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September 5, 2008

Examples of What Makes Good Content

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Jane Copland has a bitter post over at SEOmoz arguing that too many bloggers and speakers advise “creating good content” without going into the specifics. Jane calls it a new form of snake oil salesmen, and while I can share her distaste for those who blog without knowing what they’re talking about, I find the whole post somewhat unfair.

The trouble with identifying what makes good content and drawing them a roadmap is that “good content” is subjective. It’s almost less about the content you create and more about who’s reading it and their needs. That’s why the “get to know your audience” answer is so popular. It’s not someone being lazy, it’s simply a necessity. An article on how to properly implement a 301 redirect for a Apache server may be just what you were looking for, or it could be about 2 years late for you. What makes good content is tied to the knowledge level of your audience.

If you’re looking for types of content that are popular, that’s a bit easier to answer. Some of my favorites are listed below:

  • Something No One Else Has: I wrote a post last week on how to use competitive research to find content ideas for your Web site or blog. One of the tips I offered in that post was to go through your competitors’ sites and look for glaring content holes, the article or tool or angle that they didn’t cover. If you were looking for it and couldn’t find it, then chances are someone else was too and that’s a gap you can help fill. Giving some props back to SEOmoz, they’ve been publishing some great for-pay guides recently, including the blogging guide written by Tamar Weinberg. It’s unique content that no one else has and I imagine they’re seeing a lot of success from those willing to shell out the cash. I think our guide to SEO methodology revealed on our Web_rank page is also an example of content no one really has, at least in that form and that in depth. That’s the mark of great content, to me.
  • Super Comprehensive Link Magnets: I love informational resources almost as much as I love puppies and cupcakes. It’s what the Web was based on and anytime someone comes along and compiles useful information into one stellar resource…I’m instantly smitten. I think one of the best examples of this recently was David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors. Seriously. Was anyone not blown when they came across David’s article? My thought would be no. It was so comprehensive, insightful and detailed that it became an immediate resource and a resounding example of great content.
  • Exposes a Problem/ Asks a Question: Earlier this week Rae Hoffman wrote an awesome post accusing Twitter of “laying down” for Google after they put a nofollow on links contained in the Bio section of users’ Twitter profiles. In the post, Rae sheds light on a problem that normal, non-Twitter-addicted folks may not have been aware of by explaining the situation and then offering her opinion as to what happened and why she was against it. Posts like these help keep search marketers in tune with that’s happening around them and spark important debates. I think any post or piece of content that opens up a discussion of a larger issue is always needed and great content. We’ve never been afraid to write those posts in the past and it’s something we’ll keep doing when we think the industry could use a wakeup call.
  • Solves a Problem/ Answers a Question: Okay, who is not in love with Ann Smarty right now? Seriously. Every day she’s lighting up Search Engine Journal with content that site owners can use today to improve their site. She breaks stuff down and offers tips in a way that I honestly don’t think anyone else is doing right now. And she’s doing at an incredible speed. It’s great content derived from by honing in on what troubles SEO and site owners are facing and then creating content that specifically addresses these issues and how to fix them.
  • Bonus: Something That Entertains: In most cases content won’t be valuable on humor alone, but it’s definitely one of those things that can make a strong piece of content even stronger. A great example of this is every presentation ever given by Michael Gray. When he speaks people listen because he’s offering words and advice that you’re not going to get from anyone other than a blunt New Yorker. But his message is even better received because he uses humor and fun exaggerations to make his point. Will being funny equate to good content all on its own? Not unless you’re a professional comedian. But it can increase something’s overall power.

I can sympathize with Jane’s feeling that there’s too much of the same information out there. It’s the nature of blogs. [and Web sites and conferences and books and movies and...--Susan] And she’s right when she says that some of it comes from people who just blatantly have no idea what they’re talking but want a voice anyway. However, I think it’s a bit unfair to call conference speakers and bloggers “lazy” and “snake oil salesmen” because they offer up general advice.

As much as Jane may roll her eyes at all the speakers and blogs out there, really what more can they do in that type of forum? It’s not that they’re lazy or boilerplating their answers, it’s that they’re writing for a large audience not for one person or business. They don’t know what business you’re in or what you’re site is like or what your objectives are. What may be good content for Bruce Clay, Inc. may not work for SEOmoz. If someone was to stand on a panel and give us both an example of what they think is “good content”, it may do well on one site and flop on another. You don’t read blogs for specific advice for your Web site. You read blogs to learn about what the engines value and then it’s up to you, and perhaps your search engine optimization team, to come up with implementable ideas and tactics. If you’re going to wait for the Q&A part of a session to quiz a speaker for content ideas, you’re doing it wrong. That’s a question you have to answer.





