How to Create Epic Content

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Quick theatre history quiz: Can you guess the plot of this play from these two lines?

Then I will out with it at last, my mighty secret! Oh! Sister, women, if we would compel our husbands to make peace, we must refrain …

And:

We must refrain from the male altogether …

That’s from the opening scene of an ancient Greek comedy called Lysistrata by Aristophanes. Any guess what the plot’s about?

If you said “Women going on a sex strike to persuade their husbands to stop the Peloponnesian War” then you’d be correct.

What the heck does the plot of an ancient Greek play have to do with content creation and crushing your competition by writing epic blog posts?

The ladies were sick to death of death, and wanted to make love, not war. Let me explain …

A brief history of this slogan

That slogan is a lot older than you thought — isn’t it? When we think of the concept of “Make love, not war” we think of hippies.

We think of the 60s and 70s.

We think of Diane Newell Meyer who was the first person to pin the slogan to her sweater.

We think of radical activists like Penelope and Franklin Rosemont who were the first to people to print the slogan on a button.

The more perverse among us thinks of George Carlin who said he would’ve retired if he had invented the phrase. Since he didn’t want to retire he opted for a naughty adaptation.

We also think of spin offs like “Make love, not Warcraft” and, most recent and most relevant to our discussion here at Copyblogger is make content — not war.

That last one is noble, but boo hiss: why can’t I do both?

Make war with content

Here’s what we know: besides the obvious social media and SEO benefits, content marketing is a tried-and-true method to building an audience that builds a business.

Creating content is a smart business move because it will:

  • Build your brand.
  • Make selling way easier.
  • Build an audience that trusts you.
  • Overcome prospect objections.
  • Attract strategic partners.
  • Deepen loyalty with existing customers.
  • Build your reputation with search engines.
  • Crush your competition.

It’s that last point I want to expand on in this article. And it’s all about making war with content. In particular I want to teach you how and why you should write (and use) epic blogs posts to completely crush your competition.

But first I need to define our terms. Let’s go …

Who is your competition?

For me it begins with myself. I am my biggest competition. With each new project or article, I want to smoke my previous accomplishments. I never want to rest on my latest post.

I always want to get better. The same must be true for you: you are your best competition.

After you the next category of competitors is naturally other content creators. This is usually a category of writers related to your field.

For example, if you work in SEO you don’t need to worry about writers on The New Yorker or Wired. Unless you decide — and can — write for those platforms.

Otherwise, ignore them.

You also don’t need to worry about people who are in another pay grade.

For example, I work in marketing and advertising. Seth Godin is not my direct competition. Guy Kawasaki is not my direct competition.

Those guys are great people to model, and maybe someday I can dream they will be direct competition — but not today.

Instead, aim for someone in your weight class. Study them. Get to know their story, their techniques and their purpose. And systematically train to defeat them (more on that later).

In the end, when it comes to crushing your competition with an epic blog post the question you have to keep asking yourself is this: Am I accomplishing more today than yesterday? Last week? Last year?

Don’t make this mistake with competition

Some people are tempted to say this: “you have no competition.” That’s simply not true. You have a sea of competition.

And you are drowning in it.

Usually that argument looks like this:

  • You are utterly unique.
  • There is only one you.
  • There CAN BE no copycats.
  • And so if there are no copycats then there can be no competition.

This is laughable.

This is like saying the reason that Wal-Mart is one of the largest retail stores in the world is because they are utterly unique. Or Muhammad Ali was a world-class heavy-weight fighter because he was utterly unique.

Even the greatest in the world have competition.

Look at the online marketing world. Chris Brogan. Michael Stelzner. Brian Clark. Their success was built on their recognition of the competition — and it’s built on the back of working like mad to beat competition through differentiation.

Yeah, these guys are utterly unique. But that’s because they studied their competition and learned how to become utterly unique in their content.

The only problem is that with enough training, experience, and time anybody can copy what they do and knock them off of their thrones.

Let’s face it: most of what we have to offer is not unique. All of our lessons, advice and angles have been said before.

We just learn how to repackage it.

For example, Brian Clark didn’t bring anything new to the table with Copyblogger. Direct response copywriting techniques are a century old. He just recognized and introduced the natural connection between classic direct response to online content and social media.

