The importance of good content in the practice of SEO and online marketing in general has increased dramatically over the past year with the search engines’ increased focus on content quality.
Marketers are now focused on creating good content—content that is share-worthy, link-worthy, builds a dedicated readership, and is by extension, appealing to the search algorithms. As content creators increasingly think about what constitutes ‘good’ content, we recognize that there are many different approaches to how to create good content online. Viral-ability, graphical presentation, focusing on the hot trends of the day—the approaches to creating good content are as numerous as the authors creating it online.
Feeling, Versus Thinking in Content Creation
Many of the ways we think about good content are logic-based. That is, they are rooted in the mind—studying analytics for the content that has resonated in the past, researching trending topics to capitalize on the popularity, or combing through social sharing statistics to see what has historically been most popular.
For the purposes of this thought experiment, I want to turn that concept on its head (ha! see what I did there?) and talk about good content from a feeling, rather than a thinking place.
Specifically, I want to propose that ‘good’ content (read: shareable and linkable) be defined by the feeling we leave our readers with. And, to be even more specific, I want to zero in on the feeling of completeness versus incompleteness our readers walk away with.
Think about it. When you read a post, even if it’s well written and makes a good point, if it’s not complete, if it’s not a tightly bound package, if the idea is not closed up tightly, it leaves us with a vague sense of dissatisfaction.
[...]if leaving our readers with a sense of completeness means they walk away feeling like they read a good piece of content, it means they are more likely to share it, link to it, or add your blog to their RSS feed.
In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that sometimes this sense of dissatisfaction is close to the surface—i.e. we can articulate “that post was ok, but it wasn’t complete” and other times we will leave the post with a sense of dissatisfaction that is attributable to its lack of completeness, but we might have a hard time articulating why. As content creators, this matters, because if leaving our readers with a sense of completeness means they walk away feeling like they read a good piece of content, it means they are more likely to share it, link to it, or add your blog to their RSS feed. And that means (a) your content is being shared and consumed and (b) the search algorithms are picking up on these signals and ranking your website for relevant keywords. But what do we mean by ‘complete’ content?
(Interestingly, if you buy my argument that sometimes we are aware of our sense of satisfaction due to completeness vs. not completeness and you continuously strive to write ‘completely’, you will have developed a readership at least, in part, by appealing to the reader subconsciously.)
‘Complete’ Means Addressing Major Objections
At a high-level, ‘complete’ content means making sure you have completed the thought/argument you set out to make in writing the post. On a deeper level, it means not closing your post until you have addressed substantial objections to your argument.
To show you what I mean, I’ll reference an example using a post I wrote on a personal blog, musing on an approach to develop happy employees (The Secret to Creating Happy and Productive Employees). For brevity’s sake, I’ll summarize the first half of the post and then show you the specifics of how I ‘completed’ it.
- Several years ago a friend started a small company making software. He sat the first three employees he hired down and asked them what would make them, individually, happy in their work life.
- He immediately responded ‘Done!’ to their individual requests, even going so far as to buy the computer game one employee said he wanted time to play during breaks during the work day.
- In thinking about my friends actions at length, I concluded his behavior implied that he believed:
- What makes each person happy is different
- There is something to starting out a business relationship by making the individual happy
When I first wrote the post, it had been my intention to end it here. It seemed like I had made the point I set out to make, which was how to build happy and productive employees. However, in thinking about the post through the eyes of the skeptical reader, I thought that while many may buy in to the ‘find-out-what-makes-the-individual-happy’ premise, their immediate response to the approach might be:
“Yeah, but if I just give people what they want and don’t stand over them, I won’t be getting the maximum productivity from them” (or some variation of this theme).
This objection, I thought, might therefore leave the reader with the ‘incomplete’ feeling of dissatisfaction described above.
To address the objection, I added a final paragraph to the post that (hopefully) addresses the issue head-on by encouraging managers to get past the horse-whipping mentality and suggests that, in the long run, they will be better off working with an individual satisfaction approach.
Stop worrying about whether you are sufficiently whipping the horse and whether your people are going to get away with stuff. The system is perfectly self-correcting. Good people for whom you set the table by specifically asking what makes them happy, will respond and give you their all. People who look to take advantage you will recognize as such and send on their way.
(And, there are tests that can be applied during the interview process to increase the odds that you are hiring the kind of person who will respond to your offer, but that’s another post).
In wrapping up the overarching objection some readers might raise to the initial point, (hopefully) readers were left with a sense of satisfaction about the post.
Stopping Short of Reader ‘Satisfaction’
Many of us, as content creators, are stopping short of the ‘completeness’ finish line. We have an idea we are writing about that is good, we express it well, and often we even have a strong way to address the one or two overwhelming objections that readers may have with our argument. Yet, by stopping short and not addressing reader objection(s) we are inadvertently leaving readers with a sense of dissatisfaction (and in my experience, nine out of ten blog posts that put forth an idea will have an overarching objection or two that a majority of readers will mentally raise).
So before hitting that ‘Submit’ button, ask yourself for the major objection(s) your readers will raise – you needn’t agree that it is in fact a major objection to your argument, just that many of your readers may raise it – and address that objection in a final sentence or two. Done right, your readers will have digested a complete thought and their overarching objection will have been met, leaving them with a sense of satisfaction about your content and making them more likely to link to it or share it.
A version of this article was featured on November 6th, 2012 on Search Engine Watch.