The ABCs of Content – 26 Ways to Always Be Creating/
October 22, 2014
In the lexicon of modern marketing, “content marketing” has become a rather popular phrase to bandy about. And it seems like everyone wants to sell you their foolproof recipe for success.
Today, I’m playing that game. My ridiculous line of buzzword-edition Marketing Magnetic Poetry is, “High ROI content marketing is a product of efficiency, synergy, and multi-tasking.” And my “secret sauce” to content creation is:
Always Be Creating content.
This is no secret to true master bloggers and content marketers; they’re 24/7 creators. I don’t include myself in such company, but the better I get at it, the better the return I see on time spent.
That does not mean you need to be writing constantly. Rather, you should keep your eyes open and always be looking to leverage your thoughts and work into great content.
Be opportunistic 24/7. The beginnings of great pieces can be found in nearly everything you do related to that which you write about―it’s all potential content. Get good at realizing that potential.
Note the word potential ― the Internet does not need more content (it needs less bullshit). Successful content creators know how to find the gems and trim the fat. Empowered by prolific ideation, they are great curators of their ideas. Better ideas = less bullshit.
I don’t know about you, but when I was just beginning to blog and write copy, I’d start every piece when a looming deadline forced me to. My work was inefficient and underinspired, and it underperformed. Recently, it clicked in my mind that I could spend less time scrambling to get the job done and more time nourishing ideas. Now I always have a few content seedlings growing at once. The result has been an increase in efficiency, enjoyment, and impact. But I still have quite a ways to go.
In hopes of becoming a content master one day, I’ve decided to adopt some better habits.
This spurred me to think of a ‘number’ of ways to practice my Content Creation ABCs better by pouncing on content opportunities that present themselves. Props to Andrew Garberson for some great ideas and letter-play. Let’s go.
1. Always have time for your ideas.
I’m of the opinion that great content starts with great ideas. Too often, ideas take the backseat to writing driven by deadlines and requirements like word counts and SEO demands, which is why Internet content is notorious for being devoid of intrinsic value or creative merit.
Enable and empower yourself to take some time when you’re feeling creative to jot down ideas and content fragments for 20 minutes (or however long it takes for the ideas to come slower than your ability to type them). Then, walk away from the article concept(s) until you’re compelled to come back.
While few have the luxury of always being able to write this way, having “idea-time” puts ideas and inspiration at the forefront of content where it belongs. Plus, you’ll save a lot of time because it’s easier (and more pleasant) to create when you feel creative.
Save ideas when you get them.
Most folks come up with good ideas throughout the day. Tune into your creative side and be prepared to capture your ideas immediately. This saves a lot of time in the long run, because when it’s time to write you already have a ton of ideas. Here are 3 ideas on saving ideas.
2. Bring a notebook. These have long been the preferred accessory of great poets and writers. A writer friend of mine jots ideas and haikus on napkins almost every time he’s out (and saves them all). You can do even better than that with a little journal.
3. Cloud-based note-taking makes it easy to access your notebook wherever you are. I started a Google Doc for blog ideas this year so I can jot down ideas from the office, laptop, and phone and easily turn them into a post. It’s been awesome for me.
4. Driving and note-taking is not recommended. Take verbal notes on your phone if you prefer to brainstorm at 60 mph where a notebook might be hazardous (to both you and me).
Get the idea?
Mine your words.
Many of us write good things down often, then end up making little use of them. All of those recorded details comprise a plethora of precious unused content.
5. Emails are amazing repositories of information. Mine some great thoughts by reviewing all e-mails where you explain things. Look through your Sent folder. Type queries like “question” in your e-mail search bar. Use labels liberally to make it easier to find stuff; consider tagging emails with a label called “content seed” as you read them.
6. Facebook, Google+, Twitter and other social media conversations can be a great source of content. Review your best posts for ideas and golden copywriting nuggets. Identify hotbed issues by noting threads with high comment counts. Use your Twitter lists and favorites to mine quotables and insights for certain subjects, and don’t be afraid to embed a Tweet or two. Use Hootsuite or another social media tool to monitor streams of activity around certain topics or keywords.
7. Go through your offline content and find opportunities to digitize. Turning stuff like analog product information, brochures, marketing collateral, and PDFs into web content is extremely low-hanging fruit for copywriters.
Write while you work.
Over the course of the workday, there’s a lot of common activities that can be launching points for articles.
8. Helping others can help you. Going the extra the mile on helping a client or coworker or even giving free advice or consulting may be more justifiable from a pragmatist point of view when their example or lesson that can be applied to a greater audience. I’ve written a few long-winded e-mails because I realized I was drafting more than an e-mail.
