"More traffic!!"

That's the number one metric that content marketers want to see. They drool over it, obsess over it, rave over it, and pursue it with single-minded determination.

I'm skeptical of the more traffic approach. We've reached the tipping point of clickbait articles and "blow your mind!" titles.

Some things are more important than traffic. (Revenue, for example.) And some articles are more appropriate if they are not clickbait. I would argue that you should create articles that will attract intelligent and thoughtful readers.

This isn't elitist. What I'm proposing is that you cultivate a readership who is interested in your topics, and therefore your product or services. Since the goal of marketing is to engage the right audience, then you want an audience that will listen to your message and respond to your articles.

The way to accomplish this is by creating articles that will provide you with an engaged and targeted readership.

1. Data-backed Articles

One of my favorite forms of content is the data-driven article. I believe in data-driven articles so much that I actually use that term--"data driven" or "data backed"--in the title.

Data can be a pretty geeky thing. That's not a problem, though, because intelligent people are sometimes geeky.

SEOs, for example, are data driven geeks, as are marketers. Since I spend a lot of time interacting with SEOs and marketers, I try to use a lot of data.

As it turns out, these data-driven articles have been pretty successful.

2. Lists

List-backed articles are one of the most popular and enduring types of content.

You see these everywhere. I write quite a few list-based articles myself. I guess this article is kind of a case in point.

List articles feed the human desire for analysis, organization, and completeness. We love a nice list.

Not all list-based posts are created equal, though. Here's what I recommend for making a list post that is successful:

  • Use lists that have 10, 23, 16, or 24 items. In a massive study of list-based posts (100 million of them) these four numbers came out on top.
  • Make nice, big, fat headlines. Some people will come to your list, scan, and leave. Make it easy for them to do that.
  • Write an introduction and conclusion. Don't just start the list with number one. There needs to be some sort of lead up to it.
  • Just write one list. Don't try to combine two different types of lists into one.
  • Make it easy to share your lists. Not only do lists get read, but they also get shared. Stack some social plugins on that page, and make it tweetable.

3. Reports

Reports are in-depth studies of a focused topic.

Companies like Social Media Examiner do a great job with this. A report basically consists of a downloadable PDF that dishes up survey statistics, numbers, charts, graphs, and all things information-rich.

I love reports, and I use them when I'm researching for my articles. Reports are a valuable source of information, because they are reliable and packed with great data.

4. Lengthy posts

Lengthy is good. You may think that people don't read your articles, and to a certain extent, that's true.

But all is not lost. The right people do read your articles, even the really long ones. In reports from SerpIQ, researchers found that the average length of the top 10 results on Google had word counts that exceeded 2,000 words. Moz, in a similar research initiative, discovered that their longest posts were also their most-shared posts.

Some of my articles are super long--like 7,000 words. But my readers--the ones I really want--don't flinch at spending an hour or so reading my articles. That's the kind of audience I want to engage with.

5. Argumentation

Everyone loves to sit in on a good argument.

Notice, I said a good argument. Some blog posts consist of factless, featureless, angry rants. I don't recommend that approach.

What I do recommend is creating a blog post with structure and intent. The article should identify a point of view, argue against (or for) that point of view. Pick a position, stick with it, and prove it.

Remember that an argument has two or more sides. To be fair, you should accurately represent the position which you are arguing against. It's an argument, remember, not a rant.

This is a powerful form of content, because it engages with other resources, while also putting forth unique information.

6. Responses

One of the great things about content marketing is that you can respond to other content.

If you operate within a well-defined niche, you know who the big name bloggers and competitors are. You read their articles, get their emails, and basically interact with them on a regular basis.

Let's say that one day they write an article that you just have to respond to. Either it's misguided or completely wrong, or something else that lights you up.

One of the best things you can do for your traffic and readership is to provide a response. This is similar to the point above, "argumentation," but with significant differences. Argumentation is a tightly structured point-by-point assertion of a particular viewpoint. A response, by contrast, is a way of directly interacting with a blog or an author.

You want to be really careful with this. Obviously, there's no need to be rude or publicly malign someone. But what you can do is create a cordial arena of interaction on a topic. Your intelligent readers will love this, because they're in the niche, too. They know that writer or that blog, and now their blog universe is communicating on a single topic.

As an upside, you'll probably get tons of comments on these articles.

7. Research

Intelligent people love research.

If you go to the effort to create or uncover some powerful facts and statistics, you will be able to make huge strides forward in your content marketing efforts.

Research isn't easy, though. You have to do the heavy-lifting of research in order to present that research. Then, you have to do the hard work of communicating that research in intelligible ways.

The results are glorious, though. You get an audience of intelligent people interacting with a brilliant bit of content.

8. Technical How-Tos

A final form of intelligent-attracting article is the technical how to.

This kind of article is very straightforward. You simply explain, step by step, how to do something. In every niche, there are certain activities, processes, or techniques that people do. When you explain how to do those things, you gain the attention of deliberate and smart people who want to learn.

Final thoughts.

If you want smart people, you have to create smart content.

Smart content isn't the easiest type of content to create. Usually, you'll want to steer away from titles that include "mind blowing" and "ZOMG!!!"

But other than a few steer-clear-from-them exceptions, you have a comprehensive list of great topics that will engage the right kind of readers.

Published on: Jan 22, 2015