Is the answer to your question important to your audience?
INT. CHICAGO THEATER
October 15, 1958. The Radio and Television News Directors Association Annual Meeting.
We’re in the wings of the theater. Standing there alone is Edward Murrow. He looks slightly ill at ease. He lights a cigarette… he looks at some notes in his hand as we overhear his glowing introduction by the MC. Cheers and applause as we walk with him to the podium.
A long awkward pause….
“…To those who say people wouldn’t look; they wouldn’t be interested; they’re too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter’s opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. ”
How much of that do you think applies to Content Writing /Marketing?
I would say, a lot!
Consumers have shut off the traditional world of marketing. They own a DVR to skip television advertising, often ignore magazine advertising, and now have become so adept at online “surfing” that they can take in online information without a care for banners or buttons (making them irrelevant).
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The solution lies in communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing. Instead of pitching your products or services, you need to deliver information that makes your buyer more intelligent. The essence of this content strategy is the belief that if we, as businesses, deliver consistent, ongoing valuable information to buyers, they ultimately reward us with their business and loyalty.
So the question you need to ask yourself is:
Is the answer to your question important to your audience, is it keeping them awake at night? Ok, maybe not awake but it is something they are desperate to know the answer.
(Useful content should always be at the core of your marketing)
Tip 1: The secret behind great content writing is being able to create content that will answer a need your target audience has. To answer a question they have or helping out with a challenge they are facing.
Tip 2: Focus your listening on your customer needs. The better you listen and analyze their needs, the more engaging content you’ll have.
Tip 3: Ensure that the content you produce is:
- Thought Provoking
Tip 4: So, lets’s understand what constitutes a good answer / answer post.
- A good answer addresses the questions your audience is asking.
- A good answer promises specific value
- The best performing answer posts promise something very specific in the headline. The most commonly used phrases of the top posts are as follows:
Thus it appears that the most shared answer posts use specific 3 word phrases that promise value in the headline. They are simple, clear and to the point. Across all content, if you look at the numbers of shares and links, on average you will find that “how to” posts outperformed other answer post types. Headlines such as ‘the secret to’ or ‘secrets of’ were very popular in the context of consumer topics such as secrets of a longer life or weight loss.
- A good answer is credible and authoritative
A good answer is well researched, it has facts and insights that make it authoritative. To be credible you also need to explain or demonstrate why you have expertise or first-hand experience in the subject. You can demonstrate credibility by providing your own research as well as referring to your experience and other research sources. Bring your own experience to your answer, which also makes it more personal.
The more extensive your research and the more it is evidence backed, the greater the potential to create an authoritative answer which is referenced and hence one that gets links.
Note: A successful research post in B2B space would attract as many as 5,000 shares, around 200 links from 100+ domains.
- A good answer provides examples or case studies
This is linked to the point above about research. A good answer not only cites the research sources as is the case on sites like Wikipedia but it also provides examples. In B2B marketing there is significant potential to provide informative case studies. Case studies show that your answer is better – because real companies have applied the insights you’ve set out, and are getting results. They don’t have to be case studies you’re directly involved with, of course – but a well-researched answer should be able to cite evidence to back up its position.
- The best answer is timeless
Clearly you get a better return on your answer if it is an evergreen answer to a common question. This also allows your answer to gain more links over time. Shares tend to happen quite quickly whereas links tend to build more consistently over a period of time. An evergreen answer can be about a specific time period but contextualized, eg: Why Obama won the election in 2012?
- The next best answer is one that is regularly updated
Not all answers are timeless, for example, a post on the best social media tools may become outdated. For example, Topsy was a great social media tool but it is no longer available now. Similarly, an answer on how to use Google analytics is likely to need regular updating as the software changes and new features are introduced. If you are answering a question that is not timeless you need to stay on top of things to be the best. Regularly updating your content takes time but gives you the opportunity to be the best answer because you can be both comprehensive and current.
- A good answer is comprehensive and complete
This is similar to points about being well researched but goes further. The best answer is comprehensive and long form. The post fully explains in detail and answers the question without needing to refer elsewhere although it will still refer to sources and examples.
We have found that long form answers perform well in terms of both shares and links. The nature of the answer post is often signalled to the reader in the headline eg ‘comprehensive guide’ or ‘complete guide’. Short answers are generally less valuable and this is reflected in less shares and links.
