The question ‘What makes great content great?’ is one that is centuries old and has been constantly refined to suit the times and the march of technology.
When ‘Hand C’ wrote the majority of the Book of Kells in AD800, the text was a given – the four Gospels – but he settled on a presentation he assumed would be more engaging: the more frequent use of minuscule letters than his peers, 17 lines per page and the use of brown ink.
Content in the 19th century was anything but to the point, with news stories beginning with phrases like ‘We are reliably informed’ and advertisements proclaiming ‘Messrs Blake & Co. would like to inform their customers that a consignment of haberdashery has been received in the colony’. But it fitted in with current usage.
And, while the content of 25 years ago is instantly recognisable to us in 2013, its delivery was very different. Back then, you pretty much distributed via print and, if you were particularly tech savvy, via an internet bulletin board to a very small audience.Today our distribution channels have ballooned to include print, web, eDMs, social media, apps – you name it – but the basics of great content remain the same: it must be written or produced in a way that engages modern consumers and make the best use of current technology to reach the widest audience.
To break it down, it must:
This is a twofold goal. One, tailor your content so that the readers come away feeling satisfied that they have learned something new, have been entertained or have been given food for thought. Two, provide a call to action wherever you can: get readers to subscribe to a newsletter, buy a product, sign up for a workshop… the list is endless.
Changes in the way Google ranks websites and content mean that not only do you get higher search rankings for original content, you also get penalised for rehashing other people’s work.
Be of high quality
Don’t think that being half-hearted is good enough – readers/customers will be turned off if they perceive a slapdash attitude or see your content as link-bait. They won’t engage with your brand and won’t share your content, which is a Very Bad Thing. Tailor it to your audience, write it well and present it beautifully.
Have strong headlines and images
Readers make value judgements based on headlines and images. If you don’t get them in a split second, they’ll gloss over your content. Then, if they’re still keen they’ll look at the introduction to a story or video and you might, just might, have them hooked.
If your content is hard to read you’ve lost the race before you’ve begun. Just like the scribe Hand C we met before, you must take care with layout, fonts, leading (the space between the lines), colours, illustrations and the like. And break the copy up by inserting quotes, making lists, doing Top 10s – like this one. Professional designers are essential!
All the effort you put into an otherwise great piece of content is worthless if there’s no one to read, hear or watch it. Search engine optimisation, or SEO, is the key to success. You need to help people find content through methods such as the clever use of keywords, a well-coded back-end and support through multiple channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
As we said above, sharing is one of your holy grails. Engaging one person is good; having that person pass on the link to his or her friends and colleagues is great; having those friends and colleagues do the same is priceless. It’s a two-step process: first, create content that people want to share (start by thinking what you would want to share); and second, make it easy for them to share by including handy buttons, pop-ups and text reminders.
Be part of a greater whole
One piece of content isn’t going to gain much traction, or reinforce your brand or message in the minds of the readers. Updating your website regularly, or creating regular print magazines, is essential. The more you publish, the more your readership will grow and the higher you’ll rank in web searches.
Publishing a great piece of content once is good, since it gets you out there. But it’s also a waste, as taking an omni-channel approach will get you far more exposure for little extra effort. Print, web, Instagram, SlideShare, Google+, YouTube… we live in an era of almost limitless distribution opportunities.
We’ll finish with one of the most important points. You know what you’re talking about, right? You know your company or brand is the best; you know that you’re capable of thought leadership; you know that what you have to say is important. Well, show it.