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Writing Good Content

Posted By Darren Rowse 18th of February 2006 Writing Content 0 Comments

I’d now like to swing the blogging for beginners series onto the topic of writing content with a series of posts exploring different elements of quality content. By the way – Peter mentioned in the last post in this series that his part 2 piece on blog design would be posted today – unfortunately he’s been unwell and the post will be delayed.

List after list have been compiled by bloggers on the things that make blogs successful – but on every one that I’ve ever seen has been a statement about content being the ultimate key. ‘Content is King’ is a catch cry that has echoed through the blogosphere for years and while at times I think it’s been used to the point of ignoring other aspects of what makes a successful blog – it really is what a good blog boils down to.

What is Good Content?

Ultimately defining what is ‘good content’ is a subjective exercise (perhaps in a similar way to defining what is a ‘good book’ or a ‘good movie’) and so a post like this one is likely to cause a little debate as each person will define it differently depending upon their personality, their needs, the topic that they are talking about and perhaps even their ethics. Not only will bloggers themselves each have a different view on what is ‘good’ content – but readers tend to also. I know that every time I ask for feedback on ProBlogger and what I write more about I get a real spectrum of responses.

Future posts in this series is an attempt to unpack some of the elements of content that might go towards making it good – or not. At most points along the way there will be debate but hopefully out of it readers will be able to mix and match the elements and identify what works for them.

So without any more introductory remarks, lets get into it with the first element of writing quality content:

Usefulness and Uniqueness – As this post is a part of a series of posts that get back to the basics of blogging and so I will start unpacking the topic of ‘writing good content’ with perhaps the most basic and obvious point of all:

‘for a blog to be successful your content needs to be useful and unique to your readers’

As I say – it’s not rocket science but it’s a factor that I think bloggers need to continually be asking themselves about as they review their blogging. Is your blog useful?

Back in the days when I studied marketing I remember sitting in lecture after lecture getting more and more frustrated as I heard my lecturers drum into us the same thing time after time. Although they said it in different ways, the lessons that they communicated was largely the same in every instance and boiled down to this:

‘Start with the customer – find out what they want and give it to them.’

This is a good lesson for bloggers also.

While I would also recommend that you start with yourself as a blogger and blog out of your own passions, experiences and knowledge – it is essential that you are aware of your reader and that you create content that will add something to their lives. Give them something useful.

What is ‘useful’ content?

Of course ‘useful content’ to me is different from what it is to you, but could be any of the following:

Entertainment – increasingly blogs are being used as entertainment. People are going to them for laughs, for gossip and for fun conversation.
Education – some blog readers are primarily interested in learning something about a given topic.
Information – many successful blogs are built on the thirst that some have to be informed on an issue, product or topic
Debate – some blog readers want a place that they can have a good old fashioned dialogue, debate or even a fight over an issue
News – many blog readers just want to be kept up to date in a field
Community – I’m aware of some very successful blogs that tap into the need that people have to connect and belong. Quite often the topic is secondary to these connections.

This list could of course be a lot longer (feel free to add to it in comments). Each blog has the potential to be ‘useful’ in a different way and it would probably be unwise to start a blog that tried to be all of these things at once (although many blogs do do a variety of these things at once).

Research your Readership

Perhaps the best advice that I could give on developing useful content is to research your readership (or potential readership). If you already have a blog do this by surveying your readers (either formally or informally) or by asking for feedback. I regularly seek out the opinion of my blog readers to find out what their needs and desires are in the topic I’m talking about. If you don’t have a blog already then you’ll need to work a little harder to research your potential readers. I tend to survey friends, look a lot at other people’s blogs on a topic (especially their comments section to see what types of questions people are asking) and particularly look hard in forums and discussion groups on topics where there is usually a lot of question asking going on. As you do this you’ll begin to put your finger on what people are wanting and what you might be able to provide to meet these needs.

Unique Content

Another factor to consider when thinking about ‘good content’ is whether it is ‘unique’.

With a blog being created every second and with blogs on virtually every topic you can think of, the challenge for bloggers is to build a blog that stands out from the crowd. I see blogs every day that provide ‘useful’ content that have no readers simply because people are finding that information in other places.

Distinguish yourself

My advice to new bloggers trying to break into a topic where others are already blogging is to take a surf through the other blogs and websites in your niche and do some analysis upon what sort of content that they are producing. In most niches you’ll find that sites are all presenting very similar information in pretty much the same voice, tone and style. As a new blogger on the topic you have a choice – you can either replicate what they are doing and try to do it better (difficult as they will already have loyal readers and unless you’re brilliant at it you’re unlikely to convert these readers over to you) OR you can distinguish yourself in someway from what others are doing.

This might mean tackling a slightly different topic (perhaps a sub-niche) but could also mean writing in a distinct voice (take a look at Manolo’s blog for an example of a blogger who has grown a cult audience by writing about an odd combination of topics as an anonymous blogger writing in the third person). It might also mean writing in a different genre of posts (ie if everyone else is writing ‘newsy’ posts you might like to write more ‘opinion’ type posts).