Of course he has a unique spin. Who else would’ve suggested that Purple Rain could possibly have something to teach us about online marketing?!

And here’s the thing. You think these guys who are at the top of the game right now had competition when they were nobodies?

Well, think about how much competition they have now. When you’re perched at the top of the hill everybody can see you. And everybody wants to take you out.

No rest for kings and queens. Not if you want to stay in that throne. As Andy Grove said, “Only the paranoid survive.”

What does it mean to crush your competition?

In this particular context when I say “crush” I mean this: beat other writers and their content in categories like most comments and social shares.

In other words, visible metrics.

For example, every post I write for Copyblogger I watch the number of tweets I get compared to other posts that were published that week.

This is not just about boosting my ego. Sure, I want to dominate, but I also want to learn to see what others are doing. What are they doing that I can adopt and make my posts better?

As you can see, “crush” is really about competition with me. Crush is also about accomplishing internal goals you set for yourself:

  • Get Influencers to Share — For example when I wrote A Content Marketer’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Killing it With Google+ one of my internal goals was to get Brian Clark to share it. And he did.
  • Get Highest Google+ Shares — Another goal was to write a post that had the highest number of Google+ shares for a Crazy Egg post. I believe I achieved that goal, too, with the same post.
  • Get Job Offers — While guest posting is a useful strategy for attracting links I find it way more valuable way to network. Due to the posts I’ve published on Copyblogger I’ve sat on phone calls with CEOs, ghostwritten for some big name startups, and fielded dozens of opportunities.
  • Get More Subscribers — You also should be growing your site’s permission-driven fan base. Epic content is a great at attracting attention and driving them back to your site.

But goals aren’t strictly about quantity. Crush is all about quality, too.

Take the quality of comments, for example. While the gargantuan guide to content marketing got a low number of comments compared to other posts it generated more of the best-quality type:

I read the first few paragraphs up until you reached the list. Then started to scan the headlines and then reading a few of the descriptions. The first word that came to my mind was ‘Sick Bird.’ Sick Bird, Demian. I like it. Very useful. – Eric Walker

Holy wow, Demian — this [post] is the Energizer bunny of useful content marketing advice lists. Scrolling down through it I was blown away by how many things there were that I wanted to read! – Paul Ahren

My goodness Damian (sic)! This is a full-on content marketing course, worthy of a “buy button”! I’m grateful that you put this together. – Donovan Owens

And so on.

Why crush your competition?

Some will disagree with this approach. Treating content creation as a competition when I should be treating it as cooperation.

Shoot, they might even trot out Franklin D. Roosevelt:

Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.

Or Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti:

Real learning comes about when the competitive spirit has ceased.

Fair enough.

I’m all for cooperation. I’m all for learning. I’m also all for getting insanely better. Becoming the best. And competition drives that desire.

If there is no competition there is no motivation to play at your highest level. You’ll remain average. Rivalry is the mother of excellence.

But let me make this very clear: crush is not about behaving like a numbskull. Like David Sarnoff, founder of RCA, said, “Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people.”

Be competitive, but don’t let competition turn you into a jerk, okay?

What constitutes epic content?

It covers a monster amount of territory.

It could be expansive like 37 Negotiation Tips for Every Freelance Writer or it could drill down deep like Google Analytics Custom Reports: Paid Search Campaign Analysis.

Let’s look at a few characteristics and kinds.

