What Is Valuable Content? It’s a trick question. The answer, though, is not rocket-science. Value is whatever is perceived as value by the person for whom the content is intended. We have to try and understand the specific yardsticks by which different types of target audiences may see value in the content they read. It largely depends on the search intent of the people concerned. When people search for certain keywords with a certain intention, the content must be an exact fit to what they are looking for. There are no two opinions on this. People also have changing needs from content. What they see as valuable content may change according to the situation they are in. You have to know what is value to your different customers at different times of their evolution, and you have to be able to match your content to that shifting goal post of value.
Beyond these specific criteria of specific audiences along specific times of their buying journeys, there are a few generic standards of high-value content. These are part of the content marketing basics that every content marketer should be aware of. Here are some of the generic yardsticks your audiences may use to evaluate the value of your content …
1. Your content has to be easily findable and click-worthy in search engines to be seen as valuable
It all boils to great content SEO practices that you should follow, to give your content a better chance to rank on Google and other search engines. Make sure you follow the benchmarks set by articles that already rank high – see what works for them, see why they would be clicked by those searching for a particular search term, see how they may fit the searcher’s intent. Make sure you’ve got all the SEO basics right, like on-page optimization and off-page optimization.
Not only must your content have a good chance of being found, it must also seem click-worthy when found on the search engine’s SERP (search engine results page). That means great titles and great meta descriptions, which again seem to answer the search intent of the user.
Let’s take the example below for a SERP page for the search term “getting found on search engines”. First think what the searcher may have intended to find out by using this search query. What was his problem for which he was seeking a solution, do you think? Now see a sampling of the kind of posts listed on that SERP page. Which of these would you be tempted to click if you were the searcher.
Think hard about why you would be attracted to click the one that beckons to you? This exercise will open your eyes to search intent and how content should match search intent. For a moment forget being a marketer and look at things from the point of view of the searcher. There is a lot of research that shows that the very first listing on a SERP is the one clicked most – almost 80-90% of the time. But only if it matches the real search intent, right?
2. Your content has to match the topic coverage and depth your target audiences would normally expect
Experts say that these days a blog post has to be at least 2000 words long to have any chance of getting a look-in from the search engines – or people! At the same time according to a study by Microsoft Corporation, human attention span has supposedly dropped from 12 seconds in 2002 to only eight seconds in 2013, which is a second shorter than a goldfish. It’s now 2019, so chances are good that attention spans have dropped below to the minus levels!
So how do we square the idea of long, topically-rich blog posts with the short and almost-nil attention spans of readers. If people had such low attention spans, why do search engines then want to see lengthy treatises? The answer could lie in the fact that Google now relies on an algorithm that suggests that the longer a post is, and the richer it is in “semantically-related keywords” to the main topic, the more accurately Google (an engine, after all!) can size up an article as matched to searcher intent. Anyway, what can we marketers do but hope that people think so too.
David Ogilvy, the great advertising genius, was my biggest boss when I was a cub copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising. He used to tells us: “95% of people read only the headline of an ad, and only 5% read the rest of the ad – but still an ad should have long copy, because the presence of long copy reassures the reader that you have enough to say about yourself!” So we marketers must assume that even if lengthy articles aren’t fully read, the number of words do something to reassure readers on our topic authority!
That said, there is one thing to remember. People at early stages of their buying journeys like lengthy concept-explanatory articles. People at later stages of their buying journeys like matter-of-fact, direct and quick answers they can act on immediately.
See these two examples: one is a set of results for an early-stage buyer’s search (“choosing the right MBA course”), and the other is a late-stage buyer’s search (“best mba courses in marketing in india”).
See the difference? If you packed in course names and fees into the article for the early searcher, he would think he doesn’t need all that right now. If you packed in content for the second user on how to choose an MBA course wisely, he would reckon you are needlessly rambling, before arriving at the critical points of the article i.e. course names and fees.
3. Your content has to be able to forestall the need for audiences to hunt for more similar articles
It is elementary, if you think about it, that if you want to beat competition online, your content has to be so perfect for the searcher that he has no need to look again for similar articles to get some more information. What is the whole point of getting someone to read your article, only to find it’s not adequate enough, and he needs to get more on the topic from somewhere else? That “somewhere else” then may well become the go-to-authority he seeks thereafter, rather than you, right? Now how do you ensure that your article has everything that could keep a person riveted on you, and not go hunting “for more on this same topic”?
