The best content creators plot their pieces with military precision, yet according to research by Altimeter, 70% of marketers lack an integrated content strategy.
So how do you approach content creation for maximum success?
Here, I’m going to outline 25 tips and tricks that’ll help you transform your current content creation process into something that moves the needle and drives results for your company:
What Is Content?
Creative Commons image via Flickr
But just so that we’re all on the same page, what do I mean when I say “content?”
In digital marketing terms, content simply means information that’s available on the internet. Content comes in many forms. Blog posts. Infographics. Videos. Tools. Quizzes. These all fit the criteria of “content,” and, when marketed, form the foundation of “content marketing.”
We can also group content by quality. For the sake of argument, let’s categorize it into three distinct groups: bad content, good content, and great content.
There’s a lot of bad content out there. Quite a bit of good content. And very little great content. It’s the great content we want you to be creating, but it’s a tough nut to crack.
1. Quality Trumps Quantity
In a perfect world, we’d all be publishing viral content every day. If you have the manpower and resources to do that, brilliant. What are you reading this for? Get off this post and go make something amazing happen.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself scraping the bottom of the idea barrel just to ensure you hit your weekly content quota: stop, sit back, and reassess what you’re doing,
Content for content’s sake won’t do you any favors. Half-hearted work won’t bring visitors back to your site.
Consider just how much content is being added to the internet every second of every day. If your content isn’t as good as or better than 90% of the other content out there, it’s highly unlikely to get noticed.
So here’s tip number 1: invest your time in one brilliant piece of content rather than ten pieces of average content.
If you’re reading this because you want to create that one piece of content that commands attention and drives shares, then please, stay with me. I’ve got 24 more ways to improve your content creation process and take your next piece viral to share.
Getting Started and Researching Your Audience
The first step in creating great content is to know who you’re writing for and what they’re likely to be interested in.
Use the following strategies to achieve this important objective:
2: Determine the purpose of your content
Do you want people to link to you? Share your content socially? Persuade a visitor to buy?
Not everybody links (far from it). Most people have the ability to share content socially, but not all topics will drive shares. Conversion content can be invaluable, but it’s unlikely to result in links.
Your objective should affect the type of content you create and who you choose to target with it.
Before you do anything else, simply assess what you want your content to achieve.
3. Understand your target market
What do you say when asked, “who’s your target market?”
Do you know their average age? Whether they went to college? If they have children? What type of TV programs they enjoy watching?
Unless you can describe your average customer in great detail, chances are you don’t know them well enough to craft content that’ll be truly compelling to them.
Let’s use some tools to help paint a more detailed picture…
4. Use Google Analytics for demographic research
Open your Google Analytics account, and head to “Audience.”
Click “Demographics” to find out the age and gender of your customers.
Click “Interests” to learn more about what types of topics they search for.
Select “Geo” to see where in the world your visitors hail from.
“Technology” and “Mobile” won’t be too helpful in nailing that winning idea, but here’s an insider tip: use this data to establish what devices and browsers your audience are using to reach you.
This will help you determine which devices your content should be accessible on.
5. Get more demographic data from profiler tools
Here’s a nifty little tool I discovered recently: YouGov Profiler. It’s UK-based, but the findings should be applicable across the pond (or anywhere else in the world).
It’s really easy to use – just put in the name of a brand (your own, or a competitor’s), a celebrity, or a “thing,” and hit enter.
It can take a minute or so to work its magic but once it’s ready, the YouGov Profiler will offer up all kinds of useful information about the average consumer for your search term.
Some of the findings might go best with a pinch of salt, so don’t take it too seriously. That said, take advantage of the information you do find and use it as one source of information for building customer personas and driving content ideas.
6. Illustrate your target consumer
Note down all the defining features of your target consumer you can find, and then put pen to paper (or mouse to illustrator), and draw them. If you aren’t artistic, find photos online that embody the audience member you’re picturing.
Keep this visualization with you throughout the content creation process to help remind yourself who your content is ultimately for.
Generating Winning Ideas
Once you have a clear picture (literally) of the persona you’re targeting, it’s time to start collating potential ideas.
