A great content strategy takes the guesswork out of execution so creative content can flourish. But you need to get the details right. This five-step checklist for creating valuable content can help you do that.
Use the checklist to ensure your content reaches and helps the right audience and to keep your team focused on your strategy’s goals. (It also may give you a feeling of accomplishment –who doesn’t love checking completed tasks off a list?)
What makes content valuable?
Everybody wants their content to sparkle. But there’s more to valuable content than perfectly polished sentences. Let’s dive into the characteristics all valuable content shares.The checklist defines valuable content using five benchmarks:
(Hat tip to Colleen Jones, founder and principal at Content Science, who inspired some of these benchmarks.)
1. Findable content
People need a way to discover your content. Make sure you follow SEO guidelines to create findable content.
TIP: Before creating findable content, perform keyword research based on your goals and user research.
Use one H1 and multiple H2 tags on each page [web content]
Headlines and sub-headlines help search engine rankings and create visual breaks in the text. Highlight them in the original text (or whatever system you use to move content from creation into production) so the team posting the content understands how to code it.
TIP: You can use H3 tags if the content necessitates it, but they won’t give the same bang for your SEO buck as H1 and H2 tags do.
Customize the metadata
These are your title, keywords, and description tag. Make sure the metadata describes the content on the page according to your keyword research.
Include links to other pages on the site
Links increase the value assigned by search engine spiders to your pages. Spiders are the robots that crawl through your site to find relevant content.
Include alt tags on your photos and other images
Alt tags ensure the images appear in image searches. Describe the picture in the image (because alt tags were first designed for the visually impaired) and use these tags to highlight your content.
For instance, if the image is doctors performing surgery, the alt tag could be, “The doctors at Sweet Valley Hospital in Sweet Valley, Calif., are experts in separating identical twins in a surgery known as identical separation, as shown in this photo.”
Post videos on YouTube or Facebook
Publishing your videos on social channels increases the likelihood they will be seen. I like YouTube because it gives accurate view counts. Tag the content on whichever platform so users can find it:
- Include keywords in your title
- Provide a detailed, keyword-rich summary
Distribute in different formats
Package audio content in multiple formats – MP3, WAV, and WIFF, so it’s available to different audiences. You don’t want a potential customer thwarted from listening to your content because they can’t use the available format.
Create a detailed summary and title for audio files
This information lives where the content can be downloaded. For some delivery vehicles, that’s the system where it’s stored, such as iTunes. For others, it might be the page where you post the file.
House each audio clip on a relevant content page
By creating a page for each audio asset, the text and sound work together to boost SEO efforts by demonstrating relevant content to the search engines.
2. Readable content
Once people find your content, is it readable?
Remember, readers scan until they find the content they need. Respect the person’s time. Consider using:
- Inverted pyramid style: Put the most important facts at the top and the least important at the bottom. The image above was produced using eye-tracking software. You can see where the user’s eyes scanned on the page: See how that shape follows an inverted pyramid.
- Chunking: Keep paragraphs short. Follow the rule of three: No more than three sentences in a paragraph. No more than three paragraphs under one heading.
- Bullets and numbered lists: When people want to consume information quickly, lists and bullets are helpful.
- Consistent language: Avoid confusing your readers. For example, how do you refer to your business, company, or institution? Switching between your organization’s name and “us” can confuse your audience. Use a style guide to help everyone get on the same page.
3. Understandable content
Creating content that users understand can be challenging with complex topics. My agency does a lot of health-care content creation. Many times, we write on an eighth-grade reading level. Even that might be too elevated for some readers.
How can you create understandable content no matter your industry?
- Choose the right content type: For example, if users have an aha moment seeing something sketched, use a video or slideshow instead of text.
- Create personas for your audiences: Match the level of the content’s complexity to the user’s ability to understand it.
- Provide context: Briefly explain even the most basic concepts to your users. You never know where someone will jump into the conversation.
- Apply a standard reading level for each project: And stick to it. Base this on your users’ personas and market research. Microsoft Word has a function for testing reading levels — experiment with that scoring.
- Provide valuable information: This could be new information or a new way of articulating an existing idea. Sometimes metaphors help people understand better.
4. Actionable content
You create content because you want readers to act. How can you make sure that happens?
- CTA: Include an obvious call to action.
- Easy to use: Make it easy for users to comment and ask questions publicly and privately. Allow blog comments or direct people to your company’s Facebook page. If you accept comments through your contact us page, make it easy to find and use.
- Provide links: Include links to relevant content or program your content management system (CMS) to suggest related content options automatically.
- Actionable items first: Include a list of actionable items for the user at the top of lengthy content. For example, a long-form article on diabetes care could include three bullets at the top defining diabetes and explaining how to control it.
5. Shareable content
People trust peers more than brands. How can you get users to share your content with their friends? Consider some of these ideas:
- Get emotional: Provoke an emotional response with your readers. When I first started writing articles on content marketing, one of my editors told me, “People are more likely to share controversial content.” Just be careful not to go too far over the line.
- Provide a reason to share: For example, tell a story about how sharing health information helped one family increase its exercise efforts.
- Make sharing easy: Work with your IT staff to decide which sharing widget is best for your organization.
- Personalize it: Allow users to personalize the share. For instance, when Aha Media Group retweets things, we add hashtags and reference other sources.
To get the most out of the checklist, invite decision-makers in
Before you use the checklist, you need buy-in. Start with the executives at your company who can effect changes in your resources, influence your company’s social media policy, and become champions for your brand’s voice.
Explaining the one-page checklist gives them insight into the content creation process. It also opens the door for dialogue about your team’s challenges and the potential solutions, so together, you can bring the brand’s content to greatness.
Do you have experience using checklists in your content marketing? I’d love to see your examples. Or let me know what you would change in this checklist.
Updated from a June 2019 post.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute