The Copyblogger “Secret” to Creating Better Content

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If you’re a content marketer, high-quality content is your most potent form of advertising.

You may be advertising to attract more clients to a service business. You may be advertising a product. You may be advertising an idea.

But when you publish content, you want someone to do something.

When you’re doing it right, the work you put into your content gets your audience to take a specific action.

And there’s a “secret” to making this kind of advertising work better … a secret that the very best and brightest traditional advertisers have been using for more than a century.

Most advertising ignores this entirely — which is why most advertising doesn’t work very well.

The “secret” might seem like common sense, but your fellow content marketers aren’t getting it right … which is a great opportunity for you.

The secret of great advertising is keep it from looking like advertising

The reason content marketing is so powerful in the first place is that it doesn’t tend to look like an ad — it’s useful information, presented in an accessible, interesting way.

Traditional advertising (like the stuff you see on TV) tries to do this by creating ads that are creative and entertaining. They can be fun to watch, but too often, the audience isn’t given any particular reason to go out and purchase the product.

That kind of “creative” ad passes the entertainment test, but it doesn’t pass the advertising test. It doesn’t get the audience to take the next step toward becoming a customer.

Some marketers use tricks

There are endless tricks that marketers have used to make their advertising look less like an ad.

Direct mail marketers sometimes attach a post-it note saying something like,

This is really cool, you should check it out. ~J

The theory is that just about everyone knows someone whose name starts with J, so we’ll believe that this piece of junk mail has been forwarded to us by someone we know. And this technique can dramatically improve response for direct mail pieces … but at least one marketer has been fined for “deceptive practices” for using it.

A traditional internet marketer I met recently has had good success sending pay-per-click traffic to a landing page that’s intentionally not formatted according to best practices … no subheads, no white space, no headline.

Does that mean that strong headlines, great subheads and short paragraphs aren’t good techniques? Not at all … it means that his audience is so allergic to advertising that “disguising” the landing page has improved his response — at least temporarily.

But tricks don’t work forever. The nice thing about creating quality content in the first place is that you don’t have to trick people into enjoying your content.

As I like to say, Don’t take shortcuts, it takes too long.

The three elements of highly effective content

If you want to create great content — the kind that gets shared, that attracts customers and potential business partners, and that moves your audience to take action — you need to do three things.

  1. You need to write something useful.
  2. You need to write something that’s appealing and easy to digest.
  3. You need to make occasional offers to take the action you’re looking for.

Now, add a dash of copywriting

If what you’re writing is both useful and interesting, but you aren’t seeing the results you want, you probably need a little infusion of copywriting skill.

So what’s the secret?

In a nutshell, here’s the “Copyblogger secret formula” for content that works for your audience and meets your business goals:

Create content that is remarkably useful, that is enjoyable to consume, and that lets the reader know exactly what to do next.

I didn’t say it was easy, but it is simple.

And if that “simple” formula has you breaking out in a cold sweat, go sign up for our free internet marketing course. It will give you all the basics you need to get started.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on twitter @soniasimone

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Comments

  1. Interesting to read about the landing page without headlines and subheads. Reminds me of Dan Kennedy’s direct mail pieces. He used to say that the uglier his direct mail looked, the better the response rate was for him.

    Sean D’Souza teaches something very relevant. Give away the ideas. Sell the system. Your free content should segue into a system that you sell. The blog posts should work like free samples. Or movie trailers.

    • I heard it put a better way (at least for me): teach people how to fish for free and then sell them the tools.

    • Kennedy also teaches to make your direct mail look like a personal letter. I think it works when it’s from a small local business, the personal angle doesn’t feel faked. When it’s a larger company, the incongruence may be a factor.

  2. You are so right about the fact that “the secret to advertising is to keep it from looking like advertising.” So absolutely true! And, of course, we are all “selling” something, so we do need to walk that fine line between creating useful and informative content while still reminding our audience that we do have products and/or services to sell. I actually include a “call to action” in absolutely every piece of content I write. (Blog posts, articles, emails, videos, press releases….) My call to action is generally not to ask for the sale (I may simply ask my reader to subscribe to my blog, etc)., but it is always there :) Thanks for this great reminder Sonia!

  3. Excellent synopsis on what content marketing is all about. “An ad that doesn’t look like an ad” – as you say, Sonia, it’s simple but hard to execute properly. I’m either too helpful with no specific calls to action or too salesy. Practice makes perfect!

  4. I’ve read a lot of posts on copywriting where the author can’t seem to get the point across in under 1,000 words and yet you have somehow been able to do it in 22…”Create content that is remarkably useful, that is enjoyable to consume, and that lets the reader know exactly what to do next.” …I love that! So simple…and yet complex. Nicely done!

  5. I did a promtion where I sent my email list 4 pieces of content that talked about my offer. I was stunned at how grateful and excited they were.

    My problem is using more copywriting to get people to take action.

  6. “Don’t take shortcuts, it takes too long.”
    A great motto to live by! Everyone is always looking for the quick win, but that often comes at the sacrifice of the long term win. Shortcuts often end up costing you more time in the end.

  7. Very straight forward post. it is these easy to follow post with simple bits of advice that often have the biggest impact.

    I am a fairly new follower of copyblogger, but I am glad I am now following you guys and gals. I can see by the friendly call to action at the end of the post that you practice what you preach.

  8. The most powerful form of advertising is helpful, relevant content. No better way to hook people. This is what I know, this is how it benefits you. Like it? You will buy the product, or join the team, because the content, the know how, the writer, did the pre-selling. Run a content rich blog, write articles, and shoot videos, and provide immense value with each. You will never struggle in business if you learn how to create usable, helpful content. Thanks for sharing Sonia.

  9. I’ve found that creating a content calendar will help you stay on track.

    One of the tought things about content creation is that you’ve got to stay on top of it and create new content regularly. By creating a content calendar, you break down the process into bite-sized chunks (such as one article or post/day) instead of looking at the whole elephant and thinking “holy crap, I’ve gotta write 300 articles this year to make a dent in my readership.”

    Keeping the calendar helps you create the “good stuff” too. It give you time to think ahead about the goals of your marketing, your copy, and the headline of each piece… not just whipping something out because your fave guru told you so.

    It’s gotta be planned in advance with Swiss precision, yet look like you just wrote it in your underwear while eating a bowl of Froot Loops.

    -Joshua Black

  10. I agree that Tricks never work, or not for too long and then what you have done is not alienated your target market and it could ruin your reputation in the Internet Marketing world. Writing good content is the best way to speak to your target market which identifies with their pain points. You are simply answering questions that they already had. Then if you have a product or service that can solve that problem you have a leg up.

  11. You are right when you said tricks don’t’ work forever. Shortcuts tend to cost not only time but can at times, also cost money to fix in the long run. This also makes me wonder if I can go back to my old articles and see If I can probably polish some up a bit with new headlines and probably add a dash of more usefulness here and there. Thank Ms. Simone.

  12. Hey Sonia,

    Nice post and a useful reminder. These three points are fundamental but easily said. The trick is surely knowing how to write content that is useful, easy to digest & with appropriate calls to action… and I’m guessing that comes with practice.

    What this post has done for me is told me I need to read more of your stuff because I’m sure you answer the ‘how’ question elsewhere, right?

    In the meantime, my personal approach is simply to write more.

    take care & best wishes,
    Alan

    • We take a pretty good whack at “How” in the email newsletter course. :) That was why we created it — to answer some of those questions that are really evergreen.

  13. I think that is the best part about content marketing, is that you’re really empowering your readers to make their own decisions, based on the information they’re getting.

    Something I learned from Frank Kern and Kevin Nations was to use your content to expose the gap of where your readers are, and where they like to be.

    What I like about the way that you guys do it is that you’ll spend quite a bit of time talking about the symptoms of the problem to help people identify with it, then offer the light at the end of the tunnel.

    It’s only one method of course, but it’s effective. There have been stories about people doing this with guest posts to land clients, which is pretty cool :-)

  14. “The secret of great advertising is keep it from looking like advertising”

    In over 7 years in copywriting i have found that almost all of the world’s copywriter minds – John E. Kennedy , Victor Schwab, Eugene Schwartz, Claude C. Hopkins, John Caples, David Ogilvy, Gary Bencivenga, Gary Halbert, Dan Kennedy, you name it – have essentially distilled the secret of selling down to this.

    Sonia, you really nailed it here.

    I think Sun Tsu said it best, “The ultimate victory is to win without fighting”.

    My twist, “The ultimate selling is to sell without selling.”

    It is little wonder that these copy giants also had one thing in common – they loved writing letters. They all just loved direct mail! That’s something to think about in the light of the post.

    The post-it note technique you mentioned is a very famous technique as you rightly pointed out. Readers who would like to know more about such techniques should definitely read …

    http://thegaryhalbertletter.com/

    There is only one small point that I would slightly beg to disagree with.

    “dash of copywriting”

    In my humble opinion…. it should be more than just a dash. In fact, the entire content writing exercise should be thoroughly looked at & PLANNED from a copywriting point of view.

    Invaluable Information (Benefit) + Persuasive (& personal) ‘Presentation’ = Desired Action (or perception shift to whatever that you want them to shift to)

    In short, Content Marketing + Pro Copywriting = Selling Without Selling

    An Aside: Many a time I have come across clients who responded, “But… that doesn’t look like an ad! How would people know it is an ad if it doesn’t look like an ad at all.” These are the times when I wish someone could just stop the planet from spinning for a second because I feel like jumping off.

    P.S. The post itself is an excellent example of what it teaches the reader. Leading with example, anyone?

    P.P.S. The quality of posts from the CopyBlogger team has been exemplary, but alas… that cannot be said of a few guest posts in recent times (regrettably).

  15. I can see some great lessons here – both from the article and comments. So thank you Sonia and thank you, commenters!

    Steve

  16. Thank you Sonia for this *super* complete tutorial.

    You are great at breaking things down – you rock! – Theresa :)

  17. Sonia…as a new blogger[although not new to wordpress], your article has reinforced my idea of the right approach to take initially. That is to say, I intend to post good relevant content for several weeks before I start to recommend, or allude to, any product or service for which I might get recompense. My mentor Alex Jefferys stresses the need to give, give, give and the returns will follow. Would you agree?

  18. Hi Sonia,

    All of your Ideas are really wonderful. Write somehting useful and intresting, always write eye cachey headlines, offers something new to your readers.

    Thanks for sharing this awesome post.

  19. I definitely agree with your points on content marketing; people are smart, and you can’t trick them into buying through you. It’s much better to provide something valuable in return, which makes people _want_ to buy through you.