4 Elements of Successful Content

Clients often ask me which content I feel will perform the best with one of our content promotion campaigns. It’s a difficult question, I can tell you the types of content that don’t work particularly well but codifying the specific factors to evaluate a piece of content and how well that content is likely to perform in a promotion is actually more difficult.

Over the past 10 months, this question has become something of an obsession of mine because we’re observing a real shift in how discerning publishers/influencers/sharers are becoming. We have open conversations with a number of websites that we have good relationships with and the consensus seems to be that as users become more discerning so to must the publishers adjust.

I subscribe to the notion of continual improvement; our content creation efforts get better every single day/week/month. I don’t think we’re heading to a destination when it comes to calibre of content but rather I see it as a continual journey as behaviour online continues to shift.

When I say “better”, I am talking about in the context of how our clients measure “effective” so essentially:

  • Number and quality of links
  • Improvement in rankings
  • Social shares & referral traffic
  • Corresponding uplift in revenue over period

What I want to do today is offer some rough content guidelines – based on hundreds of successful content promotion campaigns – patterns we have observed with content assets that prove successful and those that don’t.

Why you shouldn’t judge content by its quality

I think quality is a ridiculous metric for content.

For a start it means different things to different people. But most crucially the common factors that would lead the average digital marketer to confirm a piece as “high-quality” are frankly a minimum requirement for the internet nowadays.

Correct spelling and grammar, original content, interesting topic, detailed… these things don’t automatically make a piece an effective content asset. They’re merely the ticket that provides entry to the race.

We’re not in school anymore so we’re not having our work graded. People rarely link to a website because of the quality of the writing. The quality helps “convert” anyone who is thinking about linking but I would be surprised if anyone in the history of the internet has ever published a link using the anchor text “visit this web page it’s 100% copyscape approved” …

But before this turns into a rant, let’s dive into the specific factors that we’ve observed can help make a piece more effective in delivering the results discussed above.

1) Utility

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 10.33.08

In essence, we find creating a piece of content that has a real purpose to be more effective than one without. Hard to believe, I know.

Useful content isn’t a new concept to many of you, creating information-rich assets and resources is vital to success – solve real problems that your clients and potential customers have.

The way to look at this is a balancing act; weighing up the commercial intent of your website with providing value to the wider internet community so as to make your content easier to promote. In most cases these two things intersect however in some cases it may mean you can’t create “linkable” content around your most commercial keywords but in every market there is the opportunity to expand into wider topic areas that are more link friendly.

2) Evergreen

Being focused on creating content with utility often means you end up creating evergreen assets anyway: People will be looking for their long lost relatives forever and a day, People will be looking to protect their elderly relatives from fraud for years to come, People will want to know how to keep their kids safe whether that’s on an iPad or navigating a street of the future with flying vehicles and driverless cars.

Granted, even evergreen takes a bit of upkeep, but evergreen content can be a tremendous asset to any online business. Being visible for informational queries is powerful for all sorts of reasons; from more traffic and links to brand awareness and plugging holes in your sales funnel.

If not indefinite longevity at least capable of being promoted for more than a few weeks. Whilst there is nothing wrong with timely content, building a digital marketing channel comprised exclusively of flash in the pan content isn’t advisable for the majority of businesses. For starters the cost and commitment of constantly churning out new pieces is enough to put a lot of people off but in most cases it takes a similar level of budget and effort to produce a piece of valuable, long-term content as it does an infographic about the latest fad.

Evergreen content gives you multiple bites of the cherry so this helps you achieve more from the content because if you don’t quite reach the right prospects the first time around, you can easily reload and have another go – that usually isn’t possible if your asset has an expiry date.

tumblr_inline_nfi4180y9A1rlkg4z3) Keep it simple

There are always going to be a number of digital agencies trumpeting the use of the latest and greatest tools and coding technique. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against pushing the boundaries of content production but in our experience it should only be used when it adds to the substance of the piece.

I’ve been made aware of campaigns that have generated zero links from a content series that the agency billed out at $xx,xxx. You can keep your webGL in that case 🙂

It might have parallax scrolling but if it lacks actual substance or utility then all you really have to rely on is the novelty of a fancy-pants technique – and that only tends to get you a certain type of link… mostly SEOs and digital marketers sharing the piece as a case study on SEO blogs saying how it pushes the boundaries of content creation!

My recommendation to clients is always to keep it simple and in the most appropriate format.

4) Unique

Not the Copyscape kind… that’s obviously a requirement. I’m talking about unique in the sense that there is a real reason for existence, “an angle” as we like to call it.

There are so many angles:

  • Format – don’t forget “rule 3” above but if everyone else is producing a guide that’s a video for example then you might have an opportunity to put together a written guide and vice versa.
  • Missing Information – evaluate other content in the marketplace from your position as a subject expert and capitalize on gaps in the market.
  • Broken Link(s) – in many cases the unique angle is that there was a piece of content on the topic but it is no longer online and you are filling that gap in the market with an updated and enhanced piece that they can link to instead.
  • Up-to-date – the unique selling point of your piece of content may be that your guide includes the latest advice, regulations or guidelines etc. You can create an evergreen asset and it still be timely for example the Google Algorithm Update resource from Moz.
  • Reworked for a specific audience – tailor general information to a very specific audience. For example, don’t simply offer guidance on avoiding investment fraud in general but rather how people can help their elderly relatives avoid investment fraud. The differences are often subtle but in many instances it gives you the chance to create multiple content assets based off of similar topic ideas and information.
  • An ultimate guide that is actually an ultimate guide – deep dive into a strand of a topic, include more detail than anything else published already.

The content itself is the key to effective outreach

The more campaigns we complete successfully, the more we see the content asset itself being the key to success.

By all means split-test the subject line, try a new approach, offer to walk their dog if they’ll give you a link but the thing that delivers a real impact is the content that is fed into the outreach process. If you get that right, you’ll still need to proactively promote it BUT the outreach emails are easier to write because the content speaks for itself.

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