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Don't blog thisWhat is the secret to getting your content read, shared and acted on?

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  …

Free My Copyblogger Membership

Free My Copyblogger Membership

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.

Bottom Line

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 …


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  1. He’s Baaaaaaaack! And with a ripper post too 🙂
    I found myself nodding the whole time Chris.

    Content has been a slight challenge for me because I do primarily video.
    Scribe kept telling me my posts were too short, so I ended up transcribing my videos as post content.
    My verbal waffle requires some organizing once it’s written down. I need to make the flow of my tutorials easier to follow when transcribed to text. Screencasts aren’t always easy to put into words! But my content is never perfect. It’s good enough and people get what they need from it. My audience has never complained about it so if it ain’t broken…….

    I spotted a review of select tutorial sites one day and they gave me some nice compliments because I had video and text, so it has paid off in the end. And I can re-purpose the content into little MVP eBooks down the track 😉

    Membership sites are awesome – I’m blown away by the response I’ve had with mine. People aren’t resisting the change from ‘opt in’ to ‘registering for access’ at all. It’s surprising. I’m glad I listen to the cool people at CBM (present company definitely included!).
    CBM have made a cozy little retreat for me for go to every Saturday morning. I love it. Thanks to the whole team.

    I agree about the feed thing. I like to see what’s new in WordPress and I end up marking a lot of the articles as read as all of the WordPress problems seems to be easily solved with installing a plugin. Boring! No one has time to work out something unique or write about a different approach. Don’t get me wrong, plugins are handy, but it’s a cheap way of posting ‘throw away’ content for the sake of keeping Google coming back to crawl. Definitely a lot of ‘me too’ content out there.

    However, sometimes I see the odd article that I want to explore further and translate it into what I do on my site. My Evernote account gets bigger with ideas to try. I like taking something and translating it into what I do. It’s a great way of making a whole series of posts and articles.

    When you do something your own way, add your flavor to it, and put it in your own words, you stand out from the rest of the crowd – people definitely take notice of those bloggers.

    • Thanks Amelia 🙂

      I was “this close” to hanging out with your favourite CBM voice as he lives in Oregon but it was not to be in the end 🙁 Kind of glad in a way as a couple of ladies wanted me to kiss him on their behalf 😉

      What I like about your videos is you are down to earth, telling people what they need, and you can tell you have worked it out for them beforehand. None of this “I watched a tutorial just now and I am going to make my own version so I can get traffic” stuff!

      Keep up the good work 🙂

      • I was going to ask about said man with the hottest voice in podcast land. I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded the affection……. and he would have liked getting a peck on the ladies’ behalf too 🙂

        Thank you 🙂
        I am a horrible perfectionist with my work and always feel my videos could be 100% better. But they get the point across and I’ve only had 2 complaints in gawd knows how many videos I’ve created, so I am Ok with it.

        I heard someone say once – “people want a big dose of ‘good enough'”. I think that’s pretty true, that’s all I want.

  2. I don’t think you are being unfair at all.

    I do think that it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success. I.e. some people do this and aren’t successful in terms of popularity.

    • Of course, if you don’t get it in front of people then it’s a “tree falling in the woods” 🙂

      But people are not going to share what they don’t see value in, and they certainly won’t risk their own reputation on it

  3. Good call Chris!

    This is super helpful for me. A good reminder and an echo of a conversation that has been going through my brain in the attempt to figure out this blogging thing.

    Thanks for your insight!

    And I recently checked out the Copyblogger site and like it way more than what it was before.

    • We worked hard on getting the new copyblogger together so I am glad you like it. I’m already hearing from folks who are seeing how they can implement some of the ideas on their own sites 🙂

  4. EricaWHudson says:

    Thank you for this post. Exactly what I needed to hear.

  5. In my opinion the key phrase is: “Good content works for the reader and the author”. Which brings us to saying something meaningful. Good article, not unfair at all.

  6. Yay! Good to see you back on the blog, Chris. 🙂

    What I love about your content is that you don’t ever post for the sake of posting: you actually have something to say! I genuinely enjoy every post you write (and yours is one of the few blogs I read by email, by the way).

    On readability, grammar and spelling: I can forgive the occasional typo on a blog, and I’m certainly not worried about grammatical “mistakes” like splitting infinitives or ending sentences with prepositions. Constant mistakes or sloppy writing might put me off, but only because (most of the time) those go hand-in-hand with not very useful content.

    I love your writing style. It’s direct, refreshing, and honest, but also kind and thoughtful. I always feel encouraged by your posts — and, incidentally, I think that’s perhaps another key part of successful content. I’ve come across posts/books/etc that are *useful* but so aggressive or overwhelming that I end up scurrying away!

    • Yeah, I think most of us make some mistakes, and that is ok, providing we aim to make as few as possible. When you see constant, ongoing, annoying, silly issues from people who have English as a first language can speak more to their lack of caring than their ability.

