Traffic is the lifeblood of any online business – the wheels on the car, you might say. Without it, an online business fails.
Content marketing is one of the best and most sustainable methods for generating traffic. The gist of content marketing is this:
- Create or write popular content that people want to see.
- People see and interact with your content, generating interest in your brand
Seems simple enough right?
Much more can be said about content marketing of course. There are entire courses covering just the basics. But here I want to cover my process for creating content and discuss how to write popular content that will attract views and boost your brand’s reputation.
There are, of course, many types of content including but not limited to:
- Text (articles, blog posts, etc)
- Videos (YouTube content, training videos)
- Audio (podcasts, music, training audio)
In this post, we will be focusing primarily on text content. However, much will also apply to the other formats.
Why it’s important to write popular content
It’s no secret that the web is full of content. Blogs, articles, videos, and more. The Internet is a crowded room. Everyone has a voice. Everyone has something to say. If you want people to read what you have to say, you need to learn to write popular content of the right type and in the right format.
See, here’s the thing: Simply hitting “publish” on that latest blog post won’t do much if you aren’t writing the type of content people want to read. That YouTube video? Worthless – if it’s not the right kind of content.
It is not enough to simply publish content on the web. Anybody can do that – and most get little to no traction.
Why is it that some content seems to get all the traffic while other content gets next to none? The content that gets views follows a certain formula.
The people behind popular content know what to write – and how to write it.
In this post, I want to give you something of an insider look at the process of creating content that attracts views.
Writing popular content is a multi-step process
Like all good things, creating content that people will love takes time. Sure, sometimes you can sit down at your computer and quickly hammer out a 2500 word article that goes viral – but that’s the exception. Not the norm.
Unless you’re a superhuman with the ability to read minds and see the future, you’ll need to follow a process like the rest of us. (Side note: if you *are* a superhuman with said powers, please let us know. You’d be a great addition to the staff.)
Below, I’ll share with you my process for writing content. More could be said about each step, of course. But I would like to give you an overview of my process.
Unless I’m writing a short, one-off post or something I don’t expect to get much traffic or traction, I follow a five-step process that looks something like this:
We’ll get into what each step involves in a moment. But first, I want to point out that this is just my process. This is what works for me and may work for you. That is not to say that you have to follow my thinking exactly or that the world will come crashing down if you combine this step or that. I have attempted to lay everything out in a logical, easy-to-follow way.
Content Writing Step 1: Research
If you want to write popular content, you can’t just “wing it.” In order to create the kind of content that will help promote your brand, you’ll need to survey the field a bit. There isn’t much point in creating content that no one will want to read, after all.
Put yourself in the shoes of a company building restaurants. The goal is to put a restaurant where it will draw the best crowds and earn the most profit.
What must you do before you start construction? Research. You need to ask a few questions:
- Where are the people? What locations are ideal?
- What kinds of food do people like? Does one type of food sell better than another?
- What do you know about your target customers? What sort of atmosphere do they prefer?
Now, you could start building without doing any research. You could just assume the answers to these questions. Maybe you’d be right. Most likely you’d get it wrong.
See, you could build a burger restaurant in an area with people who just aren’t into burgers – or maybe there are already 10 burger places within shouting distance. In that case, you will have wasted your time and money. That time and money could have been saved with a bit of research.
Just as it’s important to research before attempting to build a popular restaurant, it’s important to research before attempting to write popular content.
Asking the right questions
In order to make sure we’re laying the proper foundation, we need to ask the right questions.
Who are you trying to reach?
Who do you want to reach with your content? The Internet is a big place filled with people from all types of backgrounds and walks of life. You cannot reasonably expect to produce a single piece of content that will appeal to everyone everywhere equally.
Narrow your focus.
If you could choose one segment – one demographic – to love your content, who would you choose?
What do you know about them? What are their desires? What do they like? Dislike?
What topics are popular with your audience?
Once you’ve defined your target audience, you need to determine what they want.
