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The Brilliant Content Strategy Everyone Gets Wrong

This guest post is by James Chartrand of Men with Pens.

For a long while (and on the Internet, a “long while” means about six months), there were dozens of posts telling you how to reuse content.

Your content, other bloggers’ content, magazine content, brochures-from-that-stack-in-the-attic content. It didn’t matter. The point was that you didn’t need to come up with all the ideas on your own. You could jump-start your brain with interesting content from other sources than the bottomless depths of your own genius.

It was good advice. Reusing content was (and remains) a smart, valid strategy.

The problem is that no one does it right.

How they got reusing content wrong

The basics are simple: find someone else’s content (or your own content from long enough ago) and spot something interesting you can relate to your own work. Then all you need to do is write a good post.

It was a hard strategy to mess up, and no one really did. For the most part, reusing content netted interesting posts that featured interesting content from sources that wouldn’t otherwise have shown up in that industry.

And content reuse is a perfectly valid strategy for when you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel creativity-wise and you just need a jolt to get going again. It’s great, in fact. Go forth and use it with my blessing.

But that’s where everyone stops.

Sure, it was great that you applied that nuclear physics conclusion to brilliant copywriting, and it made for one hell of a post. By the next day, though, readers are looking for the next hot thing.

They’ve forgotten your brilliant post. They’ve forgotten how interesting they found it.

And because someone else has a new, interesting post, they’re all about that post now.

So that strategy won’t further your business. It’s just going to keep your blog alive for one more day. That’s not enough, is it?

Of course it’s not. You need to grow your business and your readership. You need to bring in clients, create products, or become an insightful and focused teacher.

Just recycling the same old content and the same old approach as everyone else in your niche means you’re going to fade into the background.

How to do it right

You’ve heard of Malcolm Gladwell, haven’t you? How about Seth Godin? How about the Heath brothers, Dan and Chip, authors of Made to Stick?

These authors reuse content from the word go. All their books (and in Seth’s case, pretty much his entire blog) rehash anecdotes and stories they’ve heard elsewhere. They’re simply applying those stories to the subjects that interest them most.

By sorting out all of the relevant stories to one particular aspect of their field and bringing it all together in a book, they did something revolutionary: they created a philosophy.

Seth Godin’s purple cow? That’s content reuse. Seth didn’t originate the story of the purple cow, nor any of the other twenty anecdotes that make up the content in his book. He simply saw what all that content had in common and brought it together cohesively.

Few people who read Seth Godin’s book are utterly amazed at what they find there. Really? To have people notice me I have to be remarkable?

The book isn’t fascinating because of its insight. The basic philosophy is what you’re pretty sure you knew all along.

But by stringing together a thousand examples, Seth managed to make a simple concept seem important enough to keep at the front of your mind all the time in your business.

Not just in branding, but when you email a client. Not just the product but the packaging. Not just the upper management but the mail room.

Bring the purple cow into every room of the business, Seth said, because it belongs everywhere.

He didn’t come up with that concept out of thin air. He came up with it by looking at twenty stories from twenty different sources that all put a purple cow in a different room of the business.

You got it: content reuse, done right.

What you can do with reused content

It’s clearly been established that reusing content just to fill your blog doesn’t work. Well, it does, if all you want is to keep your blog alive.

But it doesn’t work for your business, which means you need to find a way to reuse content when you’re ready to put some thought and energy into the next phase.

Start making a list of the stories you enjoy telling over and over again. The advice you keep repeating. Most of the time, you’ll enjoy reusing these stories and advice because they seem to exemplify what’s important.

That tells you something. You have useful knowledge you’re continually sharing because you know readers need it. So what can you do with it?

Mind map it. Connect the dots. Brainstorm. Let the content take you where it will.

Because one day you’re going to wake up and see the connection. You’re going to have a Big Idea. And it’s going to change your entire world.

It doesn’t have to be the formula that cures cancer. It just has to be valuable and true—and it’ll have a whole lot of content from your archives to back it up.

How reused content begins a revolution

When I started to look at my own content for the stories I liked to tell over and over and the advice I kept sharing with writers, I realized I didn’t need to write yet another post on how to not screw up writing.

If people could teach themselves, surely one of those posts would have hit home by now.

My sudden realization was that readers needed help—more than yet another blog post.

And every single one of the anecdotes in my reused content told me this. All my stories about successful writers involved someone getting a teacher, sitting down, and putting in the work.

It seemed like anyone could do this on their own, but the more I looked at all the content, the more I realized that readers could… but they don’t.

So I set out to give them a place where they didn’t have to work alone. I used my content and built an online writing course for business owners where there were teachers willing to help, lessons that were easy to understand, homework to make students accountable, and peers to empathize with and learn from.

I called it Damn Fine Words.

It was a simple idea, born of content I’d told and retold until it had worn thin at the seams. But it changed the lives of my students.

How can your repackaged ideas change the lives of your readers?

James Chartrand of Men with Pens teaches students at Damn Fine Words, the only online writing course that helps business owners succeed so they can stop keeping their blog alive for just one more day and start pulling in results with their content.

