IT'S POSSIBLY ONE of the most used and least understood terms in online marketing: 'great content'.

IT'S POSSIBLY ONE of the most used and least understood terms in online marketing: 'great content'. It wouldn't be so bad except that it sounds so deceptively simple. So many people go out and start creating content, in some cases, thousands and thousands of pages of it, with the net result of significant cost and hard work amounting to little or no return.

So how do you get yourself out of the cycle? How can you define what great content is and start producing it? And, most importantly, how can you get people to read and share it?

There are a variety of factors that many believe to be fundamental in devising good content that are, in fact, quite unnecessary. Good content does not need to be new; yes it has to be unique and written solely for your site, but it doesn't have to be a new idea, something no one else has written about or a new way of presenting the information.

This brings us to why people want to read or share content. Generally, articles that attract a lot of attention do so for one of only a few reasons:

• Controversy: does the piece go against commonly held wisdom or take a stand against something?
• Ground breaking: is it the first piece to report on something?
• Humour: this one is pretty much self explanatory...
• Helpful: if you help people with commonly held problems they will reward you for it.
• Financial: is there a financial benefit from the piece, whether it's in the form of a prize, discount or tip?

That's not to say that other content types won't do well, but these main categories are often very successful. Once you understand what great content is to your audience, you can start figuring out how to create it.

Analyse what you already have

The best place to start looking for ideas is within your existing content. It's important to understand what your existing visitors

like to read and share before you start creating new content, as these will be the people who will share what you are going to create in the future.

First, take a look at your top content; which pages on your site were most visited within any given timeframe. Remember to assess each piece over a long period, as while some posts may get a lot of initial traffic and interest, making them appear more popular, others will continue to drive traffic and links for months, even years to come, ultimately making them more valuable. Re-read the most visited pages and make notes on each one, answering the following questions:

• What is the topic of the article?
• What type of article is it (funny, news, controversial, etc)?
• What format is it in (is it a video or an infographic)?
• Does it contain text and media items?
• How long is it?
• Who wrote it?
• What day, date and time was it published?
• How many comments does it have?
• Are the comments positive or negative?
• How is the post formatted?
• What is compelling about the post title?

Look for patterns in the answers; do news items with videos do better than long articles? Is one particular blogger more popular than others? What is it about those pieces of content that makes them popular, and can you re-create that?

Next, you need to understand where the traffic for those popular articles is coming from. Look at the referrers for popular articles; were they featured on someone else's blog driving lots of traffic? Did someone with a high profile tweet about them? Answer these questions and you can start to build a plan to get similarly high volumes of traffic to similar articles.

Once you understand what is popular and where the traffic for those items comes from, you can start to put that into a strategy, if a blogger always shares news items, make sure to make a note of it so that you can start building a relationship with them and notify them of future news pieces, or if a particular topic always gets a lot of attention, make sure you're aware of it.

You can then repeat this whole exercise looking at the pieces of content that got the most links rather than visitors. This should leave you with a good idea of which of your existing content is strongest, and a blueprint for repeating that success in the future. Additionally, you should now have a blueprint for the types of site that are likely to refer traffic and link to you. This provides a great basis for identifying additional sites that you may wish to contact to notify of future articles.

Expanding your remit

Once you have a thorough understanding of your existing readership, you need to turn your attention to what a broader audience is looking for. While maximising your existing audience is the quickest way to increase readership and links, ultimately, your aim is to grow. You will, therefore, want to perform a similar analysis on your competitors.

While you may not be able to get traffic information, you can certainly see which articles received the most links, giving you a good understanding of your competitors' popular content. For this, I recommend searching for your generic terms in Google, and restricting the search to blogs and news items, including a custom date range to exclude items posted within the last month. This is to avoid the newer items placed at the top, maximising your chances of being able to see link data. Google will do half the work for you here, because it will list these items in the order that it thinks is most relevant, in most cases, placing those items with the most links at the top.

Once you have a list of posts, you can then analyse them as above, adding yet more information to your blueprint.

Generating content ideas and an editorial calendar

Once you have a thorough understanding of what 'great content' means within your niche, you need to continue to create it in order to attract the 'eyeballs' and links you need. Look through the list of articles that you have from your site and those of your competitors; this should start to provide you with a good number of new content opportunities:

• Could you provide updated information?
• Are there follow up post opportunities?
• Can you provide a better explanation or different perspective?
• Is there a counter argument?
• Top ten lists (and the like) can be done as a regular feature.

Once you have exhausted these possibilities, it's time to brainstorm new titles. I find it best to plan these for up to three months at a time. Bear in mind that not every piece of content you write needs to be (or should be) an awesome piece attracting lots of links. What you're aiming for is to include enough great content within your regular offering to allow the readership and link volumes to snowball. Just how often this is depends on how much content you are able to publish, but I recommend ensuring that around a fifth fall into the 'great' category.

In order to find the great titles that you're going to publish over the next three months, you will need to brainstorm around three times more than you need (this isn't wasted effort - the two-thirds you don't use as 'great' will still be good content ideas that you can use). Once you have this list, start cherry picking the titles that best align with your blueprint, and schedule them into your editorial calendar, dearly marking them as items that you are going to market more aggressively than your other content. If you don't have an editorial calendar this is a great time to start one and it can be as simple as starting a Google calendar. Having at least the majority of your upcoming content planned out in advance lets you improve both the quality of your content and the effectiveness of it.

Marketing your great content

You can't aggressively push even" piece of content you create; your contacts will get very bored of you and you will do yourself more long-term harm than good. Instead, create a brief strategy around pushing your great content, refer back to the people that you identified as being interested in sharing and linking to particular topics or types of content, and make sure you promote each piece of great content to the right people at the right time, without inundating anyone. Build relationships with the people who are pushing similar types of content for your competitors, and see if they will promote similar content from you.

The overall effect of pushing this great content to the right people is that people will also become more aware of your other content, not only on your blog or news section, but also throughout your site, resulting in a bigger readership, and more links.
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