Developing Compelling & Engaging Content

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  • November 1, 2010

Regardless of the topic or goals of your blog or website, you need solid content to fill your site. You’re looking for something that has the potential to really go viral. You’re hoping for a subject that will really incite people to leave comments and join the conversation. You don’t just want to add content in an effort to meet an artificially important quota; you want meaningful and substantial content.

In the world of blogging and web development, one adage has risen above all others, “Content is King.” We understand that websites are a combination of design elements, usability, navigation, load speed, interactivity and content. More importantly, we understand that content is the king that rises above all others.

With compelling content, a weak performance in these other areas of your website will be overlooked. With weak content, even the most beautiful and easy to use websites will ultimately fail to achieve any notable level of success.

To produce the greatest level of success, I’ve always advocated that bloggers and website developers spend time developing each of these areas to their fullest potential. It’s what I refer to as the total package. In other words, a plane with four engines will probably get in the sky fastest with all four engines running. But since this is a lesson on developing content, I digress.

Laying The Groundwork: Compelling & Engaging

The two core concepts that we want to achieve as the defining attributes for our content are compelling and engaging.

  • Compelling: According to Webster’s dictionary, compelling is defined as “forceful; demanding attention.” They even go so far as to provide an example sentence to clarify its meaning, “The novel was so compelling that I couldn’t put it down.”
  • Engaging: According to Webster’s dictionary, engaging is defined as “tending to draw favorable attention or interest.” And gain we have example usage provided, “A movie with an engaging story that will hold your interest for a couple of hours.”

These definitions and example sentences demonstrate perfectly the type of material that you want to provide at your blogs and websites. You want your material to be so powerful that it drives people as if by force to read, participate in the conversations, and connect with you as members of your community. You then want to keep them engaged drawing them in for longer and more frequent visits to your site.

The 4 Basic Forms of Online Content

The actual scope of material that the term content can cover is actually much larger than most bloggers generally think.  Don’t allow yourself to become restricted to thinking only of the written word. Content goes far beyond that and can also include videos, photos and audio.

  • Videos: With the advent of high speed internet, sites that provide high quality videos have been on the rise. Of course, as most of you think of video content there is one household name that probably pops into your mind before all others…YouTube. Of course, others like DocType TV, the show for people who make websites, are using video content to educate and entertain their audiences. High quality, well-produced video is perhaps the most engaging form of online content.
  • Photos: If a picture is worth a thousand words then how many words would it take to describe the content on a website like Flickr? Audiences are naturally attracted to that which visually stimulates them. An impressive car, a beautiful girl, and a bright, vivid landscape are all excellent examples of photographic subject matter that can lure in your audience by appealing to their visual senses.
  • Audio: As Apple’s iPods, iPads and iPhones have been steadily taking over the world, there has been a massive shift toward podcasting and other forms of downloadable audio. Sites like Pandora and Last.fm have been capitalizing on this trend and are working to provide people with easy access to their favorite audio media.
  • Articles: Every blogger seems convinced that they’re already producing excellent quality articles for their readers to enjoy but let’s remember what John Wooden once quipped, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Stop trying to convince yourself that your written content is excellent and that there must be some other hidden ingredient holding you back from success and start searching for the weak points in your writing that are crippling your successes. A full cup can take no water.

The 3 Basic Categories of Online Content

As you become more experienced online, you will eventually grow to realize that there are three distinct reasons that people are surfing the internet.

  • Education: Many visitors, especially those coming from search engines, are looking for information on specific topics.  They want guides that explain how to do something in a way that is quick and easy to understand.  They want to be educated on a particular skill or on a particular bit of knowledge.  Wikipedia is a perfect example of a site that appeals to users seeking knowledge.
  • Entertainment: Many users browse the internet simply to pass the time, to amuse themselves, or to find something to make them laugh.  Many television networks are now broadcasting their programming across the internet to draw in this group of online traffic.  Youtube is an amazingly popular example of a site that appeals to entertainment focused users.
  • Engagement: With the advent of social media like Twitter, MySpace and Facebook, there is ever growing demographic of users online who are searching for ways to connect and engage with other people.  People are drawn to sites where the comment sections are used to carry on substantial conversations.

