February 1, 2018

The Anatomy of Effective Content

Learn how to craft SEO content that actually gets you traffic, engagement and backlinks

Let’s start with a question:

What’s the difference between a company that does no Content Marketing and a company that puts out content but lacks a strategy for producing it and an understanding of what goes into creating great content?

The answer may surprise you:

There is no difference.

Why?

Because there about 440 Million blogs in the world. That’s quite the pool of competition.

The good news?

Most of them have no idea how to create effective SEO Content with quality topics and proven audiences.

Today, you’re going to learn about all of the factors that go into defining high quality content—The type of content that will actually get you traffic, engagement and a steady influx of leads.

Let’s get started!

Your Ideal SEO Content Audience: Leave the Self-Promotion at Home

When a someone tells you to think about your content’s ideal audience, your attention probably goes straight to subsections of your client base.

And why wouldn’t it? After all, those are the groups that should be buying your product or service.

This mentality single biggest obstacle that most content marketers face.

Promotional content written for your end user is a sales initiative, not a content marketing technique.

Here’s an example of what not to do:

Let’s say you’re a carpenter, and you want to create a blog post to help market the wooden tables you’ve been making.

The first instinct of most content marketers would be to try to sell the tables in their writing:

“Here are some beautiful tables I created... They are made out of high quality cherry wood, which is extremely durable... It took 100 hours to make each one… Visit my showroom to see them in person!”

Here’s a slightly better but still not-good-enough option:

“In this post, I’m going to talk in detail about my unique process for creating beautiful, custom tables. I’ll walk you through the types of wood I use, the glazes, and the decorative elements… By the way, I make custom tables, here’s the address to my showroom.”

Now here’s a much better option:

“Today, you’re going to learn how to make this beautiful cherry wood table… Here’s the equipment you’ll need… Step 1: Purchase 4 2 x 6 pieces of cherry wood…”

So what’s the difference?

  1. Options 1 and 2—although they do it in different ways—are ultimately trying to sell the product.
  2. Options 1 and 2 both add very little value to the reader. The reader walks away with nothing, other than the opportunity to buy a table.

People don’t want to be sold to in blogs, unless the selling is creating inherent value that goes above and beyond an eventual purchase. Users want solutions.

Why is Option 3 our winner?

Because it’s adding value to the end user by teaching them a new skill.

And guess what?

That same reader you’re helping is going to be reading that valuable information on your website. If they’re interested in purchasing, and if your website is optimized correctly, you may just get some business.

However:

Getting direct business shouldn’t be the primary goal of most SEO Content.

While it’s great if your end user can benefit from consuming your content, the vast majority of your content needs to be geared toward entities that have the ability to amplify it.

We call these entities Link Creators: Authoritative websites in your industry that have the ability to link to your content.

Google recognizes these Authoritative Backlinks as a vote of confidence, causing your website’s search rankings to improve.

Therefore, before creating a piece of content, it's important to understand who your link creators are, and what type of content they are most likely to link to.

If Your Content Isn’t Useful and Comprehensive, What’s the Use of Creating It?

In order to be engaging and shareable—and most importantly, attractive to link creators—content needs to provide value.

Take our examples above. We’ve already thrown out options 1 and 2 because they are overly self-promotional, but even with Option 3, which we agreed was superior, there’s potential for a massive content dud.

Here’s why (the example is below so you don’t have to scroll up to find it):

“Today, you’re going to learn how to make this beautiful cherry wood table… Here’s the equipment you’ll need… Step 1: Purchase 4 2 x 6 pieces of cherry wood…”

You could take this concept and create a 500 word post outlining the items necessary and the steps involved in creating a beautiful cherry wood table.

Or:

You could elaborate on each step in painstaking detail, preparing even the most novice reader to tackle a task. Consider every single question someone using using the post to build a table may ask, and ensure your content addresses all of these questions for the reader.

Guess which piece a link creator is more likely to link to and a user is more likely to use.

That was a rhetorical question. You already know.

Utility is relative. A lot of content can be “useful,” but not all content can be “the most useful of its kind.”

That’s where comprehensiveness comes in. By creating content that is both useful and comprehensive, you are eliminating the possibility that a user would need to leave your content to seek out another resource.

You’re also increasing the likelihood that link creators will want to link to your content. If it’s the best, most comprehensive resource in its field (and you’ve done your research correctly on what they like to link to), why wouldn’t they?

Comprehensiveness is the best way to outshine other content marketers in your field.

Which brings us to the next point.

Longer SEO Content Performs Better

Most good content is long, plain and simple. In fact, the average top 10 search result on Google has over 2,000 words.

But it’s not content length on its own that tells Google your content is good and worthy of high rankings.

