The Meaning of and How To “Create Valuable Content”
Everybody is talking about creating content that speaks to your audience. But what does that even mean? And how do you do that? In this post, I will give you four crucial elements you need, to create that content that speaks to your audience. In the end, you will have an overview of steps you need to take. As a bonus, at the end of each step, there are some top tips to take away!
- “Make your content valuable to your readers”
- What does speak to your audience?
- Four crucial elements to create content close to your audience’ hearts
“Make your content valuable to your readers”
What is the most heard advice when it comes to Content Marketing and Search Marketing in 2015? My guess is: “make your content valuable to your readers”. I’m sure this advice will be in many of the ‘top tips for 2016’ articles as well. Many of which you will see in the next month-and-a-half.
It’s not a new thing either. In 1996, Bill Gates wrote a now famous line: “Content is King”. It was the title of his piece on the future of the Internet. He started the article with: “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet”. With that he showed he knew the value of content already back then. He also explicitly urged the content creators to create content that is close to the reader. We didn’t listen.
If you want, you can read the entire article via the Wayback machine. The original has been removed from the original website. You will find Gates had a predictive view on content. And you will realise content was seen as important long before the word ‘Content Marketing’ was invented.
An important thing to keep in mind though when it comes to content: Content might be King; Conversion is Queen. They go hand in hand and if nothing happens based on your content, it’s useless content.
Another major player, Google, has also been saying for years you need to focus on the user. I can’t count the number of times I heard Matt Cutts say to “create content for the user, not the search engines”.
Most of the times people grinned about a remark like that and went on with their business. Did they not take him seriously? Oh, sure they did. Some even too serious. How do you think “just create great content and you will rank!” became so popular (and untrue)? Still, they never got it really right. Others just ignored it. They were too busy creating content. Content for the sake of content.
What does speak to your audience?
So we all have known for years that great content is important. The problem comes after: what content?
You can create the most amazing content, if people don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. But even more important, if people don’t act because of it, there is no point even starting on it.
There is one question that nobody really answers in all the articles that mention creating valuable content for the reader. They don’t answer the “how” question. How do you create content that actually ‘speaks’ to your audience? That’s in line with what they want? How do you find out what they want?
It always annoys me when I read an article that only advices “create valuable content”. Why do they not elaborate more? Why don’t they give us the answers to the real questions?
Maybe it’s because they don’t know? (Even though it is do-able!)
Four crucial elements to create content close to your audience’ hearts
There is a lot you can do to figure out what content is the right content for your readers. I know I won’t be able to explain everything in one article. What I can do is get you started.
Let’s look at four elements you need to look at to help you create content. Content that really speaks to your audience. I will be talking about:
4. Understanding who they are
The first thing you need to get a grip on, is understanding who you are actually talking to. Are they clients, potential clients? Are they influencers?
Many businesses will start making buyer personas here. They will be talking about target audiences as being ‘male, in his 40s, living in London’. What they are basically doing is looking at the demographics.
The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t really tell you that much. For example: not every male in his 40s will want the same. You will get closer, but not close enough to your audience.
That is why I tend to use a different approach. I usually break them up in four different groups, based on the book of Jeffrey Rohrs, “Audience”, who used three groups. The groups I create are based on action, rather than demographics:
Seekers: Those that are looking for information;
Joiners: Those that have seen your content before and like it. Think subscribers to your e-mail list, followers on Social Media, etcetera.
Sharers: Those that will spread your content to all the other groups
Buyers: Those you actually want to target with your product
Hear me explain this at a conference in Iran last year:
Top Tip: Twitter and e-mail lists
There are two things that will instantly help you get a better understanding of who you are targeting. First, create lists on Twitter of your target audiences. Second, analyse your e-mail database. Analyse what they do, say and read to understand where they fit in best.
Knowing the difference between these groups is vital. You should know your audience consists of different group types. That will tell you your content can have different purposes for each of those groups. Your content will then at least be much more targeted towards these different groups.
3. What should they do: the next best click
The second element to understand what content fits the needs of your audience is “the next best click”. What should your audience be doing after they consume your content.
People within each of the different groups discussed above have different goals. A seeker wants answers, whereas a sharer wants to ‘show off’. That’s what their goals are. Mirror those goals against your goals and see where the overlap is.
