15 essential elements of our most engaging content

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We produce 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.

The 15 essential ingredients of our content that consistently lead to traction goo.gl/KSOxcu @WPCurve – CLICK TO TWEET

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 WordPress speed – How to reduce your load time to under 1 second. This addresses a problem that our target audience has and that we can solve. It attracts the right audience to our site, and gives us a chance to provide valuable information to them.

Related: Content marketing: setting a purpose and measuring success

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.

Our recent 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

Related: Headlines matter: A simple formula for high performance headline writing

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 is very important. Large images must be exactly 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.

GA-lines.gif

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.

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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.

  1. Do a screen capture using Quicktime (Jing is a free tool that works for this too.)
  2. Open the video of the screen capture using “import frames to layers” in Photoshop

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  1. 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.

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  1. From here you can apply effects or adjustments to the animation or edit individual layers.
  2. 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. Dan has used the desktop app GifGrabber before for the same purpose and recommends it.

If you would like some professional animations like the one we have in our header, check out Animonks.

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 in the past few months 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 are used in our company. Without these images, this post would have been much less valuable and interesting to our audience.

Related: 12 ways to increase engagement through visual content

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 Our exact hands off process for hiring developers offshore. It’s nearly 4,000 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

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We work to keep our posts actionable. We want 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.

Our post The beginner’s guide to Google Adwords brings in consistent traffic because of its highly relevant and practical information. We have a library of practical guides with detailed tips for marketing that all do well with our audience.

7. Input from influencers

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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.

Our post Content marketing: setting a purpose and measuring success quotes five different content marketing influencers and highlights their input in the post. This not only adds value to the content but also helps build a relationship with the people you collaborate with.

8. Innovative content

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We are 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.

A great example is A Freelancers Journey – Building a Sustainable Web Development Business [Interactive Discussion]. Dan’s post on Speckyboy is filled interesting graphics and interactive content. Each character is clickable and plays a short audio clip that expands on their points. This post presented quotes in a unique and engaging way by combining elements of an infographic, podcast, and written content.

9. Emotionally relatable

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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 it’s 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

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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.

Our monthly reports share our earnings, our plans for how we will improve our service, and how much traffic we’re getting. Our readers love these posts and we get good traffic and feedback on them. They are consistently in our top posts for traffic, comments and email replies every month.

11. Contrarian ideas

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Source: thenextweb.com

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 a controversial post was Is startup validation bullshit? Idea validation is currently a popular topic in the startup world: how can you test an idea with minimal risk? As much as failure is glorified, nobody wants to endure a failing business. People love the idea of validation because it seems like a guarantee of success. To have an article that kills that sacred cow is going to start some heated conversations. Just check out the 123 comments currently on the post.

Incidentally, if you look closely enough you’ll see a comment from Alex which was the first time he reached out to Dan, before going on to become a co-founder in WP Curve.

Related: Book Review: Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

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.

A good example of this is Use this website review template to improve your site [FREE TEMPLATE]. 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 is one of our most visited posts every day.

We use the Yoast SEO 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.

How we effectively use Trello for project management features examples of how we use Trello and use cases from six other businesses and entrepreneurs. Some are from large agencies and others are from freelancers, so there’s something for everyone. It gave readers different ideas for using Trello and allows them to pick out what will work best for them.

15. Generosity

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.

In November, 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.

Related: Lessons learned reviewing 300 websites in 2 weeks (how to build a decent website)

Conclusion

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.

For more on improving conversions and design on your blog, we recommend using our conversion review templates that you can download below.

Grab the free website review template

We will email you the full website review template (Google Doc). You will also join 20,000 people and get my weekly emails with business and online marketing advice. 

 

Any questions or ideas? Let us know in the comments.

About

Kyle is the founder of Conversion Cake . He is the author of "The College Entrepreneur" A book for students who want to break into entrepreneurship. Follow him @kylethegray

4 responses to “15 essential elements of our most engaging content”

  1. Zach says:

    Thanks for putting this together, Kyle. The quick .gifs tutorial is super useful. I’ve been noticing more and more .gifs in emails lately, but wasn’t sure how to make them.

    Zach

  2. Kyle Gray says:

    Thanks for reading Zach! yeah the GIFs have been getting a lot of comments and interest lately, they’re a really good way to add some value to your content. Let me know if you start using them!

  3. justina says:

    Kyle, thanks for sharing all your insight! One super useful tool for making screen cap GIFs is licecap (http://www.cockos.com/licecap/)… though I’ll sometimes open up the GIF in Photoshop to edit the frame durations, delete frames, etc., to make the file smaller.

  4. Kyle Gray says:

    Thanks for sharing that tool Justina! I had not heard of it before.

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