By Ahava Leibtag published April 6, 2011

Using the Valuable Content Checklist: A Step-by-Step Guide for Different Content Types

We are all looking for the silver bullet that will make our content sparkle. What if from the time of content creation we already had the benchmarks in place that we know forms valuable content?

Yesterday, I introduced the Creating Valuable Content Checklist, which I use to quantify what makes content valuable to our content consumers.  Today I’ll explain the steps in each of these benchmarks. 

Download the Creating Valuable Content Checklist™. [PDF]

Findable content

When creating your content, you must remember that unless something is emailed to users, they probably need to find it (and even then things can get lost in an inbox!). Therefore, you must make sure that you’ve done everything in your power to use the right SEO best practices to write or create findable content.

The steps below assume that you have already done keyword research on your project. Based on the goals and user research, you should choose the keywords that you think will be most effective for your content. If you need help finding the right keywords, check out this post on how to find the right keywords for your content marketing efforts.

For text on web pages

  • Use only one h1 and multiple h2 tags on your web pages because  they benefit search engines ranking and they help break up text on a page. Make sure you highlight them in the copy deck (or whatever system you use to move content from creation into production) so that the person laying out the content understands how they should be encoded. Use h3 tags if necessary, but understand they won’t get you the same bang for your buck in terms of SEO results that h1 and h2 tags will.
  • Customize the metadata (title tag, keywords and descriptor tag) so it describes the content on the page, according to your keyword research.
  • Include links to other pages on the site to increase the content value that search engine spiders assign to your pages (spiders are the robots that crawl through your site).
  • Include alt tags on your photos and other images so they appear in image searches. Describe the picture in the image (because alt tags were first designed for the visually impaired) but also use them to plug your content. For instance, if you have a picture of doctors performing surgery, the alt tag could be“The doctors at Sweet Valley Hospital in Sweet Valley, California, are experts in separating identical twins in a surgery,  known as identical separation, shown in this photo.”

For video

Post your video on YouTube and/or Facebook to increase the likelihood it will be seen. I like using YouTube because it allows you to accurately count the views. Regardless of what platform you use, you need to tag the content so it can be found:

  • Include possible keywords in your title.
  • Provide  a detailed, keyword-rich summary.

For audio

  • Consider distributing your audio in different formats, such as mp3, wav and wiff so it’s available to different audiences.  If your potential customer doesn’t have the required format to listen to the audio file, then your whole goal of creating and distributing the content has been stymied during delivery.
  • Create a detailed summary and title where the content will be downloaded. For some delivery vehicles, that’s the system it’s stored in, like iTunes. For others, it might be the page you post the file on.
  • House each audio clip on a relevant content page, so the text and audio support each other in SEO efforts by demonstrating relevant content to the search engines.

Readable content

 

Once users find your content, do they consider it to be readable? While this only applies to written content, this is the primary way people consume info, so it’s an incredibly important category.

When considering readability, the most important thing to consider is that users scan until they find the content they need. Any great Web conversation with your user respects their time. Therefore, consider using:

  • Inverted pyramid style of writingThe inverted pyramid style of writing:  The most important facts should be at the top. For an example of this, see the figure produced using eyetracking software.  You can see where the user’s eyes scanned on the page:  see how that shape follows an inverted pyramid?
  • Chunking: Keep paragraphs short. I follow the rule of three:  no more than three sentences in a paragraph, and no more than three paragraphs under one heading.
  • Bullets and numbered lists:  When people want to consume information quickly, lists and bullets are helpful.
  • Consistent language: By keeping content consistent, you avoid confusing your users.  For example, how do you refer to your business, company or institution on a page? If you keep switching back and forth from your name to the use of the term “us,” it’s going to confuse your customers. Keep it consistent. Use a style guide to help everyone get on the same page.

Understandable content

Creating content that users really understand is challenging when subjects are complex. In healthcare, where I do a tremendous amount of consulting and content creation, I am very aware of this. Many times I write on an eighth grade reading level, and even that might be too elevated for my readers.

