Yes, content can make a connection with your audience and help to position yourself as an authority in your field. But how can you be seen as an authority if you regurgitate ideas that have been published many times before?
The sheer amount of freely available content that your blog or newsletters needs to compete with is just mind-boggling.
For example, here’s a statistic from WordPress, presenting the number of posts published on WordPress.com blogs.
According to WordPress, its users produce 70.5 million new posts and 52.1 million new comments each month. In the US alone, the number of bloggers is expected to reach 31.7 million in 2020.
Where is your blog in that big scary mountain of blue statistic bars?
Saying something that has not been said before on any of these blog platforms seems impossible.
And yet, that’s what Google kind of expects from us when we’re talking about content quality. This is one of the basic principles of Google’s Quality Guidelines:
Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.
So, if you want to be found in Google, your content needs to be unique.
Well, thanks a lot, Google, that was very helpful. **not**
So, how do you make your content stand out in 2020?
I have a few ideas about this, some of which I will apply myself this year.
So, without much further ado, here are my …
7 ways to create more unique content in 2020
1. Spend more time on content research
This is basically saying: try harder.Sorry, but it’s true. A lot of the blogs out there (mine included) make use of content that has already been published.
Many blog posts follow this formula:
Existing idea x personal anecdote
x (a few examples snatched from another blog)
The problem with that approach is that you will often end up with more of the same. Your content will not stand out.
If you take the existing blog idea “10 ways to sell more gizmos” and you turn it into another blog topic “13 ways to sell more gizmos”: does that make you an authority? Meh.
Don’t get me wrong. Borrowing ideas from other authors is fine, but I think at least you need to make a considerable effort to give your own take on things.
Borrowed content should be a starting point for digging deeper. And this means: doing more research.
Doing more and better content research is my number one strategy this year to improve the quality of my content.
So, how can you do content research? I already gave a few ideas in this post, but here are a few interesting strategies to dig deeper into your topic:
- Survey your customers. They are your premium source for information on the market.
- Consult with your sales team. They are the ones who are closest the customer. They know what makes customers tick.
- Find influencers or experts you can interview.
- Go to industry conferences and mingle with people who know your market. Also, industry conferences usually have a seminar or key note program that is ideal to stay current with the latest trends.
- Read trade magazines. There are loads of print titles out there who give way more information compared to their online versions. Print, I know, right?
- Read market research. If you can afford it, there are quite a few commercial organizations that sell market information. A lot of industry organizations publish free research as well. For example, in Belgium, Agoria is the representative organization for the technology industry.
- Read academic research. There is a lot of great content on university websites or on academic conference websites. Not always the most accessible content, but especially worth checking out if you want to explore a more technical subject.
- Read industry blogs. This is an easy one. Then again, those are probably the sources everyone reads. Relying on these sources too much will not necessarily make your content stand out.
- Social media can be a great way to learn how people think about a certain subject. I love checking posts and comments in Facebook or LinkedIn Groups to gauge a topic. Another way to find out more about a pressing question is to do a poll.
2. Tell personal stories
No one needs to see the snapshots of your last trip to Spain. But personal stories that relate to your subject work like crazy. Your stories are something only you can write about, which ultimately will result in unique content.
My content is stuffed with personal info. Not that I talk about my wife and kids, or my deepest emotions. But I constantly refer to things I find important.
A personal story sometimes helps me to make a point and to simplify something complex. It’s a way of using my own life and experience as a metaphor for my work.
Granted, if you are a solopreneur like I am, sharing personal stuff is a no-brainer.
It’s a bit harder when you are working in-house in a corporate marketing team. But it’s not impossible. One way to go about it is to use the “expert view” formula. This is an example of Barco. This is another cool example from SmartBear. In this approach, somebody in your company is appointed as an expert to provide new insights on a particular trend or development.
Want to find inspiration for content? Then just look at the physical objects that surround you, look at your own past experiences, the moments that had a big impact in your life. And then make unexpected connections with your subject.
Which brings us to the next topic.
3. Use lateral thinking
You do not always need fancy tools or external sources to find inspiration. Sometimes, you just have to trust your own creativity.
But what is creativity really? According to The secret of the highly creative thinker (Dorte Nielsen & Sarah Thurber), creativity is all about making unexpected connections. “Creative people are forever surprising us by challenging assumptions, flipping ideas, and expanding, contracting and recombining things in their heads. It’s a three-ring circus in there.”
In their book, Nielsen and Thurber tell a great story about creativity.
In the 1970s, the historic running track of Hayward Field in Oregon (USA) changed from crushed cinder to an artificial surface. Running coach Bill Bowerman however was worried that his athletes didn’t have shoes that could grip the new artificial turf.
So, Bowerman was looking for lighter, faster shoe, one without spikes that could still grip the new running track. The coach had his eureka moment when his wife was fixing waffles for breakfast. Staring at the waffle, Bowerman made a creative connection. The grid pattern of the waffle might just create the perfect grip for the sole of a running shoe. The famous Nike Waffle Trainer was born.
Whether this story is true or just Nike folklore, it doesn’t really matter. What counts is that it can pay off to think sideways sometimes.
When you are looking for a unique approach, try to make unique, unexpected connections.
