As our marketing director Devin Bramhall points out, “good” can only be defined in the context of the medium. A post can be “good” based on proven journalism and reporting principles, but if it appears on a SaaS blog, it could fall flat.
So, “good” has to encompass not just the quality of the writing, but the strength of the ideas, how those are framed, the channels on which the articles are distributed and whether or not demand exists for content on those topics.
Good content exists on a spectrum that includes at least four parameters. The four parameters are:
- Angle: How the idea is framed
- Timing: Whether or not demand exists for the topic
- Distribution: Is the content written for the channel where it will be discovered?
- Writing: How efficiently the ideas are conveyed
And all of this should be built on a foundation of subject matter expertise. This is what makes it so hard to create good content. There aren't many articles that fall in the middle of this Venn diagram.
You don’t need to hit all four perfectly for every piece. It’s an unrealistic expectation and the main reason that most blogs follow the power law of content marketing—a few pieces account for the bulk of the traffic. You can, however, greatly increase your odds of success by understanding what goes into each of the four parameters.
A quick note on subject matter expertise. The more you know, the better your content will be. The following suggestions are just hacks if they aren’t backed by in-the-trenches experience. If you don’t currently possess subject matter expertise on the topics you’re covering, it’s time to develop some—do tons of research, interview experts and run experiments. More on that here.
Angle: Every Great Post Starts with a Great Idea
As Animalz writer and content strategist Jan-Erik Asplund wrote on the blog recently, “Framing is what gives insights their power.” Since content marketing can't rely solely on good writing, topics have to be framed in a way that captures the interest of prospective readers.
You'll notice that content topics aren't included in this Venn diagram—and for good reason. Topics are easy to come up with. Very, very few blogs succeed on the back of the team's ability to come up with good topics. Angles, however, are much more challenging to come up with. A good angle makes any topic interesting, even those that have been covered in great detail and volume elsewhere on the web.
Most content marketing approaches topics in a straightforward manner. If, for example, a keyword list dictates the posts that should be written, writers build post ideas based on those search queries without taking the time to consider the reader on the other end. Content marketers love to talk about writing for people and search engines, but that's a fallacy until you've considered how your posts are framed.
Hiten Shah's Why Trello Failed to Build a $1 Billion+ Business is a perfect example. A straightforward approach to Trello's acquisition would have made for a very different post, probably something like “How Trello Turned a Freemium Product into a $425 Million Acquisition.” And while that post may have been interesting, it doesn't stand out nearly as much as “Why Trello Failed to Build a $1 Billion+ Business.” This title only slightly changed the actual content, but it created a curiosity gap that the article too enticing not to click on.
The right angle adds rocket fuel to a good topic.
Timing: Write Content the Market Demands, or Create Demand Yourself
Think of timing as market demand and yourself as the supplier. If you supply content where demand exists, you have a significant advantage.
It's never quite this simple, but the core of this idea is that good content either (1) meets an existing demand or (2) creates new demand.
We covered this concept in detail in How to Ride a Wave of Growth, or Revel in Its Crash, but here's a quick summary. AdEspresso rode a wave of interest in Facebook advertising to grow a massive blog. Near-perfect execution was still required, but the growing interest in their core topic gave them a leg up over SaaS companies writing about less exciting topics.
The Animalz blog is a good counterexample. We didn't get on the content marketing trend early, and there are plenty of competitors in the space, so we're setting ourselves apart by creating new demand. We do this by taking contrarian views on established best practices and writing about content strategy in a way that few others have the necessary experience to do.
If you don't have the built-in advantage of writing about a trending topic, you need to find other ways to create (and harvest) demand.
Distribution: Meet Readers Where They Are
It's the oldest cliche in the book, but it rings as true as ever. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a noise? In content marketing, the answer is absolutely not.
Above all else, this is what really makes good content different than good writing. If articles aren't optimized for the channels they are meant to be discovered on, the pieces are never read and therefore never deliver value to the business. How exactly posts are optimized depends on the channel. Most SaaS companies are interested in organic search and should build on-page optimization, internal linking and backlinking tactics into the strategy for each and every article.
There are plenty of cases where organic search is not the primary goal. Content may be delivered via email, in-product or by a member of the sales or support team. In those cases, the content still needs to be optimized by channel. This can affect titles, content length, visual aids, writing style and much more.
Never assume that a great post holds up on every channel. Tweak (or totally overhaul!) to meet your readers where they are.
Writing: It Helps
As we like to say around here, writing is an art, but content is an acquisition channel.
Great writing is simply not required to run a successful blog. Does it help? Yes, absolutely. But growth depends more on the other three factors than this one.
Truly great writing is invisible. It’s not prose and it’s not flamboyant. It clearly explains an idea and moves readers effortlessly through the piece. It’s very difficult to find truly great writers. It’s even harder to convince them that content marketing is the right platform for their art.
But that’s okay since content marketing is measured in an objective way. If your blog earns you traffic and signups with writing that is efficient, timely, interesting, valuable and optimized for its channels, it doesn’t need to be Pulitzer-level.
It’s best to spend time finding great ideas and hashing out strong angles than agonizing over each and every word.
The Good Content Spectrum
Each of these four parameters exists on a spectrum. The combination is what yields good content—or not. The key isn’t necessarily to max out all four. It’s to strike a balance that allows you to keep generating strong content and growing traffic.
Problems arise when one of the four parameters heavily outweighs the others. Here are a few examples.
An emphasis on great writing, while noble and potentially useful, can’t outweigh the other factors.
A heavy focus on distribution with a good angle and solid writing is putting the cart before the horse.
Too much marketing and too little content leave you with a plan for dissemination but content that has trouble gaining traction.
Get as close to this as possible.
For more on creating great content, check out Core Content Marketing Concepts.