The amount of content created and shared on the internet these days is huge.
And by huge, I mean mind-bogglingly huge.
Every single minute, more than 200 million emails are sent, more than 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube, and more than 220,000 photos are shared on Instagram. Not to mention the 2.5 million pieces of content that are shared on Facebook.
That’s a lot of content.
Businesses and individuals are creating more content -- more often -- in a bid to attract new customers to their website.
As an individual content marketer, I can’t possibly hope to compete with the sheer volume of content that is produced every single day -- even with a team of others working for me.
Even in a small niche, I’m just a drop in the ocean. In 2014, 69% of B2C and 70% of B2B organizations published more content than they did in 2013 -- and there’s no sign of this trend diminishing throughout 2015.
One of the many fallacies that content marketers buy into is that, if they could just produce more content, they could increase the effectiveness of their content marketing campaigns.
But while the frequency of your content creation can improve your campaign’s effectiveness, there’s only so far you can go. If you’re a small team or a single individual, you can only type out so many words in a week.
So if the quantity isn’t the answer, how can we hope to attract more people to see and read our content?
The answer lies in providing unequaled quality.
The names for the technique might differ, but the overall message is the same: If you want to stand out in an increasingly competitive online market, you need to create content that towers head and shoulders above the competition.
So how can we do that?
When I’m creating content, I use a checklist of 10 key signals to help me decide whether I’ve created something that is great … or merely good. Only after I’ve addressed every single point on this checklist am I confident that the content I’ve created is the absolute best possible and fit for release.
By using these points as a checklist, I’ve essentially built myself a fool-proof system for ensuring that no content is released under my watch that’s either substandard or falls short of its potential.
So now, without further ado, let’s take a look at the list.
1) Work is original with excellent spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
As a content marketer, you should already know the importance of producing original work and making sure your grammar is nearly perfect. This alone isn’t going to result in great content, but it is an important first step.
Most ideas aren’t new, so whatever article you’re writing, it probably isn’t 100% original thought. That said, unless you can give it your own unique spin or add information you’ve found on other websites, you should probably be questioning why you’re producing the content in the first place.
Spelling and grammar are also more important than you might think. A study by Global Lingo found that 74% of consumers notice simple grammatical errors, and 59% said that obvious spelling and grammar errors would make them reconsider purchasing from a website.
The bottom line? You can’t be great without being correct. Get the basics right.
2) Article is easy to find, featuring appropriate keywords and meta data.
Search engine optimization is still important, and with so many free articles and videos tackling this topic, content marketers have no excuse for not doing some basic SEO on every single piece of content they create.
At the very least, optimize your title, meta description, and URL to include a relevant keyword. Also, remember to add ALT text to your images and create internal links both to and from your new content.
3) Tone is highly relevant for target customers.
Not every person in the world wants to buy the product or visit the website you’re promoting. That’s why it’s so important to understand the key demographics you’re targeting and produce content specifically for them.
If your content only draws in individuals who will never buy your products or require your services, then those numbers mean very little.
Targeted content brings in targeted customers.
4) Headline is strong and attention-grabbing.
According to research done by Copyblogger, 80% of people will read your headline, but only 20% will read the entire article to completion.
The sole purpose of your headline is to get the reader to read the rest of the article. Most headlines fail in this task. A few extra minutes spent brainstorming potential articles titles can make an enormous difference in the number of views it gets.
A great example of this is a study that found that simply changing a title of an article on Upworthy could cause traffic to vary up or down by an incredible 500%.
5) Content is highly actionable.
While some articles are written purely to entertain, most are created to offer readers information. Does your article deliver on the promise of the title and give readers what they’re looking for?
If you post a question in the headline, the article should answer it. Similarly, if your article promises to teach them something, the content should deliver on that promise by giving readers actionable steps they can follow.
The better your article solves a problem or answers a question, the more likely users are to share it with others who may face the same problem.
6) Writing is accompanied by high-quality, relevant images.
A high-quality image can make your article more memorable and help you deliver your message better. A great image can improve the design of your website, which for 46.1% of people is their main criteria for establishing how credible the material it contains is.
Additionally, 40% of people respond better to visual information than plain text, so including some infographic-type images can be the difference between putting off 40% of your readership and engaging with them effectively.
7) Post provides a positive reading experience through the layout, font, and more.
Studies by the Nielsen Norman Group have shown that the typical online user will only read between 20% and 28% of a document. These readers then scan the rest of the content for useful information, only read in detail when they spot something of particular interest.
To make your article reader-friendly, it must be easily scannable. Readers want to find the information that’s important to them, and they want to find it fast. If you present them with a wall of text they can’t scan, they’ll hit the back button and try the next piece of content.
Subheadings, bulleted and numbered lists, images, and pull-quotes all help to make a text more reader-friendly. How reader-friendly is your article?
8) Article represents your brand voice and strategy.
Every interaction you have with a reader or a customer, whether through an online article, phone call or face-to-face meeting, adds to your brand identity. Your brand is a lot more than just a logo -- it encompasses how you and other employees speak, act, and even look.
Each blog post, article, or social media post is just one action, yet it’ll hopefully be seen by thousands of individuals, helping to shape their impression of your brand.
As a result, it’s essential that your content not only evokes a positive reaction, but that it stays on message with your brand as well. Sending mixed messages by frequently changing your voice or message can confuse potential readers and put them off.
9) Post includes an effective call to action.
When I write an article, I don’t just want a reader to read it and then do nothing. I want them to take action -- and preferably, action that helps to build my own brand.
If you’ve caught a reader’s attention to the extent that they’ve read your entire article, then you have a fantastic opportunity to use that attention for something else.
A call-to-action could ask a reader to take any one of a number of actions, such as:
- Posting a comment in the comment box.
- Following you on the social profile of their choice.
- Signing up to your newsletter.
- Accessing downloadable content in exchange for your email.
- Purchasing something from you.
- Purchasing from another site for which you are an affiliate.
Customer attention is valuable -- don’t waste opportunities to continue your interactions.
10) Content goes above and beyond reader expectations.
Readers have certain expectations when they start reading an article, typically created by the headline and the first paragraph. A piece that falls short of these expectations is obviously a failure, but even one that meets them may only be merely “good.”
My aim when creating content is to shatter expectations and deliver a stellar piece of work that educates and informs readers far beyond what they were hoping for. Improving upon expectations is a great way to ensure a reader will share your content and return to read more.
Not sure if your content meets the mark? Ask yourself the following five questions before hitting the “Publish” button:
- Am I adding something new to the conversation, or am I just rehashing things I’ve read elsewhere?
- Is my content truly better than my competitors’ work on the subject?
- Will my readers walk away with something they can actually apply to their businesses?
- Have I backed up the points I’m making with data (either my own, or data I’ve sourced elsewhere and cited properly)?
- Would my readers have any questions left after reading this piece?
If your answers to any of these questions suggest that your content still has some weak points, fix it before releasing it to your audience.
Putting It All Together
So that’s it -- the key signals that I look for in my content to determine whether or not I’ve created something great. It’s an entirely feasible goal to smash every single one of these points out of the park on every single piece of content you create.
By consistently creating great content, you’ll grow your readership much faster. Sure, achieving all of these points in every article you create does take discipline and a lot of extra hard work, but over time, your efforts will more than pay off.
Have you got any of your own tips to share? Let me know by leaving a blog comment below.
Originally published Oct 12, 2015 6:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017