Content is king. That’s what every successful blogger will tell you. Great content makes your job of becoming an authority, obtaining backlinks, and gaining readership much easier.

What makes content great? Does your content have to be long, short, funny, scientific, or written by a Noble prize laureate to be considered great?

No.

Although, having an article by a Noble prize laureate on your blog certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Writing high quality content is actually quite simple as long as you understand what people expect from online results. There are some basic principles you should follow.

And no, it’s not the same as writing a book. Here’s my take on how to do it.

1. Properly format your text

The most important rule of writing online is to properly format your text. Your articles should not look like a giant wall of text. Split everything into short paragraphs consisting of 4-6 sentences max.

Short paragraphs allow your readers to take micro breaks between paragraphs, which makes consuming your content easier. By the way, this applies to everything you write online – emails, forum posts, blog posts, even comments.

In addition, you should make sure your content is grammatically correct. It does not have to be perfect, but your readers shouldn’t be forced to give you grammar lessons. Don’t just write a 2,000 word article and hit Publish. Make sure you proofread it at least once.

My English is not perfect, since it’s not my native language, but there are native speakers who can’t tell the difference between they’re, their, and there. That is simply unacceptable if you want to be taken seriously.

However, don’t let the fear of messing up stop you from writing at all. It’s best to start writing something with a lot of mistakes than to not try at all. Eventually, you’ll get better.

2. Make your content scannable

Great content is always split into sections, each covering a different point. Proper usage of heading tags (h1-h6) allows readers to navigate your content and find exactly the piece of information they need.

Use bullet points, lists, and highlight important information using bold, or italic text. Sometimes it’s tempting to add color to your text and make it prettier, but it just makes it harder on the eyes.

Generally, if you keep everything black and white you’ll be golden.

A nearly perfect example of how to make your content scannable is Wikipedia. It’s the gold standard for great content online. That’s also the reason why it ranks so well for many high volume search terms.

3. Great content is unique

I admit, I struggled to understand this concept when I first started my online journey (long time ago). By unique content I always assumed Google wanted me to come up with ideas that haven’t been shared online. Without doubt, it would be extremely valuable, but it also was kind of impossible to do.

You see, most of the time ideas are shared and spread across. Rarely, you can come up with genuinely unique ideas. Usually, you heard it from someone else before. So what does unique content mean?

Well, unique content is not a unique idea, it’s how the content is presented. Have you noticed that many websites talk about the same topics over, and over again, but are not punished for duplicate content?

Even though ideas are the same, they are written by different people from different perspectives, backed up by different data, and even consumed differently. So when writing your next article make sure you make it as unique as possible, even if you’re taking inspiration from others.

4. Back it up with images

Using images is one of the easiest ways to make your content great. There’s plenty of evidence online which suggests informative images with graphs, pie charts, and statistics are better than just plain text based articles.

According to this infographic articles with relevant images have 94% more views than articles without.

Another study suggests human brains remember information better when it’s accompanied by an image. Just three days after receiving new information you’ll remember only 10% of it. However, by adding a picture that number jumps to 65%. This simply cannot be ignored.

Eye-tracking studies show users pay a lot more attention to images containing valuable information rather than decorative images, which are generally ignored.

Another reason to use images is to keep readers on your website longer. Search engines use a plethora of signals to determine whether your content is worth showing in SERP’s. Some of these signals are Average Time on Page and Bounce Rate.

Using images with information you can increase Average Time on Page, and reduce your Bounce Rate. This trick should help increase your rankings across all major search engines.

By the way, this is similar to the way YouTube encourages creators to make engaging content, and judges it by two key metrics watch time and subscribers.

Even social media sites with limited post length like Twitter are better with images. In a Twitter study posts containing images received 150% more retweets, 89% more favorites, and 18% more clicks than posts without images.Tweets with and without images. Chart.That’s all great but where do you get images?

Decorative images can be bought from stock photo services like BigStockPhoto, or ShutterStock, but they are quite expensive.

Fortunately, there are free alternatives like Pexels and StockSnap. Their photos are not as professional, don’t cover as many niches, but are free both for commercial and personal use.