Now, let’s go through a few different methods of idea generation, and talk about how to get the most from your content creation time.
7. Brainstorm as a group
Brainstorming is an excellent way to quickly generate potential content ideas.
You might not always come away with the best ideas, but you should end the session with at least a handful (or more) of ideas that have the potential to be researched and developed further.
Here are some of my favorite tips for getting the most out of your brainstorming sessions:
- Invite a range of different personality types to the session. Diverse people = diverse ideas.
- Keep the group small – five to six people should be enough. Too few people and there won’t be enough diverse ideas thrown around. Too many, and the quieter personalities may feel uncomfortable speaking up.
- Set a time limit. This helps the group stick to the task at hand.
- Brief the group properly. Show them your target persona, the purpose of the content you want to create, and ensure everyone understands what you hope to get from the session.
- Allocate appropriate prep time. Ask each member of the group to spend 10 minutes researching and brainstorming ideas alone before the group convenes.
8. Try brainstorming with a twist: Meet Brainwriting 6-3-5
To generate 108 ideas in just 30 minutes, try this clever spin on brainstorming. Brainwriting begins with six people, six pieces of paper, six pens, and a timer. The timer is set for five minutes, and in that time each member of the group is tasked with coming up with three ideas. When the timer goes off, everyone passes their paper to the person next to them and the timer is reset.
Using the previous person’s ideas as a trigger, each member of the group has to come up with three more ideas. This is repeated five times, at which point you should have 108 ideas.
This is a strategy I use regularly when I’m in need of a lot of ideas quickly. The ideas vary in quality, but there are always the odd few strands of gold that are worth pursuing further.
If you want to try Brainwriting, here’s a printable template to get you started.
9. Find out what’s already successful
Brainstorming is an excellent way to generate ideas, but you’re usually approaching the task with limited knowledge about what – in practice – actually works.
The only place to find out what’s really driving traffic, triggering social shares, and boosting the visibility of brands, is on the web itself.
This strategy is also known as the Skyscraper Technique, as popularized by the Backlinko blog.
Essentially, what you want to do is find topics in your industry that have already built traction. Then, you want to produce a better version of what’s currently popular.
Say, for example, you find a post called “10 Strategies for Making Your Mark Online” that’s received a lot of viral interest.
What’s to stop you from creating a post on “20 Strategies for Making Your Mark Online?” Or maybe you want to keep something similar to the original title, but add significantly more actionable suggestions or more up-to-date data to benefit readers.
Obviously, you shouldn’t plagiarize, but you should use what you come across to inform your own decisions about what kinds of content will interest your audience most.
10. Use BuzzSumo
BuzzSumo is a great tool for analyzing existing content and identifying what’s getting results. Just enter a topic or domain to get started.
The results page will show you the most successful content published in your set time window for that topic or domain, according to social shares.
The default settings analyze all types of content and show you the most popular content according to all social shares. You can toggle the timeframes or type of content you want to view. You can also change how the content is sorted.
Free users are limited to ten results per search, so the ability to toggle results and extract more data from the tool comes in very handy.
Additional benefits to pro users include the ability to view links to a page, export data, and set up content alerts.
This information is invaluable – don’t ignore it. Learn what’s working and let this drive your own content strategy. Establish whether or not your existing ideas have legs and abandon those that don’t.
11. Assess your own content
I love to see what others are doing that’s working well, but it’s also important to reflect on the success of your own content.
You can use BuzzSumo for this purpose as well. Just put in your URL in the same way you would to analyze the content of any other site.
You can also use Google Analytics for this task by navigating to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.
From here, you’ll probably want to filter to view only pages containing ‘blog’ (or whichever part of your domain contains your content).
What you’ll see is your content organized by number of page views. You might want to reorganise the data according to average time spent on page – an important metric for determining how engaged visitors to that page have been.
Alternatively you could organise the data by “Page Value.” This will establish how successful your content has been at converting customers.
Another way to determine your content success is to measure the number (and quality) of inbound links. There are many tools you can use for this; most are paid, but offer limited use to free account holders.
Whatever metric you decide to analyze your content by, pick a value and use it to measure what’s working for your audience. Then, use this insight to generate further ideas that are likely to appeal to your readers.