One technique to use lateral thinking in your content brainstorms is asking questions like these:
- How have other industries (not your own) approached similar challenges in the past?
- How would you solve a problem if you were someone else?
- What assumptions are we making? And what if these assumptions were not true? Content marketing firm Velocity Partners nailed that question with this post.
4. Go back to the drawing board
Content strategy: not the sexiest topic, but still insanely relevant.
A content strategy focuses on the goals you want to achieve and on the audience you wish to serve by means of content marketing personas.
If you have a content strategy, when was the last time you had a look at it? And are you sure your strategy is still up to date? Is your content in line with that strategy?
Getting the basics right (who are we talking to, what do they want to know, what problem can we solve for them) will help you make better decisions on what content you need to create.
The thing is, content strategy, and personas more in particular, are not a thing you can set and forget. It’s interesting to revise them every once in a while.
Speaking for myself, marketing managers and content marketing professionals in technology and industrial markets have always been my ideal audience. Last year, I also developed an offer for freelance writers who target that exact same audience. Gradually, the focus of my blog content started to shift towards the needs of that audience. This year, I have decided to pay more attention again to the corporate content marketing professional, which has always been premium audience.
5. Go niche
Your blog might be a tiny clownfish in a sea of content sharks, but that’s OK.
The good news is that “the internet” or “the world” is not your audience.
You don’t need to be everything to everyone.
Instead of talking about your entire industry, you can also hone in on one particular aspect of that industry and make that your specialty. You will find that there is much less competition when you focus on one particular area of your unique expertise.
This is something that niche blogs have understood quite well. Niche blogs focus on a common, specific interest of a market segment. They claim the authority of one specific area of expertise.
An example? AuntMinnie is a community site for radiologists and related professionals in the medical imaging industry. Although their content is highly specialized, the site receives 17,000 visits per day. Not bad for a niche website.
For entertainment-related topics, niche websites seem to be a given. Vintage Synth Explorer and Talking Maiden are just two of my personal favorites. In the corporate world, niche blogs are maybe less common. But it can pay off to experiment with it.
Just ask yourself: how can we deconstruct our topic into different subtopics? And then ask yourself whether you can deconstruct that subtopic again. Then focus on that.
Let’s say you’re in the business of refrigeration technology.
Instead of talking about ‘the latest trends in refrigeration technology’, talk about ‘refrigeration technology for the food industry’.
Or talk about ‘sustainable refrigeration technologies for the food industry’.
You get the picture.
6. Go local
If you are a local business, why not embrace that?
The internet has given us the power to reach anyone between Vladivostok and Ushuaia. I have to admit that, a few years back, it made my day when I looked at my Google Analytics stats and found that someone from Zambia had visited my site.
But, who cares?
Does this really matter when you are serving a local audience?
What if you had a local niche blog with an audience covering a specific geographical location?
In terms of search engine optimization (SEO), it’s a good idea to focus on local search engine results anyway. So, instead of trying to get on first page of the search engines for huge topics, why not try to become famous in your local area? Instead of writing about ‘how to start a manufacturing business’, you could make your topic more specific, e.g. ‘how to start a manufacturing business in Belgium’.
7. Make a difference with your content delivery
What’s the difference between a cheesy pick-up line and a marriage proposal?
It’s the delivery.
A pick-up line is a witty, but casual remark. A marriage proposal has a much bigger impact and requires much more preparation. If you pop the question to your girl or boyfriend, you want to make it something special.
What if we treated our content the same way? What if we put an equal amount of effort in putting our content out there? Or in other words, what if we spent more effort on content delivery?
You can make a difference in:
- The way you write: Take Velocity Partners as an example. Those guys come up with beautifully written, witty blog posts every time. These posts are a feast for the brain and definitely a source of inspiration for me. If I only could get a Euro for every time I referred to them.
- The way you make a visual impression: Design, photography, infographics, user experience… Does your content tick all the boxes? Adobe’s 99U blog is a great example of how design can make content stand out.
- The way you turn your content into an experience: Does your content engage your audience? Does it make your audience feel part of something? Do you invite participation? Author of the book Company of One, Paul Jarvis, does this very well. The book, the podcast and the newsletter he publishes all increasingly appeal to a community of entrepreneurs who feel that growth isn’t always the answer.
Do you serve your content on a silver platter or do you hand it over in a plastic bag? The way you present your content can make you stand out in a crowd of bland competitors.
Here’s to more unique content in 2020
Do you feel discouraged about your content being lost in Google’s mountains of data? Don’t be. The good news is, you don’t need be everything to everyone. Instead, try to focus on the people who matter and try to find a unique approach to presenting your content.
In a nutshell, here are my tips for creating more unique content:
- Spend more time on content research and dig deeper into your subject.
- Tell personal stories and use your personal life and work as a unique metaphor for your expertise.
- Use lateral thinking to find unexpected connections and viewpoints.
- Go back to the drawing board. Revise your content strategy to reconnect with your audience.
- Go niche and claim authority in one specific area of expertise.
- Go local and cater to the content needs of your close community.
- Make a difference with the way you write, the way you present your content visually or the way you turn your content into an experience.
Here’s to more unique content in 2020. Cheers!