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4 quick and easy content formats
Although it’s a phrase that makes me feel inclined to go and punch a wall or go and sit in a dark corner for a while, whoever came up with the phrase ‘content is king’ wasn’t lying. They’re an idiot, and I hate them, but they were definitely on to something.
In the modern SEO landscape, content is a good way of ‘earning’ links. It’s certainly not the only way (and shouldn’t be), but a well-written blog post that entertains, informs or is at the very least unique can draw in the kind of editorially-earned links that make Matt Cutts and his Google pals feel just swell an’ all.
Unfortunately, creating the kind of content that earns large amounts of links tends to take a lot of time and a lot of budget (unless you happen to be writing for a well-established website or brand already). Behind every viral sensation is a lot of hard work and toil (read this post on the viral marketing myth for more on that).
So what hope for those of us who don’t have that kind of time and budget to dedicate to producing the kind of link magnets you see on Buzzfeed?
Well, you could refer to my previous post on how to write a blog post in a short space of time. Or, you could try producing one of these tried-and-tested quick and easy content ideas that might – just might – end up providing you with a low-cost viral sensation and sending your SEO metrics into the stratosphere.
Ah, list posts – the reality television of the internet (probably). People love them, hate them or pretend to hate them but sneakily check Cracked.com at lunchtime; either way, the rise of sites like Buzzfeed and the increasing adoption of the format by media powerhouses such as the Guardian is testament to the popularity of the list post.
Part of the reason list posts are frowned upon owes to their ‘throwaway’ nature. Often, a list post will offer a condensed version of events, a bite-size morsel of information on a topic that could be better elaborated on in a series of blog posts. They’re everything that’s bad about modern society in content form; vacuous, lacking focus, an unwillingness to engage with anything on a deeper level.
Of course, list posts are actually whatever the author chooses to make of them. Some of the lists on Cracked top 2,000 words and obviously required a lot of research. On the other side of the spectrum, some Buzzfeed posts are simply a list of photos pulled from other sources.
For quick content, a list post is a godsend. They’re simple to plan, you don’t need to go too in-depth with your research and you can usually instigate some kind of engagement simply by including a controversial or thought-provoking entry in your list. Obviously, you’ll need to have a compelling topic for your post first, but a list post is a great way of organising ideas into a format that doesn’t take a lot of work.
As an added bonus, the headline format of list posts is proven to draw in readers. ‘The top 10…’ is a guaranteed winner as a headline, simply because people will want to check if your choices chime with their own (expect some kind of response if they don’t!)
Updating old content or ‘The Never-Ending Blog Post’
Despite Google’s apparently insatiable hunger for ‘fresh content’, the Big G’s algorithm isn’t actually as picky as you might think. In fact, it’ll often gobble up something reheated from last year. Or even five years ago. Like I said: not picky.
Content updated to reflect changes in the industry or a shift in popular opinion will be noticed by Googlebot and thus will contribute to how Google ‘views’ the content, which could potentially improve the ranking of the content. Therefore, don’t be afraid to rehash a topic you might have covered before. In fact, it’s often in the best interests of your users and customers that you do; in SEO, for example, link building guidelines seem to change once-a-week. A prominent post from 2007 that still receives hits but hasn’t been updated would be actively peddling incorrect information – and that’s not something you want associated with your site.
There are two routes to go when updating old content, both of which are relatively quick. The first is to write a post from scratch, referencing the old information (and linking to it) and discussing any changes, and how they’ve impacted whatever it is you’re writing about.
The second, and quicker, option is to simply update your old post with new information. Bolting on information is definitely faster, but can lead to posts becoming disjointed or confusing. Still, if you’re strapped for time and need to produce something, it’s not a bad idea; just make sure that the fact you’ve amended the post and made changes is reflected at the top of the post (i.e: this post was amended on 28th October 2013 to reflect new changes in the blah, blah, blah).
Have you ever read a columnist’s piece in a newspaper and thought ‘I bet that took about five minutes to write!’? Congratulations! You’ve inadvertently peered behind the media curtain!
Opinion pieces, in contrast to hard fact-driven or knowledge pieces, are extremely easy to write; after all, you’re more or less directly translating what’s in your head. For maximum speed, write on something you already know about – perhaps a companion piece to a knowledge article you’ve written in the past (although make sure you fact-check and back up any particularly bold claims you make!).
Bear in mind, however, that opinion pieces can be something of a landmine. Before publishing, check over what you’ve written and consider the potential implications of airing your opinion in public; while controversy, public backlash and general disapproval is fine for the Daily Mail, it’s not what the average business should be aiming for.
‘Have your say’ opinion pieces/Twitter Round-Up
Then again, why bother expressing your own opinion when you can just use someone else’s? Not just one such ‘someone else’ either, but five or ten ‘someone else’s’.
Compiling the opinions of other people within your industry into a single post is a great way of producing content quickly. Think of yourself as the host of a panel, co-ordinating and steering the debate of other people who provide the real meat of your content. You’re David Dimbleby, throwing in the odd pithy comment here and there but mainly allowing the others to get on with it. You don’t have to do much, yet people are still going to read to find out what other people are saying. You should also get a couple of links from the contributors involved!
Of course, I’m skipping over the actual production time of an ‘industry opinion’-type piece a little bit. You’ll need to first come up with a topic for discussion, contact collaborators to get them on board, compile some questions to ask them and wait for their response – at best, you’re talking a couple of days. However, the actual work you’re doing over this period will be minimal as the content is essentially assembling itself, allowing you to get on with other important business stuff.
An alternative to this format that has emerged in recent years is the ‘Twitter round-up’, which eschews all of that boring interview work and replaces it with a quick scan of Twitter for choice quotes on a certain topic (usually something in the news). It’s one of the quickest ways to compile a blog post, yet surprisingly effective!
There’s no real replacement for a piece of content that has time dedicated towards its research and composition, but basing your content around the examples in this post if you’re short on time provides you with a fighting chance of gaining links despite other restrictions.