At WP Curve we produced a lot of content. While some posts are unexpected hits, others can be big flops. Over time, we have identified the elements of our most engaging content. In this post, we’ll share the examples from our best posts and some tips on how you can use them in your own business.
1. Relevance to the audience
Before we start writing, we make sure to align the content with our audience’s interests. Our posts outside of what our audience is looking for won’t get traction, or worse yet, they may attract the wrong people to our blog. We have a well-defined content marketing strategy that outlines who we are targeting and how our content relates to them.
We take a broad approach to relevance. We don’t believe that every one of our posts has to be a “how to” post about WordPress. Our audience are entrepreneurs, they don’t want to spend their time only learning about WordPress. They want to hear about entrepreneurship, so most of our content is broadly relating to starting and growing online businesses.
In some cases, we’ll hone in on a specific WordPress problem, for example with the post WordPress speed – How to reduce your load time to under 1 second.
This addressed a problem that our target audience had and that we could solve. It attracted the right audience to our site and gave us a chance to provide valuable information to them.
2. A powerful headline
The ten or so words that make up your headline are by far the most important. Choosing a headline that represents your idea and presents a benefit to your audience is essential to the post’s success. It is the first impression and is usually your only chance to convince the visitor to read your post.
The post 12 remote workers reveal how to be happy, effective and valuable has a great title for these reasons:
- It clearly communicates benefits
- It describes the article well
- It uses emotional copy
- List style posts tend to work well
3. High quality and helpful images
Many blogs add a barely relevant stock photo as an afterthought to their content. We always try to have at least three images in our posts. We prefer screenshots or animated GIFs that illustrate the concepts.
The quality and consistency of our images are very important. Large images must be at least 640px in width and a consistent height. Then we format images before they are uploaded into WordPress. The large file size of unformatted and unoptimized images slows down the load time of the post. The maximum size of our images is 100kb.
Every pixel counts, and we are careful when resizing our photos. Enlarging or reducing the size of the photo can make images blurry, especially text in screenshots. A good example of this is the single pixel border on the Google Analytics charts. If we resize a screenshot from Google Analytics, it blurs the crisp single pixel border, resulting in a low quality image.
We make sure we choose the right file type for the image we are using:
JPEG – Good for photos of people, places or things, but bad for screenshots of apps and websites or text.
PNG – Good for screenshots of apps and websites with gradients. It keeps text looking clean as well, but can be problematic for file sizes.
GIF – Good for flat images with no gradients or a short animation. Watch out for small images inside a screenshot like a profile picture or a gradient like the top bar of a browser. These never look good in a GIF.
We avoid stock photos whenever possible. Stock photos rarely add value, and often are distracting from the content.
How to create animated GIFs
Sometimes text or static images aren’t the best way to communicate your idea. An animated gif can work like a short video to show something in action in a more useful way.
I create animated GIFs with these steps.
- Do a screen capture using Quicktime (Jing is a free tool that works for this too.)
- Open the video of the screen capture using “import frames to layers” in Photoshop
- You can trim your video down by selecting the “selected range only radio button” and dragging the sliders beneath the video. Another good tip is to check the “limit to every (number) frames” This will speed up the playback of the GIF and make the file size smaller. Leave the “Make Frame Animation” box checked.
- From here you can apply effects or adjustments to the animation or edit individual layers.
- When you’re ready, go to File / Save for web and select GIF. You can adjust the dimensions of the image in this window as well.
If you don’t have photoshop, no problem! I recommend using the imgflip GIF generator. This is free but there is a limit to the file size you can upload. It can also convert web videos into GIFs which is a pretty handy feature. GIPHY has a few apps that allow you to create your own GIFs and use free GIFs on their platform.
These guidelines may seem strict, but the quality standards we have are important elements of trust and credibility. It is worthwhile to invest in good images.
One of our most successful posts was “35 business tools that help us run our WordPress support machine”.