Bring together the elements of both Useful and Unique content and you will be one step closer to a successful blog.

Original Content – You will notice that I have chosen the world ‘unique’ instead of ‘original’ in this post. There is mixed opinion in blogging circles on whether original content is always best. Regular readers of this blog know that not all my posts here are completely ‘original’. There are some posts where I use short excerpts (quotes) from other blogs as part of my blog entries. For example in a earlier post in this series on ‘what is a blog‘ I used a number of quotes from other bloggers as part of the post. As a result that post might not be classified as ‘original’ as such – but it is somewhat ‘unique’ (and hopefully useful) as I put them together in a way that they had not been used before (side by side) and then added my own comments to them.

My main advice on ‘orginal’ content is that writing is generally best as it won’t be found anywhere else in that form – however clever and fair use of other people’s content (always giving credit for it and using it within a ‘fair use’ way – ie only using short quotes’) CAN be worth doing IF you use it in a way that is useful to your readers.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

  • Darren: a minor moan. I was impressed by the way you were branding your series of articles with an inpost sidestrap.

    You’ve now put that in the sidebar (with a different colour) and introduced another strap which merely repeats the title of the post, thus unbranding the post from the series. I think the previous method had more logic and usefulness to the reader. 2c.

  • caught me experimenting :-)

  • I thought you were moving to “structured blogging”, something I’d like to emulate myself, if I can find a WP plugin.

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  • “Start with the customer – find out what they want and give it to them.”

    That’s fine, but you can also turn that completely upide down, and that’s just what a lot of bloggers do.

    For example, I started my website as a convenience for myself: a place I could send my clients to find “how-to’s” and a place where I could refresh my own memory on technical problems I had seen in the past.

    I didn’t protect it from the world at large because where I started had no such ability: my hosting site was open to the world and as it happened, the “world” started noticing some of my articles.

    I then realized (“duh!”) that this could also be a form of advertising to get me more clients, so I started writing toward that end for a while. That got boring pretty fast, and I’ve always had more business than I really want anyway (not that I have too much money, just that the work can be very stressful at times and I can only stand so much), so I stopped that. But I still liked writing, so I wrote about what interested me, keeping it vaguely focused on the kind of work I do just to avoid confusing people.

    So notice: I was not writing for a “customer” anymore. I was writing for myself.

    Then Adsense happened. I signed up, and wow! Not instant riches, but significant money that was completely extra, because I was doing the writing anyway and liked doing it.

    From time to time I have toyed with writing with an eye toward advertising income, but whenever I do that, I get vaguely unhappy, and revert back to just doing what I like to do. If the “customers” like it, great, if not – well, I’m not trying to please them, am I? Understand, I’m not trying to displease either: if they like the same things I do, they’ll love my site. But I’m not writing thinking about *their* interests particularly.

    So.. while I play with placement and other things to increase ad income, I don’t generally *write* with that in mind. If I happen to be writing about something that should generate valuable ads, sure, I notice that fact, and might be a little more careful with keywords, but that’s about it – basically I am writing for myself.

    I think quite a few bloggers are doing the same, even if they don’t admit it or perhaps even realize it .

  • I’ve been writing a “sub-niche” business blog since August on customer service. Just in the last three weeks I have decided to limit my posts to 400 words (which, in my post last night, I violated by going to 500). My audience is small business people who don’t have a lot of time. I try to make one point, stay on message, and use humor whenever it’s both funny and relevant. I also try to use SEO as much as I can without abusing it.

    Forcing myself to limit posts to 400 words makes me do several drafts and tightens up my writing. As a former boss used to say, “Don’t say ‘blah blah,’ when ‘blah’ will do.”

    Now if I could just get Technorati to accept my pings.

    Great blog, Darren. I’m a big fan.

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  • Very interesting post, Darren. Thx.

  • raj

    John, there is a WordPress plugin called “structured blogging”, although I’m not sure that that’s what you are looking for. It’s at http://structuredblogging.org/

  • Thanks Raj. I was thinking of something like the Slashdot style of having a different logotype for each sort of entry. Very similar to Darren’s branding of a series. He obviously does this by hand, but having a button to press for each type like a category system would be handy.

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  • Is laughter “useful”?

  • great article Darren. I believe that unique or relevent content is king. I am a new blogger ( about 1 1/2 months) and content seems to be the biggest struggle. Most of the blogs in the tech/gadget/home entertainment niche that I’m in seem to recycle the content and I’ve gotten caught up in that as well. I know there are alot of tools out there and there must be something to help me seek out new content ideas faster and more efficient that just reading everyone elses RSS feeds. This may be a good topic for a follow up article in your series.

  • “Most of the blogs in the tech/gadget/home entertainment niche that I’m in seem to recycle the content and I’ve gotten caught up in that as well. I know there are alot of tools out there and there must be something to help me seek out new content ideas faster and more efficient that just reading everyone elses RSS feeds”

    Google Alerts and similar services alert you to new postings, but the only way you are going to be “first to the ‘Net” is to be working outside of the web: talking directly to the companies that make this stuff, visiting trade shows etc.

