“Write better” isn’t particularly useful advice for anyone, especially for those of us trying to break into the SERPs.
Unfortunately, that’s the sort of advice we’re often left with as we stare blankly at our keyboards, wondering where we went wrong with our content that’s failing to connect, convert or drive traffic.
So when Moz founder and SEO wizard Rand Fishkin declared that “unique content needs to die,” upsetting the apple cart of what many marketing “gurus” were proclaiming in regard to how marketers should approach content creation, the writing community stood at attention. I distinctly remember watching Rand’s video and remember how much it struck a chord.
“Unique content should die?” I asked myself. “Surely this is clickbait?”
No: it was practical advice for writers and marketers struggling to make sense of the weird world of web content, straight from the mouth of arguably one of the most influential and accessible SEOs on the planet.
Killing unique content
The thesis of Rand’s ideology is rather straightforward, and something that marketers with less-than-stellar content strategies should ponder.
In short, marketers should stop striving to simply write “unique” content.
At a glance, this doesn’t seem particularly groundbreaking. “Unique” by itself doesn’t really do much to instruct writers or marketers as to how to approach their content
After all, nobody’s arguing that we shouldn’t write original content, right? Duplicate content results in a slap in the face from Google; meanwhile, filling the void with useless babble that says nothing is a complete waste of time for ourselves and our readership.
The solution? Instead of focusing on “unique,” Rand suggests that writers strive for what he refers to as “10x content.”
What is 10x Content (and why should I care)?
On the surface, 10x sounds like another flavor-of-the week buzz-phrase; I mean, that’s what I thought at first glance.
But here’s the direct quote from Rand which piqued my interest as a content writer:
“… Because of content saturation, content overload, the idea that there’s just so much in our streams and standing out is so hard, we can’t just say, “Hey, I want to be as good as the top 10 people in the search results for this particular keyword term or phrase.” We have to say, “How can I create something 10 times better than what any of these folks are currently doing?” That’s how we stand out.”
So, why did a seemingly obvious declaration make such a splash in the world of web content?
Perhaps it was the simplicity of it all: that is, that content writers should truly strive to create something original and worthwhile rather than spinning or rehashing what’s already out there. Likewise, the concept of 10x content represents a challenge to content creators, forced to get creative and actually improve upon their craft in the pursuit of quality content.
The question remains: how do you make your content ten times better than what’s already out there? Isn’t that pretty much the same advice as “write better?”
Specifically, Rand has mentioned the need to craft content that’s trustworthy, emotionally driven and educational as the starting point to bringing your content into the 10x arena.
There are common threads between compelling content, regardless of your scope or industry. Consider how you can apply the 10x principles to future content to help stand out against competitors and rise up the SERPs.
Let’s take a look at 10 ways you can create 10x content:
1. Yes, you can write better
Okay, listen: chances are, you can write better in the traditional sense.
You don’t need an English degree. You don’t need to bust out a copy of The Elements of Style. You don’t need to be “well-read,” either.
Instead, consider the following three-pronged approach:
Step 1: Rather than going through the motions with your content and writing for the sake of writing, take the time to tell a story. Give readers a reason to care, guiding them from Point A to Point B. Seth Godin does this consistently on his blog, in which he reveals his infamous bite-sized business advice through short, personal anecdotes.
Step 2: Establish a distinct writing voice, whether you’re going for professional, humorous or sarcastic. Your writing doesn’t have to be all “suit and tie,” and there’s a good chance your readership would rather hear from a witty Mark Twain versus yet another boring business blogger. Consider how brilliant bloggers such as Neil Patel grab the attention of tens of thousands of readers daily through his authoritative yet conversional tone, as noted on Patel’s landing page:
Tone and voice are best determined by your personal style and industry, and will ultimately set you apart from competition conversations in your space.
Step 3: Likewise, you have a unique perspective on whatever it is you’re writing about; therefore, you shouldn’t be afraid to let that perspective drive your content. Perhaps you consider yourself an outsider in your industry or come from a different background versus your competition. Such a background should be a badge of pride that you wear throughout each and every post.
These rules apply regardless of whether you’re trying to tap into an audience or write for SEO. Becoming a better writer doesn’t require some sort of course or certification: you simply need to pay attention to what makes a piece of content compelling, embrace your personality and copycat what good writers do.
2. Ask tougher questions (and break your own news)
The concept of “unique” content isn’t worthless in and of itself: the problem with “unique” is that it’s incredibly vague.