What questions are they asking? What problems do they have? How can you save them time or money?
Let’s assume, for example, that my target audience is “entrepreneurs under 50.”
I need to learn all I can about these people and what they want. What are their pain points? What interests them? Do they have a problem or concern I could address with a well-written piece of content?
What format does your target audience prefer?
Consider what type of content your target audience prefers. Depending on your niche, text content may not be ideal. Some audiences will more readily watch a video than they will read a long form article. Some won’t want to watch a video and will prefer text.
Take a look at popular content in your niche. Is your target audience interacting more with one type of content than another?
In search of answers
Now that we know the questions to ask, where do we turn for answers?
Go where your audience is
One of the best things to do when researching new content is to go where your target audience hangs out. Where do they interact? Where do they consume content? Where do they ask questions? If you can be a fly on the wall, so to speak, you can get a better appreciation for and understanding of their needs and thought processes.
Makes sense, right? If you want to understand people, meet them where they are.
Where does your target audience hang out? The answer will, of course, depend on your niche. However, there are a few key hotspots that work for most.
Consider the following:
Facebook Groups. Find a few groups in your niche and scroll through posts. What are people posting?
Forums. Forums allow users to interact with and reply to posts by others. They’ve been around for decades, but they’re still quite relevant.
Reddit. Reddit bills itself as the “front page of the Internet.” There’s a subreddit for nearly every niche. It’s essentially a massive forum. Neat.
Blogs in your niche. No matter your niche, chances are someone has written about it. Read through comments on those blogs and make note of what people are saying – what they’re asking.
Google Trends is one of my favorite tools. In fact, I claim that it’s madness to write an article without it if you want your content to perform well.
Google Trends is, well essentially, a popularity search engine. With a few keystrokes, I can see current and historical data that shows me not only what’s popular now – but what might be popular in the future.
For the above example, I searched for “container gardening” and discovered that the topic has enjoyed a massive upswing in popularity over the past few months.
This tells me that it might be a good idea to write an article or two about container gardening in the next few days while it’s enjoying such popularity.
But I want you to appreciate something here. Not only can I see how certain topics are performing today. I can see how they have performed historically, over the past hour to 5 years.
Above, you’ll see the same search topic, container gardening, as it has performed over the last 5 years. What do you see? This topic (like many others) has enjoyed periods of popularity and periods of relative disfavor.
How does this type of knowledge help you write popular content? It helps in three ways:
- You’ll be able to see what topics people want to find
- You’ll be able to see when said topics are popular
- You’ll be able to see if a topic is gaining popularity or losing.
If I have what I think is a great idea for an article, but no one is searching for the topic, it’s probably not a great idea. And, even if people are searching for the topic but interest is fading, it may not be a great idea either.
Now, a book could (and probably should) be written about Google Trends. I don’t have the space to go into all of its intricacies here. I simply want you to understand what it is, why it’s important and how to access it.
Content Writing Step 2: Brainstorming a topic
By this point, you have a basic understanding of your target audience. You know who they are, what they want, and the kinds of content that perform well.
But you still haven’t chosen a topic.
I’ve made this its own section for a couple reasons. But first and foremost, I want you to understand how big a role brainstorming plays in a solid content creation process. I’ve seen some people go straight from the research phase to the planning phase with little to no brainstorming, and they’ve paid the price for it with their lack of views.
In other words, if you don’t take the time to brainstorm properly, you may write what you think is a fabulous piece of content, only to be disappointed in a few months when your content gets no love.
So what do I mean by brainstorming? In the context of writing popular content, brainstorming is the process by which you – informed by your research – generate ideas for your next article.
“But don’t we already know what’s popular?” you ask.
Yes. Of course. But a popular topic is not an article.
This is more important than you might think, and there are two extremes.
On one hand, you risk choosing a topic that’s too broad and can’t hope to cover it well.
On the other hand, you could choose a topic that’s too narrow and find you can’t write enough on the subject.
Let me give you an example.
Email marketing is very popular. It’s an important tool for businesses of all sizes. But email marketing as a whole would not make a good subject for an article.
I cannot honestly hope to accurately cover every important facet of email marketing in a single piece of content and do a good job. The topic is just too expansive.
On the flip side, an article discussing the impact of email marketing on cattle farmers in North Dakota would be far too specific. It’s unlikely I could write enough engaging content on such a specific topic. I might be able to hit a few hundred words, but that’s nowhere near the 1200+ I recommend.
So what are you to do?
Focus on a single problem to solve or a single question to answer.
Think about what email marketers want. How about something like How to Build a List With a Blog? This article doesn’t try to cover email marketing as a whole. Instead, it discusses a tiny subset of the whole and seeks to help someone who is wondering, “I have a blog. Now, how do I use it to get subscribers?”
Making a list and checking it.. Later
After you’ve done your initial research, open your handy note taking app and start making a list of ideas.
Write down any relevant topic idea that enters your mind – no matter how good or bad. You can always cross off those that don’t work later. Your goal at this stage isn’t to critique ideas – only to get them out of your head and recorded.
Keep this up until you have at least 10 or 15 ideas.
Then walk away. Go do something else. Play a game. Read a book. Go for a walk. Get your mind off the list.
After a while, come back and read through your ideas. Highlight or otherwise mark your favorites.
Start narrowing down your options. Remember, even if you don’t pick a particular topic for this piece of content, you can always circle back and use it for another.
As you look through your list, ask yourself:
- “Can I write at least 1200 words about this?”
- “Would this content be helpful to my target audience?”
- “Does this topic address a problem or question?”
- “Is the topic too narrow or too broad?”
- “Can I write something unique to stand out from the crowd?”
If the answer to these questions is “no” for any topic, set it aside.
Keep working through your list until you’ve chosen a favorite. (Remember, your second and third choices can be used another time. Try not to be too indecisive here.)
Content Writing Step 3: Planning
Once you’ve decided on a topic, it’s time to plan. The best topic in the world can’t compensate for poor planning.
Before you start putting words on the page, it’s a good idea to have some idea of the structure you’re shooting for. That’s not to say you need to know exactly what the end product will look like. You may decide, as you write, that you want to add or remove bits. That’s perfectly normal – and I do it all the time.
By this point, you know what your topic is. But what are your main points? In what order will you attack your main points? How in depth do you plan to go?
Now is the time to plot your course, so to speak.
Mapping it out
How you plan your content will vary. What works for me may not work for you. That depends, in no small part, on how your brain works. Some people like outlines. Some prefer mindmaps.
Whichever you prefer, I highly recommend using something to organize your thoughts.
Personally, I prefer mind mapping with a tool like Mindmeister (or one of the many alternatives).
Block out your main points and expand from there.
Check for proper flow
All the main points in the world are just sharp sticks if they don’t fit together in a way that makes sense. Read through your outline and make sure it flows together. Do your main points support one another? Do they make logical sense together?
If not, rearrange, add, or remove points until you get a series of logically-consistent points that support the main topic of your piece of content.
Third person point of view test
Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience. If you were your target, would your content make sense?
Be sure to include any necessary background info or steps needed to help your ideal content consumer understand and enjoy what you have to say.
For example, let’s imagine I’m writing an article about choosing a web host. It would probably be a good idea to make sure my reader understands what a web host is before getting too far into my main points. I want to be sure my reader has all the necessary information needed to take my content and run with it. If I leave someone confused, I’ve not done my job.
Content Writing Step 4: Production
A plan without action isn’t worth much. When you reach this phase, it’s time to start putting words on paper – or screen as the case might be.
Using your plan created in the previous step, start putting meat on the bones of your content.
Putting words on the page…or screen.
Using all the planning you’ve done so far, it’s time to start writing. I personally prefer writing in Google Docs for a variety of reasons, but you can use whichever tool suits your taste.
