(Ping! Zine Issue 64) – I think we have all heard the rallying cry, “Content is King!”. Of course this leads to the question of whether content for content sake is still king? The answer of course is no, it has to be good content. Question is what is good content and more to the point, how do you begin on making it?
It is fairly vague is it not; “content sells,” “focus on making quality content,” “content is king,” “update your content often,” etc? These are all well and good concepts, but how do you go about writing quality content or finding the subject matter for quality content? Even myself, with some 13 years of journalistic experience in total, will have problems finding good topics.
What to Write About
When it comes to writing quality content the first step is choosing what to write about. There are a few methods to choose what to write on. The two methods I use the most are (1) I write on things that I want to know more information about. An example of this was the blog I wrote on data center tiers. Actually I wrote this more for myself since I was sick and tired of reading about a web host’s tier 3 data center, blah, blah, blah. In the end, the article garnered a lot of hits because there are probably a lot of people out there who feel the same way I do. This article is also about putting down some information that is hard to find. Most places tell you, you need content, but they don’t tell you how to go about getting it.
The second route is to write something that interests you. Some articles I’ve written have been born from conversations I’ve had at a bar. Their topics interested me and so I wrote about them. I have a blog coming up about reinventing the wheel for fun and profit. To get this topic I thought about conventional wisdom and what happens when we turn it on its ear. I focused on “don’t reinvent the wheel” because I have seen that we all do it. I saw a few examples that have reinvented the wheel and from there I moved on to the next step.
Now I am going to do something that most of these fairly generic articles on content don’t do, I’m going to give examples. It’s somewhat like watching a magician giving up trade secrets since most of these articles are written for general audience, wide acceptance, and to drum up business for the author (you need good content and you can’t possibly do it, so hire me).
There are a few rules to follow before we begin; the subject of the content must coincide with the Web site, business, server, etc. If I am selling furniture, the last thing I need is an article on replacing a radiator in a 1988 Ford LTD. The difference between good and poor content is that poor content doesn’t really belong or is uninteresting. In these cases, sometimes one sentence is far better than a paragraph.
Example 1: A Dedicated Hosting company offers their customers monthly custom security audits for a nominal fee. This is the perfect opportunity for good content. In fact, this company can produce an ongoing series. Possible articles includes:
How to Secure Apache
How to Secure IIS
Best Practices in Producing Secure Web Applications
Security Audit: Common Areas for Auditing
Security Audit: Penetration Testing
Security Audit: I Have Done the Audit, Now What
From one basic concept we have produced six articles. Each of these articles will be on topic, have the potential to be interesting and useful, and can help to sell the added service.
Example 2: A Web design company offers their clients custom and template solutions. Custom solutions include adding content, flexible designs and color schemes, and the ability to add any sort of module type option. The template solutions can be purchased in a basic, extended customizable, or exclusive license. Possible articles include:
The Psychological Value of Color Schemes
Eyetrack Heatmaps and What it Means for Your Website
What to Look for in a Content Writing Outsourcing Team
How to Customize ____ Template (one of these for each template provided)
How to Get the Most Out of a Website Template
Again, a basic concept and several good article ideas. When thinking of a topic, it should be interesting, informative, and tie back into your business.
How to Write it
Stay on topic. Staying on topic is very important and unfortunately for myself and everyone involved, I rarely do. But if I did, my articles would be shorter and easier to read and probably a bit more popular. But I digress. You want to be on topic and you want to research your topic. Nothing worse than having something to write about, but not having anything to say. Don’t start writing your article/blog/pamphlet/whatever on the day its due. Instead do some research, write some notes, and write a few paragraphs a week or so in advance. This gives you some time to read it over, remove sentences that don’t work or are uninteresting or are even off topic.
In life, what we put into something is reflected in what comes out. If we put in quality ingredients and we prepare it the way it is supposed to be prepared, we get a quality product. With content, if you are lazy with your preparation or your research you will get a subpar product. Research is an important step. You could research a subject and find only two pieces of material and leave it at that or you could find those two pieces and use them to find more sources. A better solution than using just those two resources would be finding an expert and interviewing them. An even better solution would be to interview them and try the information yourself and see what things you like and what things you can improve on. By doing things yourself you receive a familiarity with the subject that opens up further areas of study and gives you a greater depth of understanding, which will show in the final product.
If you have an idea for content that you think will bring in a lot of good traffic and will live up to all of those odd monikers for content success discussed earlier, then you should probably have people you know read it before it gets published. Let the readers know you want objectivity and to not pull any punches you also have to be able to take a great deal of abuse on something you have worked long and hard on. Absolute candor and objectivity is a must when determining article quality. Revision and building on the ideas your editors discussed will further hone your content.
Putting it All Together
So I first thought about conventional wisdom. I thought about various quotes like work smarter not harder, a penny saved is a penny earned, the early bird gets the worm, etc. Although the last one of those is a good topic I might write on (who needs to get up early when you can have Google get your worm for you), but I ended up zeroing in on don’t reinvent the wheel. I brainstormed what the phrase means and the different ways innovation has come out of not following this age old axiom. Then I picked one of those ways to talk about. After that I wrote about it and how the wheel was in fact reinvented over and over again, with each successful build even better than the previous one. So I wrote it up and shelved it. I went back to it last week and read it over to see if it flows off the tongue. This week I am picking out some pictures for it. I gave it to a few friends of mine, both in work and outside and I await what they think about it. After that takes place I will go through and revise it, then I will send it back to my friends to look over again.