Think about why people freak out about breaking news: readers have the opportunity to encounter something fresh that’s never been said before. Likewise, you need to consider covering topics and subject matter that either nobody’s discussed or nobody’s willing to discuss.
This may seem like a no-brainer; however, breaking your own news is much easier said than done, especially when covering topics with crowded competition. While you’re going to have to do better research and rely on primary sources, taking the time to tell a one-of-the-kind story will help establish yourself as a leader in your niche rather than simply a follower.
For example, case studies are insanely popular and provide an opportunity to provide eye-opening insight to your readership. If you’re laser-focused on SEO, consider low-competition and long-tail keywords as means of uncovering content ideas that have yet to be explored.
By starting small and working your way up, you can build a foundation for your site’s ability to rank which often results in a snowball effect.
3. Do your homework (and don’t copy your neighbor)
Storytime: I distinctly remember a Literature assignment in college we were tasked with writing a comprehensive Wiki page detailing the life and work of various women writers of the Renaissance. Spoiler alert: for most female writers of the era, there’s almost nothing out there in terms of information (especially online).
I spent hours upon hours in the university library digging through massive volumes that hadn’t been touched in decades, struggling to find anything worthwhile on the subject. On the rare occasion that I did find something related, it wasn’t much more than a paragraph. Google? Forget about it.
So I had to keep digging.
Two weeks and many sleepless nights later, I had gathered enough information to build my Wiki which was truly one-of-a-kind, utilizing many resources that probably hadn’t seen the light of day.
What does this have to do with Internet marketing?
If you want to create something that’s never been crafted before, you’re going to have to do your homework. That doesn’t mean looking at the laundry list of blogs you follow and spinning articles, either. It means original research, case studies and interviews.
Take a look at some of the most popular posts in your space: chances are they’re the result of a lots of first-hand research and legwork, such as this infographic study from Copyblogger with over 14,000 shares:
Don’t be afraid to sift through statistics and heavy content to uncover hidden gems that would be of interest to your audience. Such posts could very well become your most valuable over time.
4. Diversify your content
Listen: not all content is created equal.
There’s a time and place for 500-word blog posts, just as there’s a time and place for a 3,000-word, comprehensive how-to guide with interviews from experts.
The benefits and drawbacks of short-form versus long-form content are obvious. While shorter posts are quicker to craft and require less effort, they also provide fewer opportunities to target keywords or elaborate on in-depth, complex topics. For example, good luck trying to explain how to monetize a blog in 500 words. On the flip side, as much as Google loves long-form content, writing out massive posts can quickly burn writers out.
There’s no need to take an “either-or” approach to creating content. Don’t be afraid to diversify your content and deviate from the typical blog post in order to provide something fresh to your readers.
While traditional blogging may be “safe” and “easy,” its reach can be limited. For example, visual content is 40x more likely to get shared on social media, signaling a strong need to diversify if you’re looking to break into the news feeds of modern readers. Likewise, you can repurpose just about any piece of content or case study into some sort of infographic, quick and easy for readers to understand and digest.
As our readership becomes more and more fickle in terms of their attention span, it’s crucial that you don’t become a one-trick pony and change up the way that you market to your readers.
5. Make your content easier on the eyes
Lately there’s been a lot of emphasis on “readability” and ways to make your content easier on the eyes of your audience.
For example, SEO WordPress plugins such as Yoast have a number of recommendations to improve the readability of your content.
Honestly, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to making content easier to read, although there are steps you can take to improve your content’s flow and keep readers on the page:
- Keep your paragraphs short and sweet, usually no more than three sentences (you’re not in high-school anymore: use your best judgement and base your paragraphs off of the length of your sentences)
- Use bullet points to break up your content and keep your readers’ attention on the page (hey, that’s what I’m doing right now)
- Format your posts as lists, relying on headings and subheading to help direct readers’ attention and give your content a sense of flow
Beyond simply diversifying your content in terms of medium, you should also consider diversifying your format. Instead of relying on some sort of formula or rigid formatting guidelines, do what is natural for your respective audience.
6. Harness the power of the headline
Headlines and sub-headings are easy to overlook. Given the popularity and controversy over clickbait titles and Buzzfeed-esque headlines currently dominating the blogosphere, however, we understand their massive impact on our ability to grab readers’ attention at a glance.
