It doesn’t matter whether you’re an on-site SEO consultant, a link-building specialist or an all-round ‘internet marketer’, content creation should be particularly high on your list of priorities. We’ve been hearing the phrase ‘content is king’ for years now, but given Google’s recent de-indexation of low-quality blog networks, the Panda updates and the new algorithm burning across the horizon, it seems it’s never been more true than in 2012.
It’s not difficult to understand the importance of high quality, unique and relevant content in the modern SEO industry; content of this type published on your own site can do wonders when it comes to link magnetism and social media metrics and similarly, can help you obtain extremely powerful links from high authority domains that might otherwise be out of your reach. But creating this content is easier said than done, particularly if you’re trying to compete in a crowded industry. Sure, if you’re working on behalf of a client in a fairly dull field it can be relatively easy to produce content that will attract attention, but competing in content-heavy industries like SEO, gaming and entertainment (for example) can be very, very difficult.
So how can you make creating high quality, shareable content easier? What processes can you follow to minimise the time you spend researching and thinking and maximise the time you spend creating and sharing your content?
To try and answer these questions I’ve put together the following article and infographic (a large chunk of my time working for Designbysoap is spent designing infographics) that aims to give you a structure for content creation, as well as some useful tips and tools. I hope you enjoy it and, more importantly, I hope it helps when it comes to creating high quality content for your own campaigns.
Click for a full size version if you’d like to print it.
Typically, this is often the most time-intensive element of content creation, whilst annoyingly yielding the fewest results. I’ve spent numerous hours reading posts and analysing data that ultimately comes to nothing. Sure, it can be enjoyable and often rewarding in terms of learning about an industry, but it’s not always permissible to spend huge chunks of your time (or a clients’ for that matter) reading and searching only to end up with nothing to show for it.
Having said that, the research portion of your content creation process can often be one of the most important – delivering content based on flawed, incorrect, irrelevant or (perhaps worst of all) boring information will get you nowhere and will essentially nullify all your efforts in the latter stages.
Ultimately, you need to find out what’s popular in the area you’re working in. Your research needs to be around a topic that’s current, relevant to your industry, popular and, most importantly, likely to gain traction (whether that be via social media platforms, inbound links or attention from high profile sites).
To help you identify this kind of content, there are several excellent tools at your disposal;
Google News – helps you highlight areas of interest and current news
Google Trends – helps you hone into specific topics in any given area of interest
Google Insights – helps you discover what people are searching for around an area of interest. Great if you’re writing blog posts
These are the platforms I turn to first, but there are plenty of others (Cracked, AllThingsNow, Bing News, Fark, etc.), all of which will add to your level of insight around any given topic. Now, these can certainly help you find up to date, reliable and current information and can be invaluable when it comes to highlighting the most popular topics, but they don’t solve the problem of minimising the time you’re spending on research.
This is where a phenomenal tool from SEOGadget comes in, that makes ingenious use of Excel and Google Docs. I hugely recommend you follow the link and save a copy of the document to your own Google Docs (when you’ve finished reading this post of course), as it will save you a massive amount of time and effort during the research stage. The tool allows you to add a search query within the excel document, after which it will pull in invaluable data from Google News, Google Insights, Twitter, Bing News, Digg and numerous other platforms. You can not only quickly and easily find out what’s hot, but you can see the most popular topics on a range of social media platforms and highlight the top and rising searches around any given topic. There’s a fair bit more to it, but I’ll leave you to discover all it has to offer – suffice it to say it’s a perfect tool for the content creation research stage.
Once you’ve got a solid set of data and a firm grip on the type of information likely to be shared, you need to start brainstorming some ideas on how you’re going to present the information.
The first thing you need to decide is the angle from which you’re going to approach the information. It’s no good just re-formatting a post or piece of content that already exists (you see this a huge amount when it comes to content creation, particularly in the SEO industry), you need to add something new or interesting to what you’ve already got. Can you come at the information in a new way? Or add something new to the story? Can you produce something unique to the industry?
Essentially, you’re looking at how you’re going to present the information you’ve gathered (an in-depth blog post, a video, a static infographic, an interactive infographic, etc), how you’re going to approach the subject (informative, analytical, satirical, etc) and how you’re going to add something beneficial or attractive to the target audience (drawing new conclusions, bringing together lots of pieces of information, attempting to shock, informing, entertaining, etc).
An excellent example is SEOmoz’s own Google Algorithm Change History; all of this information is available elsewhere on the internet, but by pulling it all together and keeping it up to date, they’ve provided a piece of content that makes life easier for readers (bringing all the information together in one place), keeps them up to date (by displaying the latest information) and provides new insight (by viewing the complete history of algorithm updates, you can see the progression Google has taken, which offers far more insight and value than a post discussing just the most recent change).
