Not so fast! Kudos to you for bangin’ out content on the regular to aid in marketing your business. BUT…how are you doing in the quality control department? Tell me honestly.
If you tend to hastily whip up and publish content without much thought or planning, it’s almost guaranteed that you’re forgetting about several key things that all add up to make “good content”.
That raises two questions: One, what is good content? And, two, what elements go into creating it? To answer the latter, we’ll cover five elements worth remembering as you write, each with its own facets. But let’s start with the first question.
Question Numero Uno: What is Good Content?
Contrary to popular (and incorrect) opinion, good content is not just well-written and informative. That’s decent content. Good content, on the other hand, is fully optimized to meet the goals you set for it. When it comes to best practices, it ticks all the boxes rather than just one or a few.
Note: Technically, for content to truly be considered high-quality, it has to reach the goals you set too. So more is involved than just optimization. But, alas, this aspect of good content has a lot to do with content marketing so we’ll stick to talking about content creation for this post.)
The 2021 Content Writing Checklist
There are five main categories covered in this 2021 content writing checklist, all of which should heavily influence the way you approach content creation.
Let’s see how to measure content quality with 1) your goals, 2) your audience, 3) user experience, 4) your credibility, and 5) search engine optimization in mind.
Category 1: Your Business Goals
In business, there are precisely ZERO people producing content just because. Whether they want intangible benefits such as increased credibility or tangible ones like more sales, everyone has a goal.
The trouble is that, when you’re knee-deep in the content creation process (or in running your business), it can be easy to lose sight of the big-picture goal. It can happen to the best of ‘em so you and I are not immune; no one is. And that’s why it’s so necessary to consciously check that each piece of content you put out is aligned with what you want to achieve.
Here are five goal-related criteria you must consider.
1. Is this goal SMART?
Both your big-picture content marketing goals and your goals for each piece of content need to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. They need to be SMART. If not, you’ll just be spinning your wheels AKA flushing time, money, and other resources down the toilet.
2. Does the content blow competitors’ out of the water?
If you create content that’s more relevant, more easily accessible, more enjoyable to consume or otherwise superior to what your competitors produce, you have a greater chance of success.
So take a look at the content your rivals are putting out, see how yours measures up and, if needed, make improvements.
3. Does it promote conversions?
Thinking back to your core goal for your content, determine whether or not it encourages people to take the desired action. And not just subtly or by inference.
While varying degrees of intensity are appropriate in different situations, no call-to-action is not an option. Research has consistently proven that calls-to-action are non-negotiable. People are far less likely to take action when they’re not specifically prompted to take a next step. So use clear calls-to-action to highlight what you want people to do next; don’t expect them to mind-read.
For example, if you want to boost engagement with your blog posts, ask a thought-provoking question to prompt discussion in the comments, encourage sharing, and place social sharing buttons prominently to make it easy to follow through.
4. Is it shareable?
This is a nice follow-up to our last point. When people are compelled to share your content with others like them via email, social media or other channels, it means more of the right eyes on your business. And more eyes equals more opportunities, especially as you build trust with your audience. So focus on providing the kind of valuable insights and fresh perspectives that result in shares.
5. Does it encourage exploration of other content?
With a few exceptions, your content should encourage your audience to explore more of what you publish. Why? The more they explore, the stronger their ties to your business. Your brand becomes more memorable, trust is established and, as a result, the audience is more likely to do business with you down the line.
Category 2: Your Target Audience
Part of the reason you produce content is to benefit or give some sort of value to your target market, right? It only makes sense, then, that your audience is one of the most important considerations when running down your content writing checklist. Here are three things to think about.
1. Does the content match your audience’s knowledge level?
You’re an expert in whatever you do or offer. You know your industry inside and out. But can the same be said of your audience? Mmmm…probably not.
Create content on their level, not yours. Be mindful of how much they know. After all, if they can’t understand it, how can you expect them to see the value of the content you share with them? You can’t. And you’d only be wasting your and your audience’s time.
On the flip side, it would be a waste of your audience’s time if your content were too basic, not helping them to build on their existing knowledge. It’s all about balance, folks.
2. Is the topic relevant?
This is where understanding the demographics and psychographics of your audience comes in handy. Your content could be well-written and informative. But that doesn’t count for a single thing if it doesn’t speak to what your audience really needs or cares about.
3. Have you gone into enough detail?
You’ll want to make sure that your audience’s expectations are met fully. By the time they reach the end of your content, have they learned or gained whatever they expected to gain at the start? The answer should always be “yes”. But it doesn’t stop there.
Don’t forget to check, based on your business goals, that you’ve given all the info needed to nudge people toward your desired next step.
Category 3: User Experience (UX)
As you may know, user experience encompasses the way a user feels as they interact with your business. One of the ways they interact is by consuming the content you produce. So the smart route is to prioritize creating a positive user experience that will delight the people you work hard to reach with your content. Here are five aspects of UX worth thinking about.
1. Is the readability good?
Humongous chunks of text and run-on sentences have never been a good idea. But in 2021 and beyond, they are an absolute no-no.
Not only do people skim and scan more than ever to save time but, in general, they have shorter attention spans. Plus the use of mobile devices is steadily on the rise, which means that walls of text are even tougher to get through.
So if your content is not easy to skim or nothing in particular stands out, you can hang it up. People will quickly move on.
The way to prevent this is by using headings and subheadings, short paragraphs, varied sentence lengths, bullet points, italics, bolding, and so on. Doing so prevents the eye from being overwhelmed and highlights key points and takeaways at a glance.
2. How are the mechanics?
In other words, are spelling, punctuation, and grammar good? Be sure to double-check since glaring errors can seriously hurt your professional image and credibility.
