A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Sonia Simone speak at a conference. She stood up, and with her quiet voice, she shared the secret to great content. It goes like this:
“Great content meets two criteria: It’s useful and it’s interesting.”
Simple, yet profound. Sonia also gave us a few examples to illustrate her point. Notice how each has an advantage and disadvantage for building traffic:
- LOLcats: Good for social media; bad for SEO. Interesting, useless content might be entertaining, but it won’t build credibility. People love to share cat pictures, but kittens don’t usually rank high.
- Wikipedia: Good for SEO; bad for social media. Useful, boring content may be informative, but it won’t keep your readers’ attention. Search engines love informative content, but when’s the last time you tweeted a Wikipedia page?
Great content both informs and entertains. It’s shareable and ranks well.
Excitement, expectations, and the Kano Model
The importance of interest and usefulness goes far beyond content. Ever heard of the Kano Model? It’s a usability tool used to connect requirements to customer satisfaction. It’s typically applied to products, business models, and websites, but we can also apply it to content marketing efforts.
The Kano Model, depicted in the chart above, shows us that some features meet basic expectations (usefulness) and others generate excitement (interest). This is what Sonia was talking about. The effort we put into our content pushes us over to the right side of the chart. But some features of our content are there just to meet readers’ expectations (the lower curved line), while other features of our content add excitement, delighting our readers (the upper curved line). We can use this model to evaluate the value of our content, and improve it:
Interest: How to delight your readers
At best, your writing is inspired. This means that, at the very least, it’s original and written in your own voice. If you enjoyed writing it, your audience will likely enjoy reading it. But if you find it’s lacking in the “wow” factor, try adding one or more of these excitement generators:
- Unique perspective
- Strong opinions and/or emotions
- Compelling visuals/video
- Unexpected connections
A brief note about unexpected connections: Connecting the message to a theme can make a dry topic gush with flavor. Not only does the use of a thematic metaphor help content to be understood more easily, it makes it easier to create, as well.
Example: Take Nick Haas’ blog post, Web Design Techniques: Jean Claude Van Damme‘s School for Web Designers.” Nick’s topic meets our site visitors’ expectations for information (web design techniques), but it’s the theme he used that our readers took delight in: an unexpected connection to the martial arts film star, Jean Claude Van Damme.
That theme also unlocked a source of motivation for Nick, as a content creator: “The article became much easier to write when I connected web design with something that I loved — ’80s martial arts actors/films. It was an instant jolt of inspiration.”
Utility: How to meet your readers’ expectations
When it’s at its best, utility-focused writing gives readers clear instructions for solving an important problem. At a minimum, it’s focused on the reader (rather than on your business), and it helps them address their challenges by providing practical advice. The “utility” of the article is its practical value; it’s the answer to readers’ ever-present question: “What’s in it for me?” To create great content, make sure you meet your audience’s basic expectations — starting with addressing three key considerations:
- Relevance: Does the post answer a question your audience frequently asks?
- Accuracy: Is the information in the article correct? Is it spell-checked? Are references cited?
- Evidence: Does the article support its own assertions with evidence? Quotes, statistics and examples address this.
A brief note about length: Always try to use short words, sentences, and paragraphs in your content, but you don’t necessarily have to limit yourself to writing short posts. Each post should be as long as it needs to be in order to convey your message (and not a word longer).
So that’s the secret to creating great content: Help your readers in delightful and useful ways (thanks Sonia!). If your content at least accomplishes these two goals, it will be more likely to be read, be shared, rank well, get commented on, and inspire customer action.
For more secrets to better content marketing, join the CMI team at Content Marketing World 2013, September 9–11 in Cleveland, Ohio.