Ever noticed a parent kneeling down to talk to their toddler?
That one gesture speaks volumes. It shows a level of care and empathy that can’t possibly be communicated while standing up, towering over that little soul. You could be standing there looking down at her with the face of an angel, you’d still look huge to that little girl looking up at you.
But when you kneel down to talk to her?
She knows you’re meeting her where she is. She feels seen and heard. She trusts you more.
That’s the mental stance you want to take when creating content for your audience.
Creating content can be a challenge at the best of times. But creating useful content? Well, that’s a whole other ball game.
The good news?
The process of creating useful content is fairly simple.
The bad news?
It may be simple, but it’s not easy.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at what we mean by the term ‘useful content’ and how to create it.
So what’s useful content?
It’s content that meets your audience where they are on their journey. It solves a problem they’re facing in a way that’s meaningful to them and helps them get to their solution as quickly and painlessly as possible.
So let’s start there …
Create content that meets your customer where they are on their journey
Some time ago I interviewed Joe Pulizzi the founder of content marketing institute. We talked about how to create useful content and he said something that’s stayed with me ever since. He said it’s important to create content which meets your customer where they are on their journey.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you want to buy a new washing machine. You ‘re doing your research on washing machines and what features you want. You’re learning about front loaders, top loaders and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Now let’s say you do a google search and you come across content that explains the various advantages and disadvantages in a nice interactive format. Wouldn’t that solve your problem at that point in your ‘customer journey’?
Now let’s say that a particular piece of content is on Whirlpool’s website. Wouldn’t you be more likely to buy a Whirlpool washing machine rather than any other brand? I know I would.
Why would I now be predisposed to buying from Whirlpool rather than General Electric or any other brand? Because Whirlpool earned my trust even before I made my purchase. They solved my problem via their thoughtfully created content.
What made the content so thoughtful?
The content wasn’t talking about how good their machine was. Or why it was better than the competition. They were busy trying to help me solve my problem which is deciding on what features I would want in my new washing machine (regardless of the brand).
The brand question only comes up after I’ve solved the front loader vs top loader question. Without helping you answer the top loader vs front loader question, there was no hope of you becoming anyone’s customer. But once Whirlpool helped you solve their problem, the chances of you becoming their customer went up.
Banks are doing this well too. Australian banks have mortgage repayment calculators available on their website so they can solve the customers’ first problem which is to answer the question about affordability.
Once they’ve answered the affordability question (and only after they’ve answered that question), then they can (and probably will) become a customer of that bank.
Useful content creates a result. It delivers some kind of transformation.
In both the above examples it solves a tangible problem for the reader which moves them from a point of confusion to a point of clarity.
Other examples of useful content are checklists, guides, and blog posts like this one.
So here’s my question for you: What problem of your customers are you solving with your content?
Create content that generates a ‘result’
Creating content for the sake of it has its place as Ed Dale explained in one of our podcast conversations.
However, you ultimately want to create content that delivers a specific result. If you’re not clear about the specific result you want to deliver, that’s unlikely your content will be impactful.
When you’re clear about the result you want to deliver to your audience, you tend to organize your thoughts and the flow of your content around that results.
So what does “a result” for the audience look like? I hear you ask.
Typically, I believe good quality content inspires action in a reader, listener or viewer. And it inspires action by creating an emotional reaction in the readers’ minds.
Ever watched a movie that moved you to reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in years? Or maybe you read a blog post that inspired you so much that you just had to share it on your social media accounts.
That’s a result.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about how to create content that delivers a result.
How To Create Useful Content
- Decide on the purpose of that content piece. Some useful questions to ask yourself:
- Why am I creating this piece of content?
- What transformation do I want this content to deliver?
- How do I imagine my target audience will feel after reading this content? What do I want her to do after having read this piece of content?
- Do I care about the purpose of this content? Why do I care about it enough to write about it?
- Do some keyword research using Google Keyword Planner
- It’s a free tool and which tells you exactly what phrases your audience is using to conduct online searches. Creating content around the specific phrases means your content is more likely to be found and therefore more likely to create a bigger impact in the world.
- It’s critical that you incorporate keywords naturally into your content. Keyword stuffing will do more harm than good and isn’t an intelligent long-term approach to content creation.
- Create a strong headline
- About 80% of people decide whether to read a piece of content based on the quality of the headline. What makes a good headline? A good headline has specificity, makes a compelling promise to the reader, and is sometimes intriguing. Make sure your article delivers on the promise in the headline. If you don’t over-deliver on the promise in the headline, your content is seen as click bait and you’ll hurt your brand.