- A good answer has a summary
Whilst good answers are generally long form and comprehensive, the best answers also contain a summary. Someone may not want to read the whole post now and a summary allows them to decide to bookmark or save it for later reference. A good summary also increases shareability.
- A good answer is well structured and scannable
Long form answer posts need to be well structured and scannable with a good use of sub-headings, images and structured steps. Structured steps can help walk the reader through an answer or how to do something. In our previous article on the perfect ‘how to’ post we set out the following elements which are often used in ‘how to’ posts:
- Numbered steps
- Scannable text
- Annotated images and videos
- A case study
- Links to tools
- Practical tips
- Links to further resources
It can be difficult to determine what exactly is an answer post. To narrow things down we looked at posts that included in their headline specific words and phrases, for example:
- How to
- Ways to (often preceded by a number)
- Need to know
- Reasons why
- Secrets of
- Guide (e.g. Comprehensive guide, Complete guide)
- What (though we had to filter out all the viral quizzes eg what animal are you?)
Tip 5: Content Writer’s checklist
In summary, if you are writing content that answers a question you want to be the best answer. So ask yourself these set of questions to make sure you’re writing the best answer:
- Am I answering a question that people really care about?
- Am I promising specific value – will people know what they’re going to get?
- Am I demonstrating credibility and authority?
- Am I backing up my assertions with case studies and examples?
- Is this answer going to be relevant in a year? When should I update it?
- Is it comprehensive and complete? Could someone act on this advice without another source?
- Do I have a clear summary that could be scanned to get the point across?
- Do I have a clear structure with sections and steps?
- Do I teach effectively, setting out a clear educational model?
If you can say yes to all of these points, you’re on your way to being the best answer.
Tip 6: Remember, with content, it’s always ‘The winner takes it all’!
The best answers to a question do not perform a little bit better than other posts, they perform significantly better! As with so much on the internet it is a winner takes all game.
For example, you can write your own post on ‘what is content marketing’ but unless you can be a better answer than the best post, few people will refer to your answer. Even 2nd best post on content marketing will have less than a tenth of the links of the best post.
You can actually compare tall city buildings to content marketing. No one visits the 5th tallest building in a city, all of the competitive advantage goes to the tallest buildings. Much the same is true in content marketing. Top content outperforms average content significantly, by a factor of ten or more. It is increasingly a winner-takes-all game as Rand Fishkin pointed out in his post on creating 10x content. People link and share the best post on a topic rather than an average article. To gain traction you need to make sure you have the best content that meets the needs of your audience.
Tip 7: The key is to identify the areas where you can dominate, relative to your competitors, where you can be the tallest building. Your competitive edge could stem from research, case studies or specific knowledge. Or you could produce the most comprehensive content or the best video. It takes time to become the tallest building. But on the way you could be the fastest growing, quirkiest, most different…in some way your content has to stand out.
Can you provide a better answer than the current top answers? If not, then look to answer a different question where you can be the best answer.
Tip 8: Good content yields massive ROI
Good answers to common questions have potential longevity, they are evergreen, as people will continue to ask the question and look for answers. As an example take this post published 7 years ago by Copyblogger on ‘9 Proven Headline Formulas’. This post is still appearing in the top Google results for searches about headlines over 7 years after it was published. The post is timeless as people continue to ask questions about headline formulas almost every time they write a post. Thus the post continues to drive traffic and awareness after all these years. Not many of us can point to content we wrote 7 years ago that’s still doing the business today. It demonstrates the remarkable return on investment when you create a best answer post.
Tip 9: Check out these essential emotional elements behind viral content, see if you can leverage any of these factors to make your content more interesting:
Tip 10: The real challenge in creating great content is the combination of large quantities of content in a short period of time and keeping it relevant to the target audience and engaging. So optimize your time. (Coming up in the next blog!)
Note: Every site needs cornerstone content, something that distinguishes your site, which is comprehensive and authoritative. Something that people know you for, link to and return to read again and again. Start working on it.
(Know what your audience wants before investing in content)
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Sometimes, content writers don’t see themselves as marketers. Consequence? They end up simply being writers and not taking the same perspective that a marketer would take.
Remember, marketing always begins with the question, “Who is our audience?”
