What is the most difficult thing about managing your own website?
When I recently asked several of my clients this question, the unanimous answer was, “Creating content.”
I’ll admit that content creation can be the toughest part of managing an effective website – especially if you’re not a writer. And, as much as I would love to ease your mind and tell you that curating content (publishing other people’s articles on your site) is equally as good, it just isn’t.
It’s OK to publish some third party content every once in a while, but Google already favors original posts over compiled ones. And, if history has taught us anything about Google, it’s that we’re always just an update away from obscurity.
So, how do you consistently create the content you need in the time that you have? You systemize it. Break it down into a formulaic process that you can rinse and repeat. This week, I’m going to give you the basic building blocks of my content creation system and help you to create a system of your own.
The cornerstone of my system is my collection of Article Types. Today I’m going to start you off with six basic ones. When I need an article fast, these are my “go to” starting places.
The six basic Article Types are:
- How To
- Top Ten
- Product Review
The How To article is one of the easiest to write and one of the most likely to be read. People love to read headlines with the words “How To” in them. In fact, you can often spice up an otherwise ineffective headline just by adding “How To” to the beginning of it. Consider these two headlines:
“Building Your Content Toolbox” vs. “How to Build Your Content Toolbox”
The second headline will get more attention and more readers. The other thing about How To articles is that they usually don’t require a lot of research, because you are simply explaining how to do something you already know to someone who doesn’t know it yet.
The keys to an effective How To article are clear logic, actionable steps, and valuable results. You’re explaining a process, so your instructions need to follow a clear “step 1, step 2…” type organization. Readers choose your article because of the promise in the headline that they will learn something.
They want actionable steps that they can follow, not theory or philosophy. They should be able to read your article, immediately follow your instructions, and achieve something. Finally, an effective How To article must help your reader obtain something that he or she considers valuable – a new skill, a savings of time, more money, etc.
The Top Ten article is another favorite. Also called the List Post, it is basically a list of items that your reader will find helpful. You can use any number, it doesn’t have to be ten. However the items must conform to the 3 Keys of Killer Content and be Informative, Educational and/or Entertaining. Some of the articles I’ve written in this format include:
You can number the items on your list forward, backward (countdown style), or not at all. If there’s no particular hierarchy to their placement, numbering them may actually cause confusion. Whether you number them or not, lists are a great way to add instant structure to your post.
Think about it, if you have 10 items, you’ll have at least 10 paragraphs. Add introductory and concluding paragraphs to make an even 12, and you’ve got structure, organization, and length built in before you even begin.
Here are some ideas for list posts:
The Top (number) (valuable items) of (year, month, or other time period)
The Top (number) Ways to (achieve something of value)
(Number) Tips That Will Save You (time, money, frustration, etc.)
(Number) Easy Tricks for (achieving something of value)
Writing an Editorial Article is simply sharing your opinion about something. First you have to have an opinion, then you have to share it in a way that sparks valuable discussion. The first part is easy, because we all have opinions. The second part takes a little finesse, because your editorial needs to actually accomplish something. Save your pointless rants for your personal social media accounts, they won’t help your business.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What issues are trending in my market or industry right now?
- What do I think about these issues?
- What do I want to accomplish by sharing my opinion?
- How can I share my opinion in a way that will accomplish my goal?
Some possible goals for an Editorial may be:
- To create controversy and provoke people to engage in debate
- To bring a new perspective to the discussion of a particular issue
- To bring about thoughtful dialogue by asking poignant questions
- To encourage people by sharing something you like or enjoy
When writing your editorial just be sure that you set your goal ahead of time. This will help you avoid ranting and help people take you seriously. Also, be sure to review the finished article to insure that you accomplished your goal before you publish it to the world. Even though it’s an opinion and you are entitled to it, keep in mind that this article reflects you and your company, so be responsible.
A Product Review is exactly that. You procure a product and review it to help other people decide whether or not to purchase it. This one may require you to spend some money on the initial purchase of the item. If so, consider it the cost of buying traffic. It would be the same as if you wrote an article that didn’t require a purchase and promoted it with Facebook ads or some other pay per click system.
Sometimes, you can get products at wholesale prices or even free for the purposes of review. You just have to contact the manufacturer and ask about obtaining a review unit. They may want to send it to you for review and have you send it back, or they may allow you to keep it. It usually depends on how large your following is and how likely your review is to result in sales of the product. In the end, it never hurts to ask.
Keys to a good product review are sharing both positive and negative aspects of the product, weighing the cost of the product against its benefits, and giving your honest opinion. You need to share both positive and negative, because no product is perfect, but no product totally sucks either. You should weigh the cost against the benefits, because people want this kind of data when considering the value of a purchase.
Finally, share your honest opinion. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting to the end of a Product Review and not knowing what the reviewer thinks. These are your readers. They trust you to review this thing for them. Let them know where you stand.
An interview is one of those articles that seems easier than it is. Any journalist will tell you that a quality interview requires a lot of preparation, highly developed people skills, and some serious finesse on the back end. That said, interviews can also be some of the most interesting articles to read, comment on, and share.
Like an editorial, the preparation for a good Interview begins with setting goals. What do you hope to accomplish with this Interview? Will it inform, educate, and/or entertain the audience? Who is the best person for you to interview? How will the Interview take place (over the phone, in person, in front of an audience)?
Next you’ll need a set of high quality questions. Your questions should be simple (to the point, without too many parts to them). They should be easy to ask. The audience isn’t listen or reading to hear you talk, they want to hear from your guest. Pose the question and get out of the way. They should be targeted to your goals so that the answers given naturally by your guest accomplish the goals you set in the planning stage.
Finally, your questions should be intelligent and considerate. Interviews are requested and granted – not required and mandatory. Your guest is giving of his or her time and talent. Respecting that will earn you the right to interview more people in the future.
A report is often hard work in disguise. On one hand they are simply the delivery of factual information. On the other hand, because they are empirical in nature, your facts must be documented and proven. You’ll need to credit your sources and offer your findings without personal preference or opinion.
A good report reads like a newscast. It’s information delivered in a Dragnet “Just the facts, Ma’am” sort of way where the reader is left to draw his or her own conclusions and form his or her own opinions. The nice thing about reports is that they don’t require any emotional investment on your part, so their easy to bang out.
When you write a report, remember what you learned in grammar school. Logically present the facts in well-written paragraphs. Document and credit your sources. And, leave your personal thoughts out of it. Also, because Reports can be a bit dry to read, make sure you have a really good headline that promises value to your reader.
Well, there you go. You now have six basic types of articles to get you out of the gate. Pick one and give it a try. The more you write, the easier it gets.
Do you have any article formulas that you like to use? Have you had success with any of the types I’ve listed here? Share a comment and let’s talk about it.