In a fantastic post on Distilled, author Hannah Smith talks about the importance of creating content that is goal-driven—that is, what you create should be driven by what you want to achieve.
She explains that in order to succeed, most websites will need four key types of content:
1. Content to entertain
Most content marketing efforts focus on education and helpfulness, and while this is a great track to take, as I’ll discuss below, it can also be a missed opportunity to interact with readers and connect to them on a very basic human-to-human level.
Content that entertains is often funny, frequently highly shareable, and often is able to quickly transform a “company” into a “group of people just like me.”
This aspect of just like me can be crucial in building trust and separating the true fans from the random visitors. As Hannah explains:
Content which has been created to entertain might not be directly related to your products/services, however in order to do its job, it does need to appeal to your target audience.
2. Content to educate
Content that’s created specifically to educate achieves the same goals as content to entertain, but is often a next step in showing readers and potential users why your website or product is worth sticking around for. While content to entertain appeals to a reader’s emotions, content to educate appeals to their rationality.
Content to educate is what we go for here at Buffer with posts such as the one that you’re reading. Again, shareability is key with content that’s meant to educate.
3. Content to inspire
In inspiration contagious? It can be when done right, when something you publish resonates with so many people so quickly that they can’t help but pass it on.
Inspiration doesn’t necessarily have to be quotes on a picture.
In fact, the best kind of inspiration often comes in the form of case studies, customer testimonials and stories of failures and challenges that successful people have faced along the way.
4. Content to convert
Content created for the purpose of conversion is typically meant to nudge a reader in the direction of some sort of action, for instance, signing up for a newsletter, taking a free e-course, or buying a product.
This infographic by Distilled shows how your content can be divided up into the above four categories:
6 Types of Content To Experiment With on Your Blog
It’s been proven repeatedly that human beings are, by a large majority, visual learners. Speaking to the power of images, one study showed that after three days, a person would retain only 10-20 percent of written or spoken information but almost 65 percent of visual information.
Another study showed that an illustrated text was 9 percent more effective than text alone when testing immediate comprehension and 83 percent more effective when the test was delayed.
It’s no surprise then, that readers not only enjoy looking at infographics, but are much more likely to remember them and the information contained in them. This makes infographics a particularly good type of content to use on your blog or for your brand messaging. They’re digestible, they’re good to look at, and sometimes they can be a lot of fun. Infographics are particularly good when you have data-heavy research or numbers and statistics that can make for dry reading.
The best part about infographics? They get shared, and shared frequently. Up to three times more often than other content, according to this study.
When creating infographics, remember to:
- Focus on quality and visual appeal: While there are several free tools for creating infographics, if you’re not skilled at the art of visual design or don’t fancy learning now, investing in a professional to create one really great infographic will always trump creating many mediocre ones.
- Have fresh content: Though it can be tempting to create an infographic from regurgitated research, we suggest you always go for new and fresh ideas that haven’t previously been shared (or shared widely). New research or studies in your industry that haven’t yet been released can be a fantastic way to share new content. You might have some numbers or theories from your own research, too. Or put together findings from companies that aren’t well known. Whichever way you choose to do it, remember to make your infographics fresh, current, and relevant for your readers.
- Be generous. It can be a little counterproductive to spend time, resources, perhaps even money in creating an infographic only then to keep it exclusive to your own website. By their very nature, infographics are meant to be shared widely, and you’d truly benefit from yours if you make them shareable. A great way to do this is to include the embed code on your website with the infographic, so that for anyone who might want to use it, it’s simply a matter of grabbing it from your website and pasting it on to theirs.
Here are some examples of infographics that we’ve highlighted before. at Buffer:
Brands and bloggers are now discovering what women’s magazines have known for decades: Lists work. And top 10 lists work even better.
A couple of years ago, marketing scholars Mathew S. Isaac of Seattle University and Robert M. Schindler of Rutgers University searched the term “top [number]” in Google using all numbers 1 through 100. Those ending in zero dominated, followed closely by those ending in five.