Keep in mind that headlines represent your readers’ first impression of your content. Ask yourself: are my headlines compelling or run-of-the-mill?
For example, rather than simply focusing on a “traditional” headline, consider…
- Phrasing the title of your post as a question
- Presenting your post as a list (as listicles are incredibly popular)
- Use a controversial title as means of piquing the interest of your unsuspecting audience
What would such headlines look like in action?
Let’s say you run a fitness site that sells customized workout routines and you’re trying to spice up your underperforming content. How could you apply the aforementioned principles to your content?
- “How to Preserve Muscle Mass” vs. “Are You Losing Muscle? The Ultimate Guide to Saving Your Gains”
- “Four Dumbbell Exercises to Avoid” vs. “These 4 Exercises That Are Probably Destroying Your Joints”
- “How to Save Time in the Gym” vs. “60-Minute Works are Stupid: Stop Wasting Time and Start Making Gains”
Of the titles above, which are more compelling at first glance?
The boom in content marketing of the years has resulted in fierce competition: witty headlines represent the ultimate way to stand out from the crowd before your content even gets clicked.
7. Stop obsessing over links
Content creators should strive to become resources for their readership; therefore, you should work to provide your readers with the best sources possible when it comes to finding what they’re looking for. For example, many writers obsess over links and anchor text, and perhaps rightfully so, especially since they have so much impact on our SEO efforts.
However, obsessing over your internal links can kill the readability of your content and interrupt its flow. Besides, link density is somewhat of a moot metric.
Yes, you should link to sources and other sites relevant to readers. No, you shouldn’t stuff links in hopes of search engine glory.
Don’t stress too much about taking readers off the page or relying on links with low domain authority. Rather than adhering to overly-rigid requirements such as implementing a link every one hundred words, allow your content to flow naturally.
8. Craft killer calls-to-action
Whether you’re working to inform, entertain or persuade readers, every piece of content should have some sort of purpose. For example:
- Are you trying to build your opt-in list and encourage more email subscribers?
- Do you want to elicit some sort of reaction from your readers, whether it be a complimentary tweet or an angry comment?
- Are you trying to convince readers to give your free trial a shot?
Crafting killer calls-to-action is critical to ensuring that you’re giving your readers something to do as they’re reading. Remember: reading is an active process, and keeping readers engaged and on the page should be your priority.
Calls-to-action come in many shapes as sizes, as noted by this WordStream study.
For example, take this simple, straightforward free sample approach from Basecamp:
On the flip side, consider a wordier yet equally effective approach to a CTA from Crazy Egg:
Whatever your call to action may be, give readers something to do.
Click a link. Leave a comment. Share. Debate. Rip me apart.
By ensuring that your calls-to-action are loud and clear, you’re likely to make your content count rather than writing for the sake of writing.
9. Imagery is something more than stock photos
Every article should include some sort of imagery, both for the sake of keeping your readers’ attention and because of the inherent SEO benefits of alt-tag optimization.
Instead of picking from the same pool of stock photos over and over, put forth the extra effort to give your readers something to really look at rather than roll their eyes. For example, you could:
- Take your own photographs, especially given the fact that pretty much every smartphone these days represents an HD camera
- Draw something to accompany your posts; if you aren’t artistically inclined, you could commission sketches from people on Reddit or Fiverr
- Create your own unique images by relying on screenshots and including your own captions (think: meme marketing)
Given that readers are more 80% likely to stick around a piece with imagery, you can’t afford not to get creative with visual content.
10. Make your message matter
At the end of the day, the message of your marketing efforts will ultimately set yourself apart from competing content. If you really want your content to pack a punch, you need to find an angle that speaks do your audience.
In short, be direct and straightforward without parroting what everyone else is saying. Rather than chasing your competition, craft content that will make your competition want to copycat you.
The modern reader wants to emotionally invest in people they follow. Give your cause a thesis and don’t be afraid to make it personal.
The act of making your content ten times better may be daunting; however, attention to the seemingly small details of content creation will ultimately set you apart from your competition in the long-run. By finding your voice and ensuring that it speaks louder than your neighbors, you better poise your content to rise to the top of news feeds and the SERPs over time.
Guest Author: Brent Barnhart is a freelance writer and content marketer. From tackling the latest buzzwords to teaching business owners how to craft more compelling content, he’s willing to take on just about anything involving the written word. You can reach him at his website and on Twitter.