You’re tired of hearing it: content is king. Every SEO, content marketing, social media marketing, or other online marketing article you’ve read over the past five years has told you that everything starts with quality content—the better your content is, the more likely you’ll be to succeed. If you’re like me, you can’t help but roll your eyes when you encounter this phrase. All it tells you is that good content is good—there aren’t any specific action items or qualifiers that clue you into what that “quality” actually means.
There are a handful of comprehensive lists out there, and some pretty good ones too, but oftentimes, a short, clear list can give you more insights than a long, rambling one. So rather than try and sketch out every conceivable dimension of what makes “good” content, I’ve outlined what I believe to be the five most important content priorities—in order.
Originality is key to making your content visible, valuable, and appealing enough to spread. Thanks to the popularity of the strategy, content is currently somewhat oversaturated in the market. Most “general” subjects have been done hundreds of times over, and users are sick of seeing those same topics float across their newsfeeds. If you want to stand out and earn some clicks, you need to do something nobody has done before. Otherwise, you might have everything else on this list, but it won’t matter because you’ll blend into the endless void of “white noise” content that users pass up on a daily basis.
Targeting is what gives your content direction, and it manifests in a number of ways. First, what’s your goal with this piece of content? Are you trying to help users through a quick task, or are you trying to become known as a thought leader? Second, who are you speaking to? You need to know your target audience, inside and out. You wouldn’t speak the same way to a young child as you would an esteemed business mogul, so you shouldn’t write the same way either. Third, what competitive opportunities are you pursuing here? Are you targeting a certain collection of keyword phrases, or are you taking advantage of an opening in the market? This will help you choose the right topic and format your post appropriately.
3. Practicality and Detail
This is a way of figuring out how inherently useful your content is; only useful content is going to get read and shared. Of course, there are many kinds of “useful.” For example, an article could be useful if it walks you through a step-by-step solution to a problem you currently face. It could be useful if it simply presents an alternative perspective that opens your mind to new ideas. It could even be useful if it gives you a chuckle on a slow, heavy day. Practicality and detail are the two important dimensions for usefulness; the former makes your content relevant for a specific purpose, and the latter gives it enough meat to be used for that purpose.
4. Clarity and Organization
Once you’ve got a unique, targeted, useful article, you can start working on your finesse—the aesthetic choices that will make your article more digestible and accessible to your readers. Organization and clarity are the way to do this. Organization will break your article up into a series of related subsections, which you can clearly distinguish with sub-headings, lists, and bullet points. This will make your article more visually accessible and “skimmable,” and will also help guide readers to understand your main points. Clarity, on the other hand, operates on a sentence-by-sentence level, making sure your ideas are transmitted in a way that accurately conveys your original intentions.
Your voice can make your article more familiar, more accessible, and even more entertaining if you put the right spin on it. Even more important, your content “voice” is going to be the main point of continuity your readers have for your work; without a consistent voice, users won’t know they’re reading additional work by the same brand. There isn’t a right or wrong way to sculpt your voice, as long as it’s appropriate for your audience and for your brand. The key is to be consistent with it across multiple pieces.
Cumulatively, these ingredients should form together to help you turn any piece into a knock out. If you have an original premise tailored to your target audience, with some practical value, decent clarity, and a signature voice, you have everything you need to achieve a minimum threshold of popularity. Other factors, like novelty, timeliness, and visual appeal (just to name a few) are also important, and can help make your pieces even better, but these five priorities are where good content begins.