The answer often comes in the form of personas. A persona allows you to look at a customer, understand where they are coming from, and address their needs and wants. Eric Murphy wrote about this problem in his HubSpot article:
“Content marketers are still marketers, and due diligence is an essential part of the job. As with any marketing campaign, understanding who your audience is, what they’re looking for, where to find them, and how to deliver the most effective message is essential to intentional success. Sure, it’s possible to get lucky from time to time without research, but repeatable success isn’t possible without intimately understanding the components of the model below.”
That’s what you’ve got to do if you want to solve this problem. You’ve got to research your audience, understand what they want, and deliver content that meets their needs. There’s no shortcut.
Tip 11: What does your audience want?
You need to deliver the information and content your audience wants. And to understand just what that is, you need to listen to and address their challenges, aspirations, and top-of-mind concerns.
At the highest end of the budget, you can derive those insights by conducting market research and interviewing prospects and customers. You then develop buyer personas and craft your content with those in mind.
Tip 12: Buyer / Customer Personas
Buyer personas are valuable in understanding questions. They enable content developers to understand their audience and importantly the type of content that will be valuable and helpful to them. And of course, you are a persona. If you’re an expert in your field, there was a time when you weren’t. Remember the questions you wanted to ask when you were starting out – is now the time to write the definitive answer for others?
- By developing personas around different potential users of your products and services, as well as where they are in the funnel helps you identify areas of opportunity for your content.
- Do an extensive amount of research into the existing customer, who they are, what they do, where they spend time online, how they consume content, and how they prefer to receive it. Then we create brand personas from that. It’s not an easy or fast approach. It takes time and a lot of elbow grease.
- You likely already have some customer data at your disposal – whether it is data found via your analytics, a history of customer buying patterns, customer surveys, whatever. So break it out and start analyzing it. Identify what you have and look at it from a high level. You may be able to find strong behaviors and patterns directly from this initial research (don’t stop here though). While the plural of anecdote certainly isn’t data, sometimes good stories do emerge.
- You can do this in a number of different ways. The first thing is to put together a list of questions you want to know from both customers and employees of the business. Once you get their answers, compile them into a template that you can use to identify patterns. This gives you an easy way to spot trends, but also to continually refer to the data.
- You could also use Facebook’s Graph Search and other tools to identify what people share, who they are, their interests, where they hang out on the web and other information that we add to the stories we’re creating.
Tip 13: Understand the Buying Cycle
Ideas also come from understanding where your audience is in the buying cycle. The needs they have and the type of content depends on the various stages of the buying cycle (hint: different stages rely on different content for conversion). Once you’re able to create those personae and pinpoint those needs, the rest is the fun part! Content marketing is like putting together a great puzzle…you just have to find all the fun pieces first.
Tip 14: Work with Customer-facing teams
Work hand in hand with your sales and customer support teams to ensure that you are creating content around common questions you are getting from customers about your product, advice on overcoming obstacles and anything else they need.
Case: VerticalResponse recently created a guide about email delivery based on a conversation they had with their sales team and it became their most downloaded guide of the quarter. They also created a document that has every piece of content they’ve created that is mapped to the product and service it’s associated with, the state of the funnel and a link to the content so that everyone in their organization can access it and share content with their customers.
(How would your customers like to consume the content?)
More Content Writing Tips:
It used to be the case that sales shouldered most of the sales funnel burden, while marketing had a much more fire-and-forget role. But with the advent of ever-increasing transparency, and online interconnectivity, marketing has taken on more and more responsibilities traditionally handled by sales.
In other words, the funnel itself is changing from a traditional sales funnel to a content marketing funnel, which many brands are still doing their best to figure out. Marketers are now able to support sales in an unprecedented way by targeting each part of the funnel with unique, stage-specific content types that help qualify, nurture, and convert leads into paying customers. And newsletters aren’t the only way to retain those paying customers anymore, either. Strategic use of content opens up a world of opportunities. This includes ways to repurpose your curated content, learning how different types of content target different parts of the funnel, which is key to an effective content marketing strategy.
Here’s an easy breakdown of what the content marketing funnel looks like:
- Awareness/Unqualified Prospects
- landing pages
- explainer videos
- Awareness/Unqualified Prospects
- Interest/Initial Communication
- Interest/Initial Communication
- Consideration/First Discussion
- how-to videos
- social media
- Consideration/First Discussion
- Intent/Discover Solution
- white papers
- Intent/Discover Solution
- case studies
- data sheets
- demo videos
- Customer Relationship/Service
- email newsletters
- blog posts
- social media
- Customer Relationship/Service
- special offers/coupons
So the type / form of content should always be dependent on the Customer Persona and his/her position in the buying cycle.
Tip 15: What are the various forms of content that work?
Research says that most content tends to either get shares or links depending on the form of the content, for example quizzes mainly get shares. It is, of course, much easier for content to achieve shares rather than links. However, good answer content achieves links as we have seen. This means that answer posts, particularly long form posts, have the ability to achieve both shares and links, a magical sweet spot when it comes to content marketing.
Let’s take a look at the highest shared content. I’ve looked across the sales funnel and identified examples of inspiring highly shared content from some of the leading companies.
- Research Content
Most B2B audiences are interested in findings from new research and how it may affect what they do. It’s a great way to provide insights and value without coming across like you’re pushing your product too hard. Research white papers have long been a staple of B2B marketing content. Research surveys conducted regularly can become very powerful pieces of content. You can also comment and share third party research.
So the question that every marketer needs to ask himself is this:
What research do you have access to or can you undertake that would be of value to your audience in 2016?
- eBooks & Guides
Long form Guides and eBooks are another staple of B2B marketing. What have you learnt and what unique expertise do you have that can be turned into a helpful guide or ebook? Can you combine several posts into a longer-form piece?
- Updated Reference Content
- Trending & Hashtag/News Jacking Content
At the opposite end of the spectrum from reference and evergreen content is trending content. This is content that is designed to take advantage of a specific trending topic or issue. The long term impact and life of this content may not be as great as evergreen reference content but it can help position your brand as being on top of trends and drive significant traffic.
Are you monitoring trending issues and are you able to engage quickly? Internet trends can be very short lived and you can look out of touch if you engage late in the trend. Thus there are dangers but also upside.
- ‘How to’ and Practical Content
Most people want to do their job better and faster. Thus I think there is a unique place for ‘how to’ content in B2B marketing. This content can be helpful and have real value such as tips or guides. The best ‘how to’ posts are well structured, almost educational, with clear steps and images.
Objective: What questions are your audience asking, what issues are they struggling with? Can you develop a practical ‘how to’ post using your unique knowledge and skills? How can you “Be the best answer” to a burning question?
Check this out top understand what a Perfect ‘How to Post’ looks like.
- Provocative Content
You know the headline works. Headlines are more important than ever to attract attention and pull you in. The Next Web do a great job with their headlines, making them provocative and interesting. Can you challenge an existing orthodoxy or come up with a provocative viewpoint? There are risks so you need to be careful, but controversy attracts attention.
- Curated and list content
I am reluctant sometimes to highlight how well list posts work, as we’re all drowning in them, but there is little question they work well whether in B2B or B2C marketing. They work particularly well as a format for curated content.
Who can resist a quiz? Quizzes can be a great way to drive awareness and create a lighter form of content. Sites like BuzzFeed, PlayBuzz and Disney have driven millions of shares of quizzes such as ‘Which Disney Princess Are You?’ In the B2B world we have few princesses (maybe a few divas) but people still enjoy a quiz, and particularly love quizzes about themselves. As the Qzzr guys say, it’s like walking past a mirror, you can’t resist.
What quizzes might interest your audience? You can build them simply and quickly with tools such as Qzzr.
- Product Launch Content
Of course there comes a time in marketing where you need to talk about your own stuff. How do you do this without reverting to old style interruption marketing or brochure-speak?
Case: I was particularly impressed with the launch of IBM’s Watson Analytics product, technically the beta was launched in late 2014. It is difficult to know how much paid promotion was put behind the launch but the product content and the free version generated a lot of coverage. The product leveraged an existing trend and interest in Big Data. The launch was also accompanied by an influencer strategy. Various people were approached to try the tool via social networks. This created interest, discussion and social sharing, I came across the tool this way.
Are you launching a key product in 2016? How can sharing across on social networks help you to spread the word?
Tools can be great at driving traffic and awareness, and in some ways can work a little like quizzes or assessments. Hubspot have done very well with their Website Grader and this year LinkedIn excelled with their Social Selling Index. This tool calculates your social selling skills and scores you on a number of indices. The tool was one of the most shared pieces of content on the LinkedIn business site this year.