So how can  you create understandable content, no matter what industry you are in?

  • Choose the right content type. For example, if users have an “aha” moment when seeing something sketched out, use a visual medium such as a video or a slideshow instead of written text.
  • Create user personas for your different user audiences, and match the level of the content’s complexity to the user’s ability to understand it.
  • Always provide context. Even if you think it might sound condescending, consider explaining even the most basic concepts to your users. You never know where someone is jumping in on the conversation.  Build a contextual roadmap into your content at all times.
  • Apply a standard reading level to your content for each project and stick to it. This should be based on your users’ personas and market research. There is a function in Word for testing reading levels—you may want to experiment with that scoring. Or, find a person on that reading level and test them. You may be surprised to hear what they do and don’t understand.
  • Provide valuable information to the user. This could be new information or a new way of articulating an existing idea. Sometimes metaphors help people understand better.

Actionable content

Obviously, you are creating content so your users act upon it. How can you ensure this while creating content?

  • Include an obvious call to action.
  • Make it easy for users to comment and ask questions, both publicly and privately. For instance, enable blog comments or direct people your company’s Facebook page.  If you accept comments via your “Contact Us” page, make this page easily accessible. Ask your users to share the content by including: “Please share this content with those you think might enjoy it.”
  • Provide links to relevant content or program your content management system (CMS) to provide options to other content that users have liked.
  • Include a list of actionable items at the top if the content is long (remember the inverted pyramid style of writing that helps make content more readable). For example, if you are writing about diabetes care, add three bullets at the top that define diabetes and explain how you can control it.

Shareable content

One of the best ways to have your content spread is to have your readers share it because people trust their peers more than brands. How can you entice more of your users to share content?

  • Consider provoking an emotional response in your readers. When I first started writing articles on content marketing, one of my editors told me, “People are more likely share controversial stuff.”
  • Provide a reason to share—perhaps you actually illustrate the benefit of sharing the content within the story of the content. For example, you may to tell a story about how sharing health information with each other helped one family increase their exercise efforts.
  • Ask them to share.
  • Make sharing easy. (Work with your developers to research and decide on which sharing widget is best for your organization).
  • Allow users to personalize the share. For instance, when I retweet things, I like to edit them, so I can add hashtags or reference another source. If I can’t, I feel frustrated.

As Gawande explained, most professions are resistant to checklists because “we believe our jobs are too complicated to reduce to a checklist.” If doctors, project managers of major construction projects and the World Health Organization were convinced by the use of checklists, then why shouldn’t we be?

Download the Creating Valuable Content Checklist™ [PDF]

Do you have experience using checklists in your content marketing? I’d love to see your examples. Or, let me know what you may change in this checklist.

Author: Ahava Leibtag

Based in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, Ahava Leibtag is a Web content strategist and writer. She leads AHA Media Group, a Web and content consulting firm, and authors the blog Online it ALL Matters. She thinks 60 words is way too few to communicate why she’s interesting. You can connect with Ahava on Twitter at @ahaval.

Other posts by Ahava Leibtag

  • http://twitter.com/techwriterkai Kai Weber

    Many thanks, Ahava! This applies and adapts very well to tech comm writing with few changes!

  • http://www.verticalmeasures.com Arnie

    Very nice. Wish I would have thought of this myself. Clean and well organized.

    • Ahava

      So glad. Enjoy!

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.cesarz Kevin Cesarz

    Nicely done. Best visual and brief text explanation I’ve seen for content. Inspired to create a variant of this for a personal branding presentation that I’m working on. Thank you, Ahava.

    • Ahava

      I’m so glad you like it. Good luck in using it!

  • http://webcontent.alterian.com/ Kam

    Great post. Well structured how-to for content creationg

  • http://twitter.com/carmenhill Carmen Hill

    Love this…will share with our team.

    • Ahava

      I’m so glad.