The answer to this question lies in the idea of becoming a “thought-leader”. Who is a thought-leader”? He is the one considered “best-of-breed” by his peers, who are all top of the game players themselves. In every niche, you will find the one who stands taller above the rest of the pack. He is generally not the one who writes one sporadic article every six months, but who consistently, regularly turns out articles that are all of top quality. Over time, he gets “more seen as more of an authority above his class”. Notice, there are two parts to this thought-leadership issue. One is “being seen more often”, and the second is “being seen more often saying quality things”.
Now when you have a thought-leader whose name you can recognize, you would gravitate towards his content on a topic, leaving out others who have written similar content, right? Also, you would read the thought-leader’s content, and feel satiated that you have heard from the “best one”, and not be tempted to read further!
For example, see these two articles on a similar subject. You know one of these authors by name – Seth Godin. He is a mega influencer and thought-leader (sans pareil) in the marketing niche. He often has very few words to say. But you find yourself devouring every word of his articles. The other writer is still getting there. Even reams of writing (the blog post is at least 1500 words or more) won’t make the second person run to, when you’ve just finished reading Seth Godin.
Would you not read the first piece and take it as the “final word on the subject”? A lot of it is about the credibility of the author and his standing in your niche! And that kind of content value is built over time and with visibility.
4. Your content must be eminently readable and must always provide a great user experience
While you and I were myopically focused on creating our content, the concept of “creating a great user experience” has moved further from just thinking about design. This what UXMag says! The goalposts of user experience have shifted. UXMag goes on to say that readers’ experience of content has changed with mobile.
“The attention span of users has been considerably reduced with the invention of mobile phones. Users consume all the necessary information in a different way altogether – skimming has replaced reading, and glancing has replaced skimming. This means most users just welcome content that can be understood within a glance. The interplay of design and content should be seamless to lengthen the attention span of the reader. This means you should communicate with the user through both design and content together, in what some call information interplay.”
In plain English, what this means is that design and content are kind of seen and consumed together, and have an effect on each other. But how can content marketers achieve such interplay of “design-cum-content”? The answer apparently lies in thinking “mobile first”. When you plan and design for mobile, you are naturally able to get a good interplay of design and content.
Again, according to UXMag. “Good design helps your users be present on your webpage, while good content answers their doubts. But an amalgamation of two brings out two most important things that will take your business on top – trust and loyalty!”
Incidentally, SimilarWeb Research shows that mobile-read content has far outstripped laptop-read content, so you had better plan for mobile-first anyway.
How can you build great mobile first user-experiences that make your content more valuable to today’s readers? Well thankfully there’s now a tool called Mockplus. This new tool allows you plan directly for mobile-first, so you don’t have to “adapt from content meant for laptop”. See below how it’s done:
6. Your content must provide signposts and impetus for next decisions or actions a reader can take
The main purpose of content to a content-marketer (aside from reinforcing his branding and authority) is to create the opportunity to convert a casual reader into a marketing or sales prospect. Without that “business objective” behind content marketing, you may as well be writing Homer’s Iliad!
A lot is written about how your content should always have a CTA in it … a Call-To-Action. But to design a great call-to-action relies on psychology. Neil Patel, the marketing expert has an article dedicated to the topic called “Everything You Need to Know About the Psychology of the Call to Action”.
He writes: “Every web marketer knows about the call-to-action. But how many web marketers really understand the call-to-action? The answer, I’m afraid, is not very many. The call-to-action has a fascinating psychology behind it that includes width, color, border size, copy, and cool CSS effects. Yet, at the same time, this psychology goes far beyond those elements. When we understand the psychology of the call-to-action, we take huge strides forward in our effectiveness as marketers. To know the psychology of the call-to-action is to be a wizard of conversion optimization, because psychology drives the entire science and art of conversion optimization. If you know just a little bit about the psychology that motivates our behavior, you will massively increase your power.”
Among the most used (and most effective Calls-To-Action, that usually make content seem valuable, are the ones that depend on “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out) psychology. Some content marketers use this slyly, while others are nonchalantly open about using this tactic (and to great effect too!)
See this FOMO-led CTA below from RueLaLa.com where the Fear Of Missing Out is, in fact, the centerpiece!
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of content-marketer solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content Marketing Basics”:
- Content Marketing Definitions: 15 Smart, Thought-Provoking Angles!
- Your Content Marketing Business Model … The Choices You Have!