A Formula for Creating 10X Content

"Content is a lot like pizza." This thought came to me while chewing on a lukewarm slice from the pizza joint across our office. Mediocre pizzerias swarm our streets, like mediocre blogs swarm the web.

For most people in a pizza state of mind, however, mediocrity is quite alright. They'll choose the closest joint. Content, on the other hand, is found through Google. And Google is like that rare pizza aficionado that only wants the best in town.

So if you want to rank in Google's top results, how good should your content be? Around 10 times as good, says Rand Fishkin from Moz. Fishkin applied the 10X concept on SEO, and shared some general tips for generating such content.

We loved Fishkin's concept, but found his general tips still required quite some tweaking to make them work for us. This is the formula we came up with to create 10X content.

SEO Value

This point first, because SEO determines how many people will see your content. The world's greatest content without SEO considerations is like the world's greatest singer stuck on a desert island. You'll have no audience.

Getting SEO right may include breaking your habitual writing process. For instance, we used to think that fixating on a title and SEO angle before drafting a post would limit our creative freedom. It does, in fact, feel more natural to just let it flow and then give your work an appropriate name. But in terms of SEO, that rarely works.

The greatest content without SEO considerations is like the world's greatest singer stuck on a desert island.

More often than not, we either ended up with a title that’s bad for SEO or had to adjust our post to a good title that didn’t suit the initial version of the text.

By now, we check a topic’s SEO value first. We research a keyword’s traction on Google Trends and Keywords Planner and aim for specific queries with clear intention.

Verbs give direction to the keywords and assure that the people who find you are the ones interested in your content — so pay them due attention. The reasons to search for "customer satisfaction" are immense wide. But with the query "measuring customer satisfaction" you can guess what the person's looking for.

We generally aim for "SEO gaps" by targeting high volume keywords that are poorly served. To find those, look for similar, high ranking content on Buzzsumo or Google.

Sweet Spot for Topics

Topic selection is the most important stage in content creation. Here you choose the road you’ll be going down for a long time.

Some topics induce an immediate itch in your fingers. Without questioning anyone’s intuition here, we learned it's good practice to reconsider. Many of your first topics are no more than decent. And decent isn’t 10X. You need to go through that painful research stage.

Visualization of the sweet spot in content marketing by Teri Watson
Visualization by Teri Watson, CMexaminer

Only a share of your expertise and interests will overlap with your customer's interests. Still, that’s your content's sweet spot. Landing there ensures both their engagement and your credibility — key elements of 10X content.

It results in talking about stuff you actually know about, and which is actually interesting for your target audience. For us, switching from an outside-in ("What does our target group want to read about?") to an inside-out approach ("What do we know that could be interesting for our customers?") opened the doors to better content.

Superior Angle

They say “if you can’t be better, at least be different.”

Let’s forget about this. Just like decent, different isn't enough. You need to be better — 10 times better. Still, in a time of content mass production, uniqueness is a qualitative attribute if it goes along with greatness. Only then it can help you be better.

But boy, has it become hard to come up with truly original topics that also meet the other 10X requirements. As a result, most have declared creative bankruptcy and fled into echo-chamber-marketing.

So don’t only look for new, cover-worthy angles on ‘old’ topics. Also check which existing angles have been underserved with bad content. Analyze your desired keywords' first page search results and see how top performers approached the topic — and whether they did poorly.

Think how you could do it better and beat the other results. With more depth, more data, better writing style, a better design, a new angle? There are many options.

Visualization of 10X Topic Sweet Spot

Your daily struggles and learnings are a source of unique angles and are relatively easy to implement. An exclusive look behind the scenes, for example, adds an originality to your posts that is hard to copy.

Storytelling as such offers a series of scientifically proven benefits. What’s better yet, your own story helps in creating trust by making you approachable.

In a post about 'how to get over a writer’s block', for example, I could just share technical tips on 'how to get over it'. But wouldn’t you rather read about how writer’s block led me into sinister bars at night? And how I found the ultimate cure on the ground of my tenth empty glass? The latter has the unique angle.

Research backing

It's vital to know your stuff. A substantial part of a writer's daily job consists of reading. Sure, we all love meeting deadlines, don’t we? But it’s secondary when an editorial calendar collides with your your quality standards. At least if you want to produce 10X content.

Squeezing half-baked insights into your posts will hurt your game more than constantly publishing something on “Content Tuesday” can make up for. Too much stuff out there smells of shallow knowledge and hasty Google-runs. If your target is to stand out, that’s no company for you. So make sure that what you know is everything you’d want to get out of someone else’s post about that topic.

Too much stuff out there smells of shallow knowledge and hasty Google-runs.

Don’t forget that you’re serving an audience expecting trustworthy advice. Such advice requires an objective foundation. Compelling data is exactly that. It can heave up the points you make from reasonable assumptions to rock-solid arguments.

