When it comes to producing great content, sometimes it’s hard to notice what is really important.
Take a look at any of the excellent guides on producing amazing content out there, and you’ll come away with some key insights. One is that your content needs to be diverse. Different pieces of content need to appeal to people at different stages of the buyer’s journey. Another is that some pretty simple rules dictate what makes content effective: It should be helpful, authentic, and clear about what you offer customers.
All of that is true. However, approaching your content strategy as though it represents a series of boxes to be ticked or templates waiting to be filled out often leads to repetitive, less-than-inspiring content.
The solution? Tell a story. Take your audience on a journey.
Let’s say that you’ve decided to target a new audience segment. You identify the concerns of your audience and the key benefits of your product that would appeal to that specific audience. You design a content plan that runs through each and develop a template for each piece of content in the plan. You write, film, or record the content and release it. And then … crickets. Nobody engages with it. You figure you must not have done enough research and design an entirely new content strategy. Rinse and repeat.
If that sounds familiar, you’re probably frustrated at still being on the endless content merry-go-round. But take heart: You are not alone. Research from Ahrefs has shown that almost 91% of all pages receive zero traffic on Google and just over 5% of them get 10 visits per month or fewer. In other words, the majority of content doesn’t even get found organically in search results.
Why is that?
Simply put, it’s because either the content has not been properly optimized for search or it's too general, formulaic, and nakedly geared toward achieving sales.
It is important to churn out plenty of content on a consistent basis, but you need to focus on quality. There are many ways to do that, but all seek to apply a simple insight: Humans love engaging stories.
Content that draws readers in and then shares a continually developing and emotionally engaging story is much more effective than articles simply based on the same templates produced solely to check some boxes. This approach to engaging content creation goes by many names, but I like to call it the "content experience."
Are you creating the right kind of content to reach your goals?
Creating content for the sake it is rarely an effective content marketing strategy.
To create effective content that engages your audience and helps you work toward your content marketing goals, make sure your content works together. Instead of seeing pieces of content solely as individual pieces of sales collateral, a “content experience” approach is all about creating content that works together to tell a bigger story or work toward a bigger purpose.
Creating a content experience can help you focus on how your content fits together and how your target audience members will move through those individual pieces toward the end of the story: becoming loyal customers.
In practice, applying the “content experience” approach involves some techniques you might already use to develop your content strategy. You just have to tweak these techniques' roles within your overall marketing framework in order to create the kind of content experience that audiences crave. Let’s dive into a few strategies:
Once you identify your ideal target audience, stop thinking about them only as a set of demographics and remind yourself that they are human beings. Your content should capture their attention, of course, but it shouldn’t stop there. You also have to take them on a journey.
In other words, your goal is not to solely get eyes on the page. The goal is to engage your audience members once they land on that page and ultimately make them want to continue exploring your site and get to know you and your products or services better. If you don’t know what sets your company apart that will excite your target audience and encourage them to continue to interact with you, go back to the drawing board.
A good strategy is to think about the content you enjoy reading. What are some sites or blogs you return to every day or every week? What is it about the way the content is shared on those sites or blogs that draws you in? Think through these questions and jot down your observations so you can come back to them and consider how similar approaches might fit into your content marketing strategy.
To take your audience on a journey, you have to provide diverse content types and topics to hold their attention. Your core message might remain constant, but to create a content experience that engages each member of your audience, you have to provide content in a variety of formats and look at multiple facets of your core message.
Of course, there's tension here. By diversifying your content, you might blur the laser-like focus on your core message that is the mark of great content campaigns. That, however, is exactly why you need a content style guide and a documented content strategy that you can continually refer back to.
In other words, define your central message before you start content creation so you can make sure all your content is at least tangentially related to that core message. And then make the most of your content by creating tailored versions of it that you can share on all of the platforms you use, including your blog, landing pages, videos, podcasts, social accounts, and more.
It is notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to tell a great story without thinking through the structure of the content ahead of time. Structure is one of the primary skills taught in creative writing workshops, and it’s one of the most crucial steps when building a website. Given this synchronicity, it’s surprising that the parallels between the two mediums — storytelling and web design — aren’t mentioned more often.
When you’re building a content experience, you’re aiming to entice your audience to enter a world of diverse yet connected pieces of content they can explore. Ideally, your content experience will lead your target audience to move from one piece of content to the next until they ultimately realize they know and are aligned with your company and want to sign on for your products or services.
To structure your overall content marketing strategy, you can use a topic cluster approach. And when you create each piece of content, it can help to start with an outline of what you want to cover and in what order. Then, you can begin writing once that "skeleton" is in place.
To create a web of related content that drives engagement, download your free content map template.
Personalization is a key component of creating a content experience that engages your specific target audience. And to go a step further, interactivity makes that experience even more engaging.
When visitors are perusing your site or reading your content, use heat-mapping software to see where they navigate and how they engage. This way, you can tailor your web design, content topics, and content formatting to the way your audience actually uses your website.
You can also collect data from your visitors through more interactive content, such as asking questions via polls or conducting surveys in exchange for a free gift, such as a free e-book or a discount code. This strategy keeps your visitors engaged and interacting with your site and allows you to gather critical information on what your audience is truly looking for.
These steps are fundamental in creating effective content. Even though they might seem rudimentary, they remind us that merely reaching our audience is not the prime purpose of our job. Instead, we should aim to move them through a content experience — a journey toward action.
Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full-time to technical writing, she managed — among other intriguing things — to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.