Take the time to improve your content and you’ll be amazed at the dramatic change you’ll see at your online community. Mingle all four different forms (video, photo, audio and articles) of content into your site and work hard to increase your site’s level of education, entertainment and engagement.

You’ll be glad that you did. More importantly, your audience will be glad that you did.

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About Nicholas Cardot

It's my personal quest to enable every person that I can to unlock that dormant potential concerning their online influence. Also, I'm a geek.

48 Comments

  • Richard Lord says:

    I like your break down of the categories of online content, and your idea of trying to combine the three as much as possible.
    I have started trying to view my own content in the same way as if I was seeing a blog I had never seen before. This helps me to find areas that I am not happy with, and therefore that readers may not like.

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      We’ve been covering this phenomenon in my studies at school a bit recently. Often people have a sense about them where they are not willing to admit that they are weak in a given area and as a result they never step back and grow in an area where they really could develop themselves.

      Being able to step back and honestly critique your own work is a powerful skill and it is definitely a strength and not a weakness.

      What kind of areas have you been identifying that you want to continue improving on?

      • Richard Lord says:

        I agree, it’s difficult to critique your own work honestly. I find it easiest to do by doing this for someone else’s website first, before looking at my own and seeing if things I liked or didn’t like are present in my content.
        My content is currently mainly in the education category, but I am trying to expand this to be more entertaining, so that readers are interested to continue instead of leaving after learning the information they were looking for.
        To achieve this, I am trying to make my content trigger the continued interest of a reader, with views, thoughts and questions, instead of just presenting the facts.

        • Nicholas Cardot says:

          That’s a good strategy to continue improving your content. I’ve heard it said that you are or you soon will be who your friends are. This is true because the things that we see and observe can become a part of us. We learn from what we see, what we like and what we dislike.

          With that line of thinking, I would encourage you to be looking at others who are absolutely at the top and learn from them. Find the most beautiful and easy to use websites and take from them any lessons that you can use to help make yours better. Don’t compare yourself to others who are substandard or you will always be satisfied with an equal level of mediocrity.

  • 10 Incredible Blogging Tips To Improve Your Blog says:

    [...] Developing Compelling & Engaging Content – SiteSketch101 Regardless of the topic or goals of your blog or website, you need solid [...]

  • TrafficColeman says:

    I implement audio,video,photos and a course content in my post..the reason for this is so I can touch basics with all type of readers.

    I will say to use all the above if you can, it will help your readership.

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      I think that holds both true and untrue. There are many websites that have built a core community around just one type of content. Youtube is built around video content. Seth Godin’s blog is build around written content. Podcasts are built around audio content.

      You don’t have to have all three. You just have to be excellent in the one that you are using.

  • Onibalusi Bamidele says:

    Awesome and epic post Nick,

    This is a great example of a compelling content!

    I love your break-down on writing great content, many people believe they write great content while they don’t. I have been having problems with myself over my content all this while simply because it’s not what I want…I believe that if a content is truly great and compelling it should go viral.

    I will also be working on using other forms of content on my blog, I presently use text only.

    Thanks so much for the awesome post,
    -Onibalusi

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      I love your break-down on writing great content, many people believe they write great content while they don’t.

      I think that you’ve got a good grasp on reality with that statement. We humans are plagued with excessive pride. We hate to admit when we might not know something and it drives us to pretend that everything is alright instead of learning and improving ourselves and our products.

      Sometimes we’re driven by a certain level of naivety, almost a blind optimism. Optimism isn’t a bad thing when it’s coupled with the knowledge and experience necessary to actually achieve the success that you’re optimistic toward. But blind optimism, coupled with the inability to learn, be flexible and improve oneself throughout the journey toward success will only lead to failure and a sense of disgust as you look back on your misguided optimism.

      Be honest with yourself. Identify your weak areas and work hard to improve something every day.

  • Robert Bravery says:

    Very long post, but some excellent points.

    Yes, Content is king. As you point out, that content can take different forms.

    If we start to vary out content, then we will find it somewhat easier to deliver that content.