Infographics continue to get highly shared when used in the right context. There were many good examples this year.
- Case Studies
This was an area which disappointed this year. Case studies offer a great opportunity to tell stories that are unique and to show how you company is adding value to customers. Despite this we found few companies doing case studies well and feel this is an opportunity for B2B companies.
That said, case studies get relatively low shares and views. Why is this? Is it because case studies are niche, because people are less keen on B2B? I think there is a lot more we can learn about case studies as I remain convinced this is an area of opportunity for B2B companies.
Tip 16: Forms of content
Theoretically speaking, all these content forms need to be matched with the Customer Persona and Customer journey through the funnel.
(Business objectives behind content production)
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A “sweet spot” is where the best things happen with your targeted content as customers and prospects actively engage with you, absorb your content and share it with a greater velocity than any of your content. Finding your sweet spot/s will actually simplify content creation—anything that does not complement the sweet spot is not content you want to spend time producing. You want to only create content that will generate maximum response for your efforts.
“Your sweet spot is the intersection between your customers’ pain points and where you have the most authority with your stories.” – Joe Pulizzi
This takes us back to one of the original questions: where can you be the leading expert in the world?”
This involves clearly knowing your mission as a company, knowing your products or services and intimately knowing your audiences. There’s no way to find your sweet spot without this exercise. It is crucial to any effective content marketing strategy and especially important when creating targeted, “sweet spot” content that will resonate with your customers. Discover the topics around which your customers’ interests and your expertise intersect. This area will define your content’s tone and message when talking directly with customers in your target markets.
- Which aspects of your product/s have the most customer appeal?
- Do you have more than one target market?
- What problems do you solve for them?
- What value do you bring to their lives?
- What makes you unique in the marketplace?
- Identify customers who actively promote your products and services.
- Let them tell you why they like you; what values do you share?
Knowing where and how your customers consume your content allows you to create content that will connect with the broadest segment of your audience.
- Content needs to be sharable and accessible to have maximum impact.
- Are they reading online, viewing video, or using mobile connections?
- Create content that is compatible with audience consumption.
- Continually post fresh content to keep customers engaged and talking with you.
Once you’ve defined your sweet spot, write it down. Make it part of your content strategy; include the description in your editorial calendar. Keep everyone producing content focused for consistent messaging and brand authenticity throughout your networks. Keep your content within the realm of your expertise to ensure credibility. Staying up-close-and-personal will keep you “sweet-spot- on” with content that:
- Addresses your buyers’ interests
- Endorses your brand’s expertise
- Answers the priorities of your audiences
- Promotes your brand’s value propositions
- Connects with users where they live, and joins the social conversation
- Becomes highly sharable, turning customers into brand advocates
While catering to the needs of the customers, the content produced should also meet the business objectives.
Tip 17: The objective behind creating content (or) What factors do we consider for measuring the ROI of Content Marketing?
- Engagement (Likes, Shares, Mentions)
- Market Evaluation
Tip 18: People share and link to content for different reasons
Note that the majority of content published on the internet is simply ignored when it comes to shares and links. The data suggests most content is simply not worthy of sharing or linking, and also that people are very poor at amplifying content. It may sound harsh but it seems most people are wasting their time either producing poor content or failing to amplify it.
On a more positive note I also found some great examples of content that people love to both share and link to. It was not a surprise to find content gets far more shares than links. Shares are much easier to acquire. Everyone can share content easily and it is almost frictionless in some cases. Content has to work much harder to acquire links. Let’s find out:
- The sweet spot content achieves both shares and links.
- The format of the content and the length of the article definitely has an impact on the shares and links.
- 85% of content published (excluding videos and quizzes) is less than 1,000 words long. However, long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content. Either people ignore the data or it is simply too hard for them to write quality long form content.
- Content formats matter. Formats such as entertainment videos and quizzes are far more likely to be shared than linked to. Some quizzes and videos get hundreds of thousands of shares but no links.
- List posts and videos achieve much higher shares on average than other content formats. However, in terms of achieving links, list posts and why posts achieve a higher number of referring domain links than other content formats on average. While we may love to hate them, list posts remain a powerful content format.
- There are, however, specific content types that do have a strong positive correlation of shares and links. This includes research backed content and opinion forming journalism. We found these content formats achieve both higher shares and significantly more links.
