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Want to see better results from your content marketing campaigns?

Well, let me give you a little hint…

It’s not going to come from cranking out the same 800-word blog posts you’ve been writing three times a week for the past year. And it’s not going to come from building an infographic from one of the popular templates floating around out there.

The marketing success of the future isn’t going to come from quantity or from meeting some arbitrary publishing calendar suggestions. It’s going to come from establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry – and truly bad-ass content pieces are the best way to do just that.

According to research from Curata, 71% of brands increased their investment in content marketing over the past year. And that’s great, except that spending more time and money on content won’t boost your ROI unless you have the right strategy in place.

Here’s everything you need to know about developing the right strategy for your brand through the use of seriously amazing content pieces:

Creating Exceptional Content Pieces

While four out of five brands use content marketing to some degree, most of them don’t have a clear strategy in place. In fact, the LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community found that only 30% of brands have even documented their strategy. Other studies show that only 30% of brands are consistent about executing it.

Want to beat them? Then you need to have a detailed content marketing strategy to reach your customers and build your brand.

Most of these brands seem to believe that they’ll boost their visibility by simply pushing out as much content as possible. Far too many companies create 500-word blog posts that don’t consistently align with their branding goals – a mistake you’ll need to avoid if you want to stand out as an industry leader.

Rather than trying to increase content production, try to get more value out of every piece of content you produce. Your number one priority should be creating exceptional content that resonates with your customer base. Here are a few ideas for achieving this goal:

Create In-Depth Pieces

Content marketing experts have been debating over the ideal length of a blog post for years. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that longer posts tend to be more engaging and receive more visibility in the search engines.

According to research from Medium, the ideal length of a blog post is 1,600 words, which takes approximately seven minutes to read. Their research indicates that a 1,600-word blog post will receive 10 times as many views as a standard 500-word article, and these findings are corroborated by research from many other studies.

Of course, a number of factors play a role in determining the ideal blog post length – and it’s always better to write a concise, valuable post than a long one that’s been diluted with a bunch of unnecessary verbiage. To start taking advantage of this technique, spend at least 10 minutes a day brainstorming different topics you can pursue to create detailed blog posts that provide real value to your readers.

Understand New Content Formats

Content formats are constantly evolving, which means that you’ll need to adapt to live up to your readers’ expectations. Here are a few new content formats that you’ll want to be aware of:

  • Definitive guides. These massive content pieces can be anywhere from 5,000-8,000 words long or as much as 30,000-40,000 words. Whatever the length, the idea is that they provide a comprehensive look at a subject that their audiences will be interested in.
  • Gifographics. Gifographics go a step above traditional infographics by using GIF animations to convey detailed processes in a way that readers can easily follow.
  • Branded storytelling. A growing number of companies are turning to stories to share their background and products in a way that engages their readers and familiarizes them with their brand.
  • Slide decks. Slideshare is a very effective way of distributing content in PDF formats. The platform has been around for nearly a decade, but many brands have only recently begun leveraging it in their content marketing campaigns. In addition to embedding Slideshare images in your own website, you can also share them through the Slideshare network in order to receive more visibility.
  • Quizzes and polls. Quizzes and polls are some of the most engaging types of content. According to BuzzSumo, quizzes accounted for 80% of the most shared content last year. Try including them at the end of other posts to keep your users engaged, to encourage more shares on social media and to generate new insights about your customers.
  • Interactive scrolling images. Interactive scrolling images are also becoming popular, and David Walsh has put together some clear instructions for creating them.
  • Adaptive content. Adaptive content is a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s one that’s likely to become even more popular as technology improves. Essentially, adaptive content is content that changes in response to the person viewing it. This could include everything from inserting the name of a cookie-tracked visitor into a website’s headline to content that suggests certain products over others based on the viewer’s past purchase history.

 

Stay up-to-date on the different content formats that other brands are using, as you’ll be able to engage with customers more effectively if you use the formats and structures that they’re currently interested in.

Interview and Cite Other Experts

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Name dropping can be a very effective way to make your blog posts more engaging and help them receive greater visibility on social media. To do this, include quotes from other experts or provide links to their work.

Of course, you don’t want to promote your direct competitors, but there are likely a number of experts in your field that would be happy to collaborate with you. Your readers will also be more likely to view you as an expert if they see that you’re genuinely interested in recognizing other industry leaders and sharing their insights.

But don’t feel like you have to stick with content that’s already been published. Reaching out to other experts and asking to quote them can significantly improve the quality of your content, as well as the likelihood it’ll gain social traction. Check out tools such as Help a Reporter Out or ProfNet to connect with the experts you need to create valuable content.