It’s the fact that longer content creates the conditions necessary to check all the boxes that define great content.

Let’s say step 5 of your walkthrough on how to build a wooden table is “Sand all of the wood.”

Simply telling users to sand the wood will have them wondering if there are ideal tools that enable you to do a better job, or if there is a special technique for sanding that will work best.

Leaving out these details will have readers leaving your site, and looking to other resources for answers. However, including these key details will keep readers on your site consuming the comprehensive content.

Great Writing with a Bad Headline, Title Tag and Meta Description = Bad Content

So you’ve created some highly useful, long-form content on a topic that will appeal to proven link creators.

Congratulations!

If this were a video game, you’d be approaching the final boss.

In this case, beating the final boss is the act of getting people to actually click on your content.

How do we do that?

By creating engaging headlines, title tags and meta descriptions.

There are many factors that go into creating great title and descriptions tags that improve Click Through Rates (CTR). Here are the ones we find to be the most important:

  • Evidence of Usability and Comprehensiveness
  • Relevance
  • Emotion

Based on these factors, we can determine title tags more likely to earn clicks.

Let’s say someone searches for “how to build a table out of cherry wood” and these are three of the search results that come up:

  1. How to build a table
  2. How to Build a Beautiful Cherry Wood Table
  3. Build an Awe-Inspiring Cherry Wood Table from Scratch [Step by Step Guide]

If we look at these 3 options from the angle of someone who could be consuming your content, it’s easy to determine a winner.

Option 1 inspires no confidence that the table is worth building, much less that the post will provide all the information needed to be successful.

Option 2 does a little better by adding some description and specificity, but ultimately still falls short in telling the user what it will help accomplish.

Option 3 includes all of the elements listed above. It has an emotional element, is relevant to the search query, and inspires confidence that it will provide the most useful and comprehensive resource to someone looking to create a table out of cherry wood.

Ultimately, people will only view your content if it’s enticing enough to click on.

Quick SEO Tip

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to create a piece of content. First, take a look at the content you already have that’s performing well. Then, look at whether you’ve already optimized it for technical SEO. Chances are, you can create a better title tag and meta description. This can help you immediately increase your CTR!

Be Memorable or Be Forgotten

Let’s recap what we’ve covered up to this point.

Great content is:

  • Written for an authoritative audience who has the ability to link to it
  • Written about a topic that has proven to generate backlinks
  • Useful and comprehensive (and probably long)
  • Optimized for high Click Through Rate

There’s only one thing we’ve missed:

People aren’t robots.

You can accomplish everything we’ve listed above and still be boring. And most people don’t like boring content. In order to perform, content needs to be memorable.

Now this is no reason to freak out. Not every piece you create needs to be revolutionary or ultra-creative. It does, however, need to have something that sets it apart.

You can achieve this in multiple ways:

1. By simply creating the best piece of content of its kind.

I say simply because you have all the tools to do it. Create the most detailed, most reliable, most well-designed piece, and people will recognize it as such.

2. By adding your own spin to the topic you’re discussing and branding that spin.

When you brand an idea, it instantly becomes more memorable because of the fact that people can connect imagery and branded phrases to the concept more easily.

3. Tell a story

You’ve heard it a million times, and for once, something you’ve heard a million times is actually true: Storytelling makes content more relatable, easier to understand, and more pleasant to read.

4. Enrich your content with design

When quality design accompanies content, that content becomes more engaging. Design is basically visual storytelling. It reinforces the story your content is telling.

You don’t need to implement all four of these into every piece of content, but the more the merrier!

The Bottom Line: Have a Plan

Content Marketing is not driven by ideation.

It’s a deliberate process built to achieve intentional goals.

Next time you’re sitting around a table with your marketing team and someone says, “I think our audience would really relate to a piece about A, B, or C “ you can say, “Why not take all of the guesswork out of it and use the tools at our disposal to figure out exactly who our audience is and what kinds of topics they’re linking to?”

Next time you’re working on a content idea, ask yourself if it gives the eventual user every single thing they need about the topic in an actionable way. If not, find a way to make it more useful and comprehensive.

Next time you’re working on a piece of content, think about whether or not it’s memorable, whether that means it has creative design elements, tells a story, or presents a unique perspective.

And next time you’re about to launch a new piece of content. Make sure the title tag and meta description are written in such a way that people will actually click on the search result.

Our resource guides

Win SEO Through Content Marketing with the Tandem Bike Technique

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Ideal SEO Content Length: Flushing the Goldfish Cliche Down the Toilet

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"What is Your Most Actionable Content Writing Tip?"

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The Definitive Web Design Resource Guide: 2018 (updated)

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16 Actionable SEO Tips You Can Implement Today to Avoid the Most Common SEO Mistakes

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