- Research says that there are specific content types that have a high correlation of shares and links. This content attracts both shares and links, and as shares increase so do referring domain links. Thus whilst content is generally shared and linked to for different reasons, there appears to be an overlap where some content meets the criteria for both sharing and linking.
- The content that falls into this overlap area, our sweet spot, includes content from popular domains such as major publishers. In our sample the content also included authoritative, research backed content, opinion forming journalism and major news sites.
- During this analysis I found that opinion content from these sites, such as editorials and columnists, had significantly higher average shares and links, and a higher correlation.
- The higher shares and links may be because opinion content tends to be focused on current trending areas of interest and because the authors take a particular slant or viewpoint that can be controversial and engaging.
- Data appears to support the hypothesis that authoritative, opinion shaping journalism sits within the content sweet spot. It particularly attracts more referring domain links.
- Over 50% of infographics (53,000 in our sample) had zero external links and 25% had less than 10 shares in total across all networks. This may reflect a recent trend to turn everything into an infographic leading to many poor pieces of content.
- What also stands out is the relatively low number of referring domain links for quizzes. People may love to share quizzes but they are less likely to link to them.
- List posts and videos appear to perform consistently well as a content format in terms of both shares and links.
- Surprising, unexpected and entertaining images, quizzes and videos have the potential to go viral with high shares. However, this form of content is far less likely to achieve links.
- We can see that long form content consistently gets higher average shares and significantly higher average links.
- The combined impact of factors such as overall site popularity, content format, content type and content length is an area for further investigation. However, the initial findings do indicate that shares and/or links can be increased when some of these factors are combined.
Content Sweet Spot
(Business objectives behind content production)
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Content is king, of course. It is the fuel for lead generation and nurturing programs, driving leads through your funnel to become customers. But getting your content machine up and running is tough. Many marketers, in both large organizations and small, lack the budget, resources, and time to implement a content strategy that can truly drive leads through all stages of the funnel. Luckily, by learning to leverage the resources you already have and doing more with less, even marketers with limited resources can start to create the content needed to fuel demand.
The first step of course, is to understand and acknowledge the major challenges with content writing / production.
- Creating content with a budget
- Creating more engaging content
- Inability to measure content effectiveness
- Lack of integration across marketing
- Lack of Buy-In/Vision
- Feeding the content beast
We will discuss each of these challenges in detail, in our upcoming blogs.
(Business objectives behind content production)
More Content Writing Tips:
It’s no big secret that content marketing is changing right now. Not just “changing” in the little tweaky sort of way. I mean big, massive sea changes. The tricky thing is, we aren’t very good at predicting the future. Even though we see and feel these changes, we aren’t quite sure what to do in response. To help cut through the confusion, you can depend on annual surveys to anticipate the future of content marketing. From a top down perspective, here are some of the trends:
- A lot of brands will burn out on Content Marketing (Of course, this is a great opportunity)
- Customers will start paying for content
- Customers will demand visual content
- Content distribution will get costly
- Videos will be the new blogging
These surveys will help you stay prepared.
Instead of just saying, “Here’s what’s going to happen,” I’m also telling you, “Here’s what you should do in response.” Ready? Let’s go.
Tip 19: 71% of marketers are creating more content in 2015 than they did last year and one quarter of them are increasing their headcount just for content marketing. This means that marketers won’t stand out just for having content anymore– they need to stand out for having the BEST content.
Tip 20: 68% still rate their content marketing as basic or inconsistent, so there is still a ton of opportunity to get ahead of the game if you put the time into getting a good strategy in place now.
Tip 21: In terms of content types, 68% found success with infographics, blog posts and articles, the highest rated content type. Again, you need to see which content types resonate best for your audience, topic or target platform.
Tip 22: 66% of European marketers measure social shares. But only 39% believe they are able to measure ROI on content marketing.
Tip 23: Of the big three digital papers, readers at nytimes.com liked longer content, 3,000-10,000 words, while readers at usatoday.com opted to share shorter pieces, 1,000-2,000 words. But, this word length is a bit of an anomaly for usatoday.com. For the year as a whole, readers there opted to share longer form content more often.
Tip 24: The preferred type of content for social sharing also varied. “What” posts (articles with headlines beginning with “What”) were shared more overall by Washington Post readers. At the New York Times, “Why” posts were shared more frequently.
