I feel like an overwhelming majority of inbound strategy recently has been stirring around the topic of content marketing. Content marketing for SEO, content marketing for ‘link-bait’, content marketing for lead generation. On and on and on.
And so often I hear the same story: “Man, this content marketing thing is rough. I’ve spent weeks trying to promote my content, but haven’t gotten any traction”.
Wait, let’s back up for one second. Where exactly does the actual “content” part of content marketing come into play here?
Time and time again when asking the question “What is your strategy for writing content?”, I get a puzzled look in return. It seems that everyone has forgotten that the core of true content marketing isn’t in the promotional tactics.
After weeks of head shaking, face palming bewilderment, I have come to realize the major problem in this equation is us. By “us” I mean the “experts” you all turn to for advice. For all the information we’ve given on the topic of “content marketing”, we’ve forgotten to start with the basics. And that is this: For you to have true success with content marketing, your content has to be not just good, but truly great.
Okay, so now we’ve got that all out of the way, let’s all take a step back and focus on creating really awesome content, shall we? Content that deserves to be marketed.Here are eight actionable steps to start writing better content:
Start Reading More
What better place to start writing better content, than to look at what others are putting out there. I’d be willing to bet that in any industry or niche, there are tons of great places to find awesome content. Even outside of your niche, finding content that inspires you is important to finding your voice.
For my niche, some of the great places I turn to for content inspiration are:
- ThinkTraffic: Awesome site from Corbett Barr. Great resource if you’re looking for ways to grow your audience and create epic shit.
- ViperChill: Amazing example of how great, passionate content can truly be the best form of marketing.
- QuickSprout: Neil Patel’s baby. Notice how every post follows a specific format, with actionable ideas?
The important part is finding content that inspires you. Spend a few days aggregating a list of some sites you enjoy and load them up into a RSS reader. I recommend Feedly, as Google has unfortunately decided to pull the plug on my beloved Google Reader.
I suggest taking a half an hour a day and really analyzing how your favorites lay out their content, and how they speak to their audience. Make note of which pieces or articles really stand out to you.
Find Your Style, Find Your Voice
So now (hopefully) that you’ve spent some time dissecting the works of others, you’ve begun to find bits and pieces you really like. Now it’s time to start piecing these things together and making it your own.
The exercise above, if nothing more, was a chance for you to find out how you want to write. When I first started blogging, my content was garbage. I spend so much time trying to be “expert like”, I lost my voice as a writer. I tried too hard to sound professional like everyone else, and guess what, people don’t read your content because you sound like everyone else, they read what you write because you wrote it!
Start writing how you want to write. Simple as that. Don’t worry about sounding unprofessional. Don’t worry about being different. Be you. Trust me, your audience will appreciate how refreshing it is. Writing any way other than as who you are right now is holding your content back.
Create Variety In Your Content
Imagine you’re a grocery store. Specifically a grocery store that sells only health foods. Sure, you may be killing it amongst health food advocates, but what about everyone else? I’m not sure the burger and fries crowd would frequent your store very often.
The same holds true with your online content. Sure, a portion of your audience might enjoy lengthy “how-to” posts (Hey, you’re reading one right now!), but what about the rest of the crowd?
Varying the length, style or type of content you are publishing, can help expand your reach to capture a wider audience.
Side note on this: If you are happy with the state of your current audience, it might be wise to keep on creating the stuff they like, rather than experiment with other content they may or may not enjoy. Totally up to you.
Record Your Thoughts As They Come
If you’re like me, my most creative moments unfortunately don’t coincide with the time I’ve dedicated to actually sitting down and writing. Ideas come when I’m sitting in rush hour traffic, when I’m trying to fall asleep at night, while I’m singing in the shower (I feel I’ve said too much at this point).
The point is, to think that you’ll remember all your great ideas when the time comes to write is bullshit.
Luckily there’s a solution: when it comes to you, write it down! I personally use Evernote for this. It also makes a great tool for storing awesome content ideas you find (see step 1). Whatever you decide to use, make sure it’s something you like enough to actually use. It could be as simple as a spiral notebook, the medium doesn’t matter. What matters is getting those creative juices in safe keeping for later.
Create A Content
For the longest time I’ve advised those interested in writing better content to create a content publishing schedule. However, I’ve since changed my tune. I think “scheduling” your writing and giving yourself deadlines can lead to lackluster content created for the sole purpose of “getting it done”. I myself have been victim to this.
Instead, I propose creating a Content Matrix. The idea is simple. Create a spreadsheet for content pieces you wish to publish in the future. Identify things like content topics, potential headlines, talking points, and relevant links for inspiration, and record them in one place.
You can use this Content Matrix as a place to turn to when you need a topic to write about, to remind yourself to create a follow up piece to a previously written article, to make sure you’re varying your content type (see step 3)…the point is you can use it for whatever purpose fits your need. The key is just to add a bit of structure to your content strategy, without creating boundaries.
Cater To Your Audience
Still not sure if your content is good enough? Guess what, your audience will tell you!
Just because you’ve hit publish doesn’t mean your job is done. In order to get the most out of a piece of content (no I’m not talking about leads or traffic, I’m talking knowledge) you need to continually analyze it. What articles are being tweeted the most? Which have the lowest bounce rate? How much time are readers spending on them?
All of these types of questions are things you should hyper focus on post-publish. By finding out what content is creating the most engagement, you’ll find what works best for you. A man wiser than I once said “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”
Lose The SEO
Okay, okay before you lose your mind. I (obviously) don’t think you should just forget about SEO. Of course it is an essential tool in bringing new traffic to your site. But when the hell did we start writing content based on a keyword we deem to be “juicy”? Seems like an ass backwards way of thinking, doesn’t it?
Here’s a thought: start writing content that you want to write, and that you’re audience might like. Then once you’re done, find a keyword or two that fits your topic and sprinkle them in. You’d be amazed how much this approach will make your content stand out amongst the garbage. And you might be surprised at how effective it can still be in terms of SEO.
Create Something You’re Proud Of
Ultimately everything I’ve been rambling about above boils down to one thing: If you were reading your content, would it be worth your while?
Creating lots of content is never a bad thing. But creating it just for the hell of it you’ll find isn’t worth the squeeze. Create content you’re truly proud of. You should be excited when you hit that publish button. If you’re not, please refer back to step one and repeat.