    However, you don’t have to be “first” to be valuable and interesting. Even if three hundred other sites have already posted about the new Dingbat 3.5 from Widgets, Inc., if you have insight as to how Dingbat 3.5 fits in with similar technologies, how the market might preceive it or what you thing Widgets Inc. needs to do to regain their slipping market share etc., you can be the 301st or even the 3,001st.

    And, of course, reviews. You can be the three millionth person to review Dingbat 3.5 if you are the first who notices that it can be connected to a Whizbang 3000 and the results are simply incredible.

    I do see far too many sites that think simply pointing is of value. Here’s a link to someone else who reviewed blah-blah and over here Tommy reviews bling-blang. Who cares? Google Alerts can do that for me. However, pointing can be interesting when you are tying together different ideas: here’s the link to abc, here’s one to xyz, now isn’t it interesting that if you look at those two together you might suspect that def is about to happen?

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  • I blog on information and education on a special subject. I also experiment with the news style, but I think that mixing to many types of blog styles in the same blog confuse the reader.

    I think one should focus on one or two blog styles, to attract that special kind of readers that are interested in your subject

    Rgds,
    Nikolaj

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  • Great article. thx alot.

  • OG

    The greatest advantage of an informational or educational blog is that the information there is still actual after a few months.

    People might need some info and they go and find it coz they know they found there info on other topics.

    If you run a news blog and you stop updating the traffic is going down fast.

  • Carlos

    Thank you for the information. I am taking a Lit class and I found your blog useful.

    Carlos…

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  • I completely agree with you, and i am making my own original content to attract people to my blog. I m offering nice tiny softwares various kinds of purposes…

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  • I always have a balance of education and entertainment.My blog is about legitimate ways to make money so there is not much room for entertainment but sometimes I make posts about my personal interests and share funny things with my readers.

  • Thanks for the tips. I am a newbie. I started blogging because i have a lot of time at work where I pretty much sit around and do nothing. It’s a way for me to pass the time.
    Thanks again!

    KB Hill

  • I Like Your Idea Of Unique Content And The Difference Between Unique Or Original Content….

    Mixing Up Content The That I Using For Blogs And That Is Very Good For Me At The Moment…

  • “With a blog being created every second and with blogs on virtually every topic you can think of, the challenge for bloggers is to build a blog that stands out from the crowd”

    Good point here, I advice you to make a search for the high search and less competitive keywords that related to your topic and write posts on it.

  • ‘for a blog to be successful your content needs to be useful and unique to your readers’

    I don’t know… what if it’s pointless but funny as heck? Ala Bevis and Butthead… ?

    …I’d still subscribe. :)

  • “Distinguish Yourself”, definitely great advice, It’s very important to carve out your specific niche, and to defend it too :)

  • I have been looking for more resources to site for my clients in regards to writing good content (most of them suck pretty bad at it) and i’m loving your prespective. I agree with you about maintaining the balance between information and entertainment and have always tried to convey that to my clients as well. Consider yourself sourced! :)

  • Indrani Sinha

    I must thank you for your counsel. I am completely new in this field and just entered your site to know something about blog and content writing that I have heard from my friends. And the way you have pointed out the chief essentials like uniqueness, usefulness, novelty and obviously the steps to achieve these in the content – intense research work that I have undoubtedly enligthtened myself to an extent if not less but more that I had expected as being an out and out fresher.

  • I’ve just started a blog on our newly launched site. I wondered about ‘original’ content. I have posted original content to our blog and then submitted the same content to some of the article directories in an effort to promote the blog/site. This would mean that my content is no longer unique. The question is, does the fact that there are now several ‘copies’ of exactly the same content, originally written by myself, in different locations mean that I get penalised in some way by the search engines ?

  • Interesting post thanks mate, i am always trying to achieve the ultimate post where traffic will come pouring in through the search engines.

  • My new blog is about uniqueness and my original ideas, I’ll experiment with unique but I have relatively low on knowledge as how to get people reading or knowing my blog.

  • rajiv

    content is so “vital” in any writing activity

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  • I don’t know yet, my blog is unique or not because I confused about it. I have a little bit English skill, so how I solve this problem? Anyone can help me please?

  • Great post! I like your blog very much. I have no knowledge and experience in any topics. Could you please suggest how can I write an original post?

  • Amy

    Writing content for blgo is a highly specialised task which is very much possible to leanr but you need proper guidance. from this perspective, i found this blog post really useful, as it contains fabulous ideas in this regard.

  • Research your Readership

    If you are starting out … how do you know what to research and where to find what you are looking to research?

    Example … i want to blog about things that help nonprofits use technology to further their mission.

    i know of a couple blogs, but i dont know how to find out what nonprofits ‘need’ or ‘want’ to hear/learn?

    Any thoughts from the author or community here??


    http://twitter.com/franswaa

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