7 Step Guide To Creating Perfect Content

Happy New Year 2013Have you ever clicked on a promising headline and then been horribly disappointed by the results? Have you then been amazed at the number of social media shares you continue to see of that same thing post?

I know I have. Those writers have discovered the foolproof formula for creating killer content with minimal effort or original thought. Content that consistently delivers results (shares and visits, not people that actually care, that’s not worth the trouble to measure anyways) for your efforts. Warning, sarcasm may be found dripping at additional points throughout this article.

Do you want guaranteed success too? Just follow this simple formula, and ignore the people quietly laughing at your expense.

The Perfect Content Marketing Formula

If you just follow the formula, you can’t fail.

This 7 point formula delivers content that earns page views and social proof, likely vaulting it to the top of search results for every single term you care about. Yep, more sarcasm.

1. Write a Catchy Title

Something vaguely related to your topic is good, something valuable to your audience and using your target keywords is even better.

Always start with a number, and remember that fear is a stronger motivator than reward. Following this guideline, this post could have been called 5 Things Every Content Marketer Needs to Know, or better yet, 7 Mistakes Every Content Marketer Makes Today.

2. Nail the Subheads

No one is going to read the entire post, but if they skim it, they will read your subheads. Hit the main points in your subheads to increase shares and retweets.

3. Quote or Reference Key Influencers

For instance, Jay Baer (@jaybaer) is widely quoted as saying “Content is fire, social media is gasoline.” What Jay might add is top social media influencers are jet fuel. Get some jet fuel on your side by referencing key influencers in your content (and telling them when it is published).

4. Make It Skimmable

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Bold what you want skimmed. If it isn’t in bold, most visitors will look right past it.

Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

Keys to creating skimmable content:

  • Bold your key points
  • Use bulleted lists (but keep them short!)
  • Skim your article in 15 seconds

5. Add a Visual Element

An image, video, infographic or slideshare adds a visual element and draws your visitor in. Better yet, include one from an influencer (see #3).

6. Occasionally Break the Rules

Rules are meant to be broken, as long as you don’t do it too often. After all, if you follow the same formula all the time, you will look like the automaton that you are!

No, there isn’t a rule #7. But 7 always sounds better than 6. Maybe it is because bonsai group plantings always use odd numbers.

STOP! Let’s Be Serious

The real problem with this formula, despite the bit of sarcasm, is the main points sound like much of the advice you read and content you see! The bar is low, the content is predictable, and the format is repeated over and over again throughout personal, professional and corporate blogs and even publications.

The mistake content creators make is continuing to follow formulas like this and producing more and more blasΓ© content. Someday, hopefully soon, this content won’t be good enough for anyone any more.

Your Turn

Is it just me, or do you see a sea of content today that is just ok, that might have one or two small nuggets (at best) but does little to educate, inform or inspire versus the time you spend finding and reading it? Share your opinion in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Photo Credit: Nik Cyclist via Flickr cc

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  • it works!

    • Thanks Jay!

      • janie hightower – These dishes photos turned out great — they really are pretty dishes. Your booth looks so cute in the pictures, too, especially those little baby vases. seyR.uslroieply

  • I understand your frustration. But when it comes to attracting audiences and conveying information, the formulas work. Doubt it? Read “Ogilvy on Advertising.” The data have spoken.

    Here’s the problem: Too many copywriters believe if they just ape the formulas, then it really doesn’t matter if the information is compelling or even interesting. The formulas help us only to organize and present information. If the information is dull, it doesn’t really matter how we present it.

    If you want to be creative and unpredictable, you should focus on gathering information that is fun, entertaining and useful. Then you should use the formulas to craft a presentation that is easy to comprehend and quick to read, and that stands out for search engines.

    MentalFloss.com does this every day. So can the rest of us.

    • Hi Rusty, yes, the formula can work. As you point it, the problem is what people are putting into the formula. Or I might say, that they are relying on the formula instead of the information they bring to the table to make it compelling.

      If we focused on the content instead, the formulas would just help us package it up.

      Thanks for the great addition, I appreciate it!

