Nothing is worse than bad content. It’s recognizable within the first few sentences – either consciously or subconsciously.
Bad content is cluttered of “noise”; it's complicated, has grammatical errors, and in general—does nothing when it reaches its reader.
Good content, on the other hand, resonates and drives a reader to acton ( sign-ups, comments, or even sale).
However, producing good content is no easy feat.
From solid research, tricky production and ruthless editing, there’s just a lot more to producing content that works for an audience (and today, search engines).
So how do you produce good content?
Well, there's no secret format to produce content; instead, it takes a firm understanding of your target and what action you want to drive from them.
So in this article, I’ll answer all the questions you’ve ever had regarding content and further breakdown a solid strategy to implement it.
Goals of content: What should your content do?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of producing content, let's first take a closer look at what your content should do for your brand, aka the goals and KPIs.
KPI #1 Tell an engaging story
According to marketing expert Seth Godin, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.”
And I couldn't agree more.
In fact, only when I started expressing my story in my articles, I began to see increased engagement from my readers.
So don't just produce cookie-cutter content; instead, create content around a story style that is unique to your personality or brand. This is particularly useful when marketing to today's consumers of 2020
What’s more, having a unique story builds a good rapport with your target audience and helps your content stand out from the noise.
KPI #2 Resonate with your audience
A recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute revealed that more than 70% of web consumers prefer to learn about a product or service through content rather than advertising.
This sobering statistic points out to one fact: content drives sales.
However, weak content won't create this conversion, if at all, bring you the required traffic.
Instead, connect with the reader and build a good relationship. A common factor for growing your audience is; know, like and trust.
In other words:
1. First, they have to get to know you (aka storytelling),
2. Then, they have to like you (aka resonate)
3. And finally, they have to trust you (aka quality content/verified sources).
And so, tailoring your content to match user intent will drive your traffic along with sales.
KPI #3 Drive organic traffic
Nowadays, most of us turn to search engines when seeking answers to our questions.
For this reason, it's essential to optimize your content for search so that your content reaches its target.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is critical to drive significant organic traffic, more than ever before — and so, optimizing your content for SEO can help you increase your organic traffic.
However, you need to become good friends with Google and focus on what Google rewards. For example, you need to produce authoritative content that targets topics, good structure, media, etc. etc.
Bottom line? When producing content, make sure it works for both Google and Users.
Pro Tip: I recommend using content tools like Grammarly to improve content. For more info, check out my Grammarly premium review (Psst… My readers even get a Grammarly discount code and another Grammarly discount for students.)
Content Writing guide: How to Write A-level Content
Now that you understand what your content should do for your brand let's dive into the schematics of producing great content.
Now, there's no secret pill or hack to produce excellent content, but having a solid process can help, especially if you’re a writer like me.
For several months, I struggled with content as I had no process. This leads to several problems like writer's block, burnout, and all the bad stuff.
The thing is, I was writing without a system. I had no process and would write based on intuition, which ended up prolonging the production process to several hours.
For this reason, I developed a proficient process to create good content at speed. On a side note, I use this process to train new writers and produce good content while maintaining quality.
Step 0: Learn from the best
Step 1: Understand your content’s goal
Step 2: Create a well-researched outline
Step 3: Write your first draft
Step 4: Ruthlessly edit that first draft
Step 5: Time-off then proof-read
Step 0: Learn from the best (Content Courses)
Before diving deep into content, I want to make one thing clear: You need to keep learning.
At no point in my content career did I stop learning. In fact, till date, I've probably consumed a ton of content on content i.e. content courses. Why? Because to get good, you need to first learn from the best.
If you're more of a visual reader, I recommend using Audible which has a wide array of audiobooks you can listen to in order to hone your skill. Some of the books I recommend are:
- Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley
- Write Tight: Say Exactly What You Mean with Precision and Power by William Brohaugh
- The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker
These are just a few, there's several more waiting to be consumed on Audible. If you're tight on the budget, don't worry! I know a cool hack to get free Audible books.
You now have no excuses.
Pro tip: You can leverage solid writing software to easily improve your content quality as they run checks for several things like Grammar, plagiarism, and a lot more.
Step 1: Understand your content’s goal
Content produced to establish authority isn't the same as that provided for lead-gen, just like content for B2B isn't the same for B2C.
Right from user tone, structure, and, most importantly, goals their goals are significantly different.
For this reason, it's essential to produce content with the right set of goals and objectives.
What’s more, content goals works as a great medium to communicate what you want from your content.
On another note, setting content goals help understand the ROI from content marketing goals that can be used to set KPIs and ultimately measure success.
For instance, I recently wrote a piece on improving work performance that came out great because I spent some time understanding its goals.
Before writing this article, I asked myself three following questions:
- Who is the content for?
- How do they feel? What forced them to search for this content?
- What do they want to gain from the content?
