Why should you care about digital content? If you’re in the business of creating content or sharing content with others via social media, you’ll appreciate digital content that is highly valued and usable.
Many people spend an hour each day reading email and digital content on social media. The time spent is just as important as the quality of content you choose to read. When was the last time you said after reading an article–that content was informative, creative, friendly, significant, or usable?
Usable content is the productive element of the content formula. Content that is effective and efficient will be valuable to you and your audience.
Among many content development techniques, I’ve found these five tips to be most helpful in sparking creativity, interest, and consideration for your readers’ time.
5 Techniques on Creating Usable Content
Organize content into logical chunks
When you organize content in a logical order, you create a natural flow for readers. Readers will be able to pick among those chunks that are most relevant to them. The bottom line is you’re saving the reader’s time and your time as well in creating logically organized content.
To help you organize your content, start with an outline. Ask some of the best writers whether they create an outline.
List your ideas and create categories of information. You can expand on any one idea within a section or category in a similar way that you brainstorm a problem. Look for related ideas and organize your content accordingly.
Example: These content tips are organized so that each one is a logical chunk of information:
- Organizing Content
- Length and Purpose
- A Better Snippet
- Show Me How
- Why Should Readers Care
Think of organizing your content like an orchestra, where each section will be different and set up according to instrument.
Tip: Your chunk or section of digital content can be spun off to create a separate topic of interest. See the video example next.
Align content length with purpose
Video. Have you clicked away from a video link simply because it was too long? Learn to create video content in three minute segments (or less). A longer piece signals multiple steps, a complex process, or a new concept to justify listening to—and the reader will make that decision depending on the purpose of the subject matter.
Example: See the LinkedIn Learning example where video length ran between one and four minutes per section for this Disruptive Innovation course by Whitney Johnson.
White papers and essays. Be considerate to let readers decide whether to read more now or later. Produce an executive summary or synopsis, and take it a step further by posting the read time; for example, 3 minutes. Then create a separate full length document as a PDF download or web page link called Full Length and post the reading time as well, for example, 25 minutes (depending on the complexity of concepts you’re conveying).
Longer vs shorter blog posts. There are no specific guidelines for blogs except to consider search engine optimization (SEO) that favors longer authoritative pieces.
Long example: Authoritative posts may run 1000 to 2000 words, which you’ll see on leadership blogs like Harvard Business Review. Often these blog posts are authored by 2 or more people.
Short example: Blog post length may be shorter, at lengths of 300 – 600 words, when company blogs are used for announcements or supporting a service. Zendesk, a customer service software, announced on its blog about a new guide to great customer service on social media and the post word count was 350 words. A full guide link was provided at the end of their post, which aligns with the explanation for white papers (full length) described above.
Create a better snippet to hook reader
A snippet is like a gold nugget. Just like the word implies, a snippet is an extract of the topical content and is displayed in search results or wherever the content link has been shared on social networks. People decide whether to read the content based on the snippet as well as the headline.
Because the snippet needs to contain a hook to appeal to the reader and answer the question, why should they read your content, you’ll want to create a better snippet.
Snippets are automatically created by the web page or blog template. For example, the first 55 words is part of the snippet using a WordPress template. So, when you’re using an automatic snippet you have to make sure the first paragraph tells the reader exactly what they should expect.
Automatic vs Manual Snippet: Another way to control how the first paragraph is displayed in search results is to see whether your software gives you an option to manually enter an excerpt or snippet.
Example: See the following example of a manually generated snippet from Travel & Leisure Milan Travel Guide. Compare the article’s first couple of sentences (click on the link to Travel & Leisure) and you can see the beginning text of the article was not utilized in the snippet. The manually generated snippet overrides the automatic snippet.
Tip: In another context, consider the first two or three sentences of your email as a snippet. If your reader utilizes a summary view of their email, the snippet-like content may be all that is read.
Show me, don’t tell me
Let’s suppose you’ve created a great recipe for grilling a steak. Do you think you’re writing about a steak? I’ve often wondered how to make a steak sizzle. Show me how to make a steak sizzle and I’ll bookmark your grilling recipe.
This is the main idea in bringing your digital content to life. Show me what I need to know and do. For example, the snippet and excerpt content shown above is meaningful because you’re able to read where the snippet is captured (in Travel and Leisure magazine’s Milan travel guide) and you can see its top categories (vacation and trip ideas, best hotels, restaurants, and things to do).
If you’re an instructor, you may have heard the expression that happens to be the title of a popular book, Telling Ain’t Training. This concept is about making your content interactive so your students or readers become engaged and experience the lesson for themselves. Let’s try this example of interactive content.
Two-person example: This exercise is designed to do with a partner.
Ask each other the following question, each time, until 10 different answers are given. Each answer will lead you to get deeper into your feelings.
Your partner asks the question out loud: “What do you want?” (Based on the Be, Do, and Have model)
And you give your answer out loud. Try writing it down, too. Let’s use an example for someone wanting to lose weight.
I ask, “What do you want?”
You answer, “I want to lose weight.”
I ask again, “What do you want?”
You answer, “I want to be healthy.”
I ask again, “What do you want?”
You answer, “I want to feel comfortable in skinny jeans.”
Continue this line of questioning. Allow one person at a time to take a turn until you come up with at least 10 different answers. This approach is the same principle for creating digital content. Continue answering the question, what do you need to show, explain, or create?
Explain to readers why they should care
Do people want to know why should they care, especially about what they’re reading or listening to? “People believe what you believe,” says Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.
Example: Sinek believes in a world where people should wake up feeling inspired to go to work.
Example: I believe everyone should care and love their fellow mankind.
When people understand “why” should they care, their emotional trigger says yes, I believe what you believe. For example, consider people’s health. For your grilled steak recipe, create “Guidelines for Safely Grilling Steaks” would give readers important information and a usable recipe.
They may forget what you said – but they will never forget how you made them feel. – Carl W. Buehner
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