Is your content really useful versus just well-written?
Why do some writers get real results from their articles, while other writers work just as hard, or harder, and don’t seem to get noticed?
Of course there are many reasons, but a key reason that I see over and over again is what I call the “Hot Potato” effect.
Before we get into what that is, let’s talk a little bit about what good content is, and what kind of content you might want to aim to share …
What is good content?
For me good content is useful content.
I’ve sat in lecture halls and conference rooms listening to fantastic speakers … only to leave no better off than when I walked in. I have read books cover-to-cover and been entertained, but not been given anything I could use.
Even worse, there are some best selling authors and speakers giving people really fun BAD advice. Advice that sounds good but which if implemented would cause problems rather than solve them.
Good content works for the reader and the author. It’s not just about laughs for the audience and attention for the creator.
People will disagree with me, and that is good. That said, I have a simple definition of useful content that has served me well:
Good, useful content is content that helps you meet your goals.
It’s simple and it works.
How can you help improve your chances of getting results?
- Word count – Write enough to get your point across but no more. Very often you can reduce your word count and improve impact, but there is no “correct” word count to work towards. See what works for you.
- Topic – Of course in most cases the topic has to be interesting to your audience, otherwise it would not work to meet your goals, and therefore wouldn’t meet the criteria. A big tip for business is to write about what will help your audience in some way, rather than focusing on what feels good to write about. For a personal blog your goal might just be the fun of writing, in which case write about whatever you like that makes you feel good.
- Grammar/Spelling – A big name British journalist once took me to task for being a content marketing consultant when my grammar is often not perfect. I told him the same as I would tell you. My goal is not perfect grammar, it is to get results. My results have proven time and again that the people who can not see past a few grammar mistakes are not my customers. Seeking perfection can often work against your goals. That said, I do get my articles proof read when I can.
- Readability – Where grammar, phrasing and spelling really hurts is if your content mistakes are so distracting people quit reading. Making your content easy to consume is super important. If people can’t skim, consume, and act on it, then you won’t get results. Break up long articles with subheads, use images and illustrations, bold, formatting, etc. Use short sentences and read your content aloud to see where you stumble or ramble.
- Language – Writing in a way that your audience will understand helps a great deal toward being successful, but some times it takes a while to find your voice, and to research the phrasing of your audience, so work with what you have and improve as you go along.
- Tone – You can be successful being positive, negative, attacking, contrary … personally I aim for positive, but do what works for you!
- Citations – Your blog is not Wikipedia or a college paper. Citations help but don’t hold off posting just because you can’t cite experts.
There is something more important than all of that, however. It matters in writing, in public speaking, in podcasts, videos, and interviews.
What is that most important thing?
Have something to say.
Sounds simple, but as I say (too often), common sense is seldom common practice.
People post to their blogs, forums and social media all the time when they don’t have anything meaningful to share. You have seen it. Maybe they have a calendar to hit, or maybe they like the attention, but it hurts their brand.
You are only as good as your last post.
People remember! Do you want people to remember you as the loud mouth with nothing to contribute or the person who shows up with consistently good stuff?
Get out there and experience things, meet people, ask questions, combine ideas, try new experiments, then report back.
That’s where great content comes from.
Don’t Wait for the Perfect Time
This is part of the reason why I haven’t posted on this blog for months.
Analysis paralysis was a big part of it.
A dramatic drop in writing confidence another
Not having time to think was a big part too …
Don’t wait. The perfect time will never come. It’s a mistake I have made a lot since I started writing online in the 1990’s.
Oh, I had stuff I could write about. People ask me questions all the time, I answer as many as I can humanly get to.
I see interesting stuff happening and I could comment on it. But I wanted to wait until I had time and energy to contribute properly, and it never seemed like that time was going to arrive.
Yup, I was out doing stuff, as I mention above, so much stuff I couldn’t write about it! I was working on some stuff that I wanted to share, but I wanted to dig into these experiments properly so I could do more than skim the subjects superficially.
One of which I’m pretty proud of and can talk about more now it’s out there in public …
We turned the Copyblogger email subscription into something far more useful, valuable, sophisticated and just plain cooler Please check it out and let me know what you think.
The results have blown me away, by the way. Because of the results, and the cool factor, you will be seeing this approach pop up on a lot of other sites soon.
And this brings us to the “Hot Potato” factor.
Are you flinging a hot potato at your audience or are you contributing something real?
One of the reasons I am not sad about Google Reader going away is the feeds I subscribed to had turned into an echo chamber of me-too writing.
Instead of having something meaningful to add, instead of doing interesting work and then talking about it, people were just regurgitating what other people had taught, or recycling the same news story everyone else was writing about.
Every social media blunder was a new reason to write “Ten things we can learn from ____ mistake”. All that has its place, but it seems a lot of people think that is the winning move, the gold standard, where if anything it should be just one tool in your kit bag.
Don’t just pick up a new thing from your feeds then fling it at your audience. Don’t read an ebook then immediately barf it back up onto your blog.
If you are doing meaningful stuff then you will have something meaningful to write about!
For sure, learn everything you can from people you respect. But then internalise it. Put it into action. Try stuff out. Did it work for you?
Disagree! Make mistakes!
Don’t be the person who writes about making money online before they make a cent. By all means write about what you are learning, just be honest about your experience and definitely write about stuff you have done and tried, not just something you heard from someone else.
It’s sad when I see obviously parroted content from people who I think have superstar potential. You are better than that.
So if that’s what NOT to do, what SHOULD we do?
Go out there and do stuff, even if that means failing. Read. Listen. Discuss. Sure … But make sure you are not just consuming but experimenting and implementing.
I wanted to get this out to you, imperfect as it is, to show that what really counts is giving something to your audience that you hope will help in some way.
In summary, don’t tell us what someone else said, tell us what you have done and what you learned from it. Something that is worth reading, sharing, linking to, and learning from … and don’t wait for it to be perfect!
What do you think? Am I being unfair? What is your definition of good content? Please share in the comments …