Just like your 9th grade essay for Mrs. Whats-her-name’s class, expect to write multiple drafts – or at least proofread. Unless you’re a very gifted writer – and you may be – don’t expect to hammer out a sweet article in one pass. As you go, you’ll find things you want to edit, change, rearrange or delete, and that’s okay.
Don’t focus on getting your wording perfect on the fly. Just get the concepts out of your head and onto the screen. You can go back and rework things in the next step.
How much to write?
In general, I recommend shooting for at least 1200 words. In rare cases, you can get by with less. In the majority, shoot for more. As you write, keep this in mind. While being concise has its perks in certain circumstances, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot if each of your few main points is a sentence each with little supporting text.
Plan your words in such a way that you are able to write enough to hit at least 1200 words.
Why? Google loves longer form content. Long form content is content that goes into detail on a topic.
For example, while I could certainly write a 500 word article about email marketing, it simply can’t cover as much detail as a 3000 word article. Understanding the difference, and all else being equal, Google and other search engines will prefer the longer article because it has more to offer the reader.
That’s not to say you will never have a use case for that 500 word article, but short form content should be the exception – not the rule.
Value-check your work
Read your content from the perspective of your target audience. Check it for accuracy and completeness. Have you left out any important info? If your article is a how-to, are all the steps there and explained well?
If you were your target audience, could you read your article and find it helpful? If not, something needs to change. What could you add to make it helpful? What would turn it into a valuable resource?
Remember, in order to write popular content, you need to write shareable content. Shareable content is valuable content.
If your work fails the test, don’t be afraid to edit, change, rearrange or overhaul whatever you need to in order to turn it into something that provides value to your target audience in a clear, helpful manner.
Proofread and then proofread again
Every factory has a quality control process to ensure every widget, knob, or part produced meets factory standards and design specifications. Before your content is ready for the public, it has to be checked for errors.
Don’t overlook this step. Many people do – and it shows.
Even if you’re not a grammar nerd, avail yourself of your word processor’s spelling and grammar check. Grammar and spelling mistakes lower the quality of your content, and enough mistakes can signal to search engines that your work isn’t that great – which can hurt your search ranking.
Grammatical mistakes can also reflect poorly on your business should your content be featured on your business blog.
If you and grammar have a love-hate relationship, and you’ve forgotten most of what you learned in Mrs. Cragmont’s English class, consider using a tool like Grammarly to check yourself on the fly. It can make the difference between “Let’s eat, grandma” and “Let’s eat grandma.” One is nice. The other is murder.
Let grandma live. Check your grammar.
Content Writing Step 5: Add Visual Interest
Once your text is good to go, it’s time to spice things up a bit. Text is good, but by itself, it can be a bit dry for most subjects. Rarely will someone truly relish the idea of sitting and reading a 1200+ word wall of text.
Screenshots, graphics, charts, videos, and so on all make great visually-interesting content that helps to break up the flow of otherwise seemingly-infinite walls of text.
Now, do I mean that you have to add visual elements? No. Depending on your topic, you may be able to get by without adding a visual touch. However, adding a bit of variety with visually interesting content provides (at least) two benefits.
First, it keeps your content interesting. Too much unbroken text is boring. After a while, our minds get bored. We crave variety.
Second, it can improve your search engine ranking. Google and other search engines love well-placed visual content. Sprinkling some into your text can give you a much needed SEO boost.
Tools for creating graphics
Whether you’re a seasoned graphical artist or just an average Joe who wants to spice up your content, you have no shortage of options for creating professional-looking visual content..
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list by any means, but I do want to give you a few ideas and leads for tools I personally have found helpful.
