I know y’all are sick of hearing that “content is king.”
“Content is king” is one of the major web marketing clichés of our time, right up there with “SEO is dead.”
Following close behind, I think, is the recommendation to “create great content.” Want tons of Google traffic, hot leads, record sales? Don’t worry about SEO, conversion rate optimization, any of that, just create great content!
But what does that really mean? What makes content great, and what exactly is “content” anyway?
Here’s my definition: “Content” is really just information – really, simple as that! When you create content, you’re putting information on your site. Some of it is intended to teach, some of it is intended to persuade, some of it is intended to entertain. And great content is information that succeeds at teaching, persuading or entertaining your visitors while also helping you meet your business goals.
To make this all a little more concrete, here are eight traits – all words that end in “able” – you should strive to embody with your content. If your content meets all or even most of these standards, you’re off to a great start!
Your beautifully written content is utterly worthless if nobody knows it exists. (Unless you’re Emily Dickinson – are you hoping to be discovered after you’re dead?)
Emily D: hardly the poster child for SEO
So those gurus I quoted earlier who tell you to forget about SEO and just focus on greatness? They’re lying. Good SEO is part of what will make your content great.
Really, your content should be findable in at least two ways:
The best way to achieve search findability is to align your content with a highly relevant keyword. Then optimize your content for that keyword. For more help with that process, check out: How to Rank for a Keyword in 10 Steps.
As for those people who are already on your site, here are some tips for making your content more discoverable:
Individual pieces of content are easier to find when they’re sorted within a well organized site. (As a bonus, Google tends to favor well organized sites too.) Have a site map that gives visitors an overview of your organization. Use breadcrumbs and/or a left navigation menu to show visitors where they are within the organization of your site. Here’s Amazon’s left nav for example:
These design elements increase visibility of your other, related content pieces and make it easy for visitors to move up a level or down a level in the content hierarchy.
Level up, Mario!
This is a no-brainer – visitors might want to see if you’ve covered a certain topic, or want to relocate something on your site that they’ve read in the past. A search function makes it easy.
(You may have noticed the glaring lack of a search box on the WordStream site. I’m not happy about it either.)
Show off your most popular content so it stays popular. A great way to do this is with a little sidebar module that shows your blog readers, for example, your top blog posts, like this one on the Moz blog:
This makes your site more “sticky,” meaning people are more likely to stick around and read more.
Content promotion is a huge part of content success. When you create new content, promote it on your home page or other highly trafficked pages. Consider sending out an email blast to your list. The more people who know your content is out there, the more people are likely to read it, love it, share it, act on it.
This is another two-parter—shareable content meets two criteria:
The folks at Upworthy are experts in getting people to share their content. A while back I gleaned some tips for maximizing your content’s viral potential based on a great slidedeck from Upworthy. Read the whole thing, but here are the basics of shareable content:
I’m way more likely to tweet out an article if there’s a button that makes it stupid-simple for me.
Scroll all you want, that sucker’s not going anywhere
If I have to actually copy and paste both the headline and link into a tweet compose box, ugh – your content has to be 3-5 times more awesome for that.
“Usability” is key in design, whether you’re talking about an online tool or a fork. And great content needs to be usable too – that is to say, it should be easy for people to consume your information.
If you’re starting with a well-designed, highly usable website in the first place, any content you layer on top is going to be more usable too. But you also need to think about it at the level of each piece of content. This is especially true if:
Here’s an example of the tool as content – the online stopwatch.
I was about to complain that the tool could be bigger when I noticed that you can change the size:
Usability hack! That’s more like it.
Other stuff to worry about from a usability perspective – how does your site work on mobile devices? Do you have a loading speed problem?
What if we’re talking about a regular old article? How do you make that usable? That brings us to our next able word.
Readability is essentially usability for text. This idea encompasses both good design and good writing.
From a design perspective, readable content is easy on the eyes. So think about readability factors like:
As far as writing goes, know that writing for the web is a specialized skill. My list of 50 things every content marketer should know includes plenty of tips for making your content more readable, but here are a few to get you started:
Great content doesn’t just amuse you for 2 minutes and then disappear from your mind. It should stick with you, making you more likely to revisit it and recommend it to friends or colleagues. You can make your content more memorable by making sure it answers the “So what?” question, or by creating contrarian content that doesn’t just parrot what everyone else is already saying.
I’d like to illustrate this one by way of example. Here are a few pieces of great content that I’ve remembered because they were so striking, unusual, or just excellently executed that I couldn’t get them out of my mind. (Note that my picks are influenced by my being a woman; YMMV.)
I think I first saw this video when Joanna Lord tweeted it. (Videos are content!) I immediately emailed it to my mom, and that weekend, my friend Katie and I watched it again and tried to re-create some of these styles (not always with success). It’s just awesome – she’s so cute and the way it’s edited (the split screens, the sped up and slowed down parts) keeps you watching:
You can create your own video content with helpful how-to videos or explainer videos.
I picked a random example from OkTrends – OkCupid’s blog – but seriously, every post they ever published was both awesome and memorable. I say published, in the past tense, wiping away a tear, because they haven’t put up a new post since this one in April 2011. But I’m sure they’re still getting plenty of traffic for these content marketing gems, full of charming, witty, sexy data analysis (yes, data can be sexy!) on OkCupid’s user base. Like this graph:
As they put it, “the more your parents are paying for your education, the more horny you are.” (Maybe because those Ivy Leaguers don’t have to work a job and study for class at the same time, sort of frees up the imagination … go figure.)
I love this article by Molly Lambert from 2011, a manifesto/rulebook for women in male-dominated environments (ahem! SEO). Basically, Molly Lambert said what needed to be said. It’s shareable – I have shared it many times. It’s readable – see how it’s broken up into scannable sections with subheads? With pretty yet interesting (relevant, but not obvious) pictures? It’s memorable, or it wouldn’t be in this list – memorable because it’s unique (I’ve never seen another article quite like this) and beautifully executed (it’s fierce and fearless). It’s also quotable (see next section!) – here are some memorable quotes:
One element of great web writing is the soundbite. Some writers are particularly great at this – almost every sentence in an article is full of biting wit and under 140 characters. (That can actually get pretty annoying.) The thing about quotable content is that it’s both more memorable and more sharable. See how these able words are all working together now?
Here are some tips for writing more quotable content:
As a business, one of the reasons you’re creating content is to position yourself as an authority. If you can step up and help people when they need your help, they’ll thank you for your expertise, and they’ll trust you more in the future and be more likely to return to your site. (And maybe buy your stuff!)
If we’re talking about informational content (the kind you find using informational search queries), the most helpful content is actionable content. That means people read it and think, “Hey! I could do that! I’m going to do it right now, in fact.”
Actionable content gives people something to act on. Here are a couple of examples:
Remember, way back about 2,500 words ago, when I said that great content helps you meet your business goals? Well, you can’t know if content is doing that unless you make sure it’s reportable.
Every time you create a piece of content, have a goal in mind. Most of the time you’ll have multiple, overlapping goals. Bake reportability into your content so you’ll be able to tell if it’s meeting those goals, which might include:
I urge you to make your content reportable for two reasons:
Those are my eight traits that make great content. I hope you found this guide (since it’s so findable) to be readable, memorable, actionable, quotable … and if so, won’t you share it, pretty please?
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