At this stage, it isn’t even a question whether you really need content marketing or not – we all know it’s a must. Your content builds your brand awareness, your industry expertise and empowers all your marketing efforts through a variety of channels.
However, having a (full) content calendar isn’t easy, and the common belief that you must produce an insane amount of content for it to matter doesn’t help either. So when you try to make it happen, you end up with dull, regurgitated, no-one-cares content that ultimately doesn’t help your business.
Luckily – there’s help! For each of the sections below, I’ve listed the takeaways you can apply both on your existing content and on the one you’re writing for the first time. So roll up your sleeves and get to work!
Take a purposeful approach to content planning
When content marketing first became ‘a thing’, it was a very popular approach to simply push out as much content as possible. Endless discussions were led on whether you need to post weekly, daily or even multiple times a day (!).
To this, I say: quality matters infinitely more than quantity. Many businesses think it’s overly dramatic to take the ‘one insanely practical 6000-word blog post per month’ approach over the ‘30 blog posts every month about things that don’t really matter’ one. And it pains me.
To best present this, I can’t skip mentioning Brian Dean of Backlinko, an SEO and link building expert, who often reminds his readers that he has less than 40 posts ever published on his website.
And yet, he ranks in the top three results for the term ‘keyword research’ (above AdWords’ result!):
His posts are incredibly thorough guides that often go over 5000 words. They are nothing similar to fluffy, padded out filler content that no one bothers reading. They are practical how-tos that make you take action right there and then.
Quantity doesn’t matter; quality does. Shift your focus to building content that educates your audience. In turn, this will encourage them to actually engage with it, take action, see results and spread the word about it far and wide. Win-win!
- When building your new content, ask yourself: so what? How will my reader benefit from this? Will they be able to do something better because of it?
- Look at your old content and ask yourself those questions again. If you find that it doesn’t bring as much value as it could, check if you can rewrite this content to add actions and takeaways to it.
- Ask your readers what they’re struggling with; then make content that solves it. Don’t be afraid of the word count in that process!
Make them feel a certain way
As Hannah Smith said during her talk at Learn Inbound, people don’t resonate with formats. They don’t care whether your piece of content is an infographic, a quiz, video or whatever clever thing you boxed it in. They care about and resonate with ideas.
When you make people feel like you deeply understand their struggle(s) and give them actual solutions, they will remember you for it and happily return to you when they have a similar problem again. As long as you deliver on that level, they never question your value!
On the contrary, if your content doesn’t resonate with them and they can’t relate to it on a deeper level, they just won’t bother, and they won’t remember what you created.
With that in mind, it’s handy to also remember that people who find you struggle with things of various complexity. When planning your posts, map out specifically whose problems you’re solving. Don’t try to include solutions for beginner, intermediate and advanced level problems all in the same blog post, because it will make your reader feel like it wasn’t them you wrote it for, so they won’t relate to your content as easily and find it as useful.
If you do the opposite, both you and your reader win!
- You’re not writing for search engines or computers; you’re writing for humans. Use the language and wording they would. Review your old content and read it from your customer’s perspective. Is that how they would say it, too?
- Always know who you’re writing for. Are they a beginner, an intermediate, or super advanced? Have you adjusted the writing style to it?
- How is your content making them feel? That’s what will get them to remember you – or instantly forget you!
Write 25 headlines each time, no exceptions
I know you wish this was a joke, but I promise it isn’t (not what you wanted to hear, right?). While many content marketers and writers in general simply fail to focus on writing a winning headline, I believe it’s a non-debatable. To have your content win with your audience, you can’t avoid this step.
I see two most significant issues with headlines:
- They make zero effort in telling you why the blog post should matter to you
- They make promises they don’t deliver (which makes them clickbaits)
Let’s dissect these two problems.
The value of good headlines when it comes to engagement is getting the right people to read your content.
I know this may seem vague (and obvious!), so let’s talk examples. For example, you are interested in learning more about Facebook Custom Audiences because you want to retarget your existing customers with some product upgrades.
Now let’s look at two scenarios:
- In your search for some practical steps, you come across a blog post called ‘The Facebook Advertising Guide’. You never click on that headline because it looks like a generic, introductory guide to Facebook ads. As it turns out, this was just what you were looking for and consisted of key actions for Facebook custom audiences, but you never got to read it because it didn’t seem to offer what you needed!
- In this same search, you come across a blog post called ‘The Ultimate Guide to Strategic Facebook Advertising With Custom Audiences’, and you can’t wait to read it because it clearly promises the ‘ultimate’ strategies you are looking for. However, after you skimmed the article, you realised it’s only scratching the surface of custom audiences and simply introduces the concept. Pretty disappointing, right?
It’s no surprise that in her book Headlines, Subheads & Value Propositions, Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers says we should spend 90% of our time on writing headlines. It quite literally makes or breaks the experience your reader will have!