  • Long — This is not the best way to identify an epic blog post, but it’s the most obvious. For the most part epic blog posts are at a minimum 1,000 words. Two to five thousand is normal. It’s one dramatic scrolling page. The Death of the Boring Blog Post is a phenomenal example of a long — read “epic” — blog post.
  • Ultimate Guides — Think Ultimate Guide to Facebook Marketing or 56 Ways to Market Your Business on Pinterest.
  • In-Depth — Like I mentioned above a long post doesn’t mean it’s an epic post. A long post that drills deep into a topic can be an epic post. Pick any of Avinash’s blog posts at Occam’s Razor for an example of epic.
  • Step-by-step — Similar to in-depth is the step-by-step tutorial. This is educational at its core. The only goal is to teach someone how to accomplish a task. Simple tasks like taking out the trash would not make an epic blog post. What you need to do to create your own compost pile, on the other hand, might make an epic blog post.
  • Lists — This is the staple and classic form of epic blog posts. But I’m not talking about ten tips or even twenty. Fifty is okay, but epic is in the one hundred (101 Reasons to Be Pretty Darn Euphoric You’re an Intellectual Snob) or higher range. Give me one thousand tips and I will take off my shoes around you. However, the quintessential list for becoming a better writer is epic even though it is only ten short tips long.
  • Interview Round-Up Post — This one is simple: hunt down several names to give you advice on a narrow topic, collect their answers, edit and publish. Granted, not everyone will respond, so start with a large list and collect as many as you can.
  • Story — This one takes a little bit more talent than the above. Not saying that those who knock out posts like those above are not talented — just maybe not talented enough to write a good story. James Chartrand’s coming-out tale and Jon Morrow’s epic story on Problogger are great examples of superb writing.

Let me repeat this: it is not just the size that makes a post epic. It’s the content. The content takes you over.

The tips solve very personal problems for you. The advice inflames you to try more and try harder. The story puts you in a spell.

That’s epic.

A caution … and 5-day plan

Don’t be fooled: these are not pieces of content that you can knock out in 20 minutes. You will not be able to churn out one epic blog post a day.

This is content that takes you hours over a week to plan, write and refine. Your aim with an epic post is to create a masterpiece. And you are lucky if you can create one a week.

You’ll kill yourself if you try to do more.

I’ve found Pamela Wilson’s plan for writing one powerful piece of content a week a good strategy (I’ve added one more day to her original plan):

  • Day One: Brainstorm headlines and subheads with a mind-mapping tool.
  • Day Two: Write like mad.
  • Day Three: Edit, massage and tweak.
  • Day Four: Research and include both links from your site and links to outside sites.
  • Day Five: Publish and promote.

That’s a great strategy. One I’ve used myself.

Now, like I promised, let’s explore some techniques for actually creating epic content.

How to train to write an epic blog post

Epic content ideas don’t come easy. Getting them down on paper is even harder. Getting them to fit together, make sense and wow people is the hardest.

That’s why you need to train. Here’s my routine:

  • Read like mad — An epic blog post is a convergence of two or more ideas (like twelve). It’s the accumulation of concepts over months. The only way to make those concepts snowball is to read — books, magazines, blogs. Listen to interviews and watch documentaries.
  • Take notes — I keep a small blue notebook on my desk for content ideas. In that notebook I write down headlines. Then I try to scratch out a short outline. I also write in books (that I own). For books I don’t own (like the library) I’ll use small pencil marks, go back through the book and then type in those lines. I also save articles to Readability and Evernote. An epic blog post is loaded with resources. Loaded.
  • Be the dumbest guy in the room — Surround yourself with people smarter than you. And listen. Absorb. If and when you get a chance, ask probing questions. Dig for answers and new material. Be relentless in your quest for knowledge. Honor your curiosity.
  • Study your niche — Do you know who is creating content in your industry? Find out and then apply a little Jack Welch blogging strategy: can you be number one or two in your industry? What can you do to be different?

Finally, you will need to sit down and create that epic content. You’ll need to sit down and fight the guitar.

And you’ll need to win. See the Jack White guide to becoming an exceptional writer to know what I mean. But here’s the essence: re-write until you can NOT re-write any more.

The art of crushing your competition (with epic content)

So, when is an epic blog post complete? When is the writing battle over?

Good questions.

Unfortunately there is no hard and fast rule except to say it should be a smooth read.

That means you will have to work through the document once, twice, three times — and more.

You’ll have to tweak the close, put it aside for the afternoon, hunt down a better opening at night, insert references in the morning, stare out the window and read it aloud at evening.

You’ll have to repeat the process until it is stitched up tight.

No loose threads. No busted seams.

And, for goodness sake, no making love until you get it right.

That’s the warrior way. ;)

About the author

Demian Farnworth


Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media's Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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Comments

  1. “aim for someone in your weight class”
    I tell my clients this all the time. You have to compete with your actual competition, not who you think or want your competition to be. And keep in mind that your online competition might not be the same as your offline.