12. Stay on top of the news
If it’s made the front page of Google News, it’s a hot topic. If it’s relevant to your brand and goals and you’re able to jump on the bandwagon quickly, content that puts a unique spin on the latest headlines can be a winner.
You can also search Google News for industry topics. Be aware that the more niche your search, the less likely the results will contain something viral.
To find out how much visibility a news article has received, paste the URL into BuzzSumo and analyze its social shares.
Certainly, you don’t want every update to be news-related, as evergreen content will give you a bigger bang for your buck in terms of longevity.
But if you happen to come across a good news topic that hasn’t been beaten to death by your competitors, consider making a quick foray into newsworthy publishing.
13. Use Answer The Public
I’m a huge fan of this tool, and it’s essentially replaced Ubersuggest for satisfying my need for long-tail keywords and content ideas. Let’s take a look at what you can do with it…
Stay with me – it’s quick, simple, and well worth testing for yourself.
Begin by entering a keyword or phrase, and hit “Get questions:”
When the tool is finished loading, you can view either “Questions” or “Prepositions” that contain your chosen keyword. You can also choose “Alphabetical,” which is an alphabetized list of phrases containing your search term. Every one of these phrases could form the seed idea for a new content piece.
Personally, I find “Questions” most useful, but play around and see what works for you.
You can choose to view the data as a visualization, or as straight up text. I like the text version, but that’s just personal taste. Alternatively, you can export the data to a CSV.
14. Answer life’s greatest questions with Quora
Quora is essentially a question and answer forum. It’s great fun though – any topic goes, and users are encouraged to think outside the box. Some of life’s greatest questions have been asked here such as “what does it feel like to eat a book?” and “how do you know if you know something?”
Joking aside, just search for a topic, and Quora will tell you what related mysteries the internet wants answers to.
Provide those answers, and you should be onto a winning piece of content.
15. Make the most of free Google tools
Google’s good old Keyword Planner is an invaluable content marketing tool. Here’s why:
- Keywords are potential content ideas
- You can boost the long-term visibility of your content by crafting it around a popular key phrase (or phrases)
To use the Keyword Planner for content ideas, choose “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas:”
Enter your topic in the first box. Check that you’re happy with the targeting settings. Customize your search if necessary, and then click “Get Ideas.”
The default setting on the results page is “Ad group ideas.” You’ll want to change this to “Keyword ideas.”
From here you can view the average monthly searches for keywords related to your topic. Don’t worry about “Competition” or “Suggested bid;” this data is only really relevant to paid search campaigns.
That said, it is generally safe to assume that a keyword that’s competitive in paid search will also be competitive organically.
Research and Planning
Brainstorming new topic ideas is only part of the content creation process. Now, it’s time to take all the different ideas you’ve generated and transform them into a cohesive content creation process.
16. Mix up your plan
As I mentioned above, newsworthy content is timely. Interest in the topic can quickly wane, but if you’re quick, a subject-matter piece on a topic that’s on everyone’s lips can help your content succeed.
Evergreen content, on the other hand, is designed to be useful and interesting for as long as the content remains online.
Great evergreen content can drive interest long after publication; in fact, it’s not uncommon for evergreen pieces to “go viral” months – or even years – after they were originally published.
The ideal strategy should contain a mixture of both, with a heavier emphasis on the evergreen content that will support your business in the long-run.
Here’s a tip, though… Newsworthy content works best when you get there first. Make your own news and you will be.
17. Repurpose failed content
Not all failed content did so because the idea was poor, or because the research was lacking. Some content is based on a brilliant idea and is crafted around unique and exciting data. It’s just that the execution that went wrong.
Sound familiar? If you have faith in your idea, try presenting the information in a different format. You might be surprised at the results.
18. Repurpose successful content
So you’ve published and promoted a piece of content, and it’s done… rather well. It’s driven lots of traffic, gained a few followed links from high authority websites, and is drowning under the weight of all its social shares.
Time to celebrate? Well okay, maybe a little.
But then, what’s next?
Repurpose it into something new. An eBook can be broken down into a series of blog posts. An infographic can be turned into a collection of Facebook posts.