Simply rattling off cold numbers, however, won’t get your point across in the most convincing way. Your readers came to you because they don’t want to read the studies themselves. Your job is to help curate information in an increasingly complex and varied online media world"

That’s why an enticing presentation is crucial. Data gains context through your arguments. Visualizations like infographics make complex statistics comprehensible.

For a steady stream of high-quality input in business research data, consider reliable sources like Harvard Business Review and Forrester.

Humor

You think it’s hard to be funny when you’re told to be funny? Well, now I am telling you exactly that. Be funny.

Because humor adds to the flow of your texts and breaks up dry topics. Because messages wrapped in humor are understood and remembered so much better. Because humor improves persuasion, decision-making, overall brain-power, and gets people to like you and listen.

Because all of that stuff is widely known but rarely exploited.

There’s no golden path to funniness, despite numerous attempts to find one. But neither is there reason for despair. Because the most common problem I see in business blogging is the utter lack of humor. Surpassing others here is easy.

A friend once asked me what comedy was. That floored me.

Stan Laurel

So don’t feel pressured to send your audience to the ground with an uber-punchline. Simply don’t take yourself all too serious. Think of analogies that make you chuckle. Play around with clichés and words. Quote someone funny.

Writing Skills

I like to picture writing similar to the work of a sculptor. You strip off layer by layer from a piece of raw material until the desired shape slowly begins to show.

Rewriting on a clean sheet (we prefer that) or editing on the same, find which works best for you. What matter is that you get yourself to kill your darlings, to create lean, well-structured, scannable

Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.

Larry L. King, WD

Let others review your texts. A fresh pair of eyes is much more sensitive to attributes like flow and logical structure. At Userlike, we have moved to a repeating cycle of reviewing and rewriting. First blueprints, then drafts. Sometimes we rewrite a draft four or five times before giving the post a go. The good thing is: you’ll get faster as you get better.

Improving your skills is essential for creating 10X engaging content on a long-term basis. Your writing skills are the main mediator of your content quality. One will fail without the other.

If not for your own aspirations to become better at what you do, learn because everybody else does. This includes your competition. Look at qualitative measures of written content, like clarity, flow consistency in tone, flawlessness in grammar and spelling.

Also, learn to make use of analogies. I know no stylistic element in writing that can do as many things at a time. Great analogies simplify, illustrate, emphasize, impress and, not least, add a unique flavor. This is how Scott H. Young described the process of coming up with analogies:

"Making new analogies is like making a key for a lock you haven’t seen before. You’re limited by your past experience as to what kind of keys you can make. New key designs take a lot longer to learn than borrowing old ones. That’s familiarity. But you also want the key to fit the lock. If the key shape deviates too much, it won’t open the lock. That’s representativeness."

All great writers assert that their skills were both shaped by writing as they were by reading. So consider both, starting with reading what I’d call the content writer’s Bible: Gary Provost’s 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing.

Blog Design

Fresh looking blogs with weak content, great content on bad looking blogs, bad content on ugly blogs — you’ll find it all. What’s worse, you’ll find it in the top search results for high-traffic keywords.

Bad design and visual structure is one of the most widespread symptoms of a one-eyed content marketing approach. Which is surprising since identifying visual failure is arguably easier than identifying bad content.

Screenshot example of bad blog design
Ironically, a blog post about better blog design.

Veopix found that 94% of a user’s first impressions are design-related. Accordingly, the first evaluation of your content happens even before visitors start to scan through the actual text. Just like insufficient SEO value, bad design can make your actual content quality pretty irrelevant.

A great blog design, on the other hand, is a carrier of emotion. Emotion, again, is a central aspect of your users’ engagement.

Consider scannability and overview, attractiveness and ease of navigation on different devices. But also be in line with the company’s corporate design and visual identity.

In a recent interview with Rocketship.fm, Help Scout’s content strategist Gregory Ciotti named having a web designer in their team a key to their content success. Even as a company with fewer resources, we decided to get a designated designer on board who can take care of our blog’s visuals. The amount of positive feedback we received to our blog since then has been staggering.

The 10X Formula

That all adds up to this 10X content formula:

10X Content = Topic Sweet Spot + Superior Angle + Research Backing + Writing Skills + Humor + Great Blog Design

...in which

Topic Sweet Spot = Your Expertise * Customer Interest * SEO Angle * Underserved Topic

To prevent disillusion, most of what you think are your own major insights are still not going to take off in terms of traffic as you hope. Accept that fact.

Content Marketing is neither sprint nor marathon. It’s an Iron Man.

Harald Gasper.

So there you have it. Creating 10X content is hard by definition. And even if you're good, only 1 out of 10 efforts will hit the bull's eye. Like Adam Enfroy rightly notes, it's not easy to create great content and grow your audience. Share everything with confidence and don’t let varying success push you off your path of creating engaging 10X content.


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