Creating Great Content

Everyone can write content but some content is better than others. What is the secret sauce that differentiates great content from good content? Great content combined with great layouts creates an environment where users want to come back for more.

Content is king. And no one knows how to organize content better than the top blogs and the newspaper industry. These organizations have learned the secret to great writing and you can pick professionals out from a crowd of wannabe authors because they know how to write to draw in the reader.

There are three key aspects to creating great content for the web:

If you can master all three on every page of your website, you will be a great content author. Things like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) happen naturally with great content.

Organizing Content

The organization of your content depends heavily on your target audience, but there are some common rules that most people follow when organizing content. These implicit rules help readers find the pertinent information easily and naturally:

A summary or overview of the content typically appears in the first couple paragraphs. This allows readers to quickly grasp what the rest of the content is about and make a quick decision as to whether or not they are interested in continuing on to read the rest. Great content typically starts in this manner. There are some types of content for which a summary/overview is unnecessary but is fairly rare to encounter.

Next, the main body should flow naturally from paragraph to paragraph. Many authors babble on and on or simply wander off-topic - even I'm guilty of this. Keep the body as concise as possible to avoid boring the audience. You want to keep your audience engaged throughout the entire experience. Delete entire paragraphs if they have no bearing on the overall content. Add useful tidbits of information here or there where people might have difficulty understanding something.

This is an unrelated image that got your attention.
This is an unrelated image that got your attention.

Great content also has a lot of supporting content. Supporting content consists of images, videos, polls, and anything else that breaks up the monotony of text. Place relevant supporting content near the content it is associated with. Doing so helps create visually appealing content that people want to read.

Great content ends with an action step. Encourage those who made it to the end of the content to continue to the next logical step. Receive comments via e-mail or have readers jump to another page or whatever else makes sense.

Words

The words chosen for the content are important as well. Words convey meaning and afford depth to content. Keep in mind the audience that will be reading the content. If the target audience is educated in some specific area of expertise, assumptions can be made about the content. However, to reach the widest possible audience, a more general approach is needed.

I personally prefer small, simple words. I prefer this approach because most people find it easier to read content that doesn't use big, fancy words that requires them to run to the dictionary every two seconds. To define complex concepts, I explain the concept once and then map the concept to an acronym or a specific phrase. Occasionally, I'll reiterate the concept. A simple example of this is the Content Editor where I make a clear distinction between the Content Editor and WYMEditor as the Content Editor being the wrapper code around WYMEditor. I also make a clear distinction between the Content Editor and the Content widget where the Content widget wraps up the Content Editor and adds even more functionality (e.g. Shortcodes). Thus, when I reference the Content Editor, readers know that I mean the code that wraps up WYMEditor and that I also do not mean the Content widget.

'Lerning' is a real word according to Firefox.
'Lerning' is a real word according to Firefox.

Along with the words chosen are two other things that are absolutely essential: Spelling and grammar. Web browsers these days have spell-checking built right into the browser and will underline misspelled words in red. There is no excuse for misspelled words. The other aspect is grammar. I personally have a lot of difficulty with this - I can spell any word correctly but somehow grammar eludes me. Most people seem to be able to tolerate a certain level of bad grammar, but spell one word incorrectly and everyone cringes.

A good method to attaining more accurate grammar is to write the content for a page all at once to just get the ideas out there in some reasonable format. Then, have a cooling-off period of hours or days where you can forget what exactly was written. Or you can get a trusted friend to help. With a fresh set of eyes, mistakes will stick out. This is known as proofreading.

Interactivity

Interactive components on a page keep a reader engaged. Videos, polls, and comments are fairly common components that engage the reader to interact with the website. Readers should be encouraged to use interactive components from within the content itself. This is known as a call to action (CTA).

Be careful when you include interactive functionality that is just a fad. Very few fads stick around long enough to be useful. Having to go through content in the future to remove fads is annoying. The best way to implement a fad with Barebones CMS is to use a Widget or Shortcode. When the fad is no longer relevant, the Widget or Shortcode can be deleted, the site cache cleared, and it will be gone from the website.

This screencast requires Adobe Flash 8 or higher to view.

Summary: This three minute video visually shows the interactivodular nature of a bananaphone. You can call your banana and eat it too!

Interactivodular!

Distractions are bad. The interactive components you use should not draw the reader away from the page or interrupt the flow of the content. A lot of websites use advertising to bring in revenue. Ads distract from the actual content on the page, draw away some users, and reduce the perceived quality of the content. Some ads even get in the way of the actual content. The reader is there for the content, not the ads. A good rule of thumb to use is: For every ad on the page, there will need to be at least one additional interactive component that is relevant to the actual content to keep the reader engaged.

Use interactive components such as images and video in areas where trying to describe a concept in plain text will be too difficult. Use them where someone will have difficulty following along just reading plain text. However, for those people who have images or video disabled in their web browser for whatever reason (corporate policies, disabilities, etc.), there should be an equivalent text version available. This approach also helps search engines find the content.

Interactive components are the hardest part of creating content. Even creating a video for the web is magnitudes more difficult than a simple photo. These things take time and most content authors just want to create the content and move on. Great content, however, is a blend of interactive and non-interactive components.

It is well worth the time spent to create great content. Great content draws in the audience and engages them to respond.

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