**This post was selected as one of the top digital marketing articles of the week by UpCity, a B2B ratings and review company for digital marketing agencies and other marketing service providers.**
Content is what makes the Internet such a useful tool, whether you’re trying to learn a new skill, or kill some time in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. But valuable content is what turns prospects into customers and makes businesses money.
You can spend hours creating a piece of content you believe is stellar – only to have it fall flat with your audience. You can crank out a few words on a whim, and find that it went viral overnight. There’s a certain amount of luck involved, but with the right focus and effort, you can tip the scales in your favor.
How? A checklist to make sure you hit all the major points before you ever hit publish – whether you’re working on an article, a video, or a podcast.
Atul Gawarde, general surgeon and author of The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right says, “Good checklists, on the other hand are precise. They are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations. They do not try to spell out everything — a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps — the ones that even the highly skilled professionals using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.”
What Are the Markers of Valuable Content?
For all digital content, regardless of format or delivery, to be considered valuable, it must be:
- Discoverable (people have to be able to find it).
- Readable (people have to be able to read it/listen to it).
- Understandable (if people can’t understand it, they can’t get value from it).
- Actionable (it must give actionable advice to help people achieve something).
- Shareable (it must be easy to share with others who may also see its value).
Bring All Decision-Makers Together
Before you can begin using this, or any other checklist for that matter, you must understand how to use it. That means getting all the stakeholders involved. In his book, Gwarde references how a hospital in Detroit used a checklist to insert an injection port, used to reduce the number of times a patient has to be stuck with a needle. Because these lines can often be infected, a physician from another hospital created a checklist and asked the Detroit hospitals to participate in a study to evaluate the checklist effectiveness. Each hospital that participated in the study was given a project manager and an executive who would visit at least once monthly to listen to complaints and help solve issues.
The executive was involved because some of the staff issues were things only the executives could fix, such as providing the correct sized curtains and the right kind of soap. Getting the executives involved meant that the Detroit hospitals were able to reduce injection port infections by two-thirds.
Looping in the executives on the challenges you face in content marketing and offering solutions, you can make a difference. Anyone who has the power to allocate or change resources and policy needs to be part of the meeting you call together about creating and using a checklist.
Your checklist should outline what must happen to keep your readers interested in your content because that’s the only thing that you have control over. Think about what will keep people reading to the end of the content – visuals, usability, and the structure of the information.
Get everyone who’s involved in your digital strategy team working together to create and make changes to your checklist as you need to. If there are other checklists, combine them however you can to maximize their effectiveness.
Make Your Content Discoverable
How you do this varies a bit depending on the type of content.
Web Page Content
Use headings throughout your content to break it up and make it easier to read. Strategically place keywords in those headings for extra potential search engine ranking. You’ll see this article is done with H2s and H3s where appropriate.
Optimize the meta data for each page according to the content and keyword you’re targeting. This includes the title, keywords, and description. Remember the description is like a free sales pitch – it should entice people to click through from the search engine to your content.
Include alt text on all images and photos so they appear in search. Describe the image so the visually impaired will be able to “see” what the image contains.
Include links to other relevant pages on your site so you increase the value the search engine bots assign to your pages. Include relevant links to other websites to provide additional value to your readers when and where necessary.
Post the video on YouTube and Facebook to increase the chance it will be seen. Tag the content relevantly to make it easier to find. Include possible keywords in the video title. Provide a detailed summary that uses relevant keywords. Add subtitles to the videos for improved usability (the majority of people watch videos without sound).
Distribute the audio content in various formats including WAV and MP3 so it’s available to different audiences. If potential customers don’t have the required format to listen to the audio file, limiting it to a single format hinders reaching your goal of creating and distributing the content.
Beyond this, create a detailed summary and title for where the content can be downloaded. For some delivery methods, that’s the system it’s stored in such as iTunes. For others, it may be the page where you post the file.
Post each audio clip on a relevant content page so the text and audio support each other and your SEO efforts by demonstrating relevant content to the search engine bots.
Make Your Content Readable
It’s imperative that your valuable content is readable to users, because text is the primary way people consume information. When considering whether or not your content is readable, remember that readers scan until they find what they need. The best web articles respect the reader’s time.
- Use an inverted pyramid style of writing that includes the most important facts at the top.
- Chunk your content so that you keep the paragraph short limiting them to three to four sentences in a paragraph and no more than three paragraphs under a single heading.
- Make use of bullets and numbered lists to help people consume information quickly.
- Create and use a style guide so that language is consistent. This helps your readers avoid confusion.
Make Your Content Understandable
When topics are complex, developing valuable content that readers understand is particularly challenging. As such, it’s important to focus on writing on an eighth grade reading level or something that is appropriate for your audience. Run your text through a readability tool to find out the grade level.
Regardless of which industry you’re in, you can create understandable content by:
- Developing readability tool for each of your different user audiences so you can match the level of content complexity to the user’s ability to understand it.
- Choosing the right content type – some topics will be better suited for video or slideshow rather than written text.
- Providing context. Even in situations where it may sound condescending, explained basic concepts to your users because you never know where someone is jumping in.
- Applying a standard reading level to all content for each project and stick to it. Is this should be based on market research and customer personas.
- Giving the reader valuable information whether it is new information or a different way of articulating existing ideas.
Make Your Content Actionable
You’re creating content because you want the people who read it to take some sort of action. You can make sure this happens by:
- Including an obvious call to action.
- Making it easy for users to ask questions and comment, both publicly and privately. You can allow blog comments or direct people to your social media platforms to reach you directly.
- Including a list of actionable items at the top If the content is long. For instance, if you are writing about weight loss with the ketogenic diet, provide three bullets that define the ketogenic diet and how to follow it at the top of the content.
- Providing links to relevant content or choose a plug-in for your content management system that provides options for other content that users have liked.
It’s no secret that people trust recommendations from other people more than they trust friends. This means you must make a concentrated effort to get users to share your content with their connections. You can do this by:
- Asking your readers to share the content at the end of each piece.
- Providing a reason to share.
- Aim to provoke an emotional response.
- Make it easy just share by including share buttons at the bottom of each piece.
- Allow users to make the share personal.
I hope this checklist helps you out and your quest to create better, more valuable content. Let me know how it works out for you and if you think there is anything else I should add.
Common Questions About Content Marketing
Content marketing is a broad strategy that targets users across various channels (search, social, email etc) and engages users as they move between them. Without these channels, nobody would be able to see your content and a key part of your strategy is understanding which channel(s) to deliver each piece of content on and how to target users on them. SEO is about making your content as accessible as possible for search engine users and helping it perform effectively. This starts with optimizing your pages and content for visibility in the searches that matter most but also involves broader, technical factors that affect how people engage with your pages (mobile optimization, loading times, etc).
Content marketing is the strategic process of building valuable relationships with audiences through various types of media. This is where you craft the stories and messages that capture people’s attention and guide them along the consumer journey until they become another happy customer.
Content is the substance of everything people do online before making a purchase – from the very first search to the moment they hit the buy button. Without content there are no web pages, search results, online reviews, demo videos or anything else that helps people make buying choices.
Above all, the key benefit is guiding people towards buying from you with confidence. When there are hundreds or thousands of other businesses like yours that people could buy from, content is how you differentiate your brand and show them why they should be doing business with you.
As with any kind of marketing strategy, you need to be able to measure your results to prove its success and find opportunities for improvement. Before you can do this, you’ll have to know exactly what your content marketing goals are and which KPIs illustrate success or failure.