With all the content being produced every day, people are more content savvy than ever before—and less willing to waste time with a re-spun, content rerun that's longwinded and low on value.
Therefore, as more and more businesses build out in-house media production teams and entrepreneurs scramble to fill multi-channel editorial calendars, how on earth are you supposed to keep up? And stand out? And track the impact of your efforts?
The answer: the rules of the game are much the same as they always were. Content marketing strategy remains focused on creating inbound demand and providing (free) value as a means to nurture strangers, into customers, into raving fans.
What's changed? The barrier to breaking through is much, much higher than it ever has been before.
Essentially: provide ultra-high-value content or nothing at all.
Anything less is liable to be a waste of your time and money, not to mention the potential impact on your brand reputation.
But all is not lost. For publishers, brands, and business owners who want to leverage content marketing as a conversion strategy, this article will explore the four basic characteristics of ultra-high-value content and attempt to provide a framework for how to help you decide what content to produce and what ideas to put aside.
Ultra-high-value content has four basic characteristics:
- It’s purposeful and audience-oriented
- It’s creative and original
- It’s search engine optimized
- It’s branded and unique
1- It’s purposeful and audience-oriented
Purposeful and audience-oriented means that you are clear about your target audience and how you seek to serve them. This step is simple—but if you do it well, it won't be easy.
Start by asking and thoughtfully answering the following four questions:
- What do you want to achieve as our primary objective (and how will you measure your success?
Draw a hard line with yourself: select a single objective. Not a list of five. One objective to rule them all.
It might be increasing the number of qualified leads on your email list, increasing the number of new users to your site, increasing the number of micro-conversions that take place on your site (such as number of pricing page views, or checkouts initiated).
Then, how will you measure your success? You can't improve or manage what you cannot measure. So 'increasing your thought leadership' should not be on this list. But, increasing the number of new visitors from referral traffic—now, that's a winner.
- Who is your target audience?
Assuming that your products and services are engineered to solve your audiences' problems, your content should do the same.
Intimately understanding your target audience will help you define the message, format/ medium, channels, and approach you take to creating your content.
- What’s your customers’ buying journey?
Figure out how your customers get to know you, what makes them trust you, and what propels them into buying from you and staying loyal to you. You’ll need to create content to assist your customers in each of these phases. Loop in your sales and customer support teams (if you have them) to help identify the common friction points your customers experience.
- What are your unique value propositions?
Differentiate yourself by proposing a unique marketing message to your audience. We have discussed this step in detail in our strategic content marketing plan guide.
2- It’s creative and original
Fresh, innovative ideas are non-negotiable.
Yes, they're hard to come by. That's exactly what makes them so valuable.
This is how Andrew Ng, founder of Google Brain, co-founder of Coursera, former VP & Chief Scientist at Baidu and the founder of Landing AI puts it:
“In my own life, I found that whenever I wasn’t sure what to do next, I would go and learn a lot, read a lot, talk to experts. I don’t know how the human brain works but it’s almost magical: when you read enough or talk to enough experts when you have enough inputs, new ideas start appearing. This seems to happen for a lot of people that I know.
When you become sufficiently expert in the state of the art, you stop picking ideas at random. You are thoughtful in how to select ideas, and how to combine ideas. You are thoughtful about when you should be generating many ideas versus pruning down ideas.”
- Andrew Ng
What makes content creative?
Creative content is surprising, original, and valuable because it draws unique, insightful connections between pieces of information.
For example, consider the Ultimate Social Media Marketers’ quiz which was rather a surprising and original piece of content when it was published in 2015. Steve Rayson from BuzzSumo explains that the piece got 5,500 views and 8,000 shares. However, because it was not a valuable piece of content it attracted zero links to it.
Contrast it with a piece from Mark Schaefer about what he called “content shock” back in 2014. It contained some surprising claims (e.g. that content marketing is not a sustainable strategy for many businesses), it was original, and of course, it was valuable. That piece alone got links from over 900 domains according to Steve Rayson.
Creative content gets shared across social media, attracts lots of links, and increases your exposure. A good example is the famous “dumb ways to die” video by Metro Trains is an ad with lots of creative awards under its name. Adage listed it as the 12th best campaign of the 21st century.
The ad caused a 20 percent drop in dumb behavior around trains in the two months directly after its launch.
3- It’s search engine optimized
Creativity is certainly an important factor in the success of your content marketing, but that’s not enough to be brilliant if no one can find your work. Therefore, SEO is inevitable and equally important, part of your content marketing. A joint study by SEMrush and Content Marketing Institute found that finding the right balance between the creative element and search optimization in content is the most challenging task for content writers.
Finding a balance between creativity and SEO does not necessarily mean sacrificing one for the other. In fact, all search engines’ ranking factors are in place to make sure an original and authoritative answer to the searcher’s query ranks higher in SERPs. Originality is an important indicator of a piece of content’s ability to answer a searcher’s query.
Start with good keyword research. If you have no idea what keywords you need to rank for, take a look at your competitor’s keywords.
First, tackle the simple optimizations
In a recent article, we focused on The 10 Essential Must-Knows for Small Business SEO, because there's simply no getting around the must-do tasks that will set your content up for success on search engines.