I say glaring errors because there’s no need to become a hardcore grammar Nazi (unless, of course, you’re creating content for an audience of hardcore grammar Nazi’s). Most often, naturalness is more important. But, you will want to correct obvious mistakes such as typos and awkward sentences.
3. Does the content flow logically?
Don’t expect people to stick around for the ride if your content is all over the map. Spot a logical train of thought, get on it, and don’t stray.
Bonus points if you enlist another set of eyes to review your content objectively and confirm that you’ve achieved a logical flow.
4. Is it media-rich?
Humans are visual creatures. That being the case, visual stimuli can elicit strong emotional responses, which, in turn, influence decision-making.
In the context of what we’ve been discussing, the point is this: The visuals you use can prompt positive responses to your content. This includes boosting shares and even increasing sales. Could you make greater use of pictures, videos, and other media?
5. Are you consistent?
Consistency prevents confusion. Confusion prevents conversions. So consistency is good.
Stay consistent in the terminology you use, your stylistic choices, and your overall messaging. This will keep the focus where you want it—on your content and desired next steps—instead of distracting from them.
Category 4: Your Credibility
Next up on the content writing checklist is credibility. Being seen as a trustworthy source of information is a must. If your credibility is in question, trying to reach your goals will be an uphill battle like you’ve never experienced before. So here are three things you need to check to make sure that’s not a problem.
1. Has your content been fact-checked?
There’s a ton of misinformation out there in every industry, including yours. You don’t want to pass any of it along to your audience unknowingly. So although it may take a bit of extra time, it’s worth it to double or even triple-check your facts.
2. Have you used credible sources?
To add on to our last point about accuracy, let’s discuss the importance of sources with the help of an example.
You find an interesting statistic that will back up your arguments and add value to your content. That statistic is mentioned on two sites—a local small business website and the website of a well-known (non-competitive) industry authority. Which one should you reference in your content?
Clearly, the more credible source is the industry authority, although both sites reference the exact same statistic. Because the industry authority is trustworthy, you will seem more trustworthy by extension. The takeaway? Choosing the most credible sources gives you a credibility boost.
3. Is your information up-to-date?
This is another facet of accuracy that you can’t afford to forget about, especially in industries that change often.
During the fact-checking stage, you may find information that seems to confirm the facts shared in your content. But how old are the sources you’ve used for confirmation? Have things changed, making your “facts” outdated? You’ll want to be sure that you’re using only the latest info.
Pro Tip: As a general rule of thumb, try to use sources that are no more than a year old. And, even then, triple-check that they’re up-to-date. (The exception to this is being unable to find a more recent, credible, non-competitive source.)
Category 5: Search Engine Optimization
Last but not least, it’s important to evaluate the quality of your content from a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint. The core question here is: Does it have the potential to rank well in relevant search results and bring online traffic to your business? Here’s how to tell if the answer is “yes” or “no”.
1. Have you done on-page optimization?
On-page optimization includes balancing quality content with strategic use of focus keywords in headings, image filenames and alt text, and throughout your content. The more optimized your content is, the better the chances of it ranking well in search for a relevant, well-chosen keyword.
That said, search engine optimization has its complexities so if it’s a part of your content marketing strategy, it’s best to hire an SEO writer or SEO specialist to take the reins.
2. Have you incorporated keywords naturally?
Or have you stuffed them into every other sentence, making the content seem spammy?
Needless to say, naturalness is the way to go from both an SEO and user experience standpoint. It’s more effective to use your target keywords naturally even if that means the exact match phrases are only used a few times in your content.
Hey, some pages even rank in SERPs without using the target keyword at all! It just goes to show that providing as much value as possible on a subject is a higher priority than using a keyword x number of times at all costs.
3. Is search intent satisfied?
Even more important in 2021 than using your exact keyword exactly x number of times in x, y, and z spots within your content is matching search intent.
In other words, do you deliver to your audience whatever value they expect to get from your content? For your content to truly be optimized, the answer must be “yes”. It’s about more than just confirming that the overall topic of your content is the same as what people are searching for via Google and other search engines, though.
For example, it may not be enough that your content shows up in search results related to interior design just because it has something to do with interior design. Is a user who types in an interior design-related keyword looking for an explanation of what interior design is? Are they looking to hire an interior designer? Do they want to become one? Are they seeking inspirational content for their home?
You must consider the intent behind each of the keywords you target and create content that satisfies that intent. That way, your content is more likely to be shown to the right people. People who will actually be interested in what you have to share.
4. Is the length appropriate?
Numerous studies have confirmed that longer content often performs better. More comprehensive content tends to rank better in search results and see more engagement. However…
…that doesn’t automatically mean that all of your content should be thousands of words long. In some cases, that can be detrimental.
For example, if you become too concerned with hitting a certain word count, you may veer off course in terms of satisfying search intent. You may end up talking less about what your audience really needs and wants to know and more about less relevant topics. This would only make it harder to rank well in search results and decrease engagement potential.
So how long should your content be? Identify the maximum length at which you can deliver pure value and don’t go beyond that limit.
Why Good Content Is Important
Bad content gets bad results. Either it never gains any visibility or it ruins your credibility and plants deal-breaking doubts in the minds of potential customers.
Decent content—the kind that’s well-written but not necessarily goal-oriented or optimized—may get some results here or there. But they’re not predictable or sustainable.
You don’t want either of these.
To really get results from content marketing, you need good content that ticks all the boxes on the 2021 content writing checklist. If it does, then you know it’s fully optimized to meet your objectives and more likely to be effective.
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