  7. Hi Chris, I enjoy reading your blog because your posts are “relatable” and approachable – just like you. I actually hear your voice as I read.

    Your writing style is natural and not forced. And when you share your challenges, as you do here, you also suggest an action or approach that’s helpful. I never sense hype or a formula. You always keep it genuine and authentic. I feel the same about Mark McGuinness. I always leave his blog feeling good – and motivated. When you are a consultant working on your own, resources like these are a great support. 🙂

    • I think when we open up we allow people to connect. It’s sometimes bad for the ego to let people know when we fail, but it’s also helpful for folks to see that we are not perfect, and here are where the trap doors are 😉

  8. Excellent post. Great content is real advice from those who are experienced to provide it.

  9. Hi Chris,

    I’m in the process of creating a new blog about personal development/ health and wellbeing and I found this article very helpful. I also like what you said about “analysis paralysis” because I have been researching the perfect blog template for two months now and still can’t decide! Not to mention, but I WILL mention, deciding if I’m good enough to write about helping others feel good enough… Oh the games we play. Anyway, this HAS been very helpful and I agree with everything you’ve said. In fact, you’ve given me something very precious here: Confidence. Thanks so much! x

  10. Terrific post, really does hit home that is useful quality content that will engage the reader that matters and also shows why that causes people so many problems that they don’t bother and give up.
    It is amazing that someone with your experience suffered from analysis paralysis, lack of writing confidence and lack of thinking time. I think many out there see experienced bloggers as superior beings who never fall at these obstacles. Shows we all have to be constantly on our toes and not allow ourselves to falter.
    I was effectively paralyzed worrying over content being good enough and lack of time due to day job commitments. It really is a process of just putting some content out there in the first place.
    Yes there will be lots of mistakes, especially at first, but content will get better and hopefully more useful to the readers.
    I spent an age doing nothing or putting out really poor content. I think I am slowly getting over that, I like my posts a bit better now, though my knowledge and my skills are still a bit lacking in my eyes, I think I am now producing stuff that some will get something from. My work can only get better as I blog more, rad more and learn more.
    The more I have been doing recently, the more I want to do, hopefully that is a good thing, the more I do, the more I contribute the better I get, fingers crossed!

  11. Each and every time I write a new blog post, I write it to provide the reader with something to take from it. I may not provide everyone with something to take but even one person being able to take something out of it will make me happy. If no one can take anything, then I need to re-think my writing strategy. Great post!

  12. Chris
    First let me say, that I totally agree with what you say about creating compelling content that is based on your experiences yet can be relevant to the reader. I believe that everyone has something worth sharing based on their own personal history, natural abilities, or just stuff they can put out in the universe to impact someone else. Unfortunately, too many people become robots instead of original creations in hopes of fitting into what is considered normal rather than expressing their uniqueness. I feel blessed that to have a rebellious spirit that I tap into to release my creativity through creating blogs, designing websites, constructing electronic newsletters, and connecting with like minded artist through social media formats such as fb/tw/lnked/ etc.
    I appreciate the information that you provide that helps other creative individuals to navigate informational mediums.
    I look forward to our staying connected in cyberspace….Keep It Up….because as my Great Aunt Annie would say: “You may be cracking but you shoal ain’t lying!” May the truth set you free. Jjaye aka creative girl 49

  13. “Just be honest about your experience and definitely write about stuff you have done and tried.”

    Excellent advice Chris. Some of our best content has been a result of challenge we had to overcome either internally or for a client. Writing from the perspective of what we learned in meeting the challenge provides value but also gives our followers a sense of our corporate culture and who we are as a company.

  14. Chris, I’m so glad that you managed to get this post out in time before our conversation went live. I had to come here and check to see what you wrote about and am so fortunate that we talked about many of these things.

    The best advice you’ve given is about adding value. Why have something to say when there’s no reason behind it? I’m really trying to take that to heart in all of my communications, even this comment.

    So with that, thank you for investing your time in writing this long past due article jam packed with a whole whack of useful information!

  15. Hey Chris,

    Great post, I have definitely been guilty of not getting enough content out there recently as I have had other projects on the go. When I first started online I was all about blogging every week and that has really dropped off recently!

    Time for me to get out everything I have learned now though and get some discussions going. Controversy, new techniques and updates on everything I am doing is the name of the game.

    Thanks for the reminder about getting great content out there!

    Speak soon


  16. Wow, to hear you mention the benefits of no Google Reader was quite an eye opener. I am sure there were many frequent bloggers who felt the loss of their daily, on-the-hour, on-the-minute content ideas feed. For FindGood’s blog we are quite lucky as we have the collective idea power from hundreds of UK marketing agencies. Saying that, there are still times when we are stumped. The key to regular content is finding where you can share something of value. Even if that value is simply sharing a trouble-shooting solution or comment on industry news. You never know who might find it useful or insightful.