Images which contain valuable information can be copied and used as long as you give credit to the original source, generally by linking to them.

5. Stick to the point

Great content is usually straight to the point. Avoid using unnecessary words, jargon and technical talk.

One, no one will understand you. Two, no one will want to read it. Three, it’s better to write shorter articles filled with actual information than focus on hitting that magical word count number.

Typical post length for bloggers

A typical blog post contained between 500 and 1,000 words in 2014. However, the trend is shifting towards longer articles, because evidence suggests they are favored more by search engines. Keep in mind that correlation does not actually mean causation and you should take such studies with a grain of salt. It’s merely an observation.

Correlation between article length and SERP position

There are plenty of niches where longer content is unnecessary and it still ranks really well. Here’s a great example for the term “how to make text bold”. The article on that page is only 360 words long, but it shows up in the information box.

SERP for term "how to make text bold" info box.

A good rule to follow is to actually write until you’ve covered everything you wanted to. After you’ve done writing proofread and edit your content. Don’t focus on the amount of words too much. Generally, longer content ranks better because of one simple fact – it provides a lot of value.

6. Write enticing headlines

Another important lesson in writing great content are the headlines. A great headline is the difference between having a 100 monthly readers and 10,000. The majority of online content follows a very noticeable headline pattern.

According to this study the most popular content online besides infographics are lists. Such articles generally start with curiosity (emotion) triggering headlines such as “15 Ways to Improve Your Sex Life”, or “21 Ways to Make Scrambled Eggs”.

Shares by content type

Another study found headlines containing numbers are 36% more popular than any other headline. What’s even more interesting is it seems such headlines resonate more with the female audience.

Overall headline preferences.

How to use this knowledge?

You need to understand while list articles dominate internet search results they are not necessary fitting for all niches. With that in mind there are a few basic principles you should follow when writing headlines:

  • Keep the headline within 60 characters. Using more characters can sometimes work, but in the majority of cases it will be cut off by search engines as 60 is the limit. Either stick to 60 characters, or move the most important stuff to the front.
  • Make the benefits very clear. What are readers going to get out of reading your article?
  • Avoid clickbait headlines. It’s easy to come up with some ridiculous nonsense, but it’s a very bad long term strategy.
  • Use emotion triggering adjectives such as free, painful, horrible, weird, strange, essential and so on. This providers the reader with the notion of you actually understanding their problem. Plus, it makes the headline a lot less boring.

Writing great headlines takes practice, so don’t expect to be good right away (I still suck at everything).

However, if in doubt you can always use the most basic formula – how to [do something]. Once you start using analytics you’ll be able to determine which content underperforms. Then you can experiment by changing headlines, writing better intros, completely rewriting paragraphs etc.

7. Write evergreen content

The majority of high quality articles fall into the category of evergreen content. Evergreen content is relevant to readers for a long time. There are opportunities to jump on a hype train and write about something controversial that’s happening right now. However, it’s not really worth the effort in the long term.

Even though your article may bring a lot of likes, views and shares, it may quickly become irrelevant. You’ll be forced to write more, and that is a sure way of burning yourself out.

The best examples of evergreen content are “how to” and “frequently asked questions” type of articles.

8. Avoid controversy

Don’t write about controversial topics. Just don’t.

Unless you want your blog to become the industry standard of yellow pages it’s best to stay away from certain topics. Controversial articles produce hate, spam, hacker attacks but don’t bring any real value to the table.

When deciding on a topic you must have a clear picture of what you want to communicate to your readers. If you want to express your opinion about something it’s best to keep it as civil as possible and not attack anyone. Otherwise, there’s a possibility of becoming an online meme.

To sum up

Creating high quality content takes a lot of practice. No one knows exactly how to write great content, and the whole topic is quite subjective. But there are general rules you should follow when writing online. These rules don’t guarantee success, but at least bring you closer to the goal. Great content is generally:

  • Properly formatted
  • Scannable
  • Unique
  • Supported by informative images
  • Clear and on point
  • Has a good headline
  • Evergreen
  • Non-controversial

Have I missed something? Can I improve this article? If so, don’t be afraid to tell me in the comments below!