The post is full of images that gave helpful demonstrations of how each of these tools were used in WP Curve. Without these images, this post would have been much less valuable and interesting to our audience.
4. Long form posts
Our best posts have at least 2,000 words. We do our best to completely share our knowledge on the topic we are writing about.
To dig into a topic and present information in a unique and interesting way, you need posts of this length. That’s not to say that all posts with over 2,000 words are good. The length is also often a result of adding extra value, such as quotes from influencers, examples and data to back up our statements. We’ll discuss this later in this post.
I find writing longer posts also gives you more room to make them memorable. Shorter posts often get lost in the noise and competition. One of our longest and most popular posts is How to find the first 100 customers for your startup. It’s over 8,000 words long, but it’s full of value and experience on a topic that can be confusing and difficult for new businesses.
5. Focus on readability
Our long form posts make readability a priority in our content. Holding a reader’s attention from start to finish for 4,000 words is a difficult task. Focusing on readability makes a post much easier to consume. Almost anyone is turned off by giant blocks of dense text.
Here are a few ways you can make your posts more readable:
- Have a concise introduction
- Don’t overload visitors with pop ups and display ads
- Use simple language
- Cut out sentences that don’t add value
- Use bullets and lists
- Make your headers descriptive
- Use a large font with plenty of padding
- Use high-contrast colors on your font and background to make the text stand out
- Support text with images
The ultimate guide to creating content that converts is a 3,600-word long post, but you would barely notice it because it is filled with helpful bullets, descriptive headers, and lots of annotated images that create a seamless reading experience.
6. Actionable information
At WP Curve we worked to keep our posts actionable. We wanted our readers to be able to immediately understand and apply the ideas and knowledge in our posts to their business. A good tactic is to write out a list of action steps for an idea and build your content around it.
The post “The beginner’s guide to Google Adwords” brought consistent traffic because of its highly relevant and practical information.
We had a library of practical guides with detailed tips for marketing that all do well with our audience.
7. Input from influencers
We try and add value to our content by getting input and quotes from authorities on the topic. Having input from influencers adds credibility to your posts and often will result in some extra promotion.
On this site, I regularly post episodes from the Predictable B2B Success podcast. The episode – How to Craft a Referral Marketing Strategy That Boosts Growth is an example of using information and quotes from different marketing influencers to highlight their input. This not only adds value to the content but also helps build a relationship with the people you collaborate with.
8. Innovative content
At WP Curve we were constantly trying to innovate and experiment with new ways to share our content. We try to create new perspectives on evergreen ideas by innovation in the design of the post, the points we focus on, or the medium we use to communicate. Innovation in content can turn a tired old idea into a top-performing post.
All of this can sound very complicated but it doesn’t have to be. Video is a great medium to use and doesn’t require any wizardry, equipment or editing.
Take for example this video from Jeni’s. It is a delicious looking example of great content done well.
It’s an authentic day in the life, video from the brand doing something they do regularly – make an ice-cream sandwhich.
Rand Fishkin is well known in marketing circles. During his time at Moz, he regularly hosted video content on the site.
Why are his video content so engaging?
Because Rand knows what he’s talking about and he makes you care about what he’s talking about.
By providing easy to digest, visual and verbal content delivered by a real person.
These are a couple of examples that present content in a unique and engaging way. Here is another that uses a combination of formats – How B2B Content Marketing Can Help You Generate Exponentially More Leads
9. Emotionally relatable
We strive for honesty and transparency in our content, which means sharing stories of our struggles as well as our successes. This makes our content more emotionally relatable and helps to build trust with our audience. Making your content relatable can feel risky, and it does indeed make you vulnerable. It’s a scary thing to admit failures in front of potential customers and perhaps competitors. That fear is strongest when you are doing your most valuable work. Authenticity is something that the internet and businesses need more of.
Dan’s post, What I learned failing at 83%, was a huge hit because of its honesty. It shares many ideas and lessons that come from enduring uncomfortable and uncertain times.