Coming back to my example, the content goals would convert into:
|My ideal target reader was a freelancer, very likely working remotely with varied lifestyle changes, no consistency, or strict discipline.||This reader is becoming overwhelmed, possibly anxious and stressed, lack of sleep, and self-care.||He\She wants to become more efficient and improve work performance. They want to achieve more; from the time they invest in their work.|
Pro tip: For writers that deal with client inputs, I recommend highlighting parts of the content brief to understand the goals of content better.
Side note: Check out my article on the best grammar checkers to help proofread content and check.
Step 2: Create a well-researched outline
A content outline directly informs the structure and flow of content.
What’s more, it helps produce content with efficiency as it lays out a structure and avoids writers from having to write based on intuition (recipe for writer's block).
So how do you go about creating a solid content outline?
First, spend some time understanding the content goal (Step 1) and then dive into research.
I start by running a query across Google as that’s where you’ll find ‘winning’ competitor articles.
Emphasis on ‘winning,' as this content works for both Google and users (which is why it ranks on the first page of Google)
So researching your winning competitors will not only inspire you but also help you determine what your readers want.
While researching competitors, I focus on the following:
- How they’ve structured their content
- What angle they’re targeting
- Keywords they’re targeting
- Word count
This helps me focus on what works best for my competitors and further creates something better i.e., skyscraper technique.
But remember, information is constantly changing (especially with increased competition) so it's essential to stay up-to-date with your content.
To prevent this, obtain all your information from well-respected databases, studies, and statistics from the latest sources (not later than 2017) and reference everything.
Once you are happy with your written outline, give it another look for any improvements.
Focus on the flow and how it falls into each other, if your resources are no more than 2 years old and if it applies to your audience.
To paint you a better picture, here’s an outline I created for my most recent piece on top-funnel content:
As you can see, I follow a simple format with my outline. However, I keep it to the point and link out to references and research so that I don't have to (haphazardly) look for it in the future.
When creating an outline, I highlight the following:
- Ideas and angles I’ll cover
- References and research
- Bullet points to highlight what I’ll cover
(This is not an exhaustive list so feel free to change it up based on your preferences)
Step 3: Write your first draft
As Ernest Hemingway famously stated, “The first draft of anything is shit.”
Think about it, no matter what we do for the first time, it often ain’t our proudest work. And so, don’t waste a tremendous amount of your time on the very first draft.
However, there are best practices you can follow to make this process easier.
- Creating a solid template: For efficiency
- Follow a set of guidelines: For quality assurance
1. Creating a solid template
As a rule of thumb, you should create content like a landing page funnel.
Because good landing page funnels slowly reel the user into
Here’s a simple format I follow:
(This isn’t a fixed format so feel free to replace it as you see fit).
1) Opening Paragraph: Problem or Solution
The opening para or hook is the first point of contact with your readers—and by this, I mean, the first few seconds.
At this point, your reader has just landed on your content—and, more importantly, haven't committed to reading your content.
For this reason, your main goal is to grab their attention and not try to sell them (at least not right away).
Instead, this is the time when you want to slowly reel the reader into your content and grab their attention. In fact, you have about 15 seconds to grab user's attention before you’ve lost them.
There are many ways to go about creating a solid opening hook, but below I've shared a few best practices:
- An intriguing question that targets user queries.
- Paint the picture technique to help users visualize the problem or solution.
- Use statistics or science-based facts to establish authority from the get-go.
Focus on creating compelling content that's uber relevant to your target. Establish trust, and share just enough information to warm them up for what's coming next.
Here’s an example of an intro para I created that focused on the paint the picture technique:
Source: How to become a freelancer
Once you take their breath away' with an exciting opening hook, move to the reaction part.
Note: The central concept in the funnel is for every word to link to the previous word.
2) Informative section — Reaction
After you’ve reeled the user into your content, it’s time to give your reader some more context that will help address their problem.
This is the informative section where you tackle the whats, whys of your user's query before they get into the how-to section.
For my informative section, I focus on two things.
- Key fundamentals to help users develop the right mindset before driving action
- Relevant examples for better reference.
The main goal is to provide enough context to educate the user and get them ready to implement action.
For example, here’s an informative section I created for my piece on SaaS social media marketing:
Source: SaaS social media marketing
The article was on social media marketing strategies for SaaS. However, I didn't directly get into the strategy.
First, I explained why social matters for SaaS, and only then got into strategies. This helped me to establish solid authority required to drive readers to read my content further.
3) How-to section — Solution
Once you've lured the reader into the topic (problem), and further stated the pivotal objectives (reaction), it's now time to offer your solution.
This is where the how-to section comes in and helps users educate themselves enough to solve the produce.
Below, I've shared a few characteristics of a good how-to section:
#1: Breakdown and highlight the core benefits of your solution
The only thing prospects care about is how you can help them. So position your offer around user problems—and this will put your offer in perspective of your user.
#2: Combine your solution with actionable steps:
Another good way of proposing a solution is by combining it with the how-to part of your content.
Here’s an example of how Ahref’s fits in their software into their how-to guides:
Source: What is a backlink
Similarly, you can integrate your solution into the how-to sections of your content and show users how they can use it. #lead by example.