  2. Game over. This is officially the BBE – Best Blog Ever. Takes everything I thought I knew about blogging — and destroys it. Thanks, I needed that.

  3. there should a different classification for epic posts that separate them from regular content.

    Whatever that line is, you leaped over it with this post, Demian. Thank you!

  4. Demian, I’m always a little wary of bloggers creating “epic content” or “useful shit”. Those phrases seem to be a little overused here in the blogosphere. Each post I’ve read from you, however, is great reading and filled with useful detail. Thanks for sharing this one.

  5. The problem with this post is that it made me want to read a lot of other posts by you too! Interesting point about the needed length for an epic post. that is a refreshing “out of the box’ advice when we so often hear to keep it short – that people’s attention span is short. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for the post! I’m new to blogging and enjoy combining information and narrative but worry about length. This post was a great example of a long post that kept me reading because it was packed with useful info. You just made my list of people to “read like mad.”

  7. • “Well, think about how much competition they have now. When you’re perched at the top of the hill everybody can see you. And everybody wants to take you out.” – hm… not really. Everybody wants to join you. We love authorities, really.

    • ‘Be the dumbest guy in the room’ – I like that one! You have to be willing to state the obvious too. Often it is not so obvious to others. Just phrase it originally.

    • Will be interested to see how many more epic posts you have up your sleeve – good work!

  8. I’m normally a 300words person post I’ve recently forced myself to write 500-1000 words articles and immediately seen result.
    I do agree on “Don’t make this mistake
    with competition” bloggers spent way more time worrying about the wrong competition and forgets people in their own level.

  9. Super post! Helpful for me since I am new to the game – just getting started on selling myself as a thought leader. I like to write, and like another gentleman said above, this advice is counter to some of what I have read before, but it resonates well with my style. It’s hard to be substantive in 500 words, period. I like to give something to my readers, and while I don’t consider my stuff epic, as my primary job is consulting, NOT writing, I do always want to do the best I can. I like your well written tips. Literary references and lot’s of links is an awesome gift. Thanks! I will save this post and take it out before I post again!

  10. truly epic post!
    I follow the weekly model to most of my posts on my tech blog. the one thing I’m struggling is to maintain multiple blogs (3-4) with epic content. there were many (30+) initially but cut down to these 3-4 now and want to concentrate on these only. do you have any advice how to maintain quality as well as quantity on this number of blogs?

    • Great question Vijay. My only advice is to cut back on the number of blogs or recruit guest writers. Focus on just the one or two blogs that you can dominate. Sounds like you are spreading yourself too thin, and the only antidote for that is cutting back.

  11. Epic post! :)

    Really great stuff. Thanks Damien—I’ll be saving this one for later!

  12. Awesome stuff Demian! I was right with you until the part about “no making love until you get it right.”
    Jeez, I would be a 50-year old virgin with that strategy. ;)

  13. Epic! What’s that?
    I guess the definition is from the emotions it aroused in me. One word: INcredible. I should add another: Push.
    That makes it: Incredible Push. Yes, your article is Epic because it gives me an incredible push, to act.

  14. It’s like this article is a compilation of the best epic content writing advice I’ve saved for myself over the years. Having this one-stop-shop to share sure makes it easier to pass along. And in true Copyblogger fashion, the last section doesn’t spoil us with cheap tips or shortcuts.

    Darn. ;)

  15. I was so relieved to read this post…I always try to create the best content that I can but it can take me a few days to write a tutorial or distill down the true meaning of what I want to say in a post. It’s nice to hear that it’s okay to take a few days to create this stuff. I’ve been hearing a lot about creating epic content, but not a whole lot about what it takes to make it happen. I felt like I was the only one not cranking out a post a day.

    Thanks for a great post and for including a lot of great links to check out/learn from.

  16. Gene F. Cooper,GySgt/USMC/Ret. :

    My current brain cells (2) are not making contact. Do I have to type out the actual word for a response? Well, here it comes————–HELP! Then again, I’ll return to the person that recommended that seek to publish on ebook. If I need to return to this, page or whatever it is, I will; otherwise, happy writing and reading all. Coop

  17. You just keep on writing epic content, my man. We need to gather the entire online world of content producers around this post for a read-a-thon. Read this post – then read it again…and if you don’t mind, repeat that.