Sometimes, it’s enough to simply be first – as long as the content you’re producing is high quality. A great example from a different industry is the Angry Birds Space infographic (section included below). This was the first quality infographic to be published on the latest Angry Birds installment; a game that saw a huge amount of buzz across news platforms for reaching 10 million downloads in just three days. The infographic is not only very nicely designed, but gained a decent amount of traction. Only two days after being published, the infographic has seen over 1,000 Facebook likes:
Infographic section via PlayVille
You can also gain a decent amount of traction by focusing your content around an upcoming event – a great example is the F1 2012 Season infographic (a section of which is included below). The infographic doesn’t necessarily offer anything new, but took advantage of the excitement surrounding the start of the new Formula 1 season, resulting in a very high placement for the infographic.
Infographic section via Autoblog
Another excellent idea is to try your best to involve other people in the idea (or even the research) stage; specifically, people you know have an influence in the industry you’re working in.
Let’s say you’re producing an infographic on console gaming – why not email some people from Destructoid, G4TV, Gamespot, IGN, etc. and ask them what they’d like to see in an infographic. Or give them a collection of your ideas and ask them which they think is the best – not only does this involve influencers in the early stages of your content creation, but it can help massively when it comes to placement and promotion.
If these people give you valuable insights or information, then include them in your content (in the sources section of an infographic, or via a credit link in a blog post) – you’d be amazed how much more willing people are to share things when they’re credited with a hand in the research or production.
Once you’ve gathered your information and you have an idea of the type of content you’re going to produce, you need to try and identify where the content is going to be placed.
Obviously if the content is going on your own website, then this is less of an issue, but if it’s a link-building exercise then having an idea of the kind of site you’ll be aiming for can make a big difference to how you approach the creation stage.
It can be a good idea to start your outreach before you approach the actual creation of your content, as confirming a placement beforehand will make your life much easier in terms of considering the target audience. If you know where the content is going to be placed, then you can tweak the language, style and tone you adopt throughout the piece in order to maximise your chances of appealing to their readers.
Conversely, you don’t necessarily need to have confirmed the placement location before you start work on the production stage. Often you may find it easier to convince sites to place your work once they’ve actually got something to look at, rather than trying to tempt them with just the concept. If you’re planning on completing your outreach once you’ve finished the content creation stage, then you should at least have an idea of the sort of website you’re going to be targeting. Don’t specifically aim content at one website before you contact them, as if they turn it down you may struggle to place it somewhere else.
When it comes to contacting specific websites, your best bet is to write a concise and polite email to the most relevant person at the organisation, then follow this up with a call a day or two later. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t hear back from your preferred placement, it’s still worth giving them a call just to check they’ve received your email and even if they turn it down, you’ve got a contact you can use for future pieces.
So you’ve done your research, you’ve got your content and you’ve got an idea of where you’re going to place the piece – now it’s time to actually create your content.
Giving you advice on the creation stage is a little tricky, as it will depend on what type of content you’re putting together. To overcome this, I’ll quickly cover the two most popular content types; blog posts and infographics.
Having produced around 100 infographics personally over the last 18 months (and overseen scores more), I consider them to be one of my main areas of expertise. One of my major pet hates when it comes to infographics is people telling me that there are ‘rules’ to infographic production – there aren’t. An infographic doesn’t have to tell a story, it doesn’t have to avoid using text at all costs, in fact it doesn’t have to do anything other than display information that is either complimented by, or portrayed via graphics. So don’t get too caught up in the non-existent infographic ‘rules’ and just focus on producing something that is engaging to your target audience.
Some topics will require more text than others, particularly if the data is qualitative rather than quantitative. A lot of people will use phrases like ‘don’t make me read’ when they’re looking at infographics, but you should give your audience more credit – people don’t mind reading, as long as the information you’re including is concise and adds something to the visuals. If you can visualise it (i.e. statistical information), then do, if you can’t then don’t worry too much about it, people will forgive you.
Try and create an immediate impact with the visuals and draw readers into your infographic as early as possible, the most obvious place to do this is with the title. It’s amazing how many people are happy to just type the title in a nice big font and then move on to the rest of the content. But if you look at some of the best infographic designers (and the most popular infographics online), you’ll see that the title is a fantastic opportunity to grab the reader with a strong, relevant visual. I’ve included a few examples below to show you what I’m talking about (please note these are just a part of the original graphic — there is a lot more to see when you click on the link underneath each image!):
Infographic section via the Designbysoap blog
Infographic section via Volvo
Infographic section via HotelshopUK
Infographic section via Geekosystem
When it comes to visualising the data you’ve got, try and keep a consistent theme throughout the infographic, whether that’s through your choice of visualisation methods, the colours used or the style of design. If you can help it, try and avoid using too many infographic ‘cliches’ – a good example of this is using a line of six person icons to visualise a statistic like ‘60% of people use people icons in their infographics’.
Just try and be as creative as you can (which I realise isn’t really all that helpful, as it’s like saying ‘be more musically gifted’), and don’t take the lazy approach just because you’d like to get it finished.
My last point is on orientation – generally speaking, if you’re going to be placing the infographic online then you’re probably better off opting for a portrait infographic, rather than a landscape one. This is because it’s far easier to use online and usually allows you to use a longer file (people will always prefer to scroll up and down as opposed to left and right, if the web page even allows it).
