Make Great Content

The pundits offer a drupillion tips and techniques for grabbing eyeballs and nabbing clicks and sweet-talking search engines. But the One Commandment that rises above all else as the master key to site success is this:

Make Great Content!

Do that, and word will spread, and visitors will flock, and advertisers will lie prostrate before you. All the discussions that follow – the SEO, the technical tips, and so on – are subordinate and secondary to the master command of Make Great Content.

Create good stuff

Top sites swear that good content is a more important ingredient behind success than futzing with keywords and getting links and gaming the search engines and what not. Make the best content you possibly can. Good things will follow. 

Write it well

A writer who's sloppy with words and ideas loses a lot of ability to affect readers.  

Oh, I'm sorry. Let me rephrase that in modern Internet-ese:

A writer whose sloppy with words and idea's looses alot of ability to effect their readers. 

If that doesn't make you gnash a few teeth to calcium dust, you need to consider whether you're really ready to spring a web site onto the world.

Sure, we can debate how important the grammar and spelling are compared to the content. Discount this discussion if you really want to. I can only offer myself as one case study: given far more content out there than I can possibly read in a lifetime, I discriminate ruthlessly based on writing quality. Why waste time on writers whose output shouts "I just don't care"? There might be some great ideas in that mess, but experience tells me that the odds are much better with the well-written stuff.

Depending on your audience, most of your readers might not care too much about good writing. But whatever the audience, rest assured that some of it does care. Why risk losing any audience through sloppiness? 

Triple-check your writing. If possible, get proofreaders or an editor to check it over. 

Needless to say, the same applies to non-written content: if your site's all about images or videos or whatever, do those well.

With that, I'll move on before I use up my lifetime allowance of blatantly obvious statements. 

Make it unique

Again, the top bloggers are united on this point: Write with a clear, unique voice. Be yourself.

Some of the bloggers take it a wee further: be opinionated and controversial, they advise. Even an angered audience is better than a bored one!

Make it look good

Make it easy on the eyes: good design, easy to read. Specifically, check whether the page is cluttered and crowded (boo!), or whether it's easy to scan (yay!). In most cases, lots of white space is your friend.

Think twice before deciding that white text on a black page is really what you want. And if your combination is anything worse than that – red on blue, or pale text on a pale background, etc. – then don't think, just nuke it! Fast!

If you're looking for images to gussy up a site or a page, there's a whole Internet full of 'em. Just be sure you have the right to use images you find. Either talk with the image's creator, or use images that aren't restricted. Wikipedia Commons and stock.xchng are good places to look for those. (Or try this tip, via Tim Ferriss: Head to Flickr, open up Advanced Search, check the "" option, and run a search for your keywords from the "Search for" field. To locate the best of the results that Flickr returns, find the little "View" line that appears right above the photos, and click "Most interesting". You should be swimming in good images.) 

Make it clear

That means writing clearly, and using graphics that support, rather than distract from, the text. But more specifically, I want to emphasize titles here: Make your post titles clear and meaningful, and you make the site easier for visitors to scan.

Another consideration: Place key content toward the top. Let visitors see the important stuff (or at least the start of it) right away, without having to scroll beneath pictures and ads to see what the content is about. (Keep it "above the fold", to parrot the strange phrase inexplicably loved by webby types.)

Write what people want to read

All right, as "advice" that's about as helpful as "remember to breathe". What I'm getting at is specific types of content that seem to do especially well with Internet audiences. These include:

  • Lists: favorites, Top 10 lists, and so on. 
  • Scoops, exclusives, breaking news, etc.
  • Interviews
  • How-to articles and tutorials (including screencasts for computer-related how-to)
  • Product/service reviews
  • Guides that simplify complex topics (especially "definitive guide" treatments)
  • Thorough pointers to useful content on other sites (such as "curating" scattered information into a list of best resources) 
  • Seasonal or event-related content (holidays, April Fools' pranks, major sporting events, elections, etc.)
  • Quizzes
  • Contests
  • Rankings (people, products, movies, websites, etc.) 
  • Expanded topics taken from your own FAQ. (If they're really frequently asked, they must be of interest to people.)
  • Infographics (if you've got the organization and artistic chops; see this guide)

Use these with care, though: content should first and foremost be content right for your site, not content you think you need to write. You probably don't want to come across as a slinger of unimaginative, paint-by-numbers content.

