10 Elements of high quality, audience focused content

12573230_10153603344774342_4777157945721350709_nTo be successful in creating high quality, audience-focused content, you must proceed from a single concept: Content is for people, not search engines. The best way to earn and retain followers and convert visits to sales is to provide content that serves the interests and needs of your audience instead of focusing all of your efforts on artificial optimization.

What is content? Content is the primary website vehicle to provide education, information, and entertainment in order to lead visiting consumers to make a purchase or engage in advocacy of some kind. Content can be in any form: text, video, audio or graphical. Keep in mind, however, that all content is written content, or at least it should start that way.

Every podcast, video and blog should start with, at the very least, an outline of some kind. You need to establish the purpose of your content, the audience, the language, and so on. The more of this that is established before you begin, the better the response.

People talk about content marketing so much these days the words are almost white noise. Content development and distribution is the single most important aspect of any successful digital marketing plan. Without high quality, audience focused content a website serves no one; not the owner and certainly not the potential customer.

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Here are 10 elements of high-quality, audience focused content.

  1. Create original content

Credibility hinges on exhibited knowledge so it’s important that any information you use belongs to you and demonstrates your expertise. While there is a plethora of information freely available online, any content you publish on your site should be original.

If you use information from outside sources, be sure to cite them as you would in a school paper or other formal academic document. You can also quote the original source, using the proper citations and identification.

  1. Well-written, with journalistic integrity

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between ‘lightning’ and a ‘lightning bug.’” – Mark Twain

You’ll find that on a great deal of GLD Enterprises Communications, Ltd. Content marketing and copywriting sales literature. Why? Because regardless of what kind of content you’re offering your visitors, it all starts with words and the choosing the wrong one can derail your entire purpose.

One of the most common mistakes on the web is a lack of good writing. Often businesses or web developers will let someone who is not an experienced writer create content. Regardless of what you may have heard, the English language is alive and well and should be properly used if readers are going to take you seriously. Proper spelling and grammar still win where conversational slang will not be well received.

Misspelled or misused words, bad grammar, and cliché-ridden content will discourage the serious follower from maintaining a relationship with you and your content. The result is decreased followers, conversions and revenue.

Also, what is meant by ‘journalistic integrity?’ Whenever you write informative material, it’s likely you’re using second or third party facts or statistics or even quotes from experts. Always confirm your facts with three, independent sources.

When sourcing information, keep in mind that professional writers should never consider Wikipedia as qualified source for facts or background information. But, with due diligence, it can lead you to the proper information outside of its database.

  1. Provide relevant, valuable information

You probably hear a great deal about “relevancy” with regard to your web content. But what, exactly, does that mean? One application of relevant information refers to the audience’s interest in your subject. How does your website content relate to the people you’re trying to attract?

If, for example, you were selling doghouses, you wouldn’t typically offer an article or video on cat bed maintenance. It really isn’t any more complicated than that.

Content relevance can also refer to timeliness within your own industry or topic. How current is your information? Talking about snow in June, for example, just wouldn’t be timely. You’d have to decide how best to focus the content.

  1. Use an entertaining style

To hold someone’s attention, content must be far more than just informational. It also needs an element of entertainment. Good content need not be dry or boring to get your point across, regardless of the topic.

Interjecting humor, a conversational tone, video, and stylized graphics all provide the reader with some level of entertainment value. Think of old TV ads that contained the first “jingles.” Marketers have known as far back as the days of the traveling medicine show that if the audience was entertained while the message was being delivered, it caught and held their attention while enhancing memorability.

You don’t need to write in rhyme or anything so obvious to keep it light. Just try to avoid a dry, monotone delivery in your material. Even if your content is of a more serious nature, there are ways to relax it enough to hold your audience’s attention and get them to the point before they lose interest. This is when a professional writer can be the most help.

  1. Offer a solution to a problem

12572993_10153624093634342_832150856536312936_nYour audience probably found your website because they were trying to find a solution to something. Effective content offers information that can either solve their problem or guide them to something else that will.

If you solve their problem, you’ll be earning credibility with the reader and he or she will either refer your site to others or return periodically (or both) – provided you are regularly updating your site.

  1. Use Active, Benefit-Driven Language

What’s in it for me? That’s what your website visitors are wondering when they come to your page. What ‘benefits’ are associated with interacting with your content and subsequently doing business with you? Benefit-driven language means that you’re content illustrates certain benefits to the audience, rather than fire-hosing them with a list of product or service features.

For example, instead of saying, “Our company can (passive language) …(and then injecting a list of what you do),” you’d write, “We will (active, definitive language) save you money, improve your workflow … (results that benefit the customer).”

  1. Provide complete information, not a teaser

Any content you provide to your readers should offer complete information, the full story, so to speak, not a teaser article. If an audience feels like they’re just getting led around by your material only to be required, for example, to buy something to learn the rest of what they need to know, you can bet they won’t be back. They will also most likely tell others about it and cost you further visitors.

No one is saying you can’t earn a living by selling your expertise, but you need to do it with integrity and build credibility first. Providing useful, complete information the reader can make use of today is the best way to earn their loyalty and build your credibility. It takes a great deal of time and trust to go from being visible, too credible, and, finally, to profitable.

  1. Include a Call to Action (CTA)

In marketing, a call to action (CTA) is an instruction to the audience to provoke an immediate response, usually using an imperative such as “call now,” “find out more” or “visit a store today.”

In order to keep the reader from feeling like they spent time on your content only to be hoodwinked into a sales pitch, your content should include what I like to think of as a “soft” CTA. Instead of, “call now,” you might say something like this. “For more information on (insert topic here), check out (tell them where to find more) or contact (tell them who to contact and how to reach them).

  1. Include an attention-grabbing headline

The primary purpose of any headline is to get people to read the first sentence of the content. The headline should be unique and offer a quick snapshot of the information included in the content. Each headline should also convey some sense of urgency or offer a hint of the solution so the reader knows that answers can be found in the content.

Also, the more specific the headline is the more the reader understands what is about to come if they read the full story. Some headlines work best when they contain numbers that relate to a series of tips or tricks to solve a problem.

But be careful! A headline should be informative, not “clever.” It is far more important to inform the reader than try to make yourself sound smarter. Common mistakes by content writers are to be too cliché or paraphrase material from other headlines you’ve recently read.

Examples of good headlines:

“8 Parts of Speech that make your content sing!”

“The easiest way to survey customers.”

“When to say goodbye to a vendor.”

  1. Content first, social media second

So, where does social media come into play with all of this? It’s not enough to either have a social media presence or create quality content for your site; they need to work together to achieve the desired outcome. Social media is useless when applied haphazardly and without a content marketing strategy.

Social media is not the “host” of your content but acts as the promoter and delivery system for your web content. On the information superhighway (you don’t hear that expression very often anymore) it serves as both the traffic cop and the bus. It directs visitors from social media to your website but also delivers them to the designated content.

Keep in mind that, in order to be effective, content must be regularly updated and posted and there must already be a social media strategy in place that includes a mixture of platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

On a final note…

Once your content is prepared, take a breath and don’t hit that “publish” button right away. A common mistake made by content developers is a lack of proofreading. Whether you’re reviewing your podcast or proofreading copy, give everything a final once-over before publication. Even better, get a second or third pair of eyes on it before you go live because credibility can go swirling down the drain if your content is full of mistakes.

Bonus: Sentence diagram structure. Yes, believe it or not, you should still do this whenever grammar is difficult to get down on paper …

Basic Sentence Diagram

Above: Basic Sentence Diagram