It seems like an obvious thing to say, but in-depth blog posts are far more likely to encourage sharing than a quick post that just skims over a topic. Long blog posts are great as long as they’re adding value to a topic – you should be informing, educating or entertaining your readers as much as you possibly can.
Include relevant, quality outbound links that are useful to your readers – if you find a good tool during your research phase, link to it. If you find a post that offers an alternative argument to what you’re saying, or adds additional information, link to it. Too many people are hesitant to link out from their blog posts, worried that it will give readers a reason to leave their page. Trust me, if you’re producing high quality content, they will come back (for example, when I’m reading blog posts and I come across a link I want to follow, I tend to open it in a new tab and then continue reading).
Again, it seems obvious, but pay attention to grammar and punctuation – it’s hard to come across as authoritative if your content is full of spelling mistakes, misplaced commas and missing capitalisations. It might sound strange, but grammatical errors can also put off people from sharing your content and you want to do everything possible to increase the likelihood of shares and links. If writing isn’t your strong point, then get someone else to proof read your articles before publishing, particularly if you’re sending them out as guest posts.
Another good tip is to try and engage your readers as early as possible in the post – the best places to do this are the title, the sub-title and the opening paragraph. There are many different ways to do this; provocation, humour, questioning, etc. just make sure you grab people as early as you can. Bear in mind it’s the title that will encourage click-through rates when it comes to blog front pages and aggregation networks such as Inbound.org. Having said this, don’t be deliberately misleading with your titles – sure it can increase click-through rates and traffic to have a title that draws attention, but if it’s erroneous then you’re far more likely to piss people off than you are to encourage sharing.
You should also try and help your readers as much as possible; something that often means not assuming knowledge on their part. Unless you’re writing for particularly high level, technical websites, it’s best not to over-use entropic language without clearly explaining yourself. If you’re writing a post full of tips, explain things to your readers – rather than just saying do this, tell them how to do it.
Another valuable tip is to try and break up the copy in particularly long articles – use sub-headings and paragraph breaks to make the article look less dense and more accessible to readers. You should also make sure you’re using images in your posts, not only do they break up long sections of text nicely, but they can often be extremely helpful, particularly in tutorials and ‘how-to’ articles (screenshots can be especially useful). When it comes to sourcing images, you should either be creating them yourself or using an online platform such as Shutterstock or Creative Commons, rather than just stealing them from other websites. Having said this, the latter is permissible in some situations, just be sure to include credit links to avoid upsetting other webmasters, and check the copyright laws in your country. Don’t forget to properly name and alt tag your images either – it’s amazing how often you see people missing this potentially valuable ranking signal.
So you’ve spent hours putting together a high quality piece of content, now it’s time to get it live. Hopefully you’ll have started your outreach before putting the content together, but if you didn’t, now’s the time to start sending some emails.
I would always advocate aiming as high as you possibly can (as long as the quality of the content is good enough), as it never hurts to try. When we’re advising our link-building engineers on gaining high profile placements, we get them to put a list of five or six potential placements together, in order of domain authority, traffic or level of engagement via social media (depending on the post content and what we’re trying to achieve). From there you can start at the top and work your way down, until someone agrees to place your content.
Once a placement has been confirmed, make sure you’ve got an idea of when it will be published, so you can start sharing as soon as possible. You should also keep up a level of etiquette when you’ve posted on someone else’s website – push the content as much as you can, link to it from other posts and send as much traffic and social media engagement as humanly possible. This not only makes the link more valuable, but will encourage the administrator to publish your posts in the future. You should also keep an eye on the comments and reply to as many as you can; keep up the level of engagement and discussion and beinvolved.
It’s amazing how many times we see people produce fantastic content, and then just leave it to either reach a large audience or, more often, fall flat on its face. If you’ve gone through all the effort of researching and producing a high quality piece of content, then you should continue that effort through to the post-publishing stage.
It’s true that if your content is good enough and it’s published on a high profile platform, then it will likely achieve a high level of social media traction and natural inbound links, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your best to push it as best you can.
You should aim to utilise as many avenues as you can to promote your content, including social media, news aggregators, infographic publication sites and inbound links from other domains (particularly applicable if you or your team writes lots of related guest posts). I could include a massive list of sites you can use, but honestly it depends on the vertical in which you’re working. Instead, check out this awesome link building strategies post, this list of infographic distribution sites, this post on finding the perfect content promotion platform and this handy list of social bookmarking websites.
You should also try to reach out to influencers in the industry you’re working in, whether that be via phone, email or social media platforms. The success of this practise will depend on a variety of factors (including the content itself, the domain it’s published on, the author, the way you choose to make contact and the area of discussion), but it never hurts to try. If you made the effort of reaching out to people during your research and ideas phase as suggested, then you may find you get some great traction via some very influential people.
So that’s about it for my guide to creating good content – did I miss anything? Disagree with anything I said? Let me know in the comments below.
Post by John Pring from Designbysoap Ltd.