Present Your Own Research and Opinions

In 2013, Brian Carter of the Carter Group told Social Media Examiner that 30% of content should be original, educational material, while the rest should be curated or promotional content. The threshold for creating original content should be even higher today.

If you want customers to see you as an expert in your industry, consider conducting your own research and using it as the basis for future content. A few ways you can do this include conducting focus groups of customers using your products, interviewing other experts in your field or running your own experimental campaigns to be able to provide more useful advice to consumers.

Keep in mind, though, that your research needs to focus on providing actual value for your readers – not just over-promoting your own products. It should tie into your industry and provide useful information for anyone reading it, even if they don’t use your product.

Once you’ve finished your research, compile your findings into a blog post, video or infographic for easy consumption by your audience. Remember to reference your findings in future content as well, as this is a big undertaking that deserves to be recognized regularly.

Go Heavy on the Visuals

Visual elements are playing a more important role in content marketing than ever before. In fact, Hubspot and the B2B Marketing Mentor have cited data showing that using visual content is the most important tactic for optimizing blog posts and other social media content.

As a rule, every piece of content you produce should have at least one related visual. Here are a few tips to help you incorporate these high quality visual elements in your blog posts:

  • Only use professional images in your posts. Avoid using shoddy stock images – they’ve been done to death, and people are sick of them. Your best bet is to take your own photos or find another way to procure quality images that have been never published before.
  • Consider creating an infographic for some of your blog posts. As you probably already know, infographics are very engaging and represent a great way to share a lot information in a small space.
  • Try embedding videos in your content. Showing a video of you or your employees is a good way to engage with your audience and earn their trust, as it allows you to prove that you’re both transparent and passionate.

The value of images and other visual content is indisputable. Don’t argue with me – just make it a priority to include them in your content.

Revamping Your Content Generation Process

Most brands recognize that quality content receives more visibility online and is more effective when it comes to branding. Despite this, many brands still struggle with the logistics of generating content that meets their needs and the needs of their audience.

With that in mind, here are a few steps you can take to make sure you consistently produce top-tier content that aligns with your brand:

Bring on New Talent

Whether you’re creating videos, blog posts or infographics, you’ve got to find the right voice to represent your brand. That could be you, someone else in your organization or a professional or freelancer you bring in to assist. Whatever option you pursue, remember that the new talent you need will have both exceptional writing skills and extensive knowledge in the areas on which they’ll be creating content.

If you don’t feel up to the task yourself, try having other members of your organization create content, as they understand your brand goals, consumer mindset and product specifications best. However, you may also be better off with an independent content creators, so consider using referrals or other sources to find them.

Create a Set of Content Requirements

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Whether you’re handling your content creation needs or somebody else is, you’ll need to have a clear set of guidelines in place for consistently generating quality content. You also need to make sure they’re clearly communicated to everyone involved in the process – no excuses for not being aware of your requirements.

Your list of standards should include all of the following (or more, depending on your needs):

  • Minimum word length for any post
  • Standards for using visual elements in posts
  • Guidelines for conducting interviews, citing in-house research or referencing other internal information (content creators need to ensure their synopses are accurate and don’t divulge any trade secrets in the process)
  • Preferred tools for producing video content

You may need to make occasional exceptions to these requirements, since every blog post will have a different objective. However, you’ll be able to produce high-value content more efficiently and more consistently meet your brand’s quality standards if you create a clear outline first.

Budget for Additional Research

Most companies have a set budget for every blog piece that they create – if they’ve even thought this far ahead in the first place.

If you are operating off a set budget, be aware that this isn’t the best approach to take, as some posts are naturally going to be more involved than others. These budgets also rarely account for the time and expense of running case studies, conducting interviews or doing other primary research for future content material – the activities that’ll really help your content stand out.

If budget restrictions are an unfortunate fact of your life, consider all of the processes needed to create the caliber of content you intend to publish. Then, make sure your budget is sufficient to cover these needs and any others you expect to come up in the process.

Outsourcing Bad-Ass Content Creation

Suppose your evaluation of your internal content creation process reveals that you don’t have the in-house talent required to make it work, and you don’t have the resources to add full-time content creators to your team.

Don’t let this stop you from taking advantage of the benefits of content marketing. Outsourcing represents a great alternative to in-house creation that can have some surprising benefits.

For example, an established expert may be a better choice for creating valuable content than a layperson. WebMD has followed this model for years by using healthcare professionals to create content for their websites. Similarly, hiring actual lawyers to write content you need on a legal subject can ensure your content is as accurate as possible and avoids running afoul of any laws.