They argued, in the Journal of Consumer Research, that people largely exhibited a so-called top 10 effect, that is, we have a tendency to lump things into round-number groups and viewing everything outside them as inferior. So the difference, they say, between items ranked No. 10 and No. 11 feels enormous and significant, even if it’s actually quite minimal or unknown.
In an interview with Co.Design, they say,
“Our own experiences sort of led to this impression that if it’s not in the top 10, then it’s in the next category. The overall idea is that numbers generally are considered to be equidistant, but subjectively they’re not.”
What does this mean for you?
- Create lists.
- Create more lists.
- Keep creating lists.
In fact, given that 30% of all blog posts are lists, you’re unlikely to go wrong.
When creating lists, however, remember to:
- Meet a need: Try not to create a list for the sake of creating a list, but because it will help your users and readers solve a problem or fill a need.
- Experiment with numbers: While top 10 lists are, and always have been, popular, lists of dozens, sometimes hundreds of resources, tips, and strategies, often tend to do very well also, especially online, where users can save them for later and refer to them as they move through the list.
- Make them skimmable: Lists are frequently skimmed through and not read, so make sure to number them and headline them nicely so that someone who’s looking through quickly can still get a bulk of the information they need.
Here are some examples of lists that have worked for us at Buffer:
- Find Your Strategy: 6 Actionable Social Media Strategies From Successful Brands
- ‘What Should I Post on Facebook?’ 12 Facebook Tactics Working Right Now
- The 43 Best Books and Twitter Accounts to Inspire Your Social Media Sharing
3. Case studies and success stories
We’re wired to love stories and the benefits of storytelling are well documented.
The best kinds of stories almost always follow a three-act structure, a model used in screenwriting that divides a fictional narrative into three parts:
- The setup: This is where the world is created and the level set for what people are expected to do, be like, and behave like. This act shows what normal life looks like in this world and by the end of act one, something happens to disrupt this normal life and cause our protagonist to jump into action or make a decision.
- The confrontation: The second act is where our protagonist must find solutions to his or her problems, only to keep finding bigger problems and bigger bottlenecks. The protagonist does not yet have the skills or experience, perhaps even the confidence, to deal with the problems that are thrown in his or her way. In order for the protagonist to succeed, they must learn a new skill, have a new experience, or have a eureka moment that elevates them to the level they need to be in order to make their world right again.
- The resolution: This is the final act. The story is brought to its most intense moment and the final climax. Victory has arrived, and the protagonist and other characters have a new sense of who they are.
Why am I telling you about storytelling?
Because if you approach your customers and users as protagonists and tell their stories with all the highs, the lows, and the dragons they have beaten down to get to their success today, you will find amazing resonance with the rest of your audience.
People may want to hear about the awesome features of your product, and you should definitely tell them. But try telling them stories, too, about people who built businesses while vanquishing their own personal demons, finding mentors, and eventually reaching the summit with a new sense of self. Share with them the trials and tribulations of your customers and users; indeed, tell them about yourself.
While case studies can be told in a number of different formats, it is one of the rare content formats that is almost exclusively designed for storytelling. It can be very helpful to take advantage of that.
When creating case studies, remember to:
- Talk about failures and successes: Case studies, and any stories really, are much more relatable when they’re about real people, and real people almost always experience failure before they experience success. When you talk about how your users have succeeded with your products or services, don’t also forget to mention the journey they took to get there.
- Make it about them: A case study is not about you or your product, it’s about how your product aided in the journey of a person. The story is about them. Remember to keep that focus on them with your product only being a small part of the equation.
Here’s a fantastic case study that achieves results without being salesy:
How One Couple is Making $600,00 Per Year Selling Digital Products
4. How-to guides
When you’re thinking of writing a how-go guide on your website, go long. The perfect post is known to be 1,500 words but the more in-depth you go with an idea or topic, the meatier it is, the more likelihood that it will get read and shared.