- Have a strong opening
- Look for case studies that support your main idea
- This step isn’t essential, but it helps strengthen your position in the reader’s mind. If you can get data and examples to support your main idea, then great. But don’t let that stop you from creating content. Most readers care about your opinion but they also like to see facts and examples to support that opinion. Taking the time to back up your opinion with examples and data only positions you as a stronger thought-leader.
- Organize your content so it has a consistent flow
- The best way to do this is to start with a ‘content skeleton’. I often start with bullet points on a page and then embellish each point later. This helps to create a steady flow from the get-go. There are other times when I just riff on a particular idea and that leads to other content ideas which I shelve for later.
- However, the content makes its way onto your screen, the important thing is to walk away from the content for some period (ideally at least 24 hours) and then come back and re-read the content to yourself. Read it aloud even if you’re the only person listening. It helps your brain to register the pacing and the flow. You’ll pick up errors you wouldn’t otherwise pick up.
- Write the content with one person in mind.
- Imagine your audience avatar sitting there listening to you read it to them. Get a photo of your ideal client and put it up next to your computer. You’ll thank yourself later.
- Write as you speak.
- Imagine yourself sitting at a restaurant explaining your idea to your ideal customer. What would you say? How would you explain your idea to her? What words would you use? Now just ‘transcribe’ that conversation in your head
- Use questions often
- When you tell me about a concept or an idea, I hear it and understand it. But when you ask me a question that leads me to arrive at that the same understanding, I internalize it. I absorb that concept or idea at a deeper level. So use questions often to draw your reader in.
- Use humor where possible
- Humour can be a powerful trust and rapport building tool. Marty Wilson is an expert at incorporating humor into public speaking. Marty shared some great tips on how to incorporate humor into public speaking on this episode of the Productive Insights podcast. One thing he said is the end of laughter is the beginning of listening. Several of the principles he shares are transferable to all forms of content. I’d encourage you to have a listen to the episode to get some useful tips on how to incorporate humor.
- Organize your content for skimmers
- In one of my podcast conversations about content marketing with Sonia Simone from Copyblogger, I mentioned that sub-heads were the windows to your content’s soul. Good sub-heads that are intriguing (but not too vague) are useful to your reader when she’s deciding whether to invest the time in reading your entire article. Sub-heads are a great way to communicate the gist of your article without having to invest the time in reading every word.
- A high proportion of readers skim the article (via the sub-heads), decide on whether that content piece is useful to them, and then come back and read the article.
- Use good sub-heads. Your readers will thank you for it. They’re even more likely to share it which is great for your SEO as Rand Fishkin explains in this podcast conversation.
- Avoid creating walls of text
- One or two line paragraphs are less intimidating than a huge wall of text. They create more ‘white space’ and are easier on the eye too. Use images to break up the text if possible. Images communicate information faster than words and are better at eliciting emotion. Pick your images carefully though. Poor image selection will hurt your content more than it will help it.
- Keep your sentences short. Long-winded sentences are exhausting to read. Better to punctuate ideas with full stops and have them distributed across several sentences rather than cram 3 ideas into one complex sentence. This will also help you with your editing. Speaking of editing …
- Don’t edit when you’re writing
- Writing and editing are two very different activities. Each requires a different mental approach. Writing has more of a creative element to it and editing is more of analytical left-brained activity. Don’t make the mistake I’ve seen tons of writers make. They often try to edit as they write. This’ll cause you to ‘switch’ modes constantly. It’ll take you twice as long (if not longer) to get to the same result. Do your writing first and then go back and do your edits later.
- Get someone else to edit your content if possible
- If your budget can handle it, then get yourself a copy editor. Nothing beats having a fresh set of eyes looking at your content and picking up errors that your biased mind will probably miss.
- If you can’t afford an editor check out the Pro Writing Aid app. I use it often and it works a treat.
- Decide on a call to action (CTA)
- It’s always good to have a CTA at the end of a well-written piece of content. This CTA doesn’t have to involve physical action. You could ask your reader to think of something. Perform a mental experiment. Or maybe even take a physical action like writing action steps on a piece of paper.
- Why have a CTA at the end of your content piece? Two reasons:
- First, your content will probably achieve its original aim (see the first step).
- Second, when your reader takes action it delivers a more tangible result in their life. It creates a deeper impression and also delivers a deeper transformation.
- Once you’ve gone through all the above steps, hit publish.