There are three steps to take here:
1. Write down the goals of the audience groups.
2. Write down your goals for that specific audience group.
3. Write down what the next best click should be.
Some things are simple: of course the buyer buys, and the sharer shares. Taking it a step further, however, will make it more beneficial for both you and your audience. For example: think about how you can make seekers become joiners. Think about how you can make joiners sharers. And think about how you can make buyers become seekers again on a different (related) topic.
Thinking about this properly will keep them in your loop. It will mean you control the steps they take.
This is what it, for example, could look like:
Top Tip: Psychology!
Think beyond the obvious and use some psychology here. For example: people want to be appreciated. A big reason of why sharers are actually sharers is because they want to look good in front of their audience. Help them do that and they will be more helpful towards you as well.
2. Understand what you can do for them: Find their questions
This is an important one in the steps towards creating content that fits the need of your audience. You want to find out what you can do for them. Too often content is created from the mindset of the creator or the business it is supposed to ‘push’. The content then often becomes promotional or at least very biassed.
In presentations I often use this picture:
This shows where you need to be: on that specific area where you can help your audience with their questions. Where you can be relevant. If you create content in that specific area it will benefit both you and your audience.
To get to that point you are going to look for questions that your audience has. These questions are asked on the web. All you need to do is find them.
People ask questions on different places. For example question and answer sites, communities on Linkedin or Google Plus and Facebook Groups. Go search for the questions and you will find topics that actually make sense.
Top Tip: Use question and answer sites
A good place to start with finding questions is Quora. Any other question & answer website will be helpful as well. People ask all sorts of questions here. Experts answer them, but you have to pay most attention to the questions.
First find the keywords that fit with your audience and your services best. With them, you can start searching and finding questions that will make for great content. In some cases, these are articles just waiting to be written.
For example, I offer consultancy on Digital Marketing Strategy. To get the attention of my audience I could write about that. But what topics? A search for “digital marketing strategy” gives me several topics right away:
A tool like http://faqfox.com/ is useful as well. Here you can find topics people have questions about on websites you feel are important in your niche.
1. Understand their journey
Finally, you need to understand the journey of your audiences. This maybe most important in understanding what type of content your audience wants.
The consumer journey has been written about a lot in the past few years. Businesses acknowledge the existence of that journey. But most businesses only focus on the last part of that journey. The part where people decide to buy. With that, they only reach part of the audience. At the same time, they lose other audiences that might become important later.
It is important to understand where your audience is in their journey. It will show you people are in different parts and need and want different types of content. If I’m not ready to buy yet, don’t try and convince me to.
Think about restaurants
Think about it this way. Say you are walking in a busy street in a big city with a lot of restaurants.
If you are not that hungry yet, you will look around to see what restaurant you like most. You will compare menus. You will look inside to see how cosy it is and you will see if people inside seem to be enjoying themselves.
The most annoying thing that can happen at that point is a hustler (thanks Rand), trying to ‘lure’ you into a restaurant. You’ve seen them, the people that almost drag you inside a restaurant when you are only passing by. If you’re not ready yet, this will only work against them. You probably won’t go there, even if it turns out to be the best place in the street. That’s because you weren’t ready to buy yet, you were at a different stage of your journey.
An important thing you have to realise the journey isn’t a simple straight line. It goes all over the place. People change their minds all the time. People are influenced by others around them and by what happens in their worlds, their lives. Figure out what different instances people can be in and you’ll get as close to your audience as possible.
This means creating different types of content for different parts of the consumer journey. Each content piece then has a specific goal and should have the ‘next best click’ in it.
Top Tip: Usage of Social Media
If you want to figure out what stages of the consumer journey people can be in you can use social media. From your keyword research list take keywords and search for them on Twitter. See what people talk about and figure out in what stage of a consumer journey they could be in. They can be in 5 stages: unaware, aware, researching, buying, already bought.
Sometimes you’ll find some great examples, like I did when I was looking for things to write about around dishwashers:
Paying attention to these four elements will make that you are creating content that actually makes sense. It will be (more) relevant to your audience. It will be useful for your business and it will make sense to them. Your audience will see the right content, at the right time. As a bonus, they will probably click on that next best click. And it’s all orchestrated by you.
So go for it, what are you waiting for? Get to work!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you agree? Do you actually do this? And what else are you doing? Do leave a comment or tweet me.