A nice example of a Top 10 list from Tillerman: Write a "Top Ten Blogs" list for your niche. There's a list that readers should find interesting, and the blogs you link to will appreciate the attention too, possibly reciprocating with mentions and good will. 

Make lots of it

More content means more stuff to attract and keep a wider range of visitors. It also means more fodder for other sites to link to, and for search engines to find. 

So if (and only if) it makes sense for your site, go ahead and give Quality's oft-derided sibling Quantity a fair shake. Make and post lots of stuff. (Just don't ignore Quality, okay?)

Build your content storehouse

In addition to hammering out fresh content for your site, can you unearth hidden stores of material? Maybe some classic email diatribes in your "Sent" box that'd appeal to a wide audience? Old original artwork? Collected notes and links that'd become a helpful article after a little organization? If you've got good old stuff, recycle it into new content.

Along those lines, here's a not-so-hidden technique for building new content: Whenever I find myself writing an email or posting a comment somewhere, I ask myself whether what I'm writing might also be good fodder for site content. It's a bit of a shame to submit a long book critique as a comment on someone's blog, or help a friend solve computer troubles via a detailed email how-to, and not also share that info with potentially interested readers on your own site. Wherever you are, write with your site in mind!

Stock up ahead of time

Top bloggers often start posts as soon as opportunity and ideas strike, forming a library of half-written posts ready to complete at any time. If nothing else, at least keep a growing list of content ideas, a quick scan of which can trigger a response of "yes, I'm ready to write that one now!". It's great to have this when the creative muse is out for the week.

Your CMS may even let you write full posts and schedule them for publication at set times. Top bloggers swear by this technique as a great way to keep a site automatically churning out content during no-blogging vacations on the beach. I've done it, piling up a week's worth of posts and setting them to trickle out one per day without my lifting a finger. 

The Drupal connection: The Scheduler module is your friend here, letting you schedule both the publishing and unpublishing of modules.

Let your audience help

Many popular sites share a key feature: user-generated content. That can mean comments on content, or forums, or freedom to create and post new content, or all of the above. The more audiences can add to the site, the more they'll feel connected – and the more content there will be for other visitors (and search engines) to enjoy. An engaged audience will grow the site much, much faster than you could on your own.

Enable as many forms of interaction as makes sense for your site. See more information later on building community.

The Drupal connection: As a platform, community is what Drupal is all about. Modules for comments and forums are built right into the core package. It's easy to create registered users, or allow anyone to register as a user, and set permissions for what those users are allowed to do. Out of the box, Drupal even allows a unique blog for every registered use, something other big-name CMSes can lack.

Offer extras

What else can you offer right from your site in addition to pages? Downloads! People love a good download. Some ideas:

  • eBooks. Anyone can turn good content into an eBook in any number of formats: ePub, PDF, etc.
  • Cheat sheets. A condensed collection of useful info is a nice accompaniment to a how-to article. (See my One-Page Checklist for site promotion and SEO.) 
  • Other files. Got any great templates, spreadsheets, audio files, website themes, etc. to share?

Make sure your offerings are truly your own (i.e., they're not making unauthorized use of someone else's text, images, etc.). And don't forget to include your site name and URL within the offerings!

The Drupal connection: Drupal 6 users can enhance file-handling capability with the FileField module. Drupal 7 users don't need to bother; it's built in.

Consider any of a zillion external file hosting services if you're concerned about file downloads stressing your server or bandwidth.


Sam Denial's picture

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