  • http://twitter.com/clifftyll Cliff Tyllick

    Ahava, this is a great presentation. And it just so happens that you’ve also touched on a number of aspects that will make content highly accessible: for one thing, the proper use of headings, including not only proper subordination but also making sure they include relevant keywords; for another, using lists, paragraphs, and the inverted pyramid properly to “chunk” and organize content. You’ve done a marvelous job.

    Still, I do feel compelled to clarify a couple of points involving accessibility, especially with regard to SEO.

    The first has to do with the proper use of the alt attribute of an image. The best way to find the right words for an alt attribute is to consider it as the text replacement of the image — in other words, if you had to take that image out, what words would you add in its place? Use alt to share that message — and *only* that message — with people who use screen readers. (People who turn images off to speed downloads will also need that message.)

    In your example, I doubt that sighted people would get the idea from the image itself that these doctors are “at Sweet Valley Hospital in Sweet Valley, California,” or that they “are experts in separating identical twins in a surgery, known as identical separation.” So, if that information is not elsewhere in the Web page, you might use it as the caption for the photo. That would also improve the site’s search-engine scores. But then
    no further information would be conveyed by the photo, so you sh
    ould leave alt empty: alt=””.

    Please
    don’t pack alt tags with extra words to improve SEO. That’s an undue burden on the folks who rely on them for meaningful information.

    The second case has to do with considering alternate formats for presenting information — videos, audio tracks, slide shows, and diagrams. Yes, yes, absolutely yes! Each alternate format you add will make your content more accessible to at least one audience. Often that audience is people with cognitive disabilities — an audience too often forgotten as we work to make our content accessible to people who are blind or who have impaired mobility.

    But don’t stop there. Be sure that you supplement each alternate format with a text equivalent. I’m straining the meaning of that term to be more inclusive than it’s meant to be, so let me explain.

    If your alternate format is a slide presentation, be sure the presentation is accessible. In PowerPoint, that begins with making sure that the text of every slide appears in the outline of the presentation, that every meaningful image has alt text associated with it, and that each slide’s speaker notes are a close approximation of what you would tell the audience while the slide is displayed.

    If your alternate format is audio, be sure to include a transcript. If it’s video, add captions and an audio description.

    If your alternate format is a diagram, chart, or similar illustration, consider whether you need to add a long description — longdesc — for that element. A long description is a Web page that gives an in-depth description of

    the illustration. Whether it covers the artistic aspects of the illustration depends on how important they are to your message. For example, the long description of a flowchart might

    simply be a list of steps describing the same process, but the long description of a sketch by da Vinci might describe each stroke of the pen. To point people to that long description, you use the longdesc attribute of the image. For the value of longdesc, you enter the fully qualified URL of the long description: longdesc=”http://yoursite.com
    /this-long-description.html” for example.

    These text (plus one audio) formats make the content you’ve presented in an alternate format accessible to people who use screen readers. (That includes not only people who are blind, but also people who cannot see well and even people who have dyslexia or other condition
    s that can make reading a chore.)

    And, as you might have guessed, each of these text formats can improve your site’s SEO. After all, Google can’t read a diagram. But it can find and read the long description linked to that diagram. And Google can’t hear a soundtrack, but it can read the transcript. And so on.

    So when you add a video, a diagram, or some other alternate format for your message, be sure to share its brilliance with everyone — even Google.

    • Ahava

      Hi Cliff,
      This is a very thoughtful comment and very helpful. I think there are different ways to code an alt tag on a picture–there’s a difference, I believe, between an attribute and a tag, so that one works for SEO and one works for screen readers.
      Thanks so much for the feedback–I feel a Checklist 2.0 coming soon…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=582380259 Cathie Walker

    Thanks so much for this post & checklist – it will be a big part of the web writing training I do!

    (I hate pointing out errors, but did you know there’s a typo in your bio?)

  • Stephanie

    Great post! Approchable and well written. I keep usinf it as a reference during my e-marketing training!
    Thank you!