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  • Ardath Albee

    Hi Eric – This is so true and I really wish I could argue that it’s not!

    Great point made by Rusty about the quality of the info you put into the formula. But the question really is, how much crappy content can you shovel out before people will quit looking – even if you decide to, all of a sudden, put good info into the formula?

    Content marketing is about building a reputation and positioning your company in the marketplace as an expert your market can trust and rely upon. Formula content that ignores the value of information torpedoes that outcome.

    I’m wondering if this laziness will create the “boy who cried wolf” syndrome leaving some brands unable to recover? I mean, how many times are you willing to click for nothing of value? I know I have a number of brands that could say whatever they want now, yet I’ll never click because it’s always been a bait and switch waste of my time. Just saying.

    • Thanks Ardath!

      Yes, it could lead to “boy who cried wolf” syndrome (note to self, time to start telling my boys that story more often..). That said, you may click when its recommended by someone you trust (and often don’t know where you are being taken too), even though you won’t even notice if its shared by the company anymore.

      That highlights the importance of your curation. Even if you produce great content, if you share (curate) crappy content, people will still tune you out in social media, limiting the ways you can connect. In some ways, losing that (broader) audience may be even more difficult to recover from long term.

      Reminds me of an image from an old post of mine:

      Thanks for the great comment, as always!

      • Ardath Albee

        Love the Pin! TMCC – we need to start tagging with that πŸ™‚

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  • ShellyKramer

    I enjoyed your post, Eric, but I still say that many of these rules are important. In fact, I just wrote about them and recommended many of them. I’d say that you can still follow these guidelines and deliver great content – at least that’s always my goal. And the crap, well, even if you do all these things, if it’s crap, it’s still going to be obvious. And no one will read it. Or, even worse, they’ll hold your crap up as an example of what NOT to do. And that would suck.

    • Shelly, I agree (110%). It isn’t that this is bad advice, but it seems like the advice to deliver valuable information is overshadowed by the calls to write great headlines, add visual interest and keep it skimmable. As you point out, crap is still crap. Packaging doesn’t change that. Yet somehow, certain people keep focusing on the packaging instead of what’s inside, and we all keep seeing that content circulate.

      Thus, a bit of a rant or sarcastic post on the advice, trying to point out that it isn’t actually the part that makes the biggest difference. Glad you liked it! πŸ™‚

      • ShellyKramer

        LOL. My next post will be entitled: Don’t Write Crap.

  • kitoomal

    We already do most of these things in our company. These 6 steps make a good overall guideline, but without good SEO and a Social Media push, good content in not very likely to be even found. Yet your sharing of this advice is better than not sharing it. It really nails it. And yes, the 7th step is one of the keys – it is up to the content creator and marketer to innovate and come up with something that will help bring out the value in these 6 points and in one’s content.

    • Maybe a future article with a similar tone is in store: The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Your Content. Hmmm…

  • The key is to write for your audience. Know who they are and what will turn them on – both in terms of what you are saying and how you say it.

    • Simple, fool-proof guideline, yet so hard to live by. Thanks for the addition. πŸ™‚

  • Tamar Weiss

    Nice discussion. I too see these rules posted all over the Internet. I agree with Eric that it’s not bad advice, but more “beginner” advice. At a certain point, especially in B2B, knowledge of subject matter must intersect with helping out a customer pain point. One challenge is that the customer decision journey is long and you need to react with content at different points. Personalization of content in real-time is a great way to meet this challenge!

    • Thanks Tamar! Great point, this advice is generally given per piece of content. Getting the right content to the right person at the right time, and doing it consistently, is far more complicated!

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  • kenny madden

    also instead of a bunch of B2B people talking about content marketing and producing content marketing for each other is a but of a shame and creates a lot of noise that is not relevant to the audience they are looking to attract. i wonder how much of this content is produced to get a mention in a trade magazine, self promote the personal brand and/or get listed in the top 20 content marketers list)

    Start with the people you are looking to attract.

    I asked a bunch of IT buyers what content marketing is to them. I then use that feedback to create contextually relevant, USEFUL content to help IT technology marketers market and sell to these folks in a more congruent way. both sides win.



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