Tip 25: The most shared articles on BuzzFeed were List posts followed by How-To articles as can be seen below. In the case of the Guardian the most shared posts were Why posts followed by How-To posts.
Tip 26: Long Form Content Performs Well Consistently.
Tip 27: The future is not what it was. BuzzFeed and the major publishers are learning from each other when it comes to driving traffic and shares. They are constantly reviewing what works and experimenting with content formats such as quizzes, picture posts, headlines and with engaging long form content. As a consequence, the differences between the sites in terms of content formats may be far less marked in the future.
Tip 28: It may sound harsh but it seems most people are wasting their time either producing poor content or failing to amplify it.
(Content creation insights from industry experts)
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Writing is hard. Writing something worth sharing is even harder. Writing something worth keeping — hardest. There is only one path from greenhorn to professional when it comes to writing: Production. And a lot of it.
But that’s a pretty daunting task, especially if you are a perfectionist. You tend to write like someone is hovering over your shoulder, inspecting every word as you type. That’s no way to work.
I understand what pressure can do to a writer. Clunky and ugly sales letters, emails, or blog posts. Not something you want the world to see. That’s why you need to get loose. You need to sit down, forget about the world, and write. And you need to write yourself silly. No doubt when you are done you’ll have a healthy pile of crap on your screen. But now you’ve got something to work with. See, I’d rather edit down ten pages into one than torment myself by trying to perfect that thing from the ground up. Once you have the rough draft then you can switch on Hemingway’s BS detector, edit like a ruthless beast and earn your money.
From my experience, I would say:
- Write yourself silly
- Beg a veteran writer to mentor you
- Cultivate a sick sense of humor
- Steal ideas
- Writer’s block is a myth
- Read like mad
Let’s hear from the industry experts as well:
Tip 29: Stay in research mode at all times
In order to keep your queue filled with great content ideas, you need to stay in research mode at all times. Research shouldn’t be reserved for planning or writing sessions only. The quality of your content will increase substantially if you do it on an ongoing basis, as ideas pop into your head.
Tip 30: Write in your own unique voice
Don’t try to copy someone else. Your content should have an individual style that is unique to your personality or brand. Once you develop your own voice, you aren’t done. (Writers never stop working on their writing skills. As a content writer, you need to continually hone your skills too.) Style is your most prized possession as a writer, and it should continue to evolve over the lifetime of your career.
Tip 31: Talk about only one thing
Each piece of content should have one point. Only one. The first thing you should do when you sit down to write is to figure out what your bottom-line point is. After you write, the first round of edits is to make sure your writing stays on point. You need to be ruthless. As William Faulkner said, “kill your darlings.” Any word, sentence or paragraph that breaks this one rule must be deleted — no matter how much you like it.
Tip 32: Spend as much time on your title as you do writing
Even the most valuable, interesting content will be ignored if the title doesn’t connect with readers. Your title should create interest and forecast the information people will find when they click through.
Tip 33: Make the first sentence your best
You have about three seconds to hook your readers and get them reading. After your headline, it’s up to your first sentence to do the job. Never mislead. Your headline and first sentence should take the reader smoothly to your main point. But do say something that makes people pay attention.
Tip 34: Craft an irresistible introduction
For very short articles, it could be the first paragraph or two. For books, it could be the first chapter. But for most content, it’s the first 100-600 words: the intro and your point. Your introduction must be compelling without being overly long. It must be tease about what’s to come without giving away the gold.
Tip 35: Kill the hype. Keep it believable
Your readers don’t want to waste time on content that isn’t accurate and trustworthy. So the rules are: no hype and no stretching the truth. Hype tends to make people feel like they’re being manipulated — and no one likes that.
So tone it down. Write content to help people and add value to their lives. Use content to inform and entertain. Use sales copy to sell.
People will only see you as a resource if they can trust you. That’s why it’s so important to research your topics. If you present a surprising fact or figure, you need to back it up. Provide your source. If you quote someone or reference a book or report, link to it. Make it easy for people to believe you — or they’ll stop reading and move on.
Tip 36: The close is as important as the lead
Good content tells who, what, where, when and why. Great content also tells “so what.” Don’t let your content lose steam just because you ran out of ideas. At the close of every piece of content, summarize your main point, then tell your readers how they’ll benefit from the information you provided. If at all possible, go full circle by tying it back to the main point you made in the lead.