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      It’s makes it easier both to produce and to digest. It’s more fun for us because we get to mix up our usual routines. It’s more fun for our readers and our communities because variety is the spice of life.

  • Dennis Edell | Direct Sales Marketing says:

    Engaging should be automatic if you’re properly promoting to the readers fitting your niche; then compelling is up to you. ;)

    The brutal truth all up and coming bloggers need, “unless you’re in your own micro niche, you’re not that unique…you need to out-compel the other guy.

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      Simply being unique doesn’t really give you an edge over the competition. Jeffrey Dommer was unique. Statistically there are very few people in the world who even compare to him…but that doesn’t mean that he was successful at anything in life. Instead of always telling people that they need to rewire their brains to be different, I always tell people to be themselves. If that’s similar to someone else…who cares.

      You can outperform without being unique in nature. You can outperform by developing your writing style. You can outperform by making your site easier to navigate.

      I see a lot of sites that write very similar articles to Site Sketch 101 and yet I see excellent traffic here. Many of the topics of the articles here are the same as topics elsewhere but I’m constantly working on trying to write on these topics in a more compelling way than my competition and I’m working on making my site more fun to browse and navigate than the sites of my competition.

      We just have to step it up a notch and start giving people something that’s worth spending their time on.

      • Dennis Edell | Direct Sales Marketing says:

        You’re 100% right. Everyone is already unique just by being themselves; no two people are exactly alike.

        Call me jaded. Maybe I’ve been on too long; dunno. I prefer reverse psychology sometimes.

        Tell a beginner to be themselves and they will say, I don’t know what that means…and end up copying from others.

        Tell them to be unique, even outlandish and they’ll try it, give up, and say screw it, I’ll just be myself….happy over the fact that it was “their idea”. ;)

        Oh btw, regarding your analogy…..you might wanna see someone about that. LOL

  • marshall | genverters.com says:

    I like the three categories of content. I stumbled across them after awhile. At first I thought the ‘stories’ were not compelling and not educational enough. Now after a year I’m starting to see how all three types fit together!

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      Honestly, some of the stories might not be as educational as some of the articles that are written primarily to be educational. But there is probably a segment of your audience that will enjoy the entertainment value of a good story or the engagement value of understanding who you are.

      As a challenge, I think I’m going to write up a post where I challenge people to write an article at their blog that is focused around the telling of a story. This would be a great way to develop that idea and then I could feature everyone’s blog for those that participate.

      Thanks for the great idea!

    • Tom Goldberg says:

      Stories are excellent ways to help us remember points and lessons. Listen to any politicians speech and you’re sure to hear a few stories. This is because they know this is a proven way to get their points across in a manner that will allow their messages to stick with the audience.

  • Thomas McGee says:

    Nice article. I’ve actually been working on one myself that goes into the importance of great content. The way good content is broken up in this article is very helpful, and a good new way to look at the information.

    Something that been discovered more and more recently, is the importance of finding what a readership would be expecting, then far surpassing those expectations. The “wow” factor makes a huge difference in delivering compelling content.

    I learned that especially with an article I recently published with Smashing Magazine »

    http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/10/28/billboard-web-design-how-to-win-your-audience-s-attention/

    Again thanks for the article!

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      In business, I’ve always been taught to under promise and over deliver and I think that is exactly what you’re promoting here. When you can invite someone to your work and they are absolutely in awe of what they see, read, or experience then you can really captivate their attention and build a community.

      P.S. Congrats on being published at Smashing Magazine. Are you a fairly regular writer there or was that just a guest article submission?

      • Thomas McGee says:

        Thanks so much. This particular one was just a guest article. It’s possible I may be doing some more for them in the future, but at this point I’m not a regular author. I spend most my time these days writing for WinePress of Words.

  • Gabriele Maidecchi says:

    Excellent suggestions Nicholas, a true multi-media content, aimed to provide a whole different range of emotions, is a sure way to increase the chances of engagement.

    I can see this in my own experience, as some of the most successful posts on my blog are those including a video, especially regarding more entertaining technologies like 3D.

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      Mixing things up is a great way to grab attention especially when you don’t sacrifice the quality of your content just to increase the quantity of mediums. When you can integrate high quality video, audio, photos and articles, you can see powerful results.