To summarize my content always follows the following order:
- Problem relevant to the user — Opening Hook
- Context to reiterate core message — Informative section
- Solution to help the user — How-to section
Bonus: CTA to capture engagement (Learn more about CTAs)
No matter what you are writing about—funnel it.
Pro Tip: Leave the intro and outro to the end as these are the hardest parts to write. Instead, focus on the contextual sections first i.e., How-to, informative, etc. that are usually much easier to write.
2. Follow a set of guidelines
After you’ve created a solid content template, you’ll have a solid foundation to write your first (shit) draft.
But don’t there. Go ahead and create a set of content guidelines to ensure quality assurance.
Moreover, your content is an extension of your brand, so it's essential to have that unique tone and consistency with your content.
This is where content guidelines come quality assurance checklist to evaluate content at a more granular level.
Now there are many guides on content templates, so I won't talk about that. Instead, I'll focus on a few quality standards you should establish when creating your content guidelines.
QA #1: Content Flow
Just like any good conversation, good content has an excellent flow to it.
The flow is what connects different sections and ensures your readers are taken on a journey as opposed to a bumpy ride.
To paint a better picture, here’s an example of how you use flow in content:
As you can see, this content flows the same as a conversation.
Here are a few ways to produce content that flows:
- Follow a conversational approach with your content as it’s talking to the reader.
- Use connectors like “What's more” “Moreover” that connect different sections.
- Read your content out loud and see if it flows naturally.
QA #2: Scannability or Readability
Scannable content is a modern content format tailored to today's readers with short attention spans.
It’s specifically tailored to streamline the way users absorb information to keep them interested without taking up too much of their energy.
Dr. Jakob Nielsen found that scannable content increases readability by a whopping 57%.
For this reason, I structure my content so that it's easily scannable to users that arrived on my content.
Here are a few factors that help with scannability:
- Well-structured sections
- Short sentences and paragraphs (no more than three lines).
- The right header hierarchy
- And more.
Scannable content is a topic on its own, but I recommend using rewriting tools to help improve content. I've reviewed the best paraphrasing tools. Check that out for more info on the same.
QA #3: Wordiness Check
When producing content, you should strive for conciseness.
Concise writing is an energy-friendly writing style that features a minimalistic approach to content. It's free of unnecessary words and gets the core-messaging across without taking up the reader's resources.
What's more, today's consumers have a limited attention span and barely enough time to commit to reading your content.
For this reason, you need to follow a less is more approach with your content and focus on brevity.
For example, fuck ‘that’ in your content.
It’s no secret that technology is awesome.
It’s no secret technology is awesome.
Pun intended. 😉
QA #4: Diverse punctuation
As you already know, punctuation is pretty damn important as a tiny, misplaced comma or question mark can significantly change the meaning of a sentence.
However, there are many more types of punctuation make your content unique and compelling such as
- Em dash (or — ) that helps with readability and emphasizing content.
- Or even Bold or italics that focus on emphasizing different content.
QA #5: Be creative and break rulesRemember, there are no rules for writing web content, so don't be afraid to break the rules.
For instance, I occasionally use short forms and play around with works such as using “connects' instead of ‘connections.'
Step 4: Ruthlessly edit that first draft
When writing your first draft, it’s common to miss small details that will stick out when giving it a second read-through.
This is where proofreading comes in and takes your content to a whole new level.
So, on top of following the general formatting tips provided make sure:
- Check Scannability: All paras are short and text visually appealing for the consumer. Bear in mind, it has to be informative, and so your paras should be of strong value and precise information.
- Purge anything irrelevant. You know your target audience and why they are reading your content and so, keep it simple.
- Keep the grammar in check. An excellent online tool for grammar check is Grammarly Pro, which can be easily installed as an extension on your search engine.
Again, if you're looking to edit content, I recommend Grammarly Pro. It's pricey, but there are several ways to get Grammarly cheap. For instance, discounts, coupon codes and offers on an annual subscription.
Step 5: Take a break, and give it another read
Have you ever read through your work and realized you completely missed on several very obvious mistakes?
Most likely, yes, especially with content as there's always room to improve. What's more, producing content is a creative process, so don't rush it and try to complete a piece in a single night.
Go to the beach, take a walk, or do whatever that will get you away from your workspace.
Once you took some ‘laptop time-off,' come back to your work and review content with a fresh set of eyes.
Your centre of attention should be on how well does it all blend together. Fix any minor spelling or formatting mistakes, and you're good to go.
Pro Tip: Having multiple backups on different devices is a must. Content gets lost all the time, and so you're never too careful with making backups. For example, have one backup on Google Drive and one on your external memory bank.
Keep it simple, relevant and actionable
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations on making it through this massive 3,000+ word article on writing good content.
By now, you should know the whats, whys, and hows of producing rad content writing.
But remember, writing great content is never easy, but it becomes much easier when you understand the audience you’re targeting and what your goals.
After all, if your content doesn’t connect to its audience, it just won’t work.
Over to you:
Are you getting the results you want from your content? If yes, what’s a strategy that worked best for you? If not, have you audited your content to find out why?