, sunshine, or maybe splashing in the sea? Now close your eyes and think about the word ‘coastal region’.  What do you think of?  It’s not quite the same, is it? When you’re writing, make sure you write as you speak, rather than just writing to sound fancy – the best content is content that is easy to read, easy to digest and easy to relate to.
  • Use words not abstract nouns – This tip goes hand-in-hand with the one above. When you’re writing, think about what would you most want to do (and more to the point, which of these do actually do)? For example:- Preparation for retirement’ – Nope.
    - Preparing for retirement’ – Nope.
    - ‘Preparing to retire’ – Nope.
    - ‘Getting ready to retire’ – Ah, now that’s better.
  • Use short sentences for impact and clarity - Write a sentence, add a full stop and then move on to the next paragraph.  Lengthy sentences are confusing, uninviting, as well as being difficult to read and digest.
  • Structure ideas with story spines – The best content will always follow a pre-defined, easy to follow structure. So, if you’re looking for your article to be great, then it’s vital to follow one. Start your sentences with phrases such as “once upon a time”, “until one day”, “because of that” and “until finally”. But, no one wants to read a boring story, right? So, make it creative as you can!

3. Your Content Needs To Show Expertise

Want to create great content, but don’t know a great deal about what you’re trying to write about? Then you may as well not bother, because without a little bit of hard work your article will most certainly end up on the C.R.A.P. heap.

If you’re writing an article for a specialised niche, make sure you do some thorough research on all of that topic’s nitty-gritty. As I explained above, if you don’t and try to get away with generalising the topic, then it’ll certainly have negative implications in terms of your audience’s trust in your writing – the only reputation you’ll be getting is the same one as all of that Content which Reduces the Ability to Please, and so the only long-lasting thought your audience will have about your content will be…


 (Image: www.cheezburger.com)

4. Your Links Need To Be Transparent


(Image: www.setalks.com)

As a content marketer, it’s no secret that it’s your job to market a product, service or company. But, just because it’s your given role to do so, it doesn’t mean you have to be blatantly obvious about it by writing a full on sales pitch to help your client get to the top – doing so won’t benefit you in the SEO world in anyway at all.

As many of you already know it’s becoming increasingly hard to outsmart Google when it comes to artificially gaining rankings. Accompany this with factors such as Google authorship and other social metrics being implemented into Google’s almighty algorithm, and creating high quality content has never been so important. Keyword stuffing and poorly written content just don’t work anymore and you can forget about auto directory submitters and article spinners - Penguin and Panda will sniff you out soon enough.

So, if you’re looking to make sure your content outshines all of the C.R.A.P., then the articles that are guaranteed to survive are the ones that will be brilliantly written with the vital do-follow links placed as naturally (and as cleverly) as possible.

So there you have it! My guide to achieving great content and ensuring that your hard work won’t get buried amongst the C.R.A.P. in the ever-growing and ever-fierce content marketing race of the future.


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