I’d now like to swing the blogging for beginners series onto the topic of writing content with a series of posts exploring different elements of quality content. By the way – Peter mentioned in the last post in this series that his part 2 piece on blog design would be posted today – unfortunately he’s been unwell and the post will be delayed.
List after list have been compiled by bloggers on the things that make blogs successful – but on every one that I’ve ever seen has been a statement about content being the ultimate key. ‘Content is King’ is a catch cry that has echoed through the blogosphere for years and while at times I think it’s been used to the point of ignoring other aspects of what makes a successful blog – it really is what a good blog boils down to.
What is Good Content?
Ultimately defining what is ‘good content’ is a subjective exercise (perhaps in a similar way to defining what is a ‘good book’ or a ‘good movie’) and so a post like this one is likely to cause a little debate as each person will define it differently depending upon their personality, their needs, the topic that they are talking about and perhaps even their ethics. Not only will bloggers themselves each have a different view on what is ‘good’ content – but readers tend to also. I know that every time I ask for feedback on ProBlogger and what I write more about I get a real spectrum of responses.
Future posts in this series is an attempt to unpack some of the elements of content that might go towards making it good – or not. At most points along the way there will be debate but hopefully out of it readers will be able to mix and match the elements and identify what works for them.
So without any more introductory remarks, lets get into it with the first element of writing quality content:
Usefulness and Uniqueness - As this post is a part of a series of posts that get back to the basics of blogging and so I will start unpacking the topic of ‘writing good content’ with perhaps the most basic and obvious point of all:
‘for a blog to be successful your content needs to be useful and unique to your readers’
As I say – it’s not rocket science but it’s a factor that I think bloggers need to continually be asking themselves about as they review their blogging. Is your blog useful?
Back in the days when I studied marketing I remember sitting in lecture after lecture getting more and more frustrated as I heard my lecturers drum into us the same thing time after time. Although they said it in different ways, the lessons that they communicated was largely the same in every instance and boiled down to this:
‘Start with the customer – find out what they want and give it to them.’
This is a good lesson for bloggers also.
While I would also recommend that you start with yourself as a blogger and blog out of your own passions, experiences and knowledge – it is essential that you are aware of your reader and that you create content that will add something to their lives. Give them something useful.
What is ‘useful’ content?
Of course ‘useful content’ to me is different from what it is to you, but could be any of the following:
- Entertainment – increasingly blogs are being used as entertainment. People are going to them for laughs, for gossip and for fun conversation.
- Education – some blog readers are primarily interested in learning something about a given topic.
- Information – many successful blogs are built on the thirst that some have to be informed on an issue, product or topic
- Debate – some blog readers want a place that they can have a good old fashioned dialogue, debate or even a fight over an issue
- News – many blog readers just want to be kept up to date in a field
- Community – I’m aware of some very successful blogs that tap into the need that people have to connect and belong. Quite often the topic is secondary to these connections.
This list could of course be a lot longer (feel free to add to it in comments). Each blog has the potential to be ‘useful’ in a different way and it would probably be unwise to start a blog that tried to be all of these things at once (although many blogs do do a variety of these things at once).
Research your Readership
Perhaps the best advice that I could give on developing useful content is to research your readership (or potential readership). If you already have a blog do this by surveying your readers (either formally or informally) or by asking for feedback. I regularly seek out the opinion of my blog readers to find out what their needs and desires are in the topic I’m talking about. If you don’t have a blog already then you’ll need to work a little harder to research your potential readers. I tend to survey friends, look a lot at other people’s blogs on a topic (especially their comments section to see what types of questions people are asking) and particularly look hard in forums and discussion groups on topics where there is usually a lot of question asking going on. As you do this you’ll begin to put your finger on what people are wanting and what you might be able to provide to meet these needs.
Another factor to consider when thinking about ‘good content’ is whether it is ‘unique’.
With a blog being created every second and with blogs on virtually every topic you can think of, the challenge for bloggers is to build a blog that stands out from the crowd. I see blogs every day that provide ‘useful’ content that have no readers simply because people are finding that information in other places.
My advice to new bloggers trying to break into a topic where others are already blogging is to take a surf through the other blogs and websites in your niche and do some analysis upon what sort of content that they are producing. In most niches you’ll find that sites are all presenting very similar information in pretty much the same voice, tone and style. As a new blogger on the topic you have a choice – you can either replicate what they are doing and try to do it better (difficult as they will already have loyal readers and unless you’re brilliant at it you’re unlikely to convert these readers over to you) OR you can distinguish yourself in someway from what others are doing.
This might mean tackling a slightly different topic (perhaps a sub-niche) but could also mean writing in a distinct voice (take a look at Manolo’s blog for an example of a blogger who has grown a cult audience by writing about an odd combination of topics as an anonymous blogger writing in the third person). It might also mean writing in a different genre of posts (ie if everyone else is writing ‘newsy’ posts you might like to write more ‘opinion’ type posts).
Bring together the elements of both Useful and Unique content and you will be one step closer to a successful blog.
Original Content – You will notice that I have chosen the world ‘unique’ instead of ‘original’ in this post. There is mixed opinion in blogging circles on whether original content is always best. Regular readers of this blog know that not all my posts here are completely ‘original’. There are some posts where I use short excerpts (quotes) from other blogs as part of my blog entries. For example in a earlier post in this series on ‘what is a blog‘ I used a number of quotes from other bloggers as part of the post. As a result that post might not be classified as ‘original’ as such – but it is somewhat ‘unique’ (and hopefully useful) as I put them together in a way that they had not been used before (side by side) and then added my own comments to them.
My main advice on ‘orginal’ content is that writing is generally best as it won’t be found anywhere else in that form – however clever and fair use of other people’s content (always giving credit for it and using it within a ‘fair use’ way – ie only using short quotes’) CAN be worth doing IF you use it in a way that is useful to your readers.