The article covered topics such as:
- Fundamental SEO principles so you can always align with Google’s interests and survive any algorithm update
- 10 Essential SEO strategies for small businesses who are DIY-ing their digital marketing with limited time and resources
Once you've covered the foundational tactics, it's time to focus on content promotion and distribution—two essential activities that will boost the number of backlinks you receive, which signal Google that your content is quality and should rank higher in search engine results.
Then, attract inbound links
The best way to attract inbound links (backlinks) is to create content that people naturally want to share and amplify across the web. That can be done by focussing on a few different elements.
Include original images & graphics
Images have a lot of potential for link building. Copyright laws demand bloggers to attribute the images they use to their proper sources. So if you have made a chart or diagram for your data, people need to give you a proper link if they want to use your imagination.
To make amazing link-bait diagrams or charts you need to consider these questions:
1- How do they appeal to your viewers?
No matter how useful they are, your images won’t be a success if they don’t look beautiful to your audience.
2- How do they leave an impact?
Just like any other piece of content, your images should have a strong impact on your audience’s mind. Having a powerful message, being creative and unconventional, and making your figures easier to remember are some ways to increase the impact of your images.
Use examples and case studies
Produce original research, data, and case studies as a way to bring something new to the (over-crowded) content marketing table.
This case study of how Karla Dennise was able to grow his business (and generate $72K profit in less than 30 days) using webinars is a good example. Apart from showcasing how LeadPages could help people increase their webinar conversions, this case study is a good success story for anyone writing about webinars or landing pages in business.
Produce comprehensive guides
People love the convenience of having (almost) all there is to know about a topic. And because they probably don’t have time to go through all of a comprehensive guide, they bookmark it or frequently recommend it to others to see for themselves.
The key is to structure your content in a way that is easy to navigate and invites users to engage. Include interactive elements, graphics, short paragraphs, pagination, and opportunities to opt-in.
Some of the good models of long-form articles to follow are the ones written by Joanna Weibe and Brian Dean. Note how each of them has structured their posts to make reading and navigation really easy.
Use original research/numbers and data
Original research can be one of the most engaging kinds of content because people recognize it as unique (not likely to be found elsewhere) and anticipate that it will contain valuable, actionable findings.
Here are different research content types:
- Aggregate existing research
- Online survey
- Phone survey
For example, you can implement a strategy and report the results you got. You can design surveys using a tool such as SurveyAnyPlace or quizzes using a tool such as LeadQuizzes and gather some data for your research. Or you can simply come up with some good questions and try to find answers by analyzing some of the existing data.
For example, here’s an analysis on SimilarWeb’s top 50 business websites (existing data) to find out the answers to some questions about their homepage conversion strategy such as,
- How many of the top websites have calls to action (CTAs) above the fold?
- What CTA types are used above the fold?
- How many of the top websites have multiple CTAs?
Have controversial arguments
Controversial content always creates a buzz. People tend to weigh in and express their opinions in their own content while linking back to your content as a point of departure.
Challenge some of the accepted conventions in your niche and offer a different perspective instead. Back in 2008, before subscription-based purchases were popular, Zuora started advocating for a new business model they called “subscription economy”. Following their innovation in cloud-based software almost a decade ago (they had founded Salesforce), they decided to popularize a business model suitable for their invention.
They started to produce a lot of controversial blog posts and research articles that resulted in them being recognized as a pioneer in the now-famous subscription economy (not to mention the huge number of links and mentions they’ve got to their content).
Feature expert roundups and quotes
Expert roundups are popular these days, and there are a few reasons for their popularity: you get to connect with some experts (or at least like-minded people) in your niche and they’ll probably share your content and link back to them whenever they can.
Before you begin, consider these two points:
1- Great questions: ask questions about trending topics in your niche rather than generic questions. Use Buzzsumo or SpakToro (if you’re in marketing) to find out what’s trending among your audience, make interesting questions out of them, and start reaching out to your list of experts.
2-Great experts: some roundups basically feature aspiring people rather than experts. Make sure to avoid this pitfall by reaching out to people you know are real experts and who add value to your article.
4- It’s branded and unique
The concept of “content branding” is nothing technical or complicated. It’s basically a necessary part of any content strategy: differentiating yourself from your competitors.
Blogging has passed its prime years (i.e. 2001-2012 or so according to Rand Fishkin) when it had the most impact. Today, SEO has got more and more competitive, social media amplification is much harder to do right, and people are less willing to consume run-of-the-mill content that most bloggers produce.
This is the time when content marketers should learn how to keep their audience engaged. Having an engaged audience demands that you keep a consistent brand image in your content and keep your uniqueness perceptible through them.
There are different ways to do this. One way, obviously, is to be the first to produce content on essential topics in your niche. If there are no guides on a hot topic in your niche, you can be sure that you’ll make quite a name as a go-to resource if you’re the first to fill that gap.
The wrap up: what makes quality content?
It’s tempting (and quite easy) to say quality content is long-form, beautiful, readable, etc. Although these traits could have an influence on the quality of your content, they’re not the necessary part of it. What makes or breaks your quality content is how well it achieves the goals you had in mind when producing it.
When producing content, keep in mind the primary objective, how you'll measure it, and what will make it stand out from the rest.
Meet the author
Mostafa has written for companies such as HubSpot, WordStream, SmartInsights, and MarketingProfs. What keeps him up at nights is how he can help his clients increase sales with no BS content marketing. Visit his blog, or connect with him on LinkedIn.