Why is content so important?
The increased prominence of content has been driven by the development of the internet and, in particular, the dominance of search engines. Search engine companies' indexing and page ranking system has resulted in a strong focus on content quality and its value to search engine users.
Early search engine optimisation (SEO) activities focused on exploiting the basic systems used by search engines to generate results. As the engines became more sophisticated, it became clear to digital marketers that only genuinely valuable and engaging content would allow them to compete.
Content marketers began looking to conventional content sources for inspiration and to understand what makes effective content. At the same time, traditional content creators discovered the need to use digital content marketing practices to reach their audiences.
What counts as content?
Content is everywhere, but not all content is relevant to content marketing.
Consider this example: the difference between The New York Times newspaper and The Furrow magazine.
- The New York Times includes marketing and relies on advertising to sustain itself financially. Its primary purpose is still to convey the news, and by doing that well, it can operate as an advertising platform.
- The Furrow is focused on attracting potential customers to buy the company’s core products. While it contains valuable information and might be an important news source for some readers, it is limited in its scope in terms of the brands and topics it can cover. The clear example here is that The Furrow is unlikely to feature competitor products even if doing so would be useful to the reader.
What makes great content?
Many different factors make great content. Some factors are more important than others, but great content usually takes as many into account as possible.
The following are five of the most important.
The best content knows its audience. It understands their needs and can provide them with something they genuinely value.
Targeting content doesn't just mean it is tailored to a specific audience; it also means reaching them. It has to be in a context that makes sense.
Researching the target audience is vital. Beyond meeting their needs, content has to be developed with other traits in mind, such as the audience’s technical capability and the form of language they use or expect to hear.
Content needs to provide an audience with genuine value.
That value may be informative or entertaining, but it has to provide something, or it does not work. Content can be costly to produce, and to ensure it is not a waste of time and money; it has to provide value.
Being shareable makes content particularly valuable. Content that concisely illustrates a specific point is a good example of the type of content that gets shared. Shareable content acts as an asset that readers can use to improve their own professional or social standing.
Search engines favour websites that produce new and original content regularly. Originality is important from several perspectives, including SEO.
Uploading duplicate content to a website can negatively impact the website's organic ranking unless certain steps are taken, such as including canonical tags. These would inform the search engine that the website requires duplicate content. Some websites post duplicate content for legitimate reasons. For example, a clothing e-commerce website may sell three versions of the same shoes, which differ by colour: red, black and navy. The product descriptions would be broadly similar and could be perceived by the search engine as duplicate content.
In terms of making content that stands out from the rest, originality has to go far beyond recycling existing articles.
The unique selling proposition (USP) is a well-established concept in marketing. The content itself is considered the product in content marketing, so it needs to have its own USP. The topic of a piece of content is likely to have been covered before, so effective content will approach its topic from a new angle, make a point in an original manner or provide some new data on the subject.
The internet is filled with content. Making new content that stands out is a key challenge to overcome.
Before content can reach the next level of engagement, the fundamentals of engaging content have to be in place. The saying "You only get one chance to make a first impression" is never truer than with content. Title, layout, font hierarchy and rich media all need to be well-thought-out to ensure content has the best chance to engage its audience.
To follow up on successfully engaging content, giving the audience something tangible to put into action after consuming it helps reinforce its message and emphasise its value. This might be as simple as inspiring the audience to create something similar to the content, or it might be a suggestion on how to implement any advice given.
While actionable content does not mean including an explicit call to action, it does offer an opportunity to gather return on investment (ROI) data. This is particularly important as collecting ROI data is one of the more challenging aspects of content marketing. The holy grail of content marketing is content made actionable in such a way as to direct its audience to a data capture activity.
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