How to Avoid Fools Gold and Create Value Packed Content 182

In my last post — why value rules the attention economy — I argued that concentrating value is a wise growth plan in the Web 2.0 era. Though a number of readers disagreed with some of the extra points I made, people did seem to respond well to the idea of creating value-packed content.

I do plan on addressing some of the concerns raised in future (particularly in the area of grassroots growth vs. social media), but in this post, I want to share some advice on making every post you write more valuable.

What value does

Value moves people to action. It takes a lot of momentum for a particular article to go viral: a lot of people talking about it, sharing it and championing it. Concentrating a lot of value in one place will provide plenty of fuel for that momentum to build.

Real value vs. perceived value

Content with the capacity to build momentum tends to hold either one of two qualities: real value vs. perceived value. Content with real value is truly useful for the reader. It might contain ideas and tips they actually use, tools to change the way they do things, important lessons and so on.

Perceived value is different. It looks like it could be valuable, but there’s little going on beneath the surface. It’s the 300+ item linkbait composed of mediocre resources. It’s the sensationally headlined post promising to solve all your problems in 5 minutes or less. It’s the article you’ll bookmark and never look at again. It’s little more than fools gold, and its benefits are illusory.

Real value will always grow your site far more than perceived value. Real value leaves a lasting impression on visitors. Content with only perceived value might do well on social media, but it will be soon be forgotten.

You can probably guess what kind of value I think we should all be working towards!

How to create real value

Think of each article you write as a gift to your target audience. The principle of concentrating value works like gift giving. A highly valuable gift will always make a bigger impact on the receiver than a gift with little value.

Of course, I’m using the word ‘value’ in reference to how much the receiver appreciates the gift, rather than how much it cost, or how big it is.

You’ve probably seen a kid running around on their birthday with the gift they like best, telling everyone with a proud and appreciative face “So and so gave me this.” It’s a good metaphor for the way readers will champion articles that hold real value for them.

Compare this to content with only perceived value. It’s the flashy watch, the sports car, the diamond necklace — the stuff you think you want, only to feel a little empty when you get it.

Providing real value is about giving your target audience what it wants most. It could be delivered in one short paragraph, or in a thousand word reasoned dissertation. It could be delivered in one tip, or a hundred. The packaging doesn’t matter. Length doesn’t necessarily matter.

As long as you can make every article you write something your target audience will treasure, the physical stuff doesn’t matter.

Don’t be constrained by post frequency, or length, or format. Focus on giving your target audience the most valuable gift you can manage. Posting less, or longer, might help you do that, but it’s important to figure out a method that works for you: one very unique blogger or webmaster.

Treat your interactions like a wish list

At this time of year, millions of children everywhere are drawing up wish-lists of presents they’d like to receive. If only your target audience could do the same thing, then creating value would be easy!

Of course, they won’t. Instead, you need to draw up your own wish list from what you’ve observed. The only way to anticipate what your target audience will find valuable is to listen to them. You can do this in a few ways:

  • Ask them what they’d most like you to give them.
  • Note down common concerns you get via questions and comments.
  • Work out what other sites in your niche aren’t providing.
  • Brainstorm the needs and wants of people interested in your niche. What are their goals? What are they looking for?

Something to remember: It’s also essential to provide value in a unique way. If another site in your niche has met the same need through the same methods, the effect will be similar to when you get two identical presents. The first person to provide it gets all the appreciation, even though the only thing separating the gifts is time.

The hallmarks of value-packed content

  • It doesn’t alleviate problems a little — it solves them.
  • It doesn’t make your readership think about doing things differently — it changes the way they act.
  • It’s audacious — it tries to do many things at once.
  • It expresses something your target audience didn’t already know.
  • It answers a question your target audience didn’t know how to ask.
  • It makes your target audience feel better about themselves.
  • It helps them move towards whatever they’ve defined as their ‘success’.

Case studies: Tim Ferriss’s blog
Zen Habits
and Freelance Switch

Perhaps I’m a little biased (or blinded) by the focus of this niche, but from what I’ve observed, the above blogs have risen more rapidly than most (if not all) in the last year or so.

The first is part of the lifestyle design niche, the second is part of the self-improvement niche, the third is part of the freelancing niche. They’re each very different areas, but there’s one consistent thread running between each of those blogs: they aim to make their target audience better people and more skillful at what they do.

If you’re looking for one guiding principle to follow when creating value-packed content, that might just be it.

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