Eight Purposes of Content
By Emily Wisely. Find her on Twitter!
I’m no champion of content, guys. What I am, though, is a faithful consumer of information online. I knock back know-how like yoga instructors slurp smoothies, but probably with worse posture. I’ve noticed which kinds of posts grab my attention and (most importantly) maintain my interest. Today I’d like to share my sliver of insight with you. Hopefully we’ll keep this in mind before carelessly hitting the “publish” button.
Every post I’ve ever enjoyed, ever, fits into one of the following categories: tactical education, curation, validation, niche appeal, mass appeal, amusement, controversy, and inspiration. Depending on the time of day, my mood, and my needs, I will click through to a post if its title implies to serve at least one of these purposes.
These posts are direct and informative. Often the title alone is enticing enough to attract users (it certainly is for me). What makes these posts valuable is the direct transfer of knowledge; the author empowers the reader to understand something he or she didn’t before reading the post.
A recent article that fits into this category is called “Copy/Paste screenshots directly into Photoshop.” And guess what? The article explains very effectively how to do exactly as the title promises. Now that I know a new handy shortcut, this girl is satisfied.
What I enjoy about curation posts is the one-stop-shop factor. Jon Cooper’s post about visualizations is more than an article; it’s a magnificent resource. The next time I’m craving inspiration for visualizing data, a particular subject, or whatever, I don’t have to spend more time than necessary sifting through Google search results for posts relating to visuals; I can simply open this blog post which already references awesome examples, instructions, and tools.
It feels good to read something I already know or believe in. It just feels good. Why was I so eager to digest the many posts that highlighted an author’s Top Albums of 2012? Because I wanted to know that I’m not the only one who saw the value in Purity Ring’s debut album. Reassurance is a nice feeling. Additionally, when I first jumped (headfirst, mind you) into the SEO world, I felt encouraged to discover how many other industry cats were pursuing similar “white hat” tactics. It instilled a pride in my work and in Evolve.
One specific article I recently appreciated was about 2013 being “the year of the online writer.” Hey, online writing – that’s what I do! No wonder the post resonated with me; the author’s words justified my contribution to the digital marketing world.
I am pretty big into humor. Work can be tense, so I appreciate a post that is sprinkled (or drenched) with comic relief. I admire brands that can loosen their ties and crack some snarky jokes; it gives me a reason to return for the next post. I’ll be honest, these are usually not found on websites relating to my industry. When that happens, though, it’s pretty miraculous. A fellow SEO on Twitter released this humorous SEO Predictions post – I recommend it if you are in need of a laugh.
Or there’s always The Oatmeal (warning: it’s vulgar).
Content pieces written for a specific audience are successful when the subject focus is very narrow. This blog caters to a niche audience; a very small percentage of Internet users give a crap about SEO. I’m pretty sure my own mother doesn’t read this. And that’s okay – because I’m not writing it for her. Niche appeal posts should be useless to a person who doesn’t fit in your targeted audience.
One article that comes to mind is called “Ray Bradbury’s 7 Rules for Writers.” It’s a nice summary of several points made in his book Zen in the Art of Writing. What makes this post niche is that it appeals to a subset of writers: those who admire Bradbury’s works enough to want to learn from him. And I most certainly do.
Information that applies to wide audiences has its purpose, too. It has the potential to draw in a more diverse crowd, thus increasing exposure to a particular brand or idea. This is definitely not my area of expertise; it’s difficult to find a way to link readers that are looking for different solutions online. I don’t know for certain how many brands can benefit from this strategy – but I do believe there is value in considering different ways you can apply your brand’s strengths to an audience you wouldn’t normally consider your targeted demographic.
The article “Method Ocean Plastic Bottle” from The Dieline, for example, appeals to designers, animal lovers, and environmentalists alike. I like that.
It’s never been easier to hop onto a soapbox and boldly proclaim your opinion – and that’s a beautiful thing. Even better, we can share news to hundreds of thousands of people (depending on the virality) in minutes. So it’s pretty hard for me to resist a post that’s intended to ruffle feathers. Even if I disagree with the author (which I often do), I usually see the benefit in giving the other side a chance to speak. Derek once stated that you shouldn’t publish a topical piece without stating a clear opinion. Sometimes infusing a bit of controversy into a post is as simple as pushing your outlook a little more aggressively than usual. People might dislike you for it, but at least your post is going to stand out.
The post “Please stop eating the shit sandwich” from TripleSEO does a fantastic job of presenting an issue in what some may consider a controversial way. I’m a fan.
I like blog posts that challenge me to think a different way and grow into a smarter, more proficient person. Inspiration can take many shapes, but I feel most moved by the transparent, direct words of people I admire.
Case studies, design portfolios, success stories, and even lessons learned all urge me to continue learning and developing. The post “100 Tips About Life” from Julien Smith, author and blogger extraordinaire, is one I try to reference often.
Great posts often serve more than one purpose at once. For example, I usually gravitate toward educational posts for niche audiences. Or maybe content that both validates and inspires. Having grasped the particular purposes that content can serve, I think I’ll start challenging myself to enhance a post with additional tiers of intention. If you ask me, it’s going to be pretty difficult to get away with anything less as we continue to be overwhelmed with information online. One of my goals this year is to do my part to reduce the amount of thin content that is released online; it gets pretty discouraging to click to an article whose content doesn’t live up to the enticing title.
Simply put, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. Hopefully I haven’t.