If you have been following along with our series on creating a successful authority blog so far, you will have already come a long way.
I know it is said a lot (especially across the blogosphere), but content truly is king (no matter what some others might say). Marketing campaigns and a flashy design are worth nothing if your content doesn't do the most important job—convert a visitor into a prospect or customer.
When it comes to your blog, content is the difference maker. It can truly set you apart from the competition once all of the less important elements are stripped away. This post is arguably the most important of the whole series, so I hope that you read and digest it carefully.
In this post I want to show you how to create awesome, unique content—even in well-worn subject areas. There's no magic strategy at play here; just common sense gleaned from experience.
The Basics of Writing Great Blog Posts
But before we get onto that, let's cover the basics of good blogging.
I'll start with a bold statement: good writers do not make good bloggers. At least, they don't by default. A good writer must learn the "rules" of blogging as much as anyone else in order to produce great blog posts.
Let me put it another way: I'd rather run a piece from a good writer who is also great blogger, than a post from a great writer with no blogging experience.
Fortunately, the basic "rules" of blogging are straightforward and easy to pick up. In fact, they can be condensed into a relatively short list:
- Whenever possible, keep it simple.
- Start with an introduction, introduce to the reader what they will learn from the post.
- Finish with a conclusion, wrap up what the reader learned from the post and give them a clear call to action.
- Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
- Use plenty of concise yet descriptive sub-headers.
- Highlight a select number of important phrases/sentences in bold.
- Highlight single words in italics for emphasis.
- Use lists to present information concisely and provide variety to the content.
- Break your content up with graphical elements (photos, graphics, blockquotes, graphs, tables, etc).
Note that the above list does not represent the be all and end all of writing great blog posts—far from it. But it will get you up to a good standard of blogging in no time at all, and it is probably best at this stage to focus on the fundamentals rather than overwhelm yourself with finer details.
The Problem With Creating Unique Content
Let's put the concept of creating unique content in perspective.
In 2010, Google CEO Eric Schmidt revealed that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up to 2003. It wouldn't surprise me if that was now much closer to one day, given the continued exponential growth in popularity of social media and the web 2.0 movement.
With that in mind, you may think that creating truly unique content is next to impossible in this day and age. To an extent you would be right. After all, what hasn't been written before? Unless you are on the cutting edge of science or another academic field, whatever you have to say may well have been said before. If a brand new video game comes out tomorrow and you review it on your blog immediately, countless reviews will pop up alongside it across the web.
However, I want you to approach "unique" from a different perspective. The dictionary's primary definition of unique is as follows:
Being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.
We're unlikely to create content of that kind too often. But now let's look at the secondary definition:
Particularly remarkable, special, or unusual.
I want you to focus on those three words: Remarkable, Special and Unusual. Those are the three words that should define your content strategy. They encompass what I mean by creating "unique" content.
Creating a blog packed with unique content isn't about writing what no one else has written about before. It's about bringing a unique angle to what may be a well-established (or even well-worn) topic. That's what I'm going to focus on in this post.
Different Methods for Producing Unique Content
There are a number of ways in which you can bring a unique angle to a well-worn topic. But remember this -- the beauty of being unique is that you should not necessarily stick to the beaten path. Being unique is all about trying out things that others are not doing.
You may fall flat on your face in the process (I know I have plenty of times) but the blogosphere is a forgiving place. Today's missteps are typically forgotten once tomorrow rolls around.
Below I am going to pick out my favorite three approaches and give you examples for each, then we'll move onto talk about how to put together a content strategy for your blog.
1. Personal Stories
There's nothing like bearing your soul on your blog to attract a following. By sharing personal stories you put a face and a personality behind what is otherwise just words. Readers can connect with you on a far deeper level than they would otherwise.
However, there are right and wrong ways to do this. Most importantly, there still needs to be some value in them reading your story. For instance, I have built a successful blog on the back of sharing my experiences in attempting to quit my job (which I did in 2011) and build an online business. Through my stories I am able to (a) connect with my reader and (b) reveal the causes of my successes and failures.
You’ll probably see a common theme running through all of these posts—candidness.
The way in which you choose to share personal stories can take many different forms. One thing I recommend that any blogger does if they want to incorporate their personality into their blog is to create a "X Things You Should Know About Me" style post. Here's one I did for Leaving Work Behind: 38 Things I’ve Never Told You (or, the First Step to Making the Most of Yourself). If you read through the comments you will immediately see the benefit of writing a post like this -- it enabled people to connect with me on a far deeper level.
Another great method of sharing personal stories is to tell your audience a story that has a strong moral attached to it. I've done this in a few posts, most notably How Overcoming Panic Attacks Helped Me Understand The Path To Success and The One Who Got Away.
You'll probably see a common theme running through all of these posts—candidness. Put simply, I'm not afraid to share some pretty personal things with my reader, and if you really want to engage with them on a deeper level, you shouldn't be either.
Having said that, there is such a thing as sharing too much on your blog. Your efforts can backfire if you start sharing the kind of information that makes people cringe or even think less of you in some way, so make sure that what you are writing is in the best interests of your blog before hitting Publish.
2. Case Studies
Case studies are fantastic for engaging with your audience. They can tell the story of:
- one of your readers
- someone from outside your blog
The first two are the most effective and I recommend that you focus on them.
Creating personal case studies is simple enough, I've built a blog on the back of them. Just share whatever you're going through. Be totally honest and up front about what is working and what isn't. People will trust you and be far more engaged if they believe that you're sharing all aspects of your story.
Case studies of your readers can be highly effective, especially if you tie it in with how your blog (and/or product) was able to benefit them. Having said that, you should be looking to do this in a tasteful way, rather than using it as an opportunity for a sales pitch. Some of the best case studies of this type have been published over at Nerd Fitness. Each story is inspiring for the reader, but also serves as a compelling sales pitch for the blog (without actually being a sales pitch).
3. Contrarian Viewpoints
Now we're treading on dangerous, yet potentially lucrative ground.
This approach is simple, you take a viewpoint on a particular topic that runs contrary to popular opinion. I've done this on occasion in the past, such as in this post on responsive design and a more recent piece on podcasts and video. Both posts generated a great deal of debate (especially the responsive design one).
If you want to take this approach then there are two things you must do:
- Have something of value to say (not just an empty argument in the hope of causing controversy).
- Be prepared to debate your position and argue your points with conviction.
It's not for the faint-hearted, that's for sure. I have been called an idiot by more web designers than I can shake a stick at as a result of that post on responsive design (200+ comments and counting).
Never take a contrarian viewpoint just for the sake of it, or in hope of generating page views. You must feel passionately about the topic on which you will focus and you should be ready to take the flak.
Quality vs. Quantity
When it comes to creating a long-term content creation strategy, there should be some kind of broad structure to what you're doing.
Just one blog post per week is fine if you’re making it count.
Having said that, quality always beats quantity. Unless you're in an untapped niche (which is extremely unlikely), taking the volume approach to blogging is a dying game. There's just too much content out there these days; you'll simply get lost amongst the noise.
Instead you need to stick out like a sore thumb with unique and compelling content. Rather than trying to make up a considerable proportion of the noise in the hope of getting traffic, place yourself above the noise. Just one blog post per week is fine if you're making it count.
Posting less often also has the benefit of perceived greater interaction. If you post three times per week, comments will be spread across those three posts, but if you post just once per week you'll find that your one post gets more comments than each of the three would. Furthermore, because you're focusing on quality rather than quantity, your one post is also likely to get far more comments by virtue of the fact that it is a well written and engaging piece.
Once you understand the fundamentals of creating great content, you should stop reading and start taking action. You will not truly know what works and what doesn't until you test it in the real world and observe the results.
Every blog out there has a unique readership. What works for one may not work for another. What you think may work for your blog may not, and vice versa. Now is the time to take action and start learning what works for your blog. That is the key to creating great content. Put it out there and gauge its popularity. Every new post is another learning experience; teaching you what kind of content you should (or shouldn't) create in the future in order to take your blog to the next level.
You should be ready to take action now. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to leave them in the comments section below!