Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
We’re not talking about Google not understanding your question. Let’s face it, it’s getting smarter and smarter.
It’s about the quality of the answers that work for you.
Different people will want different answers. For the people we want to talk to, the people in our tribes, can we provide the answers they’re looking for in the way they want to get to them? How can you make your content useful to them?
Answering what the customer needs
First and foremost, we need to have an idea of who our customer is, or who we want them to be.
If we’ve got existing customers, then we’ll probably have an idea of the questions that get asked the most often. We’ve probably even got a “Frequently Asked Questions” page. That might be a jumping-off point for content.
Everywhere our customer, or a follower, talks to us gives us some clues on what’s important to them and their questions. Spend ten minutes looking at comments on posts and see what list you come up with.
Now we need to strike through the ones that are just about our business.
No, really. Do it.
Useful content is not about directly, or only, answering why we’re the best. If we create the best useful content for that person, it has every chance to get people to come to that conclusion for themselves.
It’s not all about us
It’s sort of obvious really, isn’t it?
If you want to know what the best oven is, you don’t want to just know the answer is a Zeff, written by the people at Zeff.
That’s not your question.
But if the brand produces a useful guide to all the things to consider when buying an oven, any oven, then two things happen:
- The writer or business controls the order in which things appear in that guide. For example, Zeff’s particular features might be closer to the top. That means skim readers have taken those in as the things to look for (even if they don’t read the rest of it). The full readers have got all the information they might need, with the Zeff slant being subtle, but will be planted in there.
- Even subconsciously, we might become more predisposed to that brand for helping us through the forest of information. They’ve done us a favour, and we are programmed to return a favour (the law of reciprocity, interesting background read here).
By answering what our customer needs, in a way that gets their attention and resonates with them, we’ve been useful, not just added to the noise. Useful content might be longer content, but it’s got more relevance so is worth the time commitment for both us as writers, and browsers reading it.
What’s behind the question?
Sometimes the question is not really the question. For example “does this bacon have nitrites in it?” is a question, but might not be the real question.
Of course, we could just give a yes or no answer. But it might be more useful to go broad and answer what might lie behind it. For example, we could cover:
- Why have nitrites traditionally been used in bacon production?
- What are the alternatives to nitrites?
- Why have there been questions over the need for nitrites?
- Do the alternatives change the taste of the bacon?
- Who offers nitrite-free bacon?
Some people already know this stuff. But some people will have had a vague knowledge, heard it might not be a good thing, but not be sure why. We’ve helped them understand more than they did, and helped them to make a good decision for them.
Deciding that we make the right product for them might be a happy outcome of the piece. They might not become a buyer today, but we might have moved up the brands they’ll consider next time they’re ready to buy.
Equally, them deciding we are definitely not for them is also a good outcome. A business wants the people who are going to be fans, repeat customers, not disappointed naysayers.
Go broader than anyone else
It’s unlikely that any of us will come up with a truly unique idea for a post. Someone out there will have written something on the same theme.
That gives us an opportunity to try and do a better job. One of the ways is to go broader, more in-depth. For example, at the start of the first lockdown, I wanted to write a piece about things to do when business slowed down. There were lots of lists of things, with 28 the maximum number of ideas I could find.
So I came up with a list of 45 things. Which later became 47 because I got a couple of extra great suggestions from other people. It still appears on the first page of Google, drives traffic to my site and from there sign-ups for my newsletter.
What’s the broadest take on a subject that you can take?
Help them work their way through it
If you’re going to go broad, then it’s helpful to make the content easily skimmable. Headings are the perfect way to break things up. Something to break their scrolling, grab their attention.
Graphics and visuals help as well. Not too many, but just a visual break up of the text.
Get down to their level
Whatever our business is, we are more of an expert than probably 99% of our readers.
We just don’t need to remind them of that. No one wants to be talked down to.
I love the idea of the mental image of the adult who gets down to eye-level with a small child to answer their question. It becomes more of an equal exchange. That’s the aim.
Or we can think about it being how we’d explain to our mate in the pub, or over a coffee (I know, if only).
Write as you speak
Part of getting down to their level is just to write as though we’re having that chat. Let’s not get technical or fancy. Let’s not sound like a dry academic report (unless actually writing an academic report).
It doesn’t mean we can’t use the language and terms that are part of what we do. It’s hard to talk about gin distilling without talking about distilling as a process, which has its own language. What we can do is explain it in terms that our mate will understand even if they’ve never set foot in a distillery.
Create a transformation
Without it sounding too woo woo, the right helpful content creates a transformation for someone. The reader now knows something different or how to do something they didn’t know before.
The content might have helped them along their way to a decision to do something or to buy something. We’ve helped them make up their own mind. When you make up your own mind to do something, you’re more committed to that action.
Useful content is worth taking time over. It can be content that continues to attract traffic, engagement and conversion for longer than the average post. It’s a longer-term investment, rather than a lottery ticket gamble.
What’s the most useful thing you can help someone with at the moment? What could make someone fall in love with what you do, and feel even more positive about what you do?
Falling for what do as a business can convert browsers to buyers, scrollers to sharers. That’s useful for any business.