Medium’s research on this shows that an ideal blog post comes in to be a 7-minute read, which is approximately 1,600 words:
We do how-to guides pretty regularly here at Buffer, where we’ll take all the elements we’ve discussed so far—infographics, lists, etc.—and play with them, but we use them in the context of long, detailed blog posts that tell you everything you need to know about the topic at hand.
A great way to think about how-to guides or longer blog posts is to think of them as list blog posts with only two or three bullet points, where you’re diving really deeply into each of those bullet points.
When creating how-to guides, remember to:
- Solve a problem or fill a need for your specific audience: A detailed how-to guide is only helpful if it actually solves a real problem for your audience. If your audience consists of solopreneurs who have been in business for 5+ years, a tutorial on setting up WordPress is probably not going to help them much. A tutorial on building additional passive revenue streams, on the other hand, might be exactly what they’ve been looking for.
- Break it up: When things start getting too complicated in your how-to guides (as they often do), break them up visually by creating checklists, quotes, and simplifying with the help of bullet points. Long guides, especially those that run 3,000-5,000 words as some of ours do here at Buffer, can be especially difficult to read if they’re also then written in large chunks of text.
Here are some examples of how-to guides that have worked for us at Buffer:
- How to Create a Social Media Marketing Plan From Scratch
- How to Choose the Right Stock Photo for Your Next Project
- The Eternally Clickable Headlines of Buffer (And How to Write and Find Your Own)
5. Personal stories
It is no secret that when it comes to social media, emotion rules the day. It stands to reason then, that if you’re creating content for your audience, getting them to engage with it on an emotional level is a fantastic way to connect with them.
- Personal essays: Stories told through the lens of an experience you’ve had in your life that taught you something or changed you as a person.
- Opinions/rants: Handle this one with care, but sometimes, going against the grain and taking a stand against a position everyone else is taking can be a good way to get some attention and share your ideas and theories with the rest of the world. A very good example of this is James Altucher, who is known for his controversial ideas on why not to buy a house or invest in your 401k.
- Inspirational tales: Whether yours or someone else’s, the best way to engage emotion is to show or tell someone that touches them deeply. A lot of inspirational stories have a way of doing this. Educating your audience is a fantastic goal. Inspiring them to take action of what you’ve taught them might be an even better one.
When sharing personal stories, remember to:
- Inspire, not bait: It’s easy (and tempting!) to rant about things for the sake of riling up emotions, but this is almost never a good idea unless you actually care about an issue and are passionately sharing a thought you hold. Readers can see through attempts at garnering clicks, which leads to a lack of trust in your content and therefore, your brand.
- Be vulnerable: Writing instructors will often tell you that there is one, and only one, secret to good writing: Be vulnerable. Open yourself up. Allow for the idea that someone may disagree with and perhaps even criticize your work. As it happens, at Buffer, we believe that too.
Here is an example of a personal essay that my friend Jennifer Lawler posted on her blog that will take your breath away:
6. Resources and Tools
A list of resources and tools can be a fantastic way to deliver value to your audience while simultaneously working with a content type that isn’t quite as time and work-intensive.
The best resources and tools lists tend to go long. At Buffer, we tend to prefer giving users a choice of every resource we can get our hands on and letting them make the decision for themselves based on their preferences.
When creating lists of resources and tools, remember to:
- Create longer lists: Longer lists tend to do better in this category because they tend to deliver more value and cater to a wider variety of users than just a quick list of five or six resources.
- Don’t forget the visual aspect: Especially for blog posts of this nature, it’s very easy to forget to think about visual elements. Those are important, however, because they can help break up the text and make for easier reading.
Here are some examples of resources and tools lists that have worked for us at Buffer:
- The Big List of Twitter Tools: 91 Free Twitter Tools and Apps to Fit Any Need
- 19+ Free Tools to Start Your Podcast From Scratch
- 37+ Tips and Resources for Building a Fine-Tuned Content Marketing Machine From the Ground Up