Why ‘create great content’ advice is annoying

The generic guidance doesn’t explain how to go about it; the author seeks to remedy that ubiquitous shortcoming with some concrete ideas.


In “8 bits of advice about content curation,” I complained that advising people to “create great content” is horrible advice, because it’s never followed up with how to do it. It’s like saying the secret to playing tennis is to hit the ball over the net.

What “experts” mean by “create great content” is that the tricks of gaming search engines and social media no longer work. What was supposed to be common sense—creating something people want to consume—is not what many content producers did. Instead, most flocked to experts and articles that offered tricks to get their content shared and ranked high in search.

Since Google updated its algorithm with Panda, it’s been harder to trick the search engine. What works now is what worked before the Internet and search engines existed: content that delights and/or informs.

Two ways to create great content

  1. Work really hard, and do a ton of research.
  2. Hire experienced, creative, and probably expensive content producers.

If you’re not following one or both of these steps, you’re either an absurdly talented person for whom genius comes at a whim, or you’re generating crap.

How do you create “great content”?

The Internet is filled with absurdly obvious advice about creating “great content.” Let me summarize:

Great content is original, interesting, and engaging.

I get the feeling this non-advice is a pathetic content marketing tactic employed because so many people are Googling “How do I create great content?” Dig in to the results; you’ll see the writers are all saying the same thing and that there’s no real “trick” to creating great content.

There are multiple videos about how to replace a headlight in my Mazda3, so one would think there’s got to be at least one effective video about how to create great content.

We know when our content is crappy, so why do we publish it?

If you’ve been producing content for a while, you know when you’ve got something good. You also know when you’ve got crap. Still, often when you have crap, you think you have to publish it anyway, because you spent the time to create it and you “have to get something out there.”

You put it out there, and it barely gets any shares or views. Now this crappy content is mixed in with all your good content, and that hurts your site’s quality overall.

Recently, I had an idea for (I hoped) a funny video. I did the shoot, but unfortunately I didn’t get the material I wanted. Regardless, I went to my editor to drop off the video, and she suggested something I had never thought to do, and that was not to produce it. If the material was that bad, then I would have wasted time and money generating crap. So, I took her advice; we didn’t produce the video.

Two reliable sources of great content

If you put the time and effort into researching and interviewing people, you can create great content. That’s one source.

You’re also generating another source of great content, and you probably don’t even realize it. Every day, through work, we’re engaging with people (interviewing) and doing our work (learning and researching). That information generated from your day-to-day experiences could be of great interest to your audience. Why not write them up, record a video, or produce a podcast? When you tell a personal story, you will connect at a higher emotional level with your audience, and you probably won’t have to do any additional research and interviewing.

If it interests you, it’ll interest someone else

One simple test to determine whether you’re creating great content is whether it interests you. If you were bored writing and editing it and you weren’t excited about sharing it, others will probably feel the same way. Trust your instincts; don’t produce it or publish it.

Don’t add to the echo chamber

I wanted to write about “great content,” but I didn’t want to produce yet another “How to create great content” article. There were already too many, titled almost identically, and they all said the same thing. If I wanted to stand out, I had to offer a different angle.

So, how did I do?

Don’t be lazy about your content publishing

Early on, content producers are eager to just hit the record button and publish. They might record a long interview and put it up, or record a presenter at an event and put that video up with zero editing. If the presenter is unbelievably engaging, it will compensate for your horrible and negligent production values. You don’t have to make the video look like a big-budget Hollywood film, but you should craft the information.

The big non-secret of great content is that it’s hard work

If you were to read through all the “how to create great content” advice, it would all boil down to doing a lot of work. Stop trying to find some new trick to getting people to read or watch your content. The “trick” is something every content producer knows, and that’s to do it over and over again so you learn how to do it better and faster.

David Spark (@dspark), founder of the brand journalism firm, Spark Media Solutions, where this article first appeared.

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