man holding a giant cardboard hand with "high five" written on it
Compelling content shares some common characteristics, including an element of surprise, an ability to educate and more PHOTO: Garry Knight

I spend a lot of my time finding good content, reading it and then selecting the best examples to share on social media. To provide value to people, I’m picky about what I share. If I were to assign letter grades to content, then I’d say I share the ‘A’ resources with my network and avoid sharing anything ‘B’ or below.

5 Characteristics of Compelling Content

Recently, I studied some of that A content to see what the examples I’ve shared have had in common.

Turns out, each A content resource I’ve shared has had two or more of these five characteristics:

1. Fills a knowledge gap

The day I stop learning is the day I become irrelevant. My appetite for knowledge is large and I’m always on the lookout for the big-picture story behind the facts. For example, if I learn that Delaware was the first state to join the Union, I immediately want to understand why it was Delaware and not one of the other original 13 colonies.

Because of this curiosity and appreciation for research, I tend to give my A grades to long-form posts and articles. Long-form often means 1,500 words or more, but I think the definition hinges more on the depth of knowledge conveyed than a strict word count.

Example:

Mastering Google Search Operators in 67 Easy Steps, by Peter J. Meyers at Moz. Meyers fills a knowledge gap in my use of Google. He suggests so many useful tricks that I haven’t even tried half of them. But I’ll refer back to this post again and again whenever I need to know more.

2. Helps me do my job better

I love content that helps me do my job better. This form of content is like a marketing instruction manual, with step-by-step instructions and screenshots.

Although I’ll admit it’s not eco-friendly, I like to print out these articles because it’s easier for me to parse the instructions on printed paper. For example, if an article is about Google Analytics, I can log in to my own instance and follow the outlined steps. I’m lucky to find these articles for free, but I’d pay top dollar for them.

Example:

The content from Andy Crestodina and the team at Orbit Media Studios helps me do my job better. Two examples include a post on keyword targeting and another on Google Analytics reports.

3. Makes me think differently

I like to have my thoughts or opinions challenged. Sometimes, I’ll stand firm on a position, which gives it more conviction. Other times, I’ll be persuaded by the counterargument and decide that my previous opinion was wrong.

I think it’s dangerous to be closed-minded. To me, it’s healthier to have an open mind and consider all sides of an issue, or the pros and cons of a methodology. I find content to be compelling when it makes me think differently. It doesn’t have to be a black and white shift in my thinking either. The concept of different is nuanced, and can simply mean that I’ve considered alternate thoughts or approaches before adopting a point of view.

Content that makes me think differently moves me.

Example:

Traditional SEO Is Dying, by Frantz Augustin, published at Skyword. Reading Augustin’s post, I was onboard with most of the facts and opinions he shared. He made me think differently when he brought all his points together in the conclusion. In the section of the article subtitled, Content Over Keywords, Augustin writes, “It’s more important to build an authoritative brand around certain topics than it is to rank for keywords.”

4. Shows me how a marketing result was achieved

I’m thankful to those who share the secrets to their success. Not only do they teach me that something can be achieved, they show me how it was done. The deeper an article goes into the ‘how,’ the higher I grade it.

I find the inclusion of screenshots, images, testimonials, etc. useful in understanding all the minute details of the campaign. These sorts of case studies will inspire me to try a similar campaign. At a minimum, I file the result in the back of my mind to reopen at a later date.

Example:

From Tattoos To Testimonials: How Cisco Energized Over 700 European Brand Advocates. This case study from Influitive shows how Cristina Melluzzi evolved Cisco’s customer reference system into a customer advocacy program. Along with screenshots from the advocacy platform are photos of the advocates and their tattoos.

5. Combines unrelated things

Improv comedy and content marketing: two unrelated things, right? Turns out, improv comedy techniques can be used to create compelling content marketing. I find it compelling when content presents me with a combination of unlike things and demonstrates that they can work together.

This is a nice blend of two previously-discussed characteristics: ‘helps me do my job better’ and ‘makes me think differently.’

Example:

3 Valuable lessons content creators can take from popular fiction, by Mars Dorian on Mark Schaefer’s site, {grow}. Dorian describes how reading 13 books and watching four complete anime series helped him come up with new ideas, anticipate trends and improve his storytelling.

What Do You Look For in Content?

Use the comments section below to share the characteristics that make content compelling for you. I’d love to hear your insights and suggestions.