When it comes to putting out content your business, finding the right message for the right audience can be difficult. But figuring out what you want to say is only the beginning. Once you’ve arrived at the what you have to start thinking about the how: how to make your content work, and how to keep it working.

It’s all about asking: What is good content? What does it look like and what makes it work? More importantly, what does bad content look like and how can it be avoided?

So keep reading for some top tips on how to create knockout content.

Keep it simple

Here are two statistics that make for a compelling argument in favour of simplicity:

1) It takes 0.5 seconds for a user to form an impression of a website.

2) 48% of people cite design as the number one factor in judging the credibility of a business.

From this we can conclude that within half a second of entering your website a user has already decided whether or not you’re a trustworthy and legitimate business. And that’s before they’ve read your catchy strapline. This same rule also applies to blogs and advertisements. So it’s important for us to get on the right side of these statistics.

First and foremost, you need to gauge how your online presence is currently being perceived. And there’s an easy test you can apply to find out: ask a few people (who haven’t seen your website before) to visit your site for just a few seconds, and then write down their initial thoughts. You’re only looking for simple comments (e.g “Bright,” “Clunky,” “Confusing,” etc), but they’ll be incredibly revealing and insightful.

Now apply this same test to your blog (if you have one) and any recent marketing materials (ie e-newsletters, posters etc). What do people say? What are their initial impressions?

Next, you need to look at how to refine your content in oder to provoke positive reactions in readers.

The simple answer: keep it simple. In fact, that’s just what Kelly Johnson had in mind when he coined that golden design principle back in the 60s — KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).

Some advice on how to KISS:

– Avoid jargon. Although it’s often used with the best of intentions, business jargon can all too easily wind up alienating your listener and, at worst, making them feel patronised. The last thing anybody wants is to be made to feel inferior, and confusing business-speak can have exactly that effect. Simply put: in business it’s better to be a Hemingway than a Shakespeare.

– Be economical. Try not to use your headline to describe what’s being shown in an image, and, vice versa, try to avoid using an image to represent exactly what’s being said in a headline. This is an easy but effective technique that can have a big effect on the quality of your marketing material. 

– Don’t overwhelm. If possible, steer away from using lots of different colours at the same time, and try not to combine large imagery with large headlines. When there’s too much to look at, people will become confused and may miss the point of your message.

Keep it clear

These days, when it comes to the internet, people don’t read, they scan. This is a consequence of the digital age, and for anyone producing any kind of online content, it pays to write for the scanners.

The trick here is to optimise your content for skim reading. Make it scan-friendly. Focus on the relevant message and repeat it throughout. Constantly remind your audience what you want them to do.

Remember that the average human has an attention span of 8 seconds and can read at a rate of 300 words per minute. From this we can assume that most people will only make it through 40 words of mediocre text before getting bored.

So whatever the content, be it on a blog or a webpage, think about what the core message is, and shave away anything not pertaining to that message.

When it comes to crafting scannable content, we need to create relevant headlines and sub-headings, and put important bits of information in bold or italics to catch our reader’s eye.

Speaking of headlines, here’s what legendary advertiser David Ogilvy had to say on the matter:

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”

Remember: your key message should always be present in the headline.

Keep it relevant

Specifically, this refers to your call-to-action (CTA). Which is your key tool for provoking an immediate response from an audience. Remember that a relevant call-to-action is the most effective means of turning passive interaction into active pursuit of a product or service

First of all it’s important to note that a CTA won’t be effective if it isn’t aimed at the proper audience. Though this seems obvious, there are still many businesses out there who find great difficulty in connecting with their target market.

It’s important to remember that your CTA should take into account, and be targeted towards, a specific stage of the buying cycle.   

Another important component of effective CTAs is the use of action verbs: Join. Learn. Free. Now. Save. Action verbs direct prospective clients toward a desired action.

The key point to remember is that your CTA should be a necessary and enticing addition to the content you’re already providing. For example, writing a blog post about essential networking tips and then offering more essential networking tips, maybe in the form of a downloadable ebook or another blog post, at the end.

Just as every page in a novel should be turnable, every blog post be actionable.

Think about what your prospective clients need and mix it right into your call-to-action.

Keep it useful

Much of the time marketing is only half-seen. This is because the simple (if slightly ugly) truth is that people don’t really care about anything unless it benefits them in some way. It’s possible that this is nothing more than a gut reaction to the sheer volume of advertisements we’re subjected to on a daily basis; but whatever the reason, it has serious implications for your business and your marketing. The problem is that many people have stopped listening because they assume that all marketing is superficial, manipulative, and offers no real substance.

This results in what can be called Apathetic Consumer Syndrome — defined by a general feeling of numbness towards all forms of advertisement and marketing — and the best remedy for this kind of ailment is a healthy dose of useful content: marketing that benefits the prospective client — working for its living instead of just sitting back with its feet up.

This means publishing information that can be of genuine value to a user, without forcing a purchase on them. It’s about providing quality content first, with no pretences. Only after it has been consumed and deemed useful can you expect people to engage with your call-to-action.

All content should strive to be informative, practical, educational, and, most importantly, free. No strings attached, no hidden terms, no sleazy salesmen hiding behind a tree.

Consider the following extract from a Guardian article looking at how many adverts we’re exposed to on a daily basis:

“In 90 minutes, [our participant] saw 250 adverts from more than 100 brands in 70 different formats. The number recalled without prompting was 1.”

To be the 1 in 250 that stands out, we have to make things worth remembering. We need to produce content that looks good, sounds good, and acknowledges that its target audience is both intelligent and human. And the best way of approaching this is to provide as much value as possible, in whatever way possible.

Some tips on the creation of useful content:

– Turn demand into meaningful content. Why are people buying whatever it is that you’re offering? What do they want? What problems can you help them solve? Can you provide them with tips, advice, and general information?

– Create succinct and relevant headlines. Remember the David Ogilvy quote; and always make sure the core of your message is in the headline.

– Let people know what’s in it for them. Generally we respect businesses who are open and transparent with their customers, and tend to distrust those who are ambiguous and evasive. If you’re trying to lead readers into a purchase, make sure they’re aware of it. 

Keep It Clean

A study found that a single spelling mistake on a website can reduce a company’s revenue by half. This may sound dramatic, but it highlights the importance of quality on even a minute scale.

When it comes to grammar, it’s not enough to rely on auto-correct alone; remember that word processors don’t always flag up the improper use of words. Its and It’s. There, Their, and They’re. Where and Were. Misplacing apostrophe’s. Unfortunately these also happen to be the easiest mistakes to miss when checking back over your work.

The solution: you have to proofread. Try to proofread everything multiple times. Give all your written work to a fresh pair of eyes, and then to go over it again yourself, ideally with a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers, before publishing.

Above all else, keeping things clean is about respecting your audience. Small mistakes risk projecting an unprofessional image, and can make people question your authority on a subject. So it pays to be thorough. Remember that although we’re not likely to receive credit for good spelling and grammar, we are likely to receive criticism for the alternative.

Final thoughts

Good content is an integral part of any successful business. It really can be the difference between  someone choosing to work with you or your nearest competitor. At Red Square Design we specialise in making content look and sound great. So get in touch for a free consultation!