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The So-What Factor: 4 Questions to Ask for Stickier Content

You’re a marketer, not an artist, but you still have good reason to create content that is not just helpful and well-written, but meaningful and memorable. That’s because content that sticks in the mind tends to get referenced over and over, and getting referenced equates to links, traffic, and authority, all things that you, as an online marketer, should value very highly.

So what makes content meaningful and memorable? It’s the so-what factor, the all-important reason why anyone should care. We’re all guilty of spinning out easy content from time to time, but if you’re going to pour real resources into a piece of content, make sure – before you spend the time and money on it – that you consider the “So what?” question.

Here are four questions to ask about your content to make sure people don’t read it and say “So what” (or don’t read it at all).

Is It Surprising?

Case studies make great blog posts, so when you’re running an A/B test, a marketing experiment, or trying out anything new, it’s always good to consider the experience as potential fodder for your content marketing. What did you learn from the experience, and how can you write it up to share that knowledge with others in an interesting way?

However, keep in mind that case studies are ten times more interesting when the results are surprising. For example, it’s pretty well-established already that adding an exclamation point to an ad increases click-through rate, so a blog post about how you  increased CTR by adding “!” to your ads is probably not going to draw a ton of attention.

But what about an article about how an incredibly crappy-looking ad made in Microsoft Paint in the space of five minutes outperformed a slick, professional one with a trust symbol and big green call to action button?

That’s what Ben at Plenty of Fish found, concluding that “Every idea that you have is worth testing, no matter how crappy you think it is.” If you get a shocking result like that, it’s case study gold.

Will It Affect People’s Lives?

If you have the opportunity to publish a piece of content that could actually affect the way people live, rather than entertain them for a few minutes, do it. This is the kind of stuff that gets tons of views from social media shares and links being emailed around.

For example, how many of you saw the “Sitting Is Killing You” infographic? It summed up studies that indicated sitting for more than six hours a day – which is true for most people with a desk job – makes you 40% more likely to die within 15 years, even if you exercise regularly. The spread of this news did have an effect on people’s lives – I know people who switched to a standing desk setup because of it. (I did myself for a while, but then I got lazy and went back on the death track.)  Another example is this Gizmodo piece that shows the shocking effects of sun exposure on the face – greatly exaggerated on the left side for one man who drove a delivery truck for almost 30 years. Wear that sunscreen, folks.

Does It Settle a Controversy?

Everyone knows controversy sells – it’s up there with sex in terms of moving magazines (see the recent hullabaloo over TIME’s breast feeding cover) and snatching page views on the web. One way to make a meaningful contribution to an ongoing controversy is to provide evidence for one side or the other.

For example, SEOs are always arguing about whether social signals really move rankings in the SERPs, or if they only have an indirect effect because social shares correlate with links and other important factors. Can you devise an experiment that proves one or the other side is right? (I’ve seen a couple of posts that purport to do so, but they didn’t really control for the difference between shares and links, so the question remains open.)

Is It Worth Reading Twice?

Truly sticky content is the stuff that people return to. Content that brings return visitors might be:

  • A free tool that’s worth using again and again, be it a keyword tool or a debt repayment calculator
  • A definitive guide or resource on some topic
  • An amazing video that people will want to watch and re-watch
  • A brilliantly done list with more items than anyone can remember

For example: I once collaborated with a friend to create a big list of “moves” in contemporary poetry, and people tell me all the time that it’s a list they return to for personal reference and to use as a teaching aid. It had the added bonus of being controversial, because poets don’t necessarily want their “moves” revealed (it’s like revealing the secrets behind a magician’s tricks).

The best linkbait is a gift that keeps on giving, so if you want to create content that moves people, make sure it fulfills at least one of these four “So what” requirements.


Image credit: Shutterstock / KS©FF

Category SEO
Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is the Content Development Manager at WordStream Inc., a provider of AdWords solutions and other tools for PPC ...

The So-What Factor: 4 Questions to Ask for Stickier Content

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