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Comments

  1. Liz says:

    Hey James,

    Nice post! Applying stories to subjects and creating a philosophy is what makes writing interesting and memorable, whether you’re working from a blank canvas or working from content already written. That’s not always so easy to do but you’ve outlined some great ways to get there :-)

  2. Oh my God! Those truly are Damn Fine Words. It’s brilliant. It’s a great story, but what I think is even better is how you seamlessly plugged your course at the end of the article. It all seems so natural. OK “plugged” seems like a four-letter word in this context. You’ll just have to forgive me as I’m not a gifted writer like yourself :)

  3. If I am understanding the content reuse in the right way, then I am sure I am doing it since last 2 years. I have had a good success with that and more importantly, I can easily avoid writer’s block.

  4. Mike says:

    I am not much for reusing content from other sites, but I do try to occasionally reuse my own in some capacity. I find that it is pretty good to reuse some of the things that you have already done to be able to help with your own creativity. I think that can provide some additional ideas that you can use towards creating other content on your site.

  5. My blog is young enough where I have not had to re-use anything. I know that day is coming, hopefully it brings some inspiration like you had to create your course! Because my blog is so new I know some of my best posts are being missed. I plan on releasing them again BUT with different media, webinar, videos, podcast, or whatever the next big thing is!

    • Take notes, Chris, each time you spot something you feel would make a great post. Gather a list of it and see if there are any recurring themes as well for future info-products – that’ll pay off nicely later on.

  6. DJ says:

    i don’t think that reusing content is bad!
    i always repost my old blog posts in a newly different way !

  7. Vela says:

    Reusing your content is a brilliant idea. But what is bad is reusing those PLR articles, they are garbage! I can’t believe some publishers are still buying them even after google panda mayhem.

    Instead of buying those $1 articles, you can higher a freelance writer from elance.

    • I have no issues with PLR articles if the person uses them as a bad base and spends time improving them, making them more original and generally turning them into something better. I’ve yet to see a good PLR article you can just run with… and why would you want to, if it’s just reprinted work?

  8. I have not reached the point where I need content badly enough to reuse, though I can see the value once I get there.

    My queue of ideas grows so fast I need to clone myself in order to keep up.

    • It’s not really about needing content so badly that you’re reusing it – it’s more about seeing which content can be reused, whether you need it or not, to improve your blog and your business. There are certainly several ways to do that, and I think it’s a good idea to start early in the game… before the well runs dry!

      (Also, if you ever clone yourself, tell me how to do it. I’d like two or three of me.)

  9. Janmejaya says:

    Thanks for this nice post…

  10. Andy Morley says:

    What ever you do don’t “respin” the content in order to reuse it!!! I guess this goes without saying really, but Newbies to SEO may still look at content spinning as a way to reuse other peoples content…

  11. Interesting post, I’ve used old content to spark ideas for posts (my own and guest posts) but never really thought about going beyond that as it satisfied my need.

  12. John Hewitt says:

    Excellent advice James. Having real world examples that prove your points seems obvious but rarely gets followed. I guess most people forget what they leaned from writing research papers. Examples give people something to relate to. A great way to reuse content. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. Dan Ang says:

    To summarize, repackage the content in another perspective.

  14. Kenny Fabre says:

    James

    I think its simple all you have to do pick an article that has value, and spin it to your likings

    • Well, as I said in the post… “But that’s where everyone stops.”

      Spinning an article can keep your blog alive for another day, and if that’s the route you’d like to take, it’s a good strategy to keep things going.

      But there’s so much more you can do with content that I think it’s a shame to stop there!

  15. Reutilizar contenido no es malo, es bueno, sin embardo hay que saber como hacerlo, si se hace correctamente puedes llegar a grandes cosas, pero si se haces mal puedes parecer una persona carente de idea.

    Me gusto la forma en que expones tu tema, disculpame por mi ingles basico jaja. saludos

    • Eduardo says:

      Reuse content is not bad, is good, without embardo need to know how, if done correctly you can get great things, but if you do it wrong you look like a person devoid of idea.

      I like the way you expose your topic, excuse me for my basic English haha. regards

  16. Evan says:

    I think this article makes some great points. It is the creative license taken with the reused content that make it come alive and a part of your website. However, just because you put something into your “perspective” does not necessarily make it engaging or effective. I think the best reused content is regarding content that is overlooked, just to retain a degree of originality and freshness.

    • Good point. My assumption is that Problogger readers know quite a bit about writing in an engaging, effective way, but it’s worth stressing the point: No matter how unique the idea and the content, make sure it’s been written in a compelling way!

  17. Steph says:

    Wow…this is really great advice. Actually I take that back. The line that caught me: “Connect the dots…Let the content take you where it will”.

    Thanks for the reminder; now I’m off to share this with my content marketing team!

  18. Excellent advice and strategy. I will keep in mind: discover (or rediscover), unpack, process, repack and publish. Thank you.