12 responses to “Examples of What Makes Good Content”

  1. Jason Baer writes:

    Great post. Very useful.

    I’ll add one more. Even though it’s been done to death, it’s rarely done well. FAQs. Great content if truly written for user benefits, and the question/answer format allows for exceptional keyword density while still reading quite naturally.

    Keep up the excellent work. Yet another reason why I feel Bruce Clay is the best in SEO education of all the big firms. Thanks for the effort you guys put in – much appreciated.

    Jason Baer

  2. World's Greatest SEO writes:

    Speaking of good content available from SEOmoz… I highly recommend their new article: The Professional’s Guide to PageRank Optimization. It definitely falls into the category of “Something No One Else Has,” and it provides a thorough understanding of PageRank that every SEO should have.

  3. David Mihm writes:

    Lisa, I totally agree with your comment here:

    “really what more can they do in that type of forum? It’s not that they’re lazy or boilerplating their answers, it’s that they’re writing for a large audience not for one person or business.”

    When it comes to conferences, oftentimes the Q&A’s are the most valuable for me because the speakers ARE able to get into specifics for a particular website. Even if that industry doesn’t apply to you or your clients it is often a more insightful look at the WAY the speakers think.

    Nice wrapup!

  4. Mark Olsen writes:

    Lisa – nicely put.
    I agree – while content is of the utmost importance it is also very subjective based on the site, blog and audience involved. My blog focuses on issues/thoughts I have with affiliate marketing – someone else in affiliate marketing may have something good to say – but to a different set of affiliates in a different way.
    Anyway – nice post (content) – just my opinion.

  5. Scott Willoughby writes:

    So having just read both pieces, I don’t understand why this post is framed as an attack on Jane. This post seems to be more of a counterpart to Jane’s post than a rebuttal. The types of content you mention as “popular” tend to be so because they offer interesting, original, valuable information…which is exactly what Jane was arguing for.

  6. Lisa writes:

    Hey Scott,
    This post isn’t an attack on Jane. I disagreed, blogged my thoughts, said where I agreed with her and where I didn’t, and provided some examples of what I thought good content was. There’s no attack present.

  7. leo k writes:

    Yeah, this sounds weird because they both say the same kind of thing thing and I wouldn’t call the SEOMoz post bitter either, more like frustrated with the bullsh**. Besides, what does Jane Copland have to be bitter about anyway? Nothing I can see. Some inflamatory language for attention here IMO.

  8. Nicholas J. Johnson writes:

    I find it difficult not to lose my sale message in amongst ‘useful’ or ‘funny’ content.

  9. Yura writes:

    Actually, Jane wrote on the same topic that Aaron Wall covered a while ago.

    Though I wouldn’t technically compare people advising on getting better content to snake oil salesmen, because that’s a hint in the right direction, because content promotion comes afterwards, and it inspires curiosity.

  10. john andrews writes:

    Yes. As for conferences, blame the organizers not the speakers. They call something “advanced” and book intro speakers/sessions, and then call something “Advanced” but sell tickets to everyone so the room is full of newbies who can’t tell smart from Black Hat 50% of the time. The speakers are put in a tought spot. “Show code and the audience goes to sleep, so keep it simple” says the moderator, while “it was so basic and lacked specifics; I was bored silly” says the critic.

  11. Andrew Warner writes:

    I learned a great lesson on how to have good content in an interview I did recently. I was told that you don’t have to “create” good content, you can just discover and expose it.

    For example:
    – Interview the smartest people in your industry
    – Shoot video at conferences
    – Quit pretending what you know needs to be a secret.

    Here’s the full interview:
    http://blog.mixergy.com/create-good-content/

    Feel free to post it on your site, if you think it’ll help your readers.

    By the way, I’d love to learn more about how to make posts into link magnets. Love that point.

  12. Kamal writes:

    It’s quite difficult to write ad-copy that is filled with keywords. I mean, writing naturally I would hasten to use the same adjective twice. But without it, your keywords would never be picked up. Oh the irony.



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