If that first article maybe had the headline “Case Study: How We Increased Our Facebook ROI by 84% With Custom Audiences”, you’d be devouring that blog post, right?
It’s important to take this approach for every single piece of content to attract that ideal reader. Anything that isn’t as good will either repel that same perfect reader, or annoy them for not getting what they were promised in the headline. Clickbait will badly affect your bounce rate, love rate, quality of traffic and basically any sign that a reader enjoyed what you gave them!
When you do attract that perfect reader, however, they will love what you wrote, action on it, and happily share it.
- For each post you write (yes, each and every one), write 25 headlines. This is what they do at CoSchedule, and it works like a charm. There will be some really atrocious ones and really excellent ones, but the only way to get that best one is to spit them all out.
- Do the same for all your previous post and see if you can get a better headline!
- Also, check out CoSchedule’s headline analyser. It shouldn’t have the final say for your headline, but it’s a handy and easy to use resource to get ideas on improving it!
Format your blog posts for success
Even the best, most practical and engaging content may seem irrelevant if it isn’t formatted properly. Now that we’re accessing content on the go, in a hurry and along 12 other browser tabs, it’s much more difficult to pay attention to huge blocks of text.
Likewise, bad content won’t perform better just because of good formatting. This ties back to the first point we talked about. Filler content does nobody any good (ever, I promise), and most of us just can’t be bothered reading mediocre stuff.
That being said, your main formatting focus should be to make the content easily skimmable, while still getting your key point across. To do this, make the most out of your subheadings, use images whenever they enrich your writing (but only then and not just to divide your text!) and be friends with whitespace to best emphasise your top quotes, stats, facts and takeaways.
Don’t let your reader run away just because they don’t have time right now. If you successfully break down your text with subheadings and whitespace as I mentioned about 20 seconds ago, your reader will understand why they absolutely need to read your post, and bookmark it to return to it as soon as possible.
- You can’t get away with lousy content and brilliant formatting.
- Now that that’s out of the way, follow a logical thought process and divide it with subheadings that speak to that section’s importance on their own!
- Use bold and italic formatting to emphasise the main ideas, but don’t overdo it.
- Get your reader hooked in the first 100 words. Make it your primary focus and paint a picture of how they will be different after reading your post!
Have a CTA and make your post shareable
This one is simple and very straightforward: your readers need you to tell them what you want them to do.
If you follow through with everything I mentioned until now, your blog posts will already be actionable, practical and made to encourage your reader to go and do what you just taught them. However, it doesn’t hurt to get something back from it, so nudge them toward a specific action such as sharing on social or signing up to your email list.
If your content is valuable to your reader, they will happily give back to you by spreading the word about your stellar work and even hearing from you more in their email inbox – so ask them to do just that!
- People won’t know what to do if you don’t specifically tell them – so tell them!
- They also won’t go out of their way to share your post if it isn’t obvious as to how to do it. Add sharing buttons easily by using a tool such as Sumo (previously SumoMe). It only takes minutes to set up!
- Encourage your readers to tweet your most specific thoughts or takeaways by using Click To Tweet. You can create custom URLs through that link or enable a plugin if you’re on WordPress. So easy!
Develop a content creation process
You made it all the way here? You’re amazing.
Engaging content is the only way the content should be. We have way too little time and way too many things we want to learn and be great at to consume average, recycled, boring content. It doesn’t do anyone any good, so don’t do it, okay?
Now that you know what it takes to make that perfect reader crave and engage with your stuff every time, you may be feeling overwhelmed and wondering whether it’s even possible to consistently execute such content.
Good news – it is! It takes some work upfront to set up your content creation process, but it will ease all of your future efforts and get more defined and time-saving each time you go through it.
To kick this off, start by roughly listing all the steps you go through when creating, editing and publishing your blog posts. Once you have a draft, review your steps and explain what each of them involves. Also, group any steps that logically fall under the same type of work and naturally follow each other (for example, research and fact-checking).
For each of these steps, assign an approximate time frame it takes to complete it, and how many days before the publish date it needs to be done to respect the deadline.
At first, you can work through each of your content projects individually until you perfect your process. When you’re confident enough – but only then! – you can start working on more than one project at a time, batching your tasks and streamlining your content creation. This will make you more productive and ensure amazing content every time!
- Think through your content creation process and map it out by tasks. Then list any subtasks included, people in charge for those subtasks and appropriate timelines.
- For your next blog post, take this information and plan every task ahead. For example, if your blog post needs to be out by the 10th day of next month, when does it need to be researched, written, edited and designed? Build these dates in your calendar.
- Analyse your past content and check if they follow a common structure or flow. Build a blog post template based on this that you can always work from when starting a new content project.
All done – now it’s your turn! How do you ensure you create engaging content? Do you have a unique way to do so? We want to hear from you – let us know!