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The Content Marketer’s Guide to Web Content

The Content Marketer’s Guide to Web Content

The Internet houses a wealth of information in all different forms. With so many creative avenues available to you to communicate an idea, how do you choose which medium to use?

This blog post details all of the different types of content used online and how they can each benefit you. Because it’s rather long, remember: ctrl+F is your friend.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Click on each title below to navigate to that section…

I. Content Glossary

II. Motivations for Creating Content


I. Content Glossary

LISTS and LISTICLES

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Definition

For the sake of consistency, I’ll offer a brief definition of the word ““list.” A list is a series of items, either ordered or unordered. A more useful definition is the one for ““listicle,” which is the subtype of list generally used in marketing and content production. The word formed out of a combination of ““list” and ““article” simply because a listicle includes additional, explanatory text but uses a list as its focal point.

Origin

In a modern sense, the most popular lists created for entertainment purposes are top 10 lists, which have also thrived in the world of linkbait. Listicles started gaining popularity in the mid-1980s when articles in People magazine and skits on Late Night with David Letterman began incorporating Top Ten themes.

When to Use Them

If you want your content to be easily digestible for readers, lists are the way to go. They’re very skimmable and easy to reference. Plus, like this post in Persephone Magazine says, people like knowing what they’re getting into. If you’re going to have blocks of text with no breaks, you might as well post it on your Friendster account — no one’s going to read it anyway.

Usage Tips

If your subject lends itself to having several items or methods in the list, try to make the article extremely comprehensive. Even though top 10s are the most popular, creating a top 50 or top 100 will offer more to your readers and give them a reason to check your article over others containing similar (but less) information. Using a less-expected number, like 23 instead of 20, also helps a listicle stand out..

ARTICLES

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Definition

Articles are usually in reference to news pieces that communicate factual, unbiased information. They can be used in a more general sense, and that definition would encompass linkbait and other types of content consisting of text, but in its purest form, ““article” has an objective and authoritative connotation.

Origin

The first presence of recognized news content started when The Columbus Dispatch went online on July 1, 1980. Poynter details this evolution, also stating that The Washington Post, The New York Times, and other newspapers went online via CompuServe dial-up service back in 1980.

When to Use Them

You obviously can’t just change the name of your website and become the St. Petersburg Times, but you can produce content based strictly on attributed facts, interviews, and research. Linkbait can be journalistic in this sense, but it can also be more opinionated and light-hearted. If your goal is to become an authority on a subject or to communicate to the audience that you have extensive knowledge about a certain topic, writing an article is the best way to go.

Usage Tips

If your goal is to take a journalistic approach, use attribution liberally, as citing all of the facts and opinions will add credibility. Also, remain objective throughout the piece because a lack of bias is a major component of news content. To set your content apart, especially if it’s about a common topic, try to take a different angle to present a fresh look.

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PHOTOS

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Definition

Outside of its literal definition, a photo is a pause. It slows down the frantic world around us and illustrates everything in a simple, easily digestible way. A video or even descriptive text can seem chaotic when describing a busy, active topic, but taking photographs is a method that can do all of the same work with much less movement. Whether it’s a stock photo or a photo you took with a clunky, school-bus-yellow disposable camera, any picture can communicate.

Origin

Photobucket started in 2003 and was one of the first major photo sharing websites. Flickr has taken over the popularity, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have integrated image sharing, as well. Nowadays, Imgur is all the rage, and it’s hard to even capture the attention of Redditors without using it.

When to Use Them

The simple answer? Often. It’s rare that a photo won’t enhance your content. Articles, linkbait, infographics, cinemagraphs — so much content relies on pictures to reach their full potential (or to even exist in the first place). Wanting to add context to your work, make it more relatable, capture the readers’ attention, or simply add visual interest are all great reasons to use photos.

Usage Tips

If you have a photo with impact, publish it to make a statement. While photos are often used to accompany other content, they can also stand on their own and communicate information if the picture is strong and engaging enough.  If you’re choosing photos to add to content, make sure you’re choosing ones that aren’t protecting by copyright. Try Creative Commons or Stock.xchng.

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CINEMAGRAPHS

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Definition

Cinemagraphs are just as their name implies — a new combination of film and photography. They’re created by taking a video and isolating only one motion while the rest of the image remains still. Apparently they’re not too tough to make, either, as there are several tutorials online. Consider them the classier version of the animated .gif.

Origin

Cinemagraphs are one of the most recently developed forms of content. Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg started creating them and posting them on the blog From Me To You (you can find some examples here). They published their first piece on Feb. 13, 2011, and since then have created cinemagraphs for brands like Juicy Couture. If you’re interested to learn more about the history, you can find a full rundown on Mashable.

When to Use Them

An image might depict a person, event, scene, or idea, but a cinemagraph captures a moment. By making this single point in time stand out in the viewer’s mind, you’re calling attention to the action or item in motion. Any time you want to attract the audience’s eye to one specific thing and leave a strong impression, cinemagraphs are the perfect way to do it. They’re the equivalent of doing this with text!!! except that they’re elegant and not nearly as alarming.