  19. I often start by looking at a blog post and writing down various titles it makes me think of – I use them to force my brain to start working. Sometimes I see blog posts which are pretty much exactly what I’ve read somewhere else with just different words and this bugs me a lot as it makes me feel that the writer really doesn’t care about everyone reading the blog.

    • I like that idea, Rosemary. It reminds me a little bit of those comprehension exercises that kids do when they read – it forces them to slow down, think more and explore what they’ve just read even further. And that can ONLY lead to better content – go write it! :)

  20. Ari Herzog says:

    If the title was rewritten to say, “Why Seth Godin’s Purple Cow is Spot On,” that would be equally correct, no?

  21. AJ Perisho says:

    Great post!
    I believe that people do want to see curated content, but I think they also want to see some original thought also.
    You saw a need that was going unmet, and you offered a solution.
    Great stuff, thanks for sharing :-)

    • Well, original thought is pretty tough to come up with – after all, human beings have been around in the millions for centuries, so there’s really nothing new under the sun, just adaptations and variations thereof that lead to other good things.

      But we do our best, eh!

  22. Lester says:

    Everyday I try to think of new ways to help improve my blog experience and this post has really knocked it out of the park for me. This has given me a lot of great ideas to implement and even double check to see if I’m an offender. Speed a bit factor so I need to figure that out.

    Thanks for the great tips!

    • Speed’s a huge factor in bringing everything down… and you don’t want that to happen when it comes to business. Slowing down just a bit to think a bit more about how and where and why we’re using content in the ways we do definitely pays off. Ka-ching!

  23. Randy says:

    Great post! I’ve been so busy with my computer business that I find it challenging at times to keep the material fresh on my make money blog. I will definitely apply some of your ideas to my writing. Thanks!

  24. You are right when you say that content can be reused but if feel there are times when bloggers become a little complacent and instead doing a good job they just screw it up by just re-posting and just changing the a and b in the content. Overall you have some good points to think about in you post. Nice job

    • Exactly. Put a little forethought and proactive action into the game plan for content reuse, and you’ll find that you’ll come out a winner. Changing A and B is just shortcutting the system for keeping your blog alive another day – but changing UP the game means you grow your business.

  25. Chris Lund says:

    Great post!

    So, find old posts about the same subject, analyze them, and pack the ideas into something beneficial for both the reader and yourself, such as a course or a book etc?

    I like it! Very useful advice. Thanks :)

  26. Awesome post. Coming to Seth. he really is a cool guy but he isn’t the pioneer when it comes to viral marketing. I have been for sometime over the internet and find people praising him for his ideas. The purple cow is something which has been there but was brought to lime light by Seth. And when we talk about lime light over the Internet, it boils down to how your site is exposed (SEO&SEM).

    The rehashing of content is not at all an easy task. Of course everyone prefers to rummage old content. Find an appropriate one and give a complete rewrite. As you had said, this isn’t the way.

    Another important factor is to consider the level of your readers. For example, this site deals with blogging and money making tips. If I were to submit a post like ’10 ways to monetize your blog’, Darren Rowse would literally come to my house and kick me. Readers over here are a little advanced and so when content are rehashed they should be done keeping in mind the level your readers are in. And you have just done it perfectly ;P

    • Thanks, Richie, I appreciate that. And I’m glad to hear you understood the concepts this post puts forward – one rehashed article doesn’t get anyone far, but spotting the common thread in old content, linking good stories into epic material and creating a better business because of it sure does!

  27. HI James,
    Once again you SHOW us how to write. Your title stood out from my other 25 emails and drew me in.

    True Confessions. You made me cringe at the idea of “just keeping your blog alive one more day”–sword in the heart type of cringe.

    I’ve recycled a couple times and it was because of a holiday theme, or a timely event. But, I just learned how to change the date on posts and recycled so Google would keep my blog on life supports while I recover from surgery. I thought it was better than nothing, but maybe not.

    The other thing about recycling, is that revisiting a topic gives me a chance to really clean up the original post. Time makes me see unclear statements and get rid of extraneous words. Others might not see the changes, but I do.

    Basically my blog is about one topic. So, the posts are always going to be variations of a theme. I guess there is a balance between old and new ideas. Your post made me more thoughtful of the outcomes. Thanks.

  28. James, great stuff. Your examples of Gladwell and Godin are clever from a thought leadership perspective. Does curating all that content make them thought leaders?

    I think if they didn’t add value and further insights the answer would be no. But the fact that they do I believe does make them thought leaders. I’ve always maintained that content alone does not make you a thought leader – it has to have something new, add some value to an audience or provide new insights or discussions. Gladwell and Godin do this.

    I was asked recently whether I thought these two were thought leaders and my answer was: “If the market perceives them as thought leaders then they are.”

  29. Matt Meakins says:

    Great advice. I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity and rarely go to the effort of creating a blog post without first having an “aha” idea – that’s relevant to my field, of course – which comes straight from my own life experience. It means I don’t post as frequently as a lot of others, but hey, my attitude has always been get original or get out!