4 Ways to Improve Content

Carré d'as
Image by Markaud

Sometimes blog content doesn’t resonate as well as one would like. It can be hard to pinpoint why. There’s an editorial mission in place, regular posts are published everyday, and you seem to be talking about what matters, but no one pays attention.

There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re stuck. That’s when examining mechanics means the most. What are some ways to strengthen content to increase reader attention? Here are four ways to jump start your writing…

Slow Down Production, Focus on Quality

Audi R8 (DC Auto Show)

A current conversation amongst leading voices has reinvigorated the old quality versus quantity debate. Mitch Joel says dilution of content to achieve frequency (and therefore attention) doesn’t help. Richard Becker recently began compiling research of 250 blogs from the 2010 Fresh Content project. Becker’s research demonstrated that BOTH consistency and clarity were necessary for success.

Publishing crap content five times a week or twice a day won’t make your situation better. Half baked content gets one quarter of the attention that a fantastically well thought out blog post does. You do the math.

Ideally, a blog needs three posts a week to maintain enough presence to achieve a top ranking or become a leading vehicle for thought and conversation. Slow down production and refocus on creating outstanding content. You can always increase frequency once the blog is back on track.

Stop Talking About Yourself (or Your Organization)

It’s been said here before. It will be said again. No one cares about you. They care about themselves. Frankly, overusing first person pronouns makes you sound self promoting and egotistical, and if it’s an organization it reads like corporate messaging. In fact, the narcissistic compulsion to consistently talk about me, myself and I (or we, our and us) becomes a detriment to building readership.

Instead of waxing your own car, get right into what’s in it for the reader. If your opening paragraph mentions the first person more than once (if at all) and doesn’t have a clear thesis, know that it’s a failed post right out of the gate. Focus on the reader and what’s in it for THEM, not how smart you are.

And if you are hiding behind the personality argument, please, please consider what you are saying. Good writers know their personality comes through sans self talk. It’s called style. Do an intentional edit to weed out the first person as much as possible.

Increase Listening

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If you are creating more content than you are reading, you have a huge issue. First of all, it’s highly likely you are out of touch with your stakeholders, and what interests them. Great content creators develop relevant, prescient information that speaks to the times and trends.

Secondly, because of the disconnect with the community you’re dictating to your readers and stakeholders what you think matters. That may be OK if your primary goal is journaling; however, this post seeks to increase traffic, not wax poetic.

Don’t treat your readers like “consumers” of bubble gum! They invest time and in some cases social capital to read and spread the word about your writing. Do your homework. Read your stakeholders’ conversations and content. Listen to them, understand what they care about so you can offer relevant content.

Create More Content That Works

Andrew Dumm, Winner (Men) 2008 MCM
Image by dbking

Sometimes an editorial mission can create too much latitude for the writer, and it becomes necessary to refocus on content that readers actually want. Go back through your Google Analytics data and see what’s been working. Focus on trends instead of individual posts. A combination of analytics on unique visits, time on page, and conversation (via PostRank) should reveal an interesting picture.

For example, in the past few months on this blog you like four types of posts; strategy-oriented pieces, online content best practices, timely event-centric pieces, and discussions about the ethics and issues surrounding the growing social media bubble. You don’t like pieces about the environment, causes or entrepreneurial leadership.

Take the findings to heart, and adjust your editorial mission as necessary. Wash, rinse, repeat.

How do you strengthen your content during down periods?

Related reading: Blogging Primer, 5 Tips for Blogging in the Post RSS Era

38 thoughts on “4 Ways to Improve Content

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention 4 Ways To Improve Content | Geoff Livingston's Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. Much to think about Geoff. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with how to write what I want to say so not much has come out. I’ll be taking your advice to heart and approach things as you recommend. Thanks!

    • Hey, Phil. Thanks for coming by, and your sincerity in discussing this. I look at it a lot like baseball. You are a good blogger, a known voice. But like any good batter, sometimes our mechanics get stagnated or off, and these are just four tricks to get back into form. There are others, but for me it’s usually one of these.

        • LOL< I totally get that. For example, Kenneth Cole and Groupon were great temptations for me. I resisted this time. I did blog about Egypt and the Super Bowl, but felt both discussions were relevant in the larger context of what people like in the blog. Sometimes you have to be interpretive instead of literal ;)

  3. Terrific post, Geoff. Totally spot on. The biggest struggle we have with client corporate blogs is that they just want to focus on them instead of what their clients and prospective clients might be interested in.

    And your point – if you’re not reading more than you’re writing – so true! Like you, I’m a voracious consumer of material – it’s what helps me not only know the business I’m in, but bring the best solutions to the table for my clients. If only there were more hours in a day!