Clearly, if you’re going to outsource, you’ll want to find people that have as much experience with the topic as possible. Here are a few steps you’ll want to take as you consider outsourcing the creation of your bad-ass content pieces:

  • Look for specialists in the formats you want to pursue. Sure, it might be easy to find a writer to create in-depth posts on different topics within your industry. Finding a similar specialist who focuses on slide decks, for example, might be much more difficult. In this situation, you have a few different options. You can find one person who’s skilled at both writing and slide deck design, or you can hire both a writer and a designer to work together on the project. Don’t place unrealistic expectations on your outsourced workers. Instead, look for those who have the specific skills you need – either alone or in combination.
  • Look for people who are actually doing work in your industry. Think that outsourcing your content creation process means working exclusively with those who identify themselves as freelancers? Think again! Say you need to have content written on your company’s engineering process. You could work with a writer who focuses on these issues, but you could also look for engineers who are currently running active blogs. These professionals may not have considered freelancing before, but if they’re open to making a little extra money on the side, they content they provide will be both knowledgeable and reflect the passion they have for their industries.
  • Always start with test projects. Bad-ass content pieces can be big undertakings. Take, for example, the advanced guides on Neil Patel’s QuickSprout website. Neil’s spoken publicly about spending tens of thousands of dollars on each individual guide – just to give you a feel for the potential scope of these projects. If you want to tackle something of this size, don’t start with a writer, designer or other freelancer you’ve just met. Portfolios and work samples can be misleading, so before you commit to taking on big content projects with new workers, conduct a small test project to be sure your expectations are in-line with each other.

Beyond these recommendations, the process of hiring outsourced workers for bad-ass content pieces follows the same process I’ve described before for taking on freelancers to handle smaller tasks. Post your job in the right places (or, better yet, ask for referrals) and fully vet any worker you intend to bring on your team. A little due diligence – and a lot of preparation – goes a long way towards making your outsourcing relationship a success.

Focus on Quality Content Over Quantity

If I could leave you with one piece of advice on the subject of content creation, it would be this: focus on quality content over quantity.

Several years ago, the internet was dominated by content mills generating massive amounts of useless articles. The value of thin content has diminished rapidly following Google’s algorithm changes that have since penalized content that doesn’t serve search engine users. As a result, a growing number of brands have started focusing on creating more engaging, high quality content – which should have been their focus all along.

Don’t fall into the trap of mass-producing content to drive visibility. Your primary goal should always be to create highly valuable content that resonates with your readers and reflects positively on your brand.

Yes, creating high quality content can be time-intensive, but the long-term benefits of doing so are much greater than the wasting time with the standard content many brands are pushing out. Take the time to establish clear content guidelines, communicate them to everyone on your content team and make sure they’re followed. It’s simply the only way forward in today’s digital environment.

What other tips do you have for creating high-quality content? Feel free to share your thoughts and recommendations by leaving a comment below!

Comments
  1. Great post Sujan.

    Loved the idea creating slide decks and various forms of content instead of mere blog posts. It should encourage more people to share across various platforms, right?

    Question: How can you differentiate between good content and bad-ass content while preparing it?

    1. Vishal, Great question. There are a few things that make an article bad ass:
      stats or data to back your point (the more the better)
      Use of visuals throughout the post
      Right length (for me it’s ~2000 words)
      Depth of topic
      Easy to scan (this comes down to formatting)

  2. Great post, Sujan! It’s still mind-boggling how many people think five “fly by the seat of your pants” 500-word blog posts is better than one 1,000 word one that’s researched and thought-out!

    That said, I’ve been trying really hard to ignore word counts completely. For example, what if editorial guidelines replaced word counts with guidelines about detail & depth? Yes, it would be harder to go off of a qualitative guideline and I’m not sure if it can be quantified, but I think it would help. Because short posts *can* be in-depth and long posts can be a mess full of fluff instead of information.

    For example, I read a post today that was around 800 words but told me everything I needed to know on the topic. It just wasn’t a complicated topic. 🙂

  3. Hi Sujan. Great info, as always!

    I’m going straight to my question. Do you think that the nature of my business should have some impact on my blog post’s lenght?

    (By nature of my business i mean if is B2C or B2B oriented)

    1. Francisco,

      based on your business I recommend at least 1500-2000 word blog posts. From there you can learn from you audience what works best (more shares, higher engagement, traffic, comments,etc) and adjust accordingly.

  4. Hi Sujan, thanks for the post. What is the best way to generate infographics without using crappy templates? You’re right that they are awesomely powerful. Ideally for a small writing group with minimal HTML skills.

    Thanks!

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