I’ve been criticized for shutting things down too quickly. I’ve copped that from mentors, friends, fellow entrepreneurs and competitors, publicly:
“You’re flaky, create abandon-ware and haphazardly ‘fire’ paying customers. In the past few months we’ve seen you start with 1 product, add 2 more and watched them disappear just as fast as they appeared. Now you’re working on a completely separate product. Who is going to invest their time in you and your products?”Friend and fellow entrepreneur
Reading something like that from the early stages of WP Curve and knowing the success that came after makes you want to get up and cheer. But it takes courage to share and publish something like that.
10. Reveal inside secrets
Many marketers still feel the need to guard their secret advantages. Unless you’re working on the next iPhone, this is probably not a helpful strategy. Sharing your “secret recipes” builds trust and establishes you as an authority. Readers will be more likely to work with you when they understand your business and how it works.
The WP Curve monthly reports shared our earnings, our plans for how we will improve our service, and how much traffic we’re getting. Our readers loved these posts and they got good traffic and feedback on them. They were consistently in our top posts for traffic, comments and email replies every month.
Nathan Latka shares similar reports that has earned him quite a bit of attention and a following.
11. Contrarian ideas
A memorable quote from the book Zero to One by Peter Thiel is, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” These are the ideas ripe for blog posts. Many people avoid topics like this for fear of losing or angering their audience, so they stick to safer subjects. Polarizing and controversial ideas get shared more and discussed more.
A good example of a controversial post was The “content is king” myth debunked. At the time the idea of content being king was being widely promoted. In fact, people loved the idea of content marketing because it seemed like an easy to guarantee success.
Derek Halpern argued against the idea in this post saying that design was more important. The post captured the attention of content marketers and designers earning it several thousands of shares. To have an article that kills that sacred cow is going to start some heated conversations. Just check out the 248 comments currently on the post.
12. Relevant call to action
Conversion rate is one of our most important metrics for our posts. Without fail, our posts that are our most successful converters have calls to action related to the content. We have several different downloadable pieces of content, plugins, and other tools we use on different posts. The ones where we offer something more than a weekly email subscription always perform better.
The image below shows an example of this is –
We have a call to action to download the same templates and documents we use and discuss in the content. A template is something they are looking for by the time they read the title. What could be a better call to action?
13. A good focus keyword
We find a relevant focus keyword for all of the content we publish. Our posts that get picked up by Google and land on the front page for a relevant keyword drive consistent and substantial traffic.
The post – “WordPress speed – How to reduce your load time to under 1 second” was an active attempt to rank for a WordPress keyword. Since it has been published, it was one of the most visited posts.
We use the Rank Math plugin for simple keyword optimization.
Related: The practical guide to content driven SEO
14. Examples and data to back up statements
Great articles have examples to show how the idea or concept we are writing about works in practice or in data to prove that it does.
Social Media Content Ideas: 7 Strategies to Create Content That Your Audience Will Want to Share features examples and use cases from six other businesses and entrepreneurs. Some are from companies and others are from smaller businesses, so there’s something for everyone. It gave readers different ideas for creating social media content and allows them to pick out what will work best for them.
We believe that being generous with content pays off in spades down the road. We’re not always trying to force conversions on our visitors. Being open-handed and giving away some of your best content without even asking for an email sounds like lunacy to some marketers. Perhaps that’s exactly why it works. People are so used to being begged for their emails these days that it catches their attention when someone is truly generous.
At one point in the early days of WP Curve, Dan was on Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast. He offered to do a site review for everyone in the comments, and he didn’t ask for an email or anything. This resulted in hundreds of comments and a lot of work. It is no coincidence that this month had almost double the new customers we usually have sign up.
We aim to create real value with our posts, and each of the elements above is a way to do that. Creating real value in your content is a long-term competitive advantage that will give you an edge. Remember that you don’t need to try and cram all of these ideas into your next post. Pick one or two and experiment with them. See what works for you and your audience.