      What kind of 3D work are you into?

      • Gabriele Maidecchi says:

        3D technology applied to the web, like virtual worlds, 3D shops, 3D configurators etc, we use the Unity3D framework, it’s awesome ’cause it’s multi-platform and very light-weight (both in MB size and in hardware requirements).

        • Nicholas Cardot says:

          I see. One of my college friends was pursuing 3D animation with the goal of eventually being able to make educational children’s cartoons but I don’t think that he ever ended up pursuing it very thoroughly.

          Your Unity3D framework sounds cool. Of course, if you asked me to work with it, I’d feel like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs but it’s cool to see you grabbing onto it.

  • Carolee Sperry says:

    This is a great breakdown of the steps necessary for good content.

    I have copied this sentence:

    [With compelling content, a weak performance in these other areas of your website will be overlooked. With weak content, even the most beautiful and easy to use websites will ultimately fail to achieve any notable level of success.]

    If you don’t mind, I may use that in a class or on my radio show- with mention that I got it from your site and will give the link here.

    I have soooo many people I work with (usually the ladies on this one…)that want an absolutely stunning or “cute” blog, but have no idea what to write about….

    Have a great day!

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      You are more than welcome to use any material on here that you want to. I’m just blessed to know that it has helped you on your way and I hope that it can be a help to someone else as well.

  • Ryan says:

    I appreciate when one can simplify processes that seem arduous or ambiguous to newbies like myself. It gives us basic building blocks off which we can manage our own blogs and hopefully find the success others have had.

    Thanks, I will definitely be diversifying my blogs using the categories you specify. Especially since I have mainly been focusing on Text and Educational posts.

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      I’m glad to hear that and I hope that you see some improvement in the community at your blog.

      What is the topic of your blog?

      • Ryan says:

        Probably much different than the other visitors on this site, but my site focuses on Beginning Bartending Lessons. Its a new project which I have enjoyed building over the last 3 months. The goal is to hopefully find success in my first project and use this momentum to create others down the road.

  • Jon Thomas says:

    One thing to note – just because there are a variety of ways to create content, doesn’t mean you HAVE to use them all.

    Some people just aren’t comfortable in front of a camera, and that’s okay. Some people love to talk but don’t like to type at a computer – that’s okay too! Just focus on creating content in whatever way you’re most comfortable.

    Make sure, however, that your content type works with your audience. There’s a reason gossip sites use videos/images and only brief amounts of text. That audience isn’t there to read dissertations.

    @Story_Jon

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      I think I probably did a poor job getting that point across and I think that you really summed it up well. But I would also encourage people to experiment with different types of content before deciding that something isn’t for them.

  • Ron Leyba says:

    As always Nick, you really did a great job putting up this post/topic. I like how you defined and broke down the 3 basic categories of online content. I learned a lot.

  • Craig Carrigan says:

    I was going to take notes on this, but instead I just bookmarked it because every point is spot on. I’ll be using this to try and help change my writing and hopefully increase readership. Nice post! :)

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      Thanks, Craig. Hopefully these tips really do help you as you work to increase readership and grow your community. I’ve got some more on this subject coming soon.

  • Steph says:

    Excellent post – soooo looking forward to getting your book soon.

  • Jason says:

    This one’s explosive Nicholas. With regards to my style, I tend to focus with “education”, knowing that it’s the primary reason why I personally visit other blogs, to learn more about the trade. The best part about this is that you also get to showcase your expertise, which is very good in building your reputation in the industry. But one sad fact about compelling and engaging contents is that there are a lot of good stuffs out there, well written and very unique, it’s just the marketing effort was too weak for it to get noticed by their targeted market. That’s why both play a huge part.

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      I’m primarily the same way. I focus on the education aspect and as I read around the web that’s most usually what I find myself looking for. However, I also find it incredibly useful to mingle these other aspects into the education process. If I can entertain and engage while I’m educating, I find it much easier to draw people in to read.

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  • Mel Melhado says:

    Good contents draws readers. It cannot be denied that other methods are required to promote a blog but quality contents never fails to attract readers.

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