Usage Tips

Don’t make the cinemagraph too long or too involved. Keep the image and movement simple, as this will probably be the most eye-catching. To stand out, try to call the attention to an unexpected movement. For example, the cinemagraph shown above draws your eye not to the bustling crowd but to the man reading the newspaper, thus introducing a feeling of time slowing down.

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INFOGRAPHICS

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Definition

Infographics display facts and figures in a pictorially interesting and vivid way. This general definition can encompass everything from hieroglyphics to Prince’s ““name,” but in terms of online content, infographics generally try to communicate data using pictures, graphs, charts, and other easy-to-digest images.

Origin

FlowingData broke down the history of infographics and found that while the first popular infographic posted to Digg was on Aug. 21, 2006, the beginning of 2009 showed the first major spike in general popularity, and it’s more or less continued increasing since.

When to Use Them

The best time to use infographics as opposed to general articles is when you either have a lot of statistics to work with or you think the piece is explanatory and would be more easily communicated (and come across as more interest) through the use of pictures. For example, if you want to show readers a timeline of when different social media sites were most popular, an infographic would probably be best. But if you want to explain why they’re popular, an article or listicle would do a better job.

Usage Tips

Getting too flashy to make your infographic stand out isn’t the way to go. Choose a few colors and decide what mood you want your infographic to convey. In the example above, the infographic is clean, organized, and careful to include a lot of straight tlines and icons to make it feel more techy and Internet-related. It also doesn’t overload you with blocks of content. Try breaking things down into graphs like it does and using images to indirectly label different stats.

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INTERACTIVE INFOGRAPHICS

State of the Internet 2011
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Definition

An interactive infographic is exactly what it sounds like — it’s an infographic that allows for more user control and animation. It achieves this through the use of HTML 5/CSS 3, Flash, or through similar means. Viewers can click on parts of the graphic to activate certain elements or reveal certain information and also watch as content flashes and moves throughout the page.

Origin

The website counterparts of newspapers and magazines gave interactive infographics one of their first homes. For the last few years, news sources have been posting these graphics to communicate information in a clearer, more interesting way. You can find a good compilation of sources with this type of infographic here.

When to Use Them

Interactive infographics add another dimension to acquiring information textually and pictorially. Instead of just watching a normal infographic or video infographic, readers can click on the images to uncover facts and feel more immersed in the content. If one of your primary goals is to engage your readers and give them a sense of participation and curiosity, give interactive infographics a try.

Usage Tips

Don’t bling them out with too much animation or fun graphic tricks. The key is to use the interactive elements in the right place. In the example provided, the interactive parts are used to organize information and only reveal certain data at a time so that the graphic isn’t cluttered. When you make these decisions, have an actual reason to incorporate interactivity. Also make sure that the cursor changes shape when the reader rolls over something he or she can click so that it doesn’t get too confusing.

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VIDEO     

 

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Definition

If you really don’t know what a video is, check this one out and don’t keep reading until you do. If you were brave enough to click the link, my apologies — I couldn’t help but take the opportunity to evoke a classic meme. This was a throwaway definition, but seeing as though YouTube gets 3 billion views a day, I doubt you’ve gone very long on the Internet without crossing a video’s path.

Origin

YouTube currently dominates, even though it started several years ago. According to Mashable, the first video posted to YouTube was on April 23, 2005, and featured a zoo founder discussing elephant trunks. Fascinating...

When to Use It

Certain types of content are better communicated via video because they receive credibility from being able to see who’s talking or what’s going on. They also add visual interest that’s either needed to make the topic interesting or inherent in the subject (and should thus be taken advantage of). Instructional videos, event footage, and interviews general work best through a video medium.

Usage Tips

The video embedded above is a great example of how you can use a video to teach something but also connect to your potential clients/customers/readers and show people what you’re knowledgeable about. If you’re making a tutorial-esque video like this one, using narration is a great tactic because it feels like you’re speaking right to the audience. Regardless of the reason you choose to make the video, having your company or brand’s presence is very important.

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VIDEO INFOGRAPHICS

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Definition

Video infographics are infographics that gulped down a gallon of coffee and are in a hurry to tell you something. They have the same qualities of infographics except that they use animation to help the reader consume the information even faster, as Ryan Sammy explains in his blog post ““7 Alternatives to Top 10 Lists.”

Origin

Well, when an infographic and a video love each other … okay, that’s not where this should be going, but because video infographics are currently on the cusp of popularity, we’re sitting in the middle of the origin.

When to Use Them

Because video infographics take the lead in directing your attention, they are super informative in a short amount of time. They’re also better for longer amounts of data, as you don’t want your readers to have to scroll for 78 minutes before they reach the bottom of a traditional infographic. By keeping it all in one screen, video infographics are great for focused, constant attention and for delivering a lot of information clearly.

