The Main Traits of a Good Piece of Content

It’s a question asked almost daily in various marketing forums and subreddits around the web.

“How do you make good content?”

Typical answers come in the tune of “write something valuable”. While true, it’s not exactly a complete answer or of much use to the original question poster.

In order to create “good” content I’ve put together a list of the few traits I find necessary to include before a piece of content is considered good.

It Relates to Your Customers

After slaving away for 2 days on a piece of content that teaches your audience about the different types of minerals found on the moon and how those can be used as a source of renewable energy you finally hit Publish.

To your dismay your life’s work isn’t getting much attention on your blog or many likes and shares on your social media accounts. What gives?

Well, for one, your blog typically publishes articles on the latest fashion trends and style guides for fashion-forward young adults. An audience that typically isn’t all that interested in moon dust energy sources.

Pretty obvious example right?

While the example is extreme it highlights a typical shortcoming in a most content marketer’s strategies. They haven’t spent enough time uncovering their customer’s needs, wants and interests.

The thing is, good and bad content is relative to your audience. Your Interstellar Space Dust Energy Guide might be eligible for a Global Environmental Citizen Award, but your audience isn’t going to care much as your article doesn’t “fit” into the realm of what’s expected on your site.

In order to understand your audience better you should do a few things before filling up your content calendar.

1. Utilize Your Enemy

More likely than not, your industry is full of competitors gathering data for you. Observe their blog and social channels to see which types of content gain the most organic traffic, social shares and comments.

Here’s what I like to do when developing a strategy for a client and it hasn’t let me down yet.

First, run your competitor’s website through a tool such as SEMRush to gather a list of their keyword rankings. Take note of their top ranking to their poorest ranking terms. Then start developing content ideas that correspond with their top ranking terms, positions 1 – 40 to start.

In the image above, which is a small preview of what you get with SEMRush, you can see some questions this site’s user’s are asking.

“What are the best men’s watches I can buy for under $100?”, “Can I get a list of the best men’s dress shirts?” and “What pants should I wear with these brown shoes?”

Obviously those exact questions don’t appear in the list of search terms above, but they can be extrapolated from the terms themselves. You now have the answers people are looking for when reaching this website. It’s your job to write content that answers those questions the best.

For example, it appears a few men are searching for pants to wear with their brown shoes. Maybe you should write something like “6 Pairs of Pants You Should be Rocking with those Brown Shoes.” that answers the grey pants / brown shoes question but also goes above and beyond to provide additional pants and shoe pairing suggestions.

2. Take a Look Within

Next, take a look at your own traffic. What terms are your customers using in order to find your website?

To do this use Google Search Console and visit the Performance tab found in the left sidebar. On this page you’ll see a general overview of how your website performs in organic search.

Scroll down below the pretty chart and you’ll see a list of terms people are using to find your website, if you clicked the CTR tab above the chart you’ll also be able to see the CTR for each individual term – I like to look at this to help me focus on certain terms when first digesting the list.

Terms hidden to protect my client’s interests.

Take these terms, find the best performing and do an audit of your content. Do you have great content that corresponds with each of these terms? Can you expand upon some of your content to better target any of these terms? Start jotting down new content ideas based on your findings.

Note, I’m not suggesting you take these terms and slip them into already produced content. Instead you should include completely new sections into older content or create completely new pieces of content to incorporate them.

3. Listen to the People

Finally, when coming up with new content ideas I like to let Google give me the answers. Take some of the terms you found and start searching for them in Google without hitting the search button. After a second or so, Google will provide search suggestions, these suggestions are based on real world searches and usually need to be quite popular before they appear there.

Write content to answer the questions appearing in Google’s search suggestions.

Bonus Tip: If you or your company have active paid ad campaigns ask for a list of the terms that have the highest CTR and conversion rates. Use those terms to generate content that will rank organically.

If a term has a high CTR but low conversion rate that term might be best to create awareness, or top of the funnel content. If the term has a higher conversion rate you’ll probably want to create end of the funnel type content around it. CTAs in the content should correspond with where that content sits in the conversion funnel.

This process should give you a fairly large backlog of content ideas that your customers actually want to read up on, how do I know this? Because they’re already searching for answers around these terms.

It’s Pretty & Expected

Not that this is news to most of you, but people are attracted to pretty things. People also like to share and be associated with pretty things – who doesn’t want to appear to be prettier?

The fact is, “pretty” wins in the real world regardless of actual value, at least during the first-impression stages. After the initial buzz wears off and you start to get a glimpse of the actual value or personality of the pretty thing or person those things become more important depending on your motives.

We’ve all been in those situations where we find one of our dates extremely attractive physically, until they start spewing hate speech or quoting Will Ferrell movies over and over and over again – am I right?

Most of us, regardless of our professed attitudes, prefer as customers to buy from better-looking salespeople, as jurors to listen to better-looking attorneys, as voters to be led by better-looking politicians, as students to learn from better-looking professors.”

Daniel S. Hamermesh – The New York Times

That’s not a problem for us though, because we’re here to backup our prettiness with valuable information in our content. I hope.

Prettiness is relative, if you’re creating content for Gamers vs. Fashion Enthusiasts you’re going to use different types of imagery, fonts, colors, page formats, etc. to meet your audience’s expectations.

You see this in logo design all the time; have you ever come across a logo that just didn’t feel like it fit the brand? Often times marketers forget to carry on the attributes of the brand into the content they’re creating.

If you’re using a thin font in your logo use a thin font in your content headings, but make sure it’s still legible.

If you’re website focuses on esports use imagery with bright bold and exciting colors to match the competitive mindset of the gamers. If you’re writing guides on men’s professional fashion make sure you include sophisticated colors such as greys, dark blues, and browns.

If you need help coming up with imagery ideas check out your competitors or influencers in the space.

Adam, the influencer above, is a great source of inspiration for a male fashion blog or ecommerce store. The idea behind making your content pretty, beyond making it aesthetically pleasing, is to meet the expectations of your customers. Stark contrasts to what’s expected typically lead to higher bounce rates – Humans are pretty skittish beings when they come across the unexpected.

A Quick Lesson on Audience Expectations

Using an example from Simon Sinek, from his book Start With Why, Volkswagen released a luxury car named Phaeton, it was a massive engineering feat with top-tier performance (for a sedan) and luxury features most higher end car consumers clamor for.

However, although it was an excellent vehicle, sales fell short as it wasn’t received well by Volkswagen’s audience. You see, Volkswagen has branded itself as a mid-tier car manufacturer, luxury was never a term people used to describe their cars.

The Phaeton didn’t fit well with people’s expectations of Volkswagen regardless of how well the vehicle performed – it just didn’t make sense and was completely unexpected.

In contrast, Toyota and Honda understood their audiences and their expectations. When they released luxury cars they developed completely new brands Lexus and Acura respectively.

If you take the time to understand your audience and their expectations you’ll be able to naturally create content that’s both pretty and expected. Remember to pay attention to influencers in your space to keep up with the trends in order to determine what qualifies as “pretty”.

It Has Personality & Emotion

Remember reading peer-reviewed articles in College for that one course you can’t even remember the name of? You know, those articles that inspired you to list out the benefits of eye-gouging?

Those articles have no personality, which is partially the point, but they serve as a good example of what not to do when creating content for consumers.

A good piece of content keeps your audience engaged and able to relate to your content on an emotional level.

This doesn’t mean you should strive to make your audience tear-up or make them laugh uncontrollably. Instead it means you should make your content read as if it’s written by a friend or someone they know in real life and include visual imagery of scenarios common for your audience members.

4 paragraphs ago I mentioned a scenario most of the readers of this article can relate to, the horror of reading peer-reviewed articles to gather sources for a writing assignment. That paragraph allows you to relate to this article on an emotional level. Some of you may have even thought back to your own personal situation and thought something along the lines of “Ha, yea those were terrible”.

Barstool Sports is a great example of content with personality that connects with its audience on a deeper level. Their content is written as if it’s one of your college buddies sharing sports updates.

Their audience, primarily young men that follow sports or participate in sports, know someone that speaks and acts like the content creators of Barstool Sports in real life. The content gives them a comfortable and relatable feeling.

If you’re struggling to come up with the right tone and voice of your content or brand take a look at influencers in your space (again). Take note of the terms and tone they use their content. Mimic what they’re doing while adding your own twist to give your content a slightly unique personality.

Personality and brand voice take time to get right, in-fact those things should always be tweaked to better hit the mark. Don’t fret if you don’t find it right away.

It’s Actionable & Coherent

Words on a page only mean so much if the audience isn’t provided actionable steps to execute their newly found knowledge.

Breaking your content down into sections similar to this article not only makes it easier to digest it helps you as a content creator stay focused on the main point of the piece.

Too often content creators get lost along the way and the article or video becomes hard to follow.

I’d recommend that you begin creating content by putting together an outline, it doesn’t need to be complicated. A page with a few bullet-points covering the main sections with brief descriptions of each is enough to get you started.

When it comes to making your content actionable try to include real world examples whenever possible. Demonstrate how they should execute your advice with screenshots and mini-guides injected within the content itself.

Your audience should be able to take next steps immediately after finishing the content you’ve produced. You want them to feel motivated and prepared.

This will encourage them to save and share the piece with others as well, especially if someone they know asks a similar question they had before finding your content.

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