Content Creation Ideas and Issues

Is creating useful content really that hard?  That kind of depends on who is defining “useful”.  From the POV of the person creating it, “useful might look like “300 words built around <insert keyword>, answer <three> key questions as listed, scan for typos and grammar, then post.  Move on to the next topic.  In fairness, we know not everyone follows that pattern, but far too many do.

“Useful” to the searcher might look more like “I’ve asked the engine to find me <insert query here>, but I know I only entered two words and really, to get to what I’m actually after, I’d have to type out a few sentences.  First site looks solid, lots of text, good images, an embedded video, but it looks like a lot of reading.  The second site seems to have lots of lists, but less content overall.  Back to site number one to read for a bit.

And to the engine, well, “useful” is more aligned with what the searcher went for, with intelligence around engagement added from past similar queries.

So let’s just agree there are different ways to define “useful” and get into some ideas on how to create content.

Stock ‘n Awe

A lot of ecommerce sites take this approach, then are disappointed when their products don’t rank well.  You take an inbound product feed, stitch it into your platform to populate several thousand products, and set the system up to create categories, listing pages and individual product pages for everything inbound in the feed.  You’ll often get an image (or more than one), a description, some specs, a product listing number, maybe some review data (if you’re lucky), a title for the product page, a manufacturer’s suggested price and a few other odds and ends.

On the surface, this is a perfectly logical approach to the scale issues ecommerce sites often face.

But it’s hardly ideal from the view of the engine, and often from that of the searcher.  Searchers often have very discrete questions.  Questions that the normal manufacturer-supplied, API-driven data points just don’t cover.  And from the engine’s POV, which “one” of the thousands of instances of that same product scattered across the web is the one that should rank on top?

So what’s an ecommerce site to do?  Give up?  Turn the virtual sign and call it a day?  Hardly.  They get crafty.

…and while Pinterest CAN help, I’m not talking about that kind of crafty.

I’m suggesting they stack all of their URLs in a spreadsheet, assign a dollar value to each URL, sort the whole thing by dollars and view the worth of their URLs based against revenue.  It’ll open your eyes to where the actual valuable pages on your site exist.  And from there?

Roll up your sleeves and start optimizing folks.  Those top 10, 20, 50 pages are the ones to really dig deep and start crafting unique content on.  Even a site with 100K pages can follow this formula (I first heard of this formula from Matt Bailey, BTW), and with time and attention, craft truly unique and useful pages that searchers will engage with.

Ponder and Publish

Another approach is tried and tested.  Keyword research, leading to plain old typing.  This approach has a number of flavors, of which my favorite is in-line keyword research coupled with deep topical knowledge to produce relevant content, rich in detail and ultimately, “useful”.

You can do your keyword research in advance, or on-demand, this is completely your choice as the data doesn’t change that fast when approaching content building this way to make a massive difference.  Unless, of course, you’re targeting seasonal phrases.  Then hours can matter.
Most bloggers follow this path, creating content a page at a time, the old fashioned way.  While it is time consuming, it’s also capable of creating probably the highest quality content around.  Being hands on and creating the content from scratch ensures a better product, built to your individual standards.  And therein lies the rub.  If your standards are low, the show’s over.  And this isn’t to say YOUR standards ARE low, but if a competitor does a better job, well, they’re better.

eBay has Taught You Well

If there is one thing eBay has taught millions of people, it’s how hundreds can sell the identical product online and still make money.  The devil is in the details, as they say.  So what can you learn from eBay selling?

Most people who are successful on eBay treat it as a business.  They take great photos, they take lots of photos, they make videos, they share contact information, they answer questions quickly, they cross link to relevant other products they’re selling.

It’s the approach to include enough information that a shopper knows they need look nowhere else that drives many to success.  By anticipating a shopper’s needs and questions, and addressing them obviously and up front, the shopper knows their search has ended, and they can make a purchase decision.

What’s Yours is Mine

This is the notion of using syndicated content for your own pages.  If you’re using content provided form another source, it might not work the way you hoped.  Large content aggregators sometimes see this work for them, as smaller partners may not rank as well on a per-page basis, and the added trust in the brand helps the syndicated version of the content rank better.  But for most websites, this scenario cannot be relied upon.  And over time, as trust grows in the originator of the content, even that big brand may see ranking slide using syndicated content.
If you’re thinking of turning to an articles website, and hoping to use something from there to fill in your pages, guess again.  We know you didn’t write it, and let’s be honest here…have you seen the quality of much of what gets published there?

This brings us to an interest twist.  Just hire a writer, right?

Well, maybe…

A writer is paid to write.  Savvy writers will look to sell their work in more than one location, as it means more money for their effort.  This puts you in a pickle.  How do you ensure what your paid writer is creating is only going to be used on your website?  Contracts can help, sure, but I the end, it’s tough to police, costly to police and your site may suffer while you try to sort it all out.

I Own Your Words

Ah, guest blogging and good old fashioned User generated Content (UGC).  Time honored traditions to getting content created, right?  Well, kind of, and not without pitfalls.

Lets’ look at UGC first.

First off, you need to face the fact that UGC won’t boost rankings.  If you think random comments on a page will be enough to help us rate you higher, well, that’s not going to happen.  And why would you want it to?  Have you read comments on CNN lately?  Some just go wrong and off track almost immediately.  Would you really want the engines to rate you based on THAT stuff?  Now, that’s not to say all UGC is bad, but on balance, it’s tough to rely on complete strangers to create quality content with enough frequency to make a difference to your rankings.

And there is one small tidbit that shouldn’t be overlooked.  We know you didn’t build that content.

Guest blogging, over the last few years, has been the go-to source for quality link building, as well as content creation.  And yes, guest blogging can play a role in your content creation plan, but be careful not to rely on it too heavily.  There is no percentage to share here, but if your site is populated with content from other people, all with links from content they wrote to another (often unrelated) site, you might be in jeopardy of starting to become a non-sales version of an articles website.

Just be sure to be feeding your own work into the mix.  And watch those link signals.  Being too accepting of “loosely related” bloggers might have you telling us you’re related to things which everyone will have to admit is a stretch.  You’re a food blog.  A guess post talking about a new melon baller and linking to their sales page starts to look less informative and more advertorial in nature, so to paraphrase a favorite movie, choose wisely.

There are approximately 465 million ways to create content today.  Hybrid models exist and while most paths to creating content won’t overtly hurt you, many simply fail to deliver the goods searchers want. To be a hero, it is said you must put others first.  Be a hero. Think of your visitor’s needs first and foremost.  Create content they find compelling enough to share and rich enough to stay engage with. 

Duane Forrester
Sr. Product Manager
Bing Webmaster Tools

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