Tip 37: I read a lot of marketers and writers almost every day. Learn what’s important to them, what their pain points are and what they want to know more about. Certainly, it’s always easy to write about industry trends or news. But writing about pain points – especially the ones that people don’t like to talk about – really gets the conversation going.
Some of my most-trafficked posts are the ones where I’m talking about writer’s burnout, “what to do when” or something else that has a more emotional appeal.
Tip 38: I find that many marketers have a few reports they look at, but they lack understanding of how all that amazing data works together. And a lot of the resources out there are either a bit on the dry, academic side or excessively technical. So try to approach Google Analytics from a business objective orientation. Always keep thinking on these lines, I need to know [x] for my business; where/how do I get that data?
For clients, I really like to base a lot of my content recommendations based on an analysis of what their competitors are doing. I find that it’s also easier to get buy in when I show them what their competitors are doing.
Tip 39: We always start with a content marketing initial, where we analyse competitors and audit the content the client has created in the past. This gives us initial ideas. We then work with the client and their PR agency (if they have one) to get an understanding of news, events and key dates. After that we brainstorm – one method I like to use when brainstorming is the checklist approach, always ask yourself why, where, when, who, what and how when it comes to your client’s products and services – this will unlock loads of ideas.
Tip 40: In all seriousness though, there are a couple of things that can work wonders. The first is to just go out and see what the zeitgeist is about a particular topic. So, I use a few curation tools to get the mood – and then I usually start with “what if the opposite is true?” or “what if it was a million times better?” or “what if nobody knew about this?”. Once you start down that road it can lead to all kinds of interesting creative alleys.
Tip 41: The other way is to take something that’s in a completely different subject – and see how applying it to yours works. This is why I read voraciously outside the “marketing” topic.I make a point whenever I’m at a magazine rack to buy one that’s completely outside of business or marketing (maybe boxing, or psychology, or architecture) just to see what other people are talking about. It’s a great source of ideas.
Tip 42: We are constantly researching and working to discover what interests and engages our audience by looking at all kinds of sources like Quora, our social media channels, our blogs, our email newsletter and our resources. What we’ve discovered is you have to have a variety of content to use across all these different channels because what works on one, may not on others.
Tip 43: Ensure that you are creating content around common questions we are getting from customers about our product, advice on overcoming obstacles and anything else they need.
Tip 44: One thing I look for more than anything is content gaps in my market and rather than looking at what other people are saying within the industry, I look at what people aren’t saying, what’s not being said in the right way (people like to give advice on what they don’t have a clue about in every industry) and what could be said better and in more detail.
Tip 45: If you’re really inside a market, content ideas fall out of the trees and bubble up from the water. If you’re not inside your market, generating ideas will be a struggle. So get inside your market. Don’t try to throw content into a market from outside.
Tip 46: People don’t care if you’ve got an audience of a million. They want to be treated like an audience of one. Become what your customers are interested in.
Tip 47: Audience research isn’t just nice to have; It’s necessary. Content is about data-driven empathy.
Tip 48: If you look at the trends in content marketing, you’ll see that people prefer depth. The average shares by content length increase as the content itself increases in length. Long-form content as opposed to “snackable” content is what fuels a successful content marketing approach.
Tip 49: Relevant content is far more important than high traffic. If you write an in-depth article on a relevant topic and only five people read it, is that a waste?
It depends. If those five people are part of your target audience – interested, curious, and eager to learn and if you engage them as customers, I’d say that your article wasn’t a waste at all.
Tip 50: If you’re interested in the industry, then you’ll be able to create interesting content. And if you can combine in-depth content with an interesting style, then you’ve totally won. To ensure that your content isn’t boring:
- Go deep. Deep content is rarely boring.
- Unleash the data. The right people always love a good dose of data.
The only way to get good at this, the only way to get good is experimentation and practice. Expect that you’re going to do this 5 to 10 times before you have one hit. You do this over and over again, and you start to develop a sixth sense for how you can uncover that unique element, how you can present it in a unique fashion, and how you can make it sing on the Web.
All right, everyone, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these tips. If you have any examples you’d like to share with us, please feel free to do so in the comments.
…Good Night. And, Good Luck.