Take your most successful content, and make it even better to get it in front of even more readers.
19. Create your own data
There’s nothing wrong with utilizing existing data – especially if you present it as it’s never been seen before. But if you want to do something really amazing, create your own data.
There are some excellent tools that can help you do just that.
Survey Monkey is probably the most widely known. It does what it says on the box, and it does so very well. The only disadvantage is the cost.
The cheapest paid plan – the Select Plan – costs $26 per month and includes up to 1,000 responses per month. Subsequent responses will cost you $0.15 each. That might not sound like much, but the pennies can add up quickly.
As an alternative, consider Survey Gizmo’s, whose basic package costs just $15 a month and includes unlimited responses. For this price, you get plenty of useful features, as well as the assistance of a super helpful support team.
20. Tell a story
Winning content grabs the reader’s attention from the first sentence and uses a compelling narrative to keep them interested until the end.
Studies have demonstrated that using your marketing to invoke positive emotions has a significant influence on customer loyalty. Turn your data into a story, and you can turn your readers into brand advocates.
21. Write a detailed brief
You’ve done your research. You know your stuff. Time to start creating? Not quite. The best content begins with a detailed brief that outlines how you’ll organize your content piece, including what each section will contain and which specific information points you’ll include.
If you’re outsourcing your content, this bit is even more important. Don’t assume a freelance writer or designer knows what you want. You can’t read minds. Chances are they can’t either.
Include as much detail in your brief as possible. Tell them, at a minimum:
- What you want the content to contain
- Its purpose
- Your target market
- What you hope to get out of it
You should also provide samples of work in the style you want emulating. If you’re flexible on style – and if you’ve done your research, you probably shouldn’t be – then say so. If you don’t provide this information, don’t be disappointed if the finished piece isn’t quite what you expected.
Crafting Your Content
Finally, it’s time to bring all the prep work we’ve completed together and use the insights generated to craft content.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind:
22. Be original, or be better
As a general rule, successful content needs to be either:
- Something completely new
- Something old, but presented in a new and more interesting way
Most content isn’t based on new information. It’s old information presented very well.
This is so simple:
The information isn’t anything ground-breaking, but the idea of presenting it in an elephant-shaped word cloud is (at least, as far as I’m aware). The result is quite beautiful.
Here we have 282 nicknames from rap music, arranged according to semantics and displayed in a stylish visual. It’s performed very well – as you might expect, given its obvious appeal.
The bottom line is this: to make something amazing, your content doesn’t have to be new. But it does have to be original.
23. Communicate with your content creators
Communication is key.
If you’re not producing your own content, you still need to be involved in the production process. Don’t just supply a brief and cross your fingers. Messages can be easily lost in translation.
At a minimum, you should consult with your content producers at least once during the process. Do this towards the beginning of production. Identify problems early on during development, and you’ll save both your own and your content creator’s time.
24. Brand your content – a little
Content branding is key to boosting brand awareness. You’ve created something amazing, and you should be recognized for it.
However, while content marketing is a form of advertising, it shouldn’t be confused with advertising in its rawest, most brand-focused form.
Remember back to point 20 – tell a story. A well-crafted story can stealthily switch an audience on to your brand. Heavily-branded content will appeal to existing brand advocates, but it’s unlikely to create new brand advocates.
In fact, it’s more likely to repel those who are new to your company.
Never lead with branding. In most cases, it’s enough to subtly brand the bottom of a content piece, like so:
And, last but not least, this final tip to help you be smart about your content creation process is a little controversial, but it’s something you should always bear in mind:
25. Don’t be scared to quit
We’ve all been there – you’ve been working on a piece of content that you were certain would change the world, but it’s just not coming together like you expected.
It’s a tough decision – why quit when you’ve invested so much time?
I know how it feels, but you have to trust your instincts. If you know something isn’t right, then don’t waste any more of your resources. Put it down. You can always return to the idea with a different approach.
But for now, stop, and start working on something that you can be confident will help you achieve your brand goals.
Got another tip to share on how to improve your content creation process? I’d love to hear it! Leave a comment with your suggestions in the box below: