What do you think of the content that your competitors publish?
My guess? It’s not great.
It’s easy to judge others, but tough to evaluate ourselves.
I guarantee that all your competitors think the same thing as you, that most content in your niche is junk.
And yet…they believe that theirs is the exception.
No doubt you think your content is pretty good too. Otherwise, why would you publish it?
I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just pointing out that we all have biases. Of course we’re going to think our own content is good.
The ideal solution would be to hire a professional marketer or editor to evaluate your content and compare it against competitors.
However, that’s rarely possible.
The next best solution, in any case, is to have a checklist of all the essentials of good content.
While you can make your own, I thought I’d start you off.
I’m going to tell you 6 questions that you should ask yourself before publishing any piece of content.
This is a list of essentials, but feel free to add to it afterwards.
1. Does it have a real purpose to the right people
There are 2 ways you can write.
You can write for yourself, creating something that you think is superb.
Or, you can write for your readers, creating something that is specifically crafted to help them.
Can you guess which one I prefer? It’s option number 2. Always write for your readers.
One mistake that many content creators make, especially newer ones, is writing something that they think is good.
They’ll write a rant, or some other post just to make themselves sound smart. But this doesn’t accomplish anything other than making them feel smart.
Here’s an example of such a post on Medium:
As you can see, the author wrote a public post that was essentially a rant directed towards her CEO.
You can read it if you want, but essentially it’s a whole lot of complaining. All about “me, me, me.”
As an interesting note, an edit on the post explains that she was let go shortly after (not necessarily related though).
The point is, that even if this content gets read by a lot of people, it’s not going to impact their lives.
All good content, from the viewpoint of content marketing, needs to leave a favorable impression of your brand in the minds of readers.
It should do one of the following:
- Solve a problem – For example, a detailed step by step guide to patching up a wall.
- Inspire action – When content is focused on the reader, it can inspire them to take action to improve their lives. At the end of most of my posts, I ask readers to take action on what I wrote, because they’ll remember me when they do.
- Teach – Everyone loves to learn about the things they truly care about. Good content can focus on teaching an important concept. For example, a post about how Google’s basic algorithm works, written for beginner SEOs.
Go back to the question and answer it now.
Is your content written for your audience, and does it have value to them?
If the topic is good, but you were more focused on what you think is in a good article, go through it and edit it. Constantly ask yourself, “how can I make this clearer for my reader?”
You should be able to articulate the exact value that your content provides readers. If you can’t, it probably doesn’t have any (or much).
2. Are your claims backed up with credible sources?
The days are over when you could write whatever you’d like and be believed.
Many readers these days are skeptical. After reading so many lies, and hearing false promises, it takes a lot to convince them to take you at your word and take action.
And if you can’t get them to take action, you’re never going to claim that place in their email box or memory.
This is why I recommend backing up all your claims, with data when possible.
What’s more convincing? Saying:
- Diabetes causes your hair to fall out.
- Diabetes impairs your brain function.
They both sound possible, but they both sound like they could just be speculation. The difference, is that the second one links to a study in a respected journal.
As a reader, the second one leaves me convinced, the first one leaves me with questions.
What’s a credible source?: A key word in the question here is “credible.” If a reader clicks through to your source, and doesn’t trust it, you’re back where you started.
Here’s what I would say is a good rule of thumb for credible sources:
- Studies (journal articles) are the best if possible
- Data analysis posts
- Government sites
- Highly respected sites (like webMD)
- Posts written by extremely well known authors (or interviews)
3. Do the images add more than just breaking up text?
I’m a big fan of visual content, which you know if you read my stuff regularly.
One benefit of including a lot of pictures is that they break up text, making it easier to read.
But if that’s the only thing the images in your content do, that’s a problem.
Images give you a unique opportunity to:
- Clarify tough concepts
- Provide additional insights
- Present data that you can’t in text
All in a way that most readers enjoy.
But too many bloggers squander this opportunity on a regular basis, even good ones.
Here’s an example from a very popular blog that shall remain nameless:
I really don’t know what a molten chess piece has to do with becoming a brand publisher.
This factor isn’t the end of the world, but using the right pictures can take your post from mediocre to good, or good to great.
Take this post on the Ahrefs blog as an example. After going over a concept that is tough to explain, they presented a tiny infographic to illustrate it:
Even though you don’t really know the context of the article, I bet you already have a good idea of the point that was being stressed.
That’s an image that adds value to the surrounding text.
Just as every sentence should add something to the content, so should every image.
4. Do you have competition? (and is yours the best?)
Think of your content as a product (even if it’s a free one).
Just about all products have competition. Go to a grocery store, and you’ll find ketchup made by 5 different companies.
Look up a guide to SEO, and you’ll find not just 5, but thousands of competing pieces of content.
Before you publish, and even before you write, you need to know what you’re up against.
Usually, this means going to Google and putting in a few keyword phrases that describe your content.
For example, I would search for “is your content good enough”, or “how to judge content quality” for this article that you’re reading.
Next, go through at least the first page of results. More is always better.
Look through them and analyze their strengths and weaknesses. Then, compare those strengths to your own.
If your content is worse in some areas, it needs to be improved before you publish it. No one switches to the new product if it’s worse than the old one.
There is one exception: There is no competition in a monopoly. A monopoly exists when a company can create a product that no one else can, either because of legal reasons or they lack the ability to create it.
It’s great to own a monopoly in real life if you ever get the chance from a business perspective.
If possible, you should try to create a content monopoly on the topic you’re writing about.
If you can approach a topic from an angle that no one else can replicate, you’re guaranteed to stand out.
For example, a few years ago I spent $252,000 on conversion rate optimization and published a post about it:
Anyone can write a post along the lines of “x lessons of conversion rate optimization.”
Very few can say they spend a few hundred thousand hiring the best in the industry, and then share what they learned.
5. Is your title AND opening gripping?
It’s the part that most people read, and then decide if they are interested enough to read the actual article.
You should write down at least 20 different possible titles for each piece of content you create.
I know it’s a pain and takes a lot of time for just 10-15 words, but it is by far the most important part of your content.
Recognizing a great title takes practice, but essentially what you want to do is put yourself in your reader’s shoes, and ask yourself:
Do I really need to read this right now?
It’s important that they want to read it “right now,” because most people who say they’ll read it later will not.
And if you can honestly answer “yes” to that question, you need a better title. Do not rush this, it’s crucial.
Once you have the title down, move on to your opening 100-200 words. This is the second most important part of your content.
After the title draws in a reader, many will read the opening and then decide if they’ll read the rest of the content.
Again, ask yourself the same question. There needs to be a question that they just need an answer to, or a story they want the end of in order to compel them to read on.
This is hard.
If you’d like to see some examples, check out some posts on Smart Blogger, their editor makes sure that every post has a strong opening.
6. Is your content optimized for the average reader?
Content marketers are not the average readers. So what we think is good, isn’t usually good for the average content reader.
Research shows the readers only read an average of 20-28% of a post.
Most readers are skimmers.
They skim the content looking for anything that stands out. It’s important that you include elements that do stand out and invite readers to pay closer attention.
There are a few main aspects to consider.
Aspect #1 – Subheadlines matter more than you think: Open a new blog post and take a quick skim. What stands out the most?
Usually, it will be the subheadlines, since they are larger and usually darker than the rest of the text.
Just like readers judge your entire post by the title, they also judge each section by the subheadline.
Notice that I rarely use boring subheadlines in my posts. I always try to make some sort of interesting point that makes a skimmer curious. For example:
You don’t need to spend quite as much time on these as the overall title, but don’t just put the first subheadline that comes to mind either.
Aspect #2 – Readability: It’s important that you keep the basics of readability in mind. No one is going to read a post if it’s all one giant block of text.
Instead, keep the following in mind:
- Write in short paragraphs – I use up to 3 sentences maximum.
- Have a short blog width – Each line should have no more than 100 characters in it. Many say that 66 characters per line is ideal. Short lines keep the reader feeling like they’re making progress.
- Use simple words – I rarely include complex words in my posts. You don’t want readers to have to go look up the meaning of words, which takes them away from your post.
Aspect #3 – Images: Images do break up text as we mentioned earlier, which makes content easier to read.
More importantly, they attract attention.
Imagine if you were skimming a post and saw that custom iceberg graphic from earlier, wouldn’t you read that section to learn more about it? Many readers will.
Images will always grab attention, and if they are interesting (i.e. not a basic stock photo), they can suck in a skimmer.
Being your own toughest critic will help you create great content that will win over readers.
But it’s hard to criticize yourself sometimes, and it’s easy to give yourself the benefit of the doubt.
I recommend going through this list of questions for all the content you’re about to publish. It ensures that you don’t skip over a glaring weakness that needs to be improved.
Keep in mind that this is a list of the essentials, but you may have other things you want to ask yourself before you publish something in order to ensure a high standard of content.
If you have any of those questions, I’d love it if you’d share them with me and everyone else below in a comment.
via My Media Pal