Content marketing is an important component in any strategy. According to Forbes, 88% of B2B marketing companies use some kind of content marketing. Unlike paid advertising, popular content continues to deliver traffic long after it’s published. And according to DM3, organic leads generally click-through to your site at higher rates than paid ones.
But it can be difficult to get your content found, especially in the early stages. The growing popularity of content marketing also means more competition for eyeballs. So how are you supposed to make your content stand out?
A great deal of content on the internet is generic, poorly researched, and vague-to-the-point-of-meaninglessness. The following six strategies will help you avoid the “boring content” traps, and create content with staying power.
1. Do Your Research
Are there hundreds of existing articles in your niche? Great! That's a lot of data. Data that will help you avoid a novice mistake: writing about what you care about, as opposed to what your audience cares about.
Popular existing posts tell you what people are interested in — look at which posts have high engagement to get an idea of what’s resonating with readers and what’s not. You’ll still bring your own unique voice to the content (more on that below), but you’ll be starting from a point of meeting your audience where they are, as opposed to expecting them to come to you.
Want to do one better?
Popular posts also have comments, which give you an easy way to improve on what’s already landing with your audience — check out the comment threads for unanswered questions, and look for opportunities to build off of a popular post by writing your own content that addresses some of the most common questions.
2. Know Your Reader
If mediocre content is like a flashlight, well-targeted content is like a laser. Don’t believe me? Say you’re looking for information on how to defeat a specific species of insect in your garden.
Which post are you most likely to finish reading? One that starts “A lot of people are probably wondering about gardening...” or one that starts “So you’ve got a colony of rare Amazonian Ink Bugs in your potato garden, and you’re wondering how to eradicate them without poisoning your pets...”
Do you know exactly who your audience is? If you’re in the aircraft maintenance niche, do you know what your readers dream about when they gaze, misty-eyed, into the future? Do you know what keeps them up at night?
Here's what any effective content-creator ought to know about her audience:
What are their biggest aspirations? For your aircraft maintenance folks, is it getting a promotion that will mean more money, or choosing their work hours so they can be home with their families?
What are their biggest pains or fears? Is it a mistake that results in a writeup or, worse, a crash? Or maybe it’s boredom and monotony.
What’s getting in the way of their goals? Maybe they’re already working long hours at the...hangar...and studying for a certification would take still more time away from their families.
This deep level of understanding lets you do a couple things. 1) Write in their language, so they know your content is for them specifically. That way you'll cut through all the other content. And 2) know where they hang out — which blogs do they read? Which forums? That way you can syndicate your content where people will see it.
3. Write About Yourself
Which would you rather read: an owner's manual or The Revenant? That's the difference personalizing an experience makes.
Whenever you can, try to include personal anecdotes — have you struggled with the same thing your audience is struggling with? If you’re writing for accountants studying for a make-or-break certification, why not include the story about how the first time you thought it was going to be a breeze, and hardly studied, and how that resulted in a failure, reassessment, and rocky-style study montage before you were ultimately victorious.
Including personal details does two big things:
Lets the reader feel closer to the content, because it's a story, not a set of instructions. The story about how you failed on your first attempt to pass an important exam will also likely empower readers — If he did it so can I. That feeling is one you want to give your readers. It will keep them coming back.
Proves you know what you're talking about — you had the same problem, and you solved it.
4. Hand-hold People Through It
Two of my favorite posts in recent memory were Brian Harris' epic Sidestep Method post on Video Fruit and Taylor Pearson's guest post on SumoMe.
What did both of these posts have in common? They didn't just brush the surface. They "hand-held" people through the step-by-step path to achieving the stated result.
Brian had found a way to validate a product without doing traditional customer development. He didn't just outline it — he took readers through exactly what he did. That’s important, because Brian did his research beforehand, and was writing comfortably within the wheelhouse of what his audience cared about. And those of us who were reading wanted every juicy detail.
Taylor had developed a system for generating book sales and web traffic by appearing on podcasts. He took pains to illustrate the process in detail, with screenshots and templates, so that any reader could duplicate his methods.
Hand-holding helps in two ways:
It demonstrates expertise, especially if readers succeed with your method.
It selects for readers willing to read all the way through long-form content, so your audience will be more engaged.
When I tried to duplicate Taylor’s method for booking podcasts, and started seeing results, I was set to trust anything he sent me from then on.
5. Tell People Why They Should Care
I'm a copywriter by trade, and when I see a poorly-converting landing page, chances are it's because nobody's telling the reader what's in it for him.
Content is no different than copy — it's about holding attention, and persuading people to trust you. You do that by meeting the reader where he is, and describing benefits.
Bad example: Get my widget. We've got 25 years experience teaching html.
Good example: Stop wasting time on [specific coding challenge]. Get [niche specific desire] in just ten minutes.
The latter meets the reader where he is, with pain surrounding a specific html coding issue, and empathizes with his time constraints.
With content, you could title something Case Study: Results of a Landing Page Split Test We Ran at My Company. That's asking the reader to care a lot without giving her any reason to. What will she get if she reads your content to completion?
Instead, how about How to 2x List-to-Sale Conversions in 48 Hours. That's an attention-getter — it describes an obvious benefit, speaks in the language of a likely audience member, and respects her time.
If you want to make sure your content gets read and shared, make sure the reader knows within ten seconds what’s in it for her.
6. Tell Readers How to Measure Success
Notice something else about that second content title? "How to 2x…” I'm giving people a goal to shoot for.
But if you want to inspire readers so loyal they’ll stop everything they’re doing to read your latest blog post, you can do one-better — show them exactly how to tell if they’re succeeding with your advice.
A great structure for this is:
Here's what I did and the results I got...
Here's how someone else can apply it...
Here’s what to expect if it’s working.
For example, I did a launch in July for my info-products business that doubled the results of my previous launch to the same list. If I were writing a blog article about the launch, here’s what I might discuss:
I did 3 things differently in the latest launch than in the last several: promised to raise the price by a specific amount after the cart closed, sent follow-ups to readers who viewed the sales page but didn’t buy, and incorporated the responses to those follow-ups into subsequent emails during launch week.
The results were between 2 and 3x the revenue from the previous launch.
If you want to implement this in your own business, divide the number of buyers in your previous launch by the number of subscribers who received the launch emails, then multiply by 100. That’s your previous conversion rate. Try the strategies I did, then calculate the conversion rate for the latest launch. If you beat it by at least 25%, that’s a sign it’s working. If you hit 100%, that’s stellar. It will depend on your niche, product, and what your audience is used to in previous launches.
Giving people a benchmark for success is great for two reasons:
It gets them excited to read your content because you got a result.
If your strategy helps them meet or exceed the benchmark, you're earning credibility.
Take Your Content to the Next Level
Imagine the difference if you were to apply just 3 of these strategies to your next piece of content. Compare a well-researched piece that speaks to readers in their own language, and shares elements of your personal story, with 98% of the content you read.
Ramit Sethi is fond of saying epic content may take a little longer to produce, but the results can be 10x those of a ho-hum, generic piece of content.