  18. A content guide that doesn’t use the words “interaction” or “engagement”–thank god for that! Now all we need is to eradicate “epic” and everything’ll be just fine. Otherwise, v nicely done. Do you have any insights on B2B content strategy? I’ve been told it’s all one and the same, but have trouble believing it myself.

    • In my experience: For B2B, you need to know who’s involved in making a decision to buy. Often that’s more than one person. Then you need content that works for each of those people. You may need to create some content for engineers, some for CTOs, and some for CFOs. It depends on *your* sales cycle.

      Same concepts, just often there are more steps than in B2C.

  19. Epic indeed.

    I think this post needs to be a must-read for those truly trying to establish a good content generating blog or website. Because filler can only get you so far, you need to create posts that not only include good information, but information that sets you apart from others in your field. You can’t expect other’s to look to your posts as “the good stuff” if you’re not willing to put in the time and effort to do your research and really hone your pieces.

    Well done Demian!

  20. I always trying to improve my writing from my previous post.

    I keep an eye on my competition at the same time for possible ideas but at the end of the day it’s what I write and how it impacts people that matters.

  21. Thanks for the section on competition. You gave me an idea for a blog post on how I define competition and use it to guide my online ventures.

  22. The article itself is a fine example of how to create truly epic content!

    I just want to add that you don’t always have to create epic content. Just look at Seth Godin’s blog. He publishes entries that are a few sentences long. But he publishes everyday.

    I’d say a good mix of epic content and regular high quality (although not-so-epic ) content is ideal.

    • I agree a combination of long and short articles is not a bad strategy–but only if there is a good reason. Just because you want to publish daily is not enough. :)

      The thing with Seth Godin is he is an epic star to begin with. He could type out horoscopes and people would fall all over it. Besides, he’s got about a bajillion years of experience behind me (double you and I put together) and what he usually says in a short space is profound. You and I can’t do that. Not a good strategy for IMO.

      Here’s an exception: the guy who does Seven Sentences: http://sevensentences.com/

  23. Our writing can only be as epic as we are, don’t you think? Understanding our lives and investing our understanding in our writing is our own epic drama unfolding for ourselves and for others. You nailed it here, Demian. Thanks for a deeply useful post.

  24. Holy cow! That was the Copyblogger version of the Iliad – awesome! And just so you know – I ONLY came to read this because YOU wrote it, sir! LOL James Chartrand wrote an awesome Anti-Epic post the other week and I’ve pretty much had my fill of the Epic stuff and kind of sworn it off right now. LOL

    Glad I was wrong and popped in! Thanks, Demian!

  25. I love this post, Demian. Why? Because it sets the bar higher and challenges bloggers to step up their game. Thanks for the challenge, and thanks for the post.

  26. Amazing stuff. I wish I had great writing skills. I always try to improve from my previous written post and one thing I know is that I am improving day by day. But still, there is a lot to learn.

  27. Clever intro…loved the Aristophanes reference…a memorable article with fantastic advice…thanks.

  28. Hi Demian, another inspiring post to bookmark and reference.

    I definitely think it’s an ego thing though when you measure up the impact your article has made over the week. I do respect the disclosure as it’s the first time I’ve seen it mentioned.

    The realistic 5 day plan is something that can be incorporated and I would like to know how you would get away with posting once a week if sticking to that structure?

    Nevertheless, key food for thought and I love improvement too!

  29. I find writing an epic post is the best way to indirectly protect your work. People might copy and paste parts of it elsewhere, but you can’t steal the style or intention behind the work. And readers always find their way back to the original source/content regardless of where else they might read it.
    Also, epic posts send a message to your readers that your serious about blogging. They’ll respect you for it.

  30. This post itself is epic! Great strategies for churning out content, I’m going to start doing this ASAP.

  31. This is an epic post. Take a week to create an epic post. Awesome.Seems like I have a lot of work to do. Does every post has to be epic?

  32. Yes content does matter,the tips provided here is very useful and interesting. Copyblogger is a source of inspiration for numerous newbies in blogging.Thanks for sharing an awesome post as always.