29 May 2024 |

How to make sure your content is helpful

By Tracey Wallace

I used to write the weekly newsletter for the BigCommerce blog. It wasn’t a big audience. We really hid the sign up on the blog homepage, so even though we were driving millions of sessions a month, there was no real push to have them sign up for that newsletter. 

But, it was a really engaging newsletter. Folks who found the sign up form really wanted to get it, and it was a personal little note from me each week on the content we’d produced, why that specific content, and even a bit of the behind the scenes on how it came together. 

Folks really liked it. In fact, when I announced that I was leaving the company to that little newsletter audience, I received an email back from the CEO’s father-in-law about how great all the content had been. 

One of the things I really honed in that newsletter was drawing lines between the dots for folks on what we published and why it was relevant to them. 

Why should they read this thing this week––versus every other task on their to-do list and the endless array of content that demands their attention? 

This is the same problem you face. In fact, when I asked ChatGPT what the biggest problems in content marketing are –– this was #1 in a list of 10:

1. Content Saturation and Competition: The digital landscape is crowded with content. Standing out among the vast amounts of information available online is increasingly difficult. Marketers must find ways to differentiate their content and offer unique value to their audience.

Yep. There’s a lot of content out there. Distribute it all you want, and you’re still only getting a small percentage of the clicks of the larger audience who had the option to click, and just didn’t. 

You can do everything right in content marketing and go-to-market, and still not drive that much traffic.But there is one surefire way to drive traffic. It’s what newsletters like this one are hinged on, too. 

Help people. 

The goal of your content is to help your reader accomplish a task––or a step toward the completion of a task. 

Everything else that content marketing has been made out to be over the years––SEO, media, thought leadership, for instance––are just different tiles on top of a well-laid foundation: what sells is what helps. 

There’s a lot of psychology behind this (reciprocity, for instance). There’s a lot on the jobs to be done (JBTD) framework you can read up on. It’s why many platforms––like YouTube–– pay out creators based on how well they teach folks how to do something––because people who learn something build a positive affinity, and are stickier users. 

But your goal isn’t just to help them. Your goal is to help them increase the capacity of what they can accomplish. 

There are a few ways to do this: 

  1. You break it down, in layman’s terms, the actions, step-by-step, to accomplishing a task. And, ideally, you make it interesting along the way. 
  2. You produce data that helps them build an argument to convince their team to do something that they already really want to do, but are having trouble communicating or convincing others. 
  3. You tell a story that so resonates with them, in which they see themselves in another person or brand, but the outcome is different––because of the choices that other person made. And so, through that story, you plant a seed that their outcome, too, could be different. 

In this way, every content marketer is a researcher-for-hire. This is how I used to end my emails each week to that BigCommerce audience: I’d sign it, “Your researcher-for-hire.” 

That’s because my goal was simple: to figure out what my audience was most struggling with, and then invest my time and energy in figuring out how to solve for that thing. 

That included reading a ton of other content on the topic to see how other people were trying to help them do that––but clearly failing since my audience still didn’t know how to move forward. 

What was that other content getting wrong? Where could I go deeper? Make things clearer? Make an argument worth someone’s reading time? 

Everything else a content marketer does––building content pillars and processes, incorporating narrative and conducting interviews, keyword and audience research––it all builds off of this. That your job is to help the reader, your audience, your prospect accomplish something that before they found your content, they were not able to do. 

What is that thing? What does someone now know having read your content? Build that into each of your briefs. 

Be honest with yourself as you edit––did you answer clearly? Is it easy to follow? Could someone use this content to take a next step, and if so, which step? An important step? A big enough step? 

Being the researcher-for-hire for your audience is a frame of mind. It’s a job to take seriously. You answer to them. And their willingness to show up, to read again and again, will show just how much you helped them out or how much time of theirs you wasted.