    Great job! Will share with many!


    • Thanks, Shelly. Yes, you and I both read and link to show it. When I see a blog without links I think they are either up in the clouds, or they are plagiarizing. It’s virtually impossible to be relevant for very long or on the spot without reading other people’s content. I am enjoying our blog back an forth right now. Good stuff!

  4. Great post Geoff. I think we can never hear the message enough: ‘it’s not about you; it’s about them.’ What is going to engage your reader and make him/her return? And how much are you listening? Thanks for the reminders.

    • I started reading a piece in Entrepreneur magazine by one of our industry’s leading bloggers. He said I and bragged so much about his speaking repertoire in the first two paragraphs that I simply clicked on a different link. Force of personality turns people away. If you are already great with me, myself and I, you can only become unstoppable without them. Thanks for being a consistant reader and commenter, Liz!

  5. Good post Geoff! I’ve been concerned about the constant instruction to write 5 posts a week, or more, because people are distracted, like to spread their reading-allegiance around, and don’t value content, or its author, if it doesn’t appear to have some kind of substance. I appreciate your suggestions…thanks!

    • I’ll be honest. I saw several posts stating this and that’s what inspired me to write this. It is disconcerting to me to see leading voices consistently doling out bad advice right now, and giving advice based on what made them popular, not sound business advice.

      I didn’t want to outright bash them, rather frame the argument in a way to get what people want: Better blogs. At the same time there is a great need to counter these voices and add new context so people can make informed decisions. Cheers!

  6. “Talk Less, Say More,” “Babies Grow Into Their Ears,” “Grow Bigger Ears.” It’s the year of the ear.

  7. Good thoughts. Thanks.

    While I have not gotten anywhere near 5+ postings a week (so don’t really worry about quantity over quality), I do hope that my postings have been solid. At the same time, I try to inject lighter, more humorous postings at times.

    Still having a hard time breaking through though. I guess you just keep at it and keep trying to improve.

    • Ah, it’s the old two step. Marketing posts is different than creating fantastic content. I think that relies quite a bit on the networking and blog commenting. I’ll check yours out after reading your comment. Interested in seeing the humor!

  8. Thanks for the good advice Geoff! Posting a well-researched, thoughtful and hopefully helpful post once a week on the agency blog while maintaining a full work load is enough of a challenge…can’t imagine personally doing it more than that.

  9. Nicely done. I really appreciate the line “no one cares about you” because it is so true. People care about themselves (and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing). Getting help or gaining insight, through your content, is what they care about. Thanks for the good post!

  10. I’d say #3 drives the process, not only in the beginning but throughout the journey. With that said, frequency in the beginning seems to be a good way to get a toehold, build an audience and gain credibility. It’s tough to maintain though and like you said, the quality starts to suffer.Some seem to do it better than most, but it’s safe to say that the ideal number of posts per week would appear to be 3. My addition to this would be:

    #5 Don’t Mail It In…Ever.
    I’ve been guilty of this and it speaks to #1. The point is, just because you feel you need to put up a post because you haven’t posted it in a week or so…don’t do it. Wait until you have something to say. Don’t water down your content for the sake of your editorial calendar.

    • I kind of agree with that, but I also think you have to write even if you don’t post. I think not writing at all leads to more not writing. I encourage practicing, writing, not posting, rewriting, etc. This post was actually an example of that. Drafted on Saturday, gutted a couple of times, and finally felt good enough to go.

  11. You’re especially right about focusing less on quantity and more on quality. Many bloggers (including myself) feel a need to post as much as possible but in the end, that approach doesn’t always serve our readers.

    Great tips. Thanks!

    • It’s amazing what happens if you give a great post a second day uninterupted by new content. You get more comments, more conversation, more dialogue and it can break wide open. People are not as hooked on RSS readers as the were four years ago before Facebook and Twitter, so time moves differently…

  12. Super interesting post Geoff, thanks for sharing. I think #2 and #3 deserve to be repeated, again and again: less trivial than they seem.

    I have a genuine question about #4, though: “see what’s been working”, “focus on trends”: I’m sure it’s efficient, indeed. But isn’t there a risk for a global loss of variety, richness, surprises, etc, over time, if every body follows this advice?

    • Good point. I’m not really sure that’s possible if you are doing #3. If you are doing #3 your content will evolve naturally. Keep in mind these are tips to get back on track, not universal literal Musts All the Time. So, if you are like me, you may be constantly tweaking and learning about how to blog, even after years of practicing! Cheers!

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