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How to Create Great Content: Start by Creating Content for Yourself

Nathan Safran
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Most people new to marketing (and even many of those not so new) think about marketing as "how do I get visitors to my website?" And, in many cases that approach, while somewhat shortsighted, works well. But, for many marketers, making a slight adjustment in how they approach their marketing can make a significant difference in the quality of their content and ultimately, its efficacy in building an audience. A minor adjustment in how you aim the arrow can result in a huge difference downrange.

Change the Way You Frame the Content Creation Process

A recent study covered in the Journal of Science found that, although scientists knew human's DNA differed very little from one person to the next, we're actually even more alike than previously thought. The research found that all humans are actually 99.9 percent genetically identical.

If my extensive calculations are correct, that means only a miniscule .1 percent percentage separates you and I. And that means that, for the most part, (at a high level), the kind of content I would find informative is the kind of content you would find informative. (This isn't to say that content doesn't resonate in different ways with audiences. But thinking about it at a high level, good content resonates from one human to the next).

If true, this means the starting point "how do I get visitors to my website?" most marketers use is exactly the wrong question. This is because what often results from this kind of thinking is the kind of content we think has the potential to "go viral" which results in a torrent of ho-hum infographics, or, worse, we get wrapped up in creating content for an algorithm, or worse yet, locked into tactical approaches such as aggressive link building to compensate for lackluster content.

Asking the Right Question

Instead, the right question is "what content would I want to discover if I were looking for information about my company or product?" While the specifics of your content strategy is still informed by data, this starting point depends on the idea that the probability of your succeeding with your content strategy increases when you start with a plan to build content that you yourself would find useful and informative.

Some may be tempted to dismiss this as "touchy-feely" marketing better suited for a group therapy session, but the truth is, there is an immense difference between a content strategy rooted in "how do I get people to my website?" and one rooted in "how do I create content that I myself would genuinely want to consume?" A small adjustment in the aiming of the arrow makes an immense difference down range.

Put another way, the old inbound marketing paradigm was an active one – the magnet actively (marketing) pulling in iron fillings (visitors).

magnet

The new one might be considered passive – the moth drawn to the light – but it has the potential to be far more powerful because it is the quality of content that is organically drawing the audience to consume and share, rather than the marketing struggling to actively pull an audience in.

moths-light

(This is not to say we live in a fantasy world where active promotion of content is not necessary. But it is the difference in primary focus of the marketer on quality content versus content promotion).

In SEO, we're seeing a transition from link building to link earning – and a similar paradigm can be applied to the sharing of content on social networks.

Implications for Marketers

This shift to quality content has many implications for the online marketer, two of which are:

  • Early on, Focus on Qualitative Not Quantitative Signals: This is going to sound sacrilegious coming from a research analyst in the data-happy marketing industry, but sometimes the data, particularly in the early stages of your content development maturity cycle, can actually lead you astray. If you really spend the time aiming the arrow, and feel good that you have figured out the "what would people genuinely want to read?" question you are better off paying attention to qualitative signals from those who are actually consuming your content than investing energy fretting over how many actually are. Keep at it and the moths will find the light.
  • Always Be Learnin' (ABL): If you're creating content to tick a box on your marketing plan, then any content will do. If you're creating content that you yourself would want to read, then, by definition, you should be continuously growing and learning more about what makes interesting and useful content in your industry.

Take an Honest Look at Your Content

So, wherever you are organizationally as a content creator, take a step back and look at your content through the eyes of "is this content I would genuinely want to consume?" If you find yourself admitting that it isn't, consider whether it's worth pushing the pause button on your content creation to figure out how you might start to transition your organizations content strategy to one that creates content you'd be jumping to consume (start with this article: "How to Get Over the One Hurdle Keeping You from Creating Killer Content").

Ultimately, in the new online marketing world, those marketers who take the long-term quality-centric approach that are most likely to enjoy long-term success.


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