Writing useful content isn’t easy.
Whether you’re scheduling a week of tweets, composing a blog post, or assembling an entire eBook to give away for free on your website, you are probably like me and trying to make it as insanely useful as possible.
But it’s tough.
After all, what makes something “useful,” or even “insanely” so? Does that mean it’s well-written? Does it employ engaging rhetorical questions? Is it in list-format?
Frankly, there isn’t a formula to writing content that is an auto-share or auto-bookmark. There are certainly approaches and styles one can glean from the world of blogging experts, but to truly create content that soars above the rest, you’ll need something essential.
That something is FOCUS.
And to get focused and craft insanely useful content, you’ll need to answer these 4 questions.
1. What problem does my content solve?
Readers come to blogs like patients to doctors.
If they don’t find the treatment or medicine they are seeking, they’ll go somewhere else. (<—- Tweet that)
The eBook I’m writing is about story-telling and writing. This is a broad, expansive topic. And my first draft of the book functioned more as a snappy overview of creative writing that didn’t explicitly solve a problem for my readers.
To be useful, content needs to directly address an immediate, relevant, and frustrating problem in your reader’s life.
Otherwise, he/she has very little reason to download it, read it, and share it with the masses.
And it had better live up to its promise.
You don’t want to guarantee a solution to such a vexing problem and offer little more than empty platitudes.Big ideas and motivation are helpful, and many bloggers are good and inspiring us to follow our goals or break out of a depressive malaise.
But what will keep readers coming back for more is your content’s immediate applicability to life.
It is insanely useful because the reader immediately uses it and the resultant change is, seemingly, insane!
2. What separates my content from every other blog/book on this topic?
In this internet of noise and clamor, you have to stand out.
And to stand out, you need to know where you stand.
Be a regular visitor to similar blogs, and to Amazon. Consider the problem your particular post or book will solve, and type possible titles and topics into the search bar to find what else is out there. Download freebie eBooks from bloggers who share your subject and learn what is already being read and taught on the topic.
Armed with this kind of information, you can begin to make sure your content is uniquely helpful.
And since the internet is enormous and loud, one can often feel overwhelmed by the challenge of being original. After all, aren’t there a zillion blog posts out there about this exact topic?
To separate yourself from the pack in an insanely useful way, focus on what sets you apart: Your Knowledge, and your Experiences.
Knowledge consists of the coaching, teaching, strategies, and advice that can only come from you.
Experiences are the anecdotes, lessons, and parables derived from your life’s unique challenges, journeys, triumphs, failures, regrets, and scars.
With this in mind, focus your content to emphasize these unique strengths.
Flavor your teaching (knowledge) with a relevant and poignant anecdote (experience).
Contextualize a triumph or failure from your life (experience) with the strategy or proverb (knowledge) you learned.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, uniqueness shouldn’t overly depend on voice or writing style to set your work apart. Most writers can be witty, snarky, or emotive if they need to be. Everyone has experimented with sentence fragments. At least they should.
It is your unique knowledge and experiences that set your content apart. When aimed at solving the reader’s problem, they make it insanely useful to read.
3. Who should read my content?
Why do you read the content you do?
Aside from reading for entertainment, I read because I need information and skills that I do not currently possess.
I want to learn.
And I want to transform that information into action.
When thinking of your ideal readers, think of them as ideal learners.
What do they need to know, but currently don’t? How can you phrase the information in your posts and eBooks so that it can become action?
I’m often tempted to identify ideal readers based on gender, age, occupation, and so on. But these are rather soulless attributes, idolized by publishers with a bottom line.
Ideal readers are ideal learners. And your ideal learner is who should read your content.
Ideal readers become learners because they are synonymous with their passions.
What do they dream about? What goals do they have? What obstacles stand in their way, and how are you uniquely qualified to assist them in overcoming those obstacles?
Define your ideal reader based on what he/she wants to accomplish, and what currently impedes that goal. (<—- Tweet that) Then, using your knowledge and experiences, teach them to triumph.
After all, aren’t you reading this because you want to create insanely useful content? Aren’t you here because you wish to not just gain more readers, but serve more readers?
4. Why am I qualified to write this content?
Some author’s qualifications speak for themselves.
But for the rest of us, this space on our résumé may appear bleak. What am I to do if I don’t hold a MFA or have a list of previously published titles?
Contrary to that immediate gut-feeling of failure that comes with this question, you need to know that determining your qualifications isn’t about proving yourself to anyone, but tapping your unique reservoir of wisdom, experience, and skill, for the purpose of helping your reader.
You are writing due to a sense of duty.
You’ve know where the reader is – you’ve suffered or struggled in the same way. You’ve been there, done that.
And now you can help. That’s why you’re qualified to create this content.
On the flip-side, you must have the reflective wisdom to know when you shouldn’t tackle a particular topic. Single people probably shouldn’t blog about marriage, just as gambling addicts shouldn’t write a book about getting out of debt.
If you don’t have the requisite wounds and wisdom of life, attempting to teach others can be extremely foolish.
Additionally, your experiences and knowledge must be packaged in a way that is receivable by your readers. In other words, you have to write well enough to be enjoyed.
This comes with practice and experience. It also comes with copious reading of similar blogs.
As a guideline, content is more useful if it is packaged in a neat, digestible fashion.
For blogs, this means short paragraphs, bold or italicized main ideas, and lists. Using section headers keeps the reader focused. And hyperlinks propel the reader into the community to find additional, related resources to solve their problem.
Writing insanely useful content is a tall goal, but it is a worthy one. Millions of readers surf the internet in search of solutions to their unique and vexing problems. Many do so under the impression that someone else may have endured similar troubles and has shared a solution.
This is your ticket to exposure, traffic, and building a community around your website or business.
Actively serve your readers. Share your knowledge and experiences freely and vulnerably, daring to appear human. And take the time to package your content so it is enjoyable, digestible, and immediately applicable.
Writing insanely useful content takes time and sweat.
But it’s worth it.
Just ask your readers.
What do you think? How else can we create insanely useful content?
Photo Credit: Roel Wijnants, Creative Commons