9. Instant messages or other recorded inter-office chats can be a great source for inspiration and (sometimes) usable material. I find it convenient that Google Chat and Gmail can be mined simultaneously.
10. Jump on news and new developments in your niche. After reading interesting news, note takeaways and see what others have written on the topic. If you have something unique to contribute to the discussion, do it right away. Also, if you’re into newsjacking, consider setting Google alerts (or Talkwalker, which I prefer) to monitor developments on a topic.
11. Keyword analysis – if you’re doing any SEO work – should be giving you tons of ideas. A keyword-optimized page without meat is the rubbish that gives SEO a bad name. Do some mental free association on keywords. Note long-tail keywords and common questions involving your keyword and see if anything causes a spark. Importantly, when you consider targeting a keyword, always ask yourself, “What kind of stuff might a person be searching for when they type in this search term?”
12. Link-winning activities for SEO like link prospecting, analyzing competitor link bait, and scouting for guest post opportunities should also naturally unearth a ton of content ideas.
13. Mistakes make great stories. Whenever you screw up, have to deal with a screw up, or simply see a screw up you haven’t seen yet – take notes. Your readers may like a lesson on how to avoid those mistakes. Or… they might just like a good train wreck story. Such life lessons have been the basis for about one third of my LunaMetrics articles in the last two years.
Mine your words some more.
14. Never forget your notes. Revisit all your notes to see what you can do with them.
15. Old articles deserve attention too. Article updates can be easy money. Revisit old articles and note every way the content is out of date or could be better. I’ve had a lot of success purposefully finding clients’ moderately successful articles and kicking them up a notch.
16. Presentations present great content opportunities. If you present, train, or speak, you may have a bunch of re-purposeable material in your slides.
17. Questions usually precede great insights; your answers may make great content. I am a consultant, so I spend much of my day explaining things to others. You might not be in the same shoes, but I bet you answer a lot more questions than you realize. Look over your explanations and ask, “Might my readers be asking similar questions?” If so, they might also be interested in the answer.
18. Repurpose parts of work deliverables for more super easy money content. I’ve reused quite a few paragraphs from audit write-ups and official recommendations.
Leverage your learning.
As you read your industry lit and learn how to do things better, think about how you can impart your newfound wisdom to readers thirsty for knowledge.
19. Statistics help sell your content. Keep your eyes open for facts and figures and save them if they intrigue you.
20. “That article could be better.” Anytime you find yourself saying this during your reading, note how it could be better. Best-in-class content often wins; always keep your eyes open for how you can make the best content on a subject. If you lack the resources to make the very best, you might make something that’s better in a certain aspect. For example, if you disagree with an author, you could have fodder for good opinion articles or buzzworthy flamings. Avoid mere regurgitation and you’ll be a step ahead of most of the Internet.
21. Uncomplicate matters. Speaking of improving upon something, if you read content that is harder for you to understand than it should be, then maybe the world needs a better explanation. This is the case for a lot of technical literature and other educational content (or anything written by government or lawyers). For example, writers in my niche have produced an insane number of articles based on the words of Google.
Find ways to make important information easier to digest. Good design, actionables, lists, readability best practices, demystification, simplification, and visualization are your friends.
To that last point, the ever-popular infographic is the medium best suited to replace complicated verbal explanations of important concepts; an appropriately-used infographic has plenty of viral potential.
22. Value others’ inputs. Use every channel possible to get publishable answers to questions, especially social media. Curated Q&As of a panel of experts is a classic content format that works well in multiple mediums. Plus, asking questions online is a great way to collect quotes as well. As Joseph Roux put it, “a fine quotation is a diamond in the hand of a man of wit and a pebble in the hand of a fool.” Surveys also make good, easy content.
23. Wordpress comments (and those of other blogs) sometimes are not spam. If you were compelled to comment, you probably felt you had something to contribute; consider contributing that through your content. Disqus is awesome because it saves all your comments conveniently. Comments and questions people leave on your own posts are also worth reviewing.
24. EXamples can make a good piece of content great. Note useful relevant examples and case studies in your reading and work. For example, tools I work with like Google Analytics provide awesome visual examples for articles.
Ask people around you to create FAQs for their job or area of focus. Pay attention to examples people drop in conversion for anecdotes or quotes. And if you’re copywriting, you totally need to be collecting testimonials and case studies.
25. Your bookmarks are a gold mine. A resource file with your favorite articles on each subject can be handy too. Having good, organized resources you’re familiar with readily available for reference really comes in handy. Plus, a lot of great posts are basically useful curated lists at heart, so bookmarks and resource lists can often be turned into successful content in under an hour.
26. ZZZZZ – Sleep on it. Several studies show that a little sleep helps ideas flow in the morning. Try to start big content enough in advance so that you have time to incubate.