“But What Do I Write About?”

Certainly by now you know I’m a believer in using “content marketing” as your primary mechanism for getting your site (and thus your business, cause, or message) noticed, building an audience, keeping it relevant, and ultimately delivering value.

In plainer English, that means, “Write something of value to your readers on a regular schedule, publish it on your web site, and again via your emailed newsletter.” There are many additional approaches possible, of course, but that’s the fundamental approach I recommend.

Honestly, it’s this simple approach that quickly – within a year or two – took Ask Leo! from zero to over a million visitors a month.

I also hope that by now you understand that you’re already a writer. It’s this skill you’ll be leveraging.

So of course your next question is,”What the heck am I supposed to write about?”

There are so many things. SO MANY THINGS. The problem isn’t what to write about; it’s what to prioritize above all the things you could be writing about.

But let’s start with a very simple premise.

It’s not about you

The single biggest mistake I see made on commercial, message-based, or mission types of websites, besides not publishing enough, is that they think that their website should be all about them: the website’s content is about the business, the owners, the technology, the cause, the … whatever.

In other words, it’s designed and written with little to no thought about what would be of actual value to a visitor to their site. They write solely for and about themselves, thinking people will care.

Don’t get me wrong: there is information about your business that’s critical to communicate, and we’ve talked about much of it already: “about” pages, contact information, location and hours of operation if that’s appropriate, etc.

But page after page telling me how wonderful your founders are, the history of your company, the righteousness of your cause, or the latest geeky twist to the technology you happen to be using doesn’t help me at all when I visit your site. It’s certainly not something that will bring me to your site.

It’s not about you. It’s about your reader.

Here’s a test for every page of your web site. If it’s not clear what’s in it for them and how that page somehow adds value for every reader taking the time to view it, then, respectfully, you’re doing it wrong.

Answer questions you get asked

People have questions. Naturally, I built Ask Leo! on that premise, but it’s true for any topic you can think of.

When it comes to your topic area, you have answers. Your website is your chance to exhibit your expertise in that area, and to do so in a way that will naturally bring people to you.

Think about it. When it comes to the topic you’ve built your business, cause, or message around, I’m certain you get questions all the time. What is it? Why is it important to me? How can it impact me? Why should I care?

How do I do X? How do I fix Y? How do I get better at doing Z?

Are there questions you’re tired of answering? Fantastic! That means that a lot of people have that question! That’s a huge opportunity for you to answer it, publicly, for anyone to find. As a bonus, you can point people towards that answer, published on your website, instead of answering that same question over and over again.

Build your FAQ. One question at a time, one page at a time.

Want to engage your audience a little further? Ask them what their most pressing questions are.

Answer questions you expect

I’ll admit it: as I write this, no one has actually asked me “But what do I write about?”

However, having expertise in this area and watching the space for many years, I know it’s a very common problem that people often face.

It’s also an incredibly important problem to overcome. I’d guess not knowing what to publish is one of the biggest reasons website owners don’t publish, or don’t publish regularly.

It’s an important question I anticipate people will have. My hope is that answering it adds value to my readers.

You’re no different. After the questions people do have, you probably have a long list of questions you expect people will have. Perhaps they’re difficult to ask. Perhaps the questions don’t arise until prior questions have been answered. Perhaps they’re questions people don’t even realize they have.

Perhaps they’re questions people should be asking.

Once again, you have answers. Here’s your opportunity to be ready with answers.

Solve problems

As a wise friend of mine once said, people search the internet for either of two reasons: they’re seeking pleasure, or they’re trying to avoid pain.

If you can help them remove pain, you’ve made a friend for life. They’ll remember you. They’ll tell their friends about you. They’ll come back the next time they have similar distress.

Now, you might think that this applies only to areas that are rife with problems – like, say, technology.

On the contrary: pain is all around us, and in many different forms. It could, quite literally, be the pain of a physical problem for which you have expertise to alleviate. It could be the pain of an embarrassing performance in a sport, and you can help them improve. It could be the pain of having had a home-cooked meal turn out awfully, and you can provide instruction.

It could be the pain of seeing a wrong in society for which you have a plan to correct, and specific actions people can take to bring about change.

Think about your business, cause, or message for a moment in terms of the pain people might feel relating to it, or the types of pain you are able to correct.

Solve that problem. Address that pain.

Share opinions (carefully)

Opinion pieces can be challenging, but they can also add value …

… and adding value is still what it’s all about.

Sometimes it’s not enough to simply answer a question or solve a problem. Often, what people are really looking for is context – the reasons why the answer is the answer. This helps them not only understand it, but allows them to more readily accept that answer, and even anticipate answers on their own in the future.

Naturally, and all too often, the answer to something is a matter of opinion.

And that’s OK, as long as it’s presented clearly in such a way that:

  • It’s obvious that it’s your opinion.
  • The opinion has basis in your expertise.
  • Understanding the rationale behind your opinion is useful to your reader.

As an example, I recently posted an article on Ask Leo! about it being time to move on from a particular version of Windows. That’s pure opinion, based on my experience, with the clear goal to keep my readers safe and secure as they navigate the internet. Not everyone agrees (a sure sign that it’s an opinion), but hopefully the rationale for my position will encourage some to take action, or at least make conscious decisions about what to do or not do.

Hopefully, it added value.

The downside, of course, is that not everyone agrees. Depending on the topic, the opinion, the rationale, and how it’s all presented, it’s possible to alienate readers. If that’s a risk you see yourself coming close to, carefully consider how your opinion is expressed, and whether expressing it adds enough value to justify it.

Add value

It all comes back to value.

I’m convinced that no matter what your topic area, you have something to say. You have answers to the problems people face, opportunities for people to improve their lives somehow, or ways in which you and your readers can make this world a better place.

By providing that information on your website, you’re making that knowledge and those opportunities available to the world.

You’re adding value.

I’m sure that if you think about it, there’s no shortage of opportunity here.

Think about your readers and potential readers. Keep them in mind, and they’ll do the same in return. (And as a bonus, the search engines should take notice as well.)

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