If you’ve visited the internet lately (and, given that you’re probably reading this on a website I’m guessing that you have), you may have noticed a trend: people are creating content at a staggering pace.
Some of this content is good, quite a lot of it is mediocre, some is downright terrible, and a very small percentage is unequivocally great.
Content marketers and the brands they work with are feeling increasing pressure to create content that falls into that last category, particular as our readerships get overwhelmed by the tide of terrible, mediocre, and good stuff.
But what is great content? How do you know when you’re finally on the trail of this wily and elusive Holy Grail of content marketing? You’ll probably see most, if not all, of these 11 signs.
1. Great content naturally reproduces
When you read some great content, it should be like fireworks going off in your brain as multiple follow up ideas bloom in your imagination.
But let’s be very clear here: a follow up idea is one that is a logical extension of the ideas presented in a post. It’s not a way to answer all the things you didn’t cover in your original piece of content.
Great content is complete on its own, but it should also be part of an ongoing discussion. It’s one star in a constellation of conversation, and it should help guide you and your audience on to the next avenue of exploration.
2. People get excited about great content
Is your sales team chomping at the bit to share your latest white paper with each and every single one of their prospects? Did you have to restrain your social media team from starting to tweet about your new article so you could add one last image? Are there comments thanking you for covering this topic?
Social media engagement, comments, and generally high levels of giddiness from your fellow team members signal the presence of great content.
3. When your content is great, you want to share
If we’re being honest, all content marketers have hesitated about sharing something they’ve created on their personal social media profiles.
Maybe we found the topic boring, or the execution just didn’t live up to our expectations. Whatever the reason, there are times when you’re just not thrilled to tweet your latest work under your own handle.
Our pride in great content, on the other hand, drives us to share it far and wide.
Consider whether or not you’re keen to post your latest work on your LinkedIn profile as an example of your work. If you’d rather not, it’s unlikely to fall into the “great” category.
4. Other people share great content, without you asking them to
There are few more exhilarating feelings than seeing that other people have been sharing your content before you have. The idea that others are eager to distribute what you’ve created is simply thrilling, and this is what happens when you make great content.
As a bonus, great content also lends itself to constant and consistent sharing over a long period of time. If your content lives on a website, you want a pageview graph that looks something like this:
Great content has a share spike early on, then continues to pull in readers for months (and possibly even years) afterwards.
5. Feedback on great content is welcome
Even if the feedback comes in the form of constructive criticism, the author of great content usually welcomes it because it’s just making the content better.
When our content is mediocre or just good, we can feel defensive about feedback because we’re already acutely aware of the shortcomings.
Editing sessions for great content are usually filled with the phrase, “Yes! And…” while those reviewing less-than-great pieces tend to feature, “Yes, but…” responses. The difference seems slight, but the outcomes are miles apart.
Great content lends itself to edits because its author sees its potential, so if you find yourself bristling take a minute to decide if the source is the content quality.
6. Great content is helpful
Are you getting comments on a blog post that say things like, “Thank you for writing this! I’ve been struggling with this problem and your idea is exactly what I was looking for!”
Those kinds of comments are the hallmark of great content online.
Lest we forget it in the mad dash to produce thousands of words per week, the larger goal of content marketing is to provide value to our audiences. It stands to reason, therefore, that great content will provide a great amount of value.
This might be a how-to blog post, an insightful case study, or a revelatory infographic, but the greater the content the more helpful it will be.
7. People read great content. All of it (or at least most of it)
I’ve written before about online reading habits and how they contribute to patterns of scanning articles and other content.
The bottom line: people don’t read word for word when they’re on a computer.
Most of the time, they’re skimming. If you’re lucky (and good at structuring your content) they’ll stop and read a section here and there.
But for great content, people will read. On content heat maps you’ll see huge swaths of red. In scroll depth reports you’ll find numbers like 70%, 85%, or even 95%. Time on page climbs up past two minutes.
All these signs are like giant high fives from online readers. They like your content, they really like your content.
8. You smile when you see great visuals, even two weeks later
Images are a vital part of online engagement, and therefore they need to be part of great content. The problem is that in our constant drive to add “appealing” images to our content, we can fall victim to the convenience trap.
We grab stock photos, even though we know they can hurt our overall credibility. Or we skip the visuals altogether, thinking we’ll get back to them later. Or we throw something together in a few minutes, upload it even faster, and hit publish.
On those rushed pieces, we cringe when we come back to those pages, and we secretly hope people have images disabled in their browser when they see it.
But when great content imagery comes along, we smile every time we visit the page. Those clever graphics still look good with a few days of distance, and there isn’t a stock photo in sight.
9. Great content becomes a chameleon
It’s easy to imagine great content fitting in almost any format or setting. When you’re talking about it with your team, you’ll hear things like, “I would love to use this in my email campaign” or “How quickly could we get a Slideshare out of this?”
Hopefully you’ll also hear things like, “When was the last time you had a raise?”
10. Google loves great content almost as much as you do
When you’ve got content that answers real questions, gets engagement, and gets shared on social media, you’ll find that Google is one of its biggest fans.
Organic search traffic to great content tends to remain steady and even grow over time. Its high click through rate, strong engagement metrics, and strong social profile create a beautiful cycle of more traffic and more shares.
One of the great things about great content is that it enhances the overall search reputation of the domain on which it was originally published, so getting one piece of great content noticed by Google makes it easier to get its future siblings featured too.
11. Great content delivers conversions
Whether its job is email signups, sales, or good old fashioned brand awareness, great content makes it happen. You can usually spot great content on a report because its numbers are substantially more impressive than those of its good and mediocre brethren.
Is the average conversion rate for your blog posts 1.5%? Your great content could easily double that.
One caveat here: you’ll be most likely to see this particular characteristic of great content if its in line with a larger content marketing plan. You can certainly have great content that’s not part of a larger scheme, but it’s far more likely to convert at a high rate if it’s driving toward your higher aims.
Does Your Content = Great Content?
Do these signs look familiar to you?
If you answered yes, congratulations! You’re routinely creating some seriously great content. Now go out there and do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. Because that’s how content marketers roll.
If you answered no, don’t despair. The journey toward great content can be long, it can be grueling, and it can be fraught with pitfalls.
But the great thing about creating content is that even if your first, second, third, and fourth attempts all fall short of greatness, you’ll have the chance to do it again, and again, and again. Because that’s how content marketers roll.