Affinity Designer – https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/designer/
GIMP – https://www.gimp.org/
Canva – https://www.canva.com/
Gravit Designer – https://www.designer.io/en/
Consider adding video
If your subject allows it, and if you have a relevant option handy, consider tossing in a video or two. Video is a nice change of pace when embedded in a wall of text. It’s just the kind of variety your reader’s mind craves, and adding in a video or two can help keep your target audience focuses on what you have to say and engaged with your content.
If you have your own video content, sweet. But if not, see if you can find a relevant clip on YouTube. (Fun fact: YouTube is the net’s second largest search engine. Chances are you’ll find something worth embedding.)
Content Writing Step 6: Optimize for SEO
If a site is properly optimized for search, search engines can provide loads of free traffic where it counts. But, there’s the key: optimizing for search. Preparing your content for search engines like Google is a critical part of writing popular content.
Your content may be well written with plenty of great visual appeal, but if search engines don’t pick up what you’re putting down, your reach will be limited.
This section doesn’t cover Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in depth, but we’ll cover a couple of the highlights.
A “keyword” is a word or phrase your target audience types in to Google (or any other search engine) in order to find your content.
For example, if I need a mechanic in Indianapolis, I’m likely to search for something like “mechanic Indianapolis”
If I know what keywords will be used by my target audience, I can be sure to include them in my text to tell Google, et al, “Hey! I have what this guy’s looking for!”
It is your job as the content producer to anticipate what your target audience will type. This is where keyword research comes in.
There is no shortage of solid keyword research tools. Here are a few of my favorites.
Ubersuggest – https://neilpatel.com/ubersuggest/
Soovle – https://soovle.com/
Wordtracker Scout – https://www.wordtracker.com/scout
Use an SEO plugin
If your site uses WordPress, consider using an SEO plugin. These plugins offer a few critical tools that can help boost your site’s SEO and make sure your content catches the attention of search engines and becomes the popular content you had hoped.
My personal favorite SEO plugin is Yoast, but there is no shortage of great SEO tools for WordPress or your CMS of choice.
Using Yoast, I can finely tune META tags and other SEO factors that matter.
Choose an SEO-friendly URL
Your content’s URL (or link) can affect how it ranks in search. To create SEO-friendly links, try to follow a couple of rules.
1. Make sure your URL is human-readable. That is, make sure it’s easy to determine what your URL points to before it’s clicked.
Which of these URL’s looks better and more inviting?
Hopefully you said the first one. Why? An average human reader can look at that URL and make out the words “super secret webpage” and figure, “Hm… That must be something about a super secret webpage.”
This matters to search engines.
2. Use your main keyword or keywords in your link. For example, my keywords are “super secret webpage,” I might create a URL that looks something like the first example above. This adds a little extra keyword juice to my SEO smoothie.
Content Writing Step 7: Publish
Writing popular content is no easy task. As you can see, a lot of time and work is required to forge something worth sharing. You might say it’s a journey of sorts.
But every journey comes to an end. One your content is written, it’s time to publish it and hopefully propel it to the popularity for which it’s hopefully destined.
It’s time to publish your soon-to-be popular content.
But, lest you misunderstand me, when I say “publish,” I don’t mean the simple act of hitting the “Publish” button in WordPress. No, my friend, our work isn’t done yet.
Publishing a piece of content means doing all you can to start the flow of traffic.
This can (and usually should) involved any or all of the following:
- Sharing on social media
- Emailing your list
- Sharing to relevant sites
- Writing more content to link to what you’ve just published
Each of these things takes time and effort.
Hitting that publish button and walking away just won’t cut it any more.
However, assuming you have followed each of the previous five steps well, you’ll be in a great position to start drawing in traffic through whichever channel is appropriate for your niche.
Writing Popular Content: Wrapping Up
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this long article. As I sit here typing, I’m noticing just how verbose I’ve been. That aside, I hope you have found this piece helpful and useful.
By now, you should understand the six basic steps that go into writing popular content:
- Adding visual interest
- Optimizing for Search (SEO)
Time permitting, we could easily break these steps down into many more, but I’ll spare you that for another time perhaps.