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Do you ever have one of those moments when you hear something a quadrillion times and on the quadrillionth-and-first time it suddenly makes you want to throw a pie at everyone who’s ever said it?
Sometimes the same clichés and “tips” get circulated more than rumors about Nicki Minaj leaving Twitter or stories about Charlie Sheen “winning”.
One of the things that’s been moving the needle on my irritation-meter lately is the overcooked advice to “write quality content”.
Want to win in the search engines? Engage your social audience? Generate leads?
Write quality content!
Because, as I like to say, don’t we all sit around thinking, “Shoot, I’m just gonna throw some random crap out there that I wrote while I was working on my tan last weekend, call it content and hope nobody notices!”
(You may remember a similar rant about how to create “engaging” content for social marketing.)
Yes, if you write quality content you’ll be doing yourself, your blog, your website and your business a favor.
It’s great advice.
But the one thing that all the great advice leaves out is, “What the heck is quality content?”
Instead of holding my breath waiting for the big revelation, I’ve put together a guide so that next time someone says “create quality content” you can use these actionable tips to turn your content into something that is, indeed, quality.
Quality Content Tip 1: Mind Your Writing Skills
First: proofread! Your content should be free of obvious spelling and grammar mistakes. I know typos slip through but there’s no excuse for poor spelling in every third paragraph, missing punctuation and capitalization, and poor sentence structure.
One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read a lot. Read good writing and read bad writing. You’ll be able to tell the difference, believe me! Make a note about what makes some writing “good” and emulate it. The more you read, the more you’ll see patterns in what sounds “good” and what makes you want to fall asleep head first into your bowl of cereal.
When you read good writing you’ll notice that:
- Sentences and paragraphs flow smoothly. Try the “read aloud” test. If you find yourself stumbling over words and phrasing then your readers probably will too.
- Word choices catch attention. Be selective about your words and phrases. Make them clear, specific, purposeful and memorable. Re-learn those old English class conventions like onomatopoeia and alliteration. Use the corny phrases you otherwise try so desperately to keep out of your business conversations.
- There’s a rhythm. Vary the length of your sentences. When you intersperse “full thoughts” with punchy snippets you create a syncopated rhythm that helps readers get into a groove. Switch up your syllables, too. Too many words with the same number of syllables creates a sense of monotony. Lose the snore factor.
- Words are ordered well. Simply rearranging the order of words in a sentence can make it read better. For example, “I like lentils and mint” has a better cadence than “I like mint and lentils.” You can almost imagine singing the first one, can’t you?
- There’s an overall structure. Start at the beginning, write through the middle and finish at the end. I’ve read an unbelievable number of blog posts that just… start and end. An intro and a conclusion will go a long way toward creating order and flow.
Writing is like a muscle. It feels weird and stiff at first but once it warms up things will start to flow.
Quality Content Tip 2: Pay Attention To Story
If you read my last post, you know I used a personal story about my worst days in business to make a broader point about lessons learned and coping with tough times. I could’ve called it “6 Ways To Cope With Business Stress” and listed them out with six neat bullet points. It certainly would have been a quicker read! But I doubt it would have had the same impact.
Stories make content relatable. Tell yours if you want your readers to care.
Anecdotes are another great way to make writing more relevant and memorable.
An anecdote is just a story snippet. Anecdotes don’t have to be literal. You can take a snippet of a conversation or bits and pieces of a few different experiences and string them into a short tale that demonstrates your point.
Finally, use real-world examples liberally. It’s nice to give advice or tips (like “write quality content”) but better to show how. Vague ideas will leave your readers disappointed. If you’re going to say something subjective then you need to back it up with specifics.
Quality Content Tip 3: Find Your Voice
Sounds like more vague overcooked advice within vague overcooked advice! I bet a lot of people roll their eyes and give up when they hear that one, too.
And yet it’s crucial to the heart of your content.
So let’s call this what it is: being you.
There’s no secret to finding your voice and no treasure map to lead you there. It’s just about being who you are.
Writing is not about sounding smart or “official”. It’s not about passing an exam or getting an A. It’s not even about being impressive. At its simplest, it’s about having a conversation via keyboard.
The best way to “find” your voice is simply to stop trying to write and to tell people what you want to say instead. In your own words, with your own personality and style.
When you write, it helps to imagine talking to someone. Your spouse, best friend or even your favorite customer. Keep an image of a person in your head and write for that person. Write the way you would speak – slang, swear words and all!
Worry about grammar and rhythm later. It’s a lot easier to edit things out than to try to infuse life into a soulless paragraph.
Having a voice can even be about breaking the rules. Slang spellings, intentionally odd grammar or word choices and unique turns of phrase are part of what make you interesting. Don’t get so hung up on being “correct” that you stifle your creativity.
The more you write the better you’ll get at being yourself.
Quality Content Tip 4: Have A Purpose
Whenever you sit down to put words to page, ask yourself this simple question: “What’s the point?”
Content needs a purpose. That may be to amuse, entertain, educate, encourage, help, inform. Vague ideas and random musings don’t make for quality.
Give something that your readers can take away – an idea, an inspiration, something to think about, debate, test or practice.
Quality content provides a benefit, not to your business but to your readers.
And through the beauty of “give and you shall receive”, by providing a benefit to your readers you automatically benefit yourself – by proving your expertise, your commitment to excellence and your ability to deliver.
Sometimes to deliver something of quality you need to go beyond what you know and find out what other people know.
Spend some time researching your topic so you can see what others have said. Support your topic with references, links and statistics where appropriate. If you don’t fully understand what you’re talking about and haven’t bothered to dig deep enough to learn a little more, your readers will know.
Even if you do know what you’re talking about, it doesn’t hurt to do a quick Google search to see what else is out there on the subject. Before writing a post, I take a look to see what the rest of the world has to say on the topic. It helps expand my viewpoint, provides perspective and even triggers new ideas that I can share to help my readers.
Quality Content And Search Engines
Especially since Panda and Penguin, “quality content” has been all the rage. Everywhere, people are going a little crazy trying to figure out what quality content is for search engines. There’s a lot of talk about getting rid of “junk links” and staying away from article sites and aggregators.
Those people miss the point entirely.
Here’s how quality content and search engines really work: You write something smart, beneficial and memorable that people like. People then share and link to your content. Search engines catch on and realize your content is being shared and linked. They want in and start listing your content in some nice, obvious places in their listings.
The bottom line? There is no such thing as quality content for search engines. There is only quality content for people – and that makes search engines take notice.
I know, keywords and all that. If your content has a purpose, it should be easy to find and use keywords because you’ll already be dealing with words, phrases, questions and topics that people are interested in and looking for. But remember, people don’t read your content for keywords. They read it for ideas. Find a way to give that to people and you’ll get the benefit of search listings, too.
It’s not the fast, easy way, but it’s the most effective way, and the least likely to have you running around in a panic when Google releases the Parrot and Piranha updates.
Think you’ve got a better handle on that elusive “quality” thing now? Did you find something that you can act on next time you sit down to write? Don’t hesitate to call BS if you see any here! I’m happy to dig in deeper if anything is vague or cliché-y.
And if you’ve got something that you think makes for quality content, share your tip, too!