"Content is King"
This quote from Microsoft's Bill Gates is perhaps one of the most cliched lines on the web today, especially in the digital marketing community. But its only a cliche because its true. Content is information and, as long as people want information, it will continue to rule the online world for years to come.
Creating Content for Better Results
Producing good quality content is not easy, though. The process requires a lot of time, and the blood, sweat and tears of writers.
I've spent many years writing, and managing teams of writers, and there are some things that seem to be widespread amongst us content creators, yet often they go unaddressed:
1. Conquer procrastination
Writers have a love-hate relationship with procrastination. We secretly like it because it allows us to do more fun things than actually sitting down and writing. But we despise it because it intensifies the anxiety of knowing theres a deadline out there we have to meet.
As common as it is for writers, theres no quick fix for procrastination. Its an internal struggle you can only overcome by practicing good habits every day until they become second nature:
- Eliminate distractions
To get things done, you need to be in a state of total concentration. This is only possible if you make sure your work area is free of any distractions. Get rid of anything in your office that might interrupt your concentration; unrelated books and magazines, mobile phones and tablets, TVs, animals, spouses, children... to be completely alone with your thoughts is a rare luxury, but essential for writing. But, alas, your biggest distraction is the web itself. The entire world's information at your fingertips? Yep, quite a distraction is that. There is nothing for this but self-discipline. Or invest in an uber-cool vintage typewriter.
- Get into the zone
Once you've identified and purged your distractions, try to identify whether some select external factors might actually help you. Writers tend to produce their best work when they're in the zone, but each writers zone is an entirely personal space; an island universe accessible by means known only to the individual. Do you like working in a room with a view, or will you end up chasing squirrels instead of knuckling down? Do you work well while listening to music or do you prefer complete sensory deprivation? Are you most productive in the morning or the late evening? This is a challenge when a team of writers are required to work in the same office space. There is nothing a manager can do to please everybody, though a silent room offers a nice basal environment where each writer can personalise their own micro-climate, so long as they don't encroach on others.
2. Have an endgame
Once you've set yourself up to actually write something, the next step is to determine your goals. Sure, supplying information in an entertaining way is the goal of almost all web content, and a few kind words from your readers are always nice, but is satisfying your fragile ego your ultimate goal? In the business side of the web, it certainly is not.
What information do you want your target audience to walk away with? What action do you want them to take after they've read your content? Whether you're aiming to increase traffic, social shares, downloads of your latest e-book, or boost sales or improve brand awareness, beginning with the end in mind will help you develop content that will actually provide the results you want. Identify your micro and macro conversion goals.
3. List your best topics
There are times when you already know what you're going to write about, but there are also moments when you don't have the slightest idea. Don't take this personally! This is not the end of your creative flow; nor is it a cataclysmic end to your writing career. Writers block comes with the territory of being a creative person. But, during these times, you need something to fall back on. When inspiration strikes, don't just think about its immediate application, plan your next few pieces out ahead of time. You'll probably find that this breeds continuity in all your work, and can actually help you develop ideas beyond what you thought about to begin with. Original thoughts are often born this way.
Or, invest time looking for great content ideas and topics. You may not be actually writing, but this is a great use of your time will save much stress and wasted hours further down the line. There are many tools that can help you too.
You need topics that will wow your target audience, or at least pique their interest. Learn how to sift through your ideas and select the best ones you have and list them down. Keeping a pool of really interesting topic ideas at hand will make it easier for you to create content that your target audience will actually read and share. You can get inspiration from a wide variety of platforms, including social media posts, current events, news headlines, and FAQs from your customers. You can also use these tools to find interesting content topics.
4. Plan and get organised
Now you have a plethora of topics and ideas, its time to create an editorial calendar. Not only does this get you organised, but provides a place where you can jot down your ideas and the specific days and weeks where it might be appropriate to release your content. Create a column of important dates; you'll probably find this gives you even more ideas. My content calendar, for example, contains:
- Industry conferences and exhibitions I want to report on
- National or global dates that relate to SEO, such as the first anniversaries of algorithm updates
- Seemingly unrelated events that could make a surprisingly great comparison article
- Birthdays/dates of origin of products I use (such as Google or Twitter)
- Special company dates such as scheduled charity drives or fun days
Give yourself concrete dates for publication, a deadline for completion and editing, and details of where you plan to publish and when.
5. Keep content meaty but concise
Great content doesn't always have to be long and complex. Although in-depth articles are encouraged these days, sometimes the best way to communicate your message is to keep it simple and memorable. Make sure your content is packed with interesting and informative, but make sure its presented in a concise way. When you're describing a complicated topic, more often than not, write for the uninitiated. Even if learned readers are your target, your work should not seek to alienate anyone. If you're knowingly baffling readers with complicated terms, or over-using industry acronyms and abbreviations, all you're doing is stroking your own ego. The art of great writing is to convey your message in a simple and easily-digestible manner; even if the subject matter is complex.
6. Avoid writing and editing at the same time
This is something I'm particularly guilty of, as I'm sure are many other content creators. As writers we have a tendency to over-think and be hyper-critical of what were doing. We edit what we want to write even before it gets out of our head, resulting in half-formed ideas and poorly-explained concepts. This is incredibly frustrating and it prolongs the content creation process. As hard as it can be, try to write all your thoughts and ideas down before you edit them. Don't mind if they aren't immediately coherent or if they're not grammatically correct. Just get all those ideas out and edit later.
7. Overcome completion anxiety
Have you ever had a writing project that you cant seem to finish? The article is clearly good enough, but there's something holding you back and you just cant submit it. Completion anxiety is the bane of many creative professionals, not just writers. Perfectionism is often an admirable trait. There's nothing wrong with a rational drive for optimum quality, but cross that thin line and you're quickly spinning into an obsessive spiral of self-doubt. Rarely is there ever such thing as the perfect piece.
- Avoid focusing too much on the small details
Sometimes in our quest for quality, we end up worrying too much about the little details. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself if these details really matter. Would they change the overall meaning of your content? Whats the worst that could happen if you leave them be?
By changing your perspective, you can see things that weren't initially clear. This may also help you realise that your work is already great and you should just submit it.
- Be confident in what you've already done
Never fear judgement. You know what you're talking about or you wouldn't (or shouldn't) be writing about the topic in the first place. If a reader counters a point, or challenges your views in some way, see it as an opportunity for discourse.
On the web, its not often that your writing is criticised. The internet allows for such diversity of style, and tolerance of improper grammar and conversational tone in exchange for unique information from an individual who might otherwise never had had their voice heard.
The Bottom Line
In a world driven by profit and deadlines, it can be extremely difficult to summon enough creativity and energy to produce content worth sharing. But with the right mindset, process and execution, you have every right to pull it off.