Usage Tips

Don’t forget to incorporate pictorial elements, graphs, etc. like you would in a normal infographic. For example, at the beginning of the video embedded above, highlighting the one person in red and then showing 1,300 people instead of just writing it is much more powerful, especially with the intense music and the zooming-in text. Always take advantage of these design elements, and add sounds and/or music to the background — silence might make the video boring after a while.

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KINETIC TYPOGRAPHY

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Definition

Kinetic typography typically involves animated words appearing on screen as they’re being narrated. It’s almost as if a book is not only reading itself to you, but also making the words pop out in an eye-catching way. Once you’ve seen an example, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. In a broad sense, it doesn’t have to just involve narrated text, but that seems to be the recent trend.

Origin

One of the first movies made solely using kinetic typography was called Amore Baciami and was created in 1988. Since then, kinetic typography has been used in advertising and by fans to create fun clips involving narration from movies or lyrics from songs. A Designer Daily post showcases Amore Baciami and 49 other examples of kinetic typography and how it’s been used, so it certainly wasn’t a technique born on the Internet.

When to Use It

As Lauren Rabaino from MediaBistro points out, there’s something exceptionally engaging about kinetic typography. It almost forces you to watch the whole way through because you’re so intrigued. If you have a reasonably small amount of text that you want to communicate, and you want readers to notice every word because of its importance, this is the perfect technique. (Warning: Using the text, ““Buy my product. It is awesome. I am awesome,” won’t work. Be sure that the text is interesting, too.)

Usage Tips

While some examples of kinetic typography include every word spoken, this has the potential to get a little too hectic and cluttered. For calmer but equally engaging presentations, use the same technique the video above implements — include key words so that readers follow along but aren’t drowning in word soup.

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GRAPHS

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Definition

According to Merriam-Webster, a graph is a diagram that represents the variation of a variable in comparison with that of one or more other variables. Sorry — I may as well have slipped you an Ambien. Simply put, graphs set out to display data in a way that makes sense visually and compares different elements.

Origin

This is probably the most difficult type of content of which to identify the beginnings. While you may recognize graphs from social studies or algebra II class, they’re prominent now accompanying articles and being incorporated into infographics.

When to Use Them

They’re often used in infographics because they make it much easier to understand boring percentages and stats, so definitely include them if you’re making a graphic of this kind. Anytime information lends itself to visuals, go ahead and throw it into a pie chart or line graph. Instead of saying 98% of people love watching Jersey Shore (don’t worry — this is baseless), fill in 98% of a circle so the readers get a sense of space and portion quicker.

Usage Tips

If you’re trying to think of data to graph, some of the best types of information to use are topics that have drastic contrasts. The graph shown above is the perfect example — because the gap between years is so dramatic, it makes a poignant graph that couldn’t be as powerful in any other form. Keep this sort of visual comparison in mind when considering what to graph.

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QUIZZES

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Definition

A quiz is a series of questions asked to test your general knowledge, your knowledge about a certain topic, or to get a sense of your personality and traits. Two types of quizzes are common on the Internet: the first is the straightforward quiz we’re used to from school consisting of straightforward questions based on fact that are meant to measure how much you know; the second is more of a fun approach in that the questions don’t necessarily have a right answer but do point to a certain result.

Origin

Because they’re such an engrained part of the school system, quizzes seem all but new to us. But in a social way, a large surge in quiz popularity probably came during the Quizilla era back in 2002. The site’s original purpose was to allow people to create their own, fun quizzes others could take, like ““Which Saved by the Bell Character Are You?” Good times.

When to Use Them

It’s worth mentioning that quizzes shouldn’t be mistaken for polls, which are usually used to collect the opinions of readers and aren’t very conducive to social sharing. Quizzes generally have an entertainment value, so if you want someone to feel involved with your site or blog, feel a commonality with your site’s main subject matter, and then feel compelled to share this content with other like-minded individuals, a quiz can do the trick.

Usage Tips

The InfoWorld quiz is a great example of a more ““serious” quiz (in that it’s not meant to assess which Twilight character you should be). It focuses on a certain niche, which attracts the site’s audience, so it’s a good strategy to have. Also, even though there are correct answers, the quiz’s designer made sure to include a funny response for every question, which increases the entertainment value. Give this a shot if you decide to draft a quiz of your own.

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PODCASTS

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Definition

I defer to Wikipedia (I never thought I’d type that) because it has a solid definition: ““A series of digital media files … that are released episodically and often downloaded through web syndication.” They usually take the form of audio files, and they’ve been made very popular ever since the creation and popularity of iTunes.

Origin

Adam Curry came up with the idea to automate the synching of audio files to portable players, according to the How to Podcast post by Jason Van Orden. This made taking audio files on the go much easier and reduced the need to constantly check back for updates.

When to Use Them

If the content you’re planning on delivering lends itself to being a series, try starting a podcast, especially if you want to add a touch of familiarity and connectedness to the communication of the information. When podcasting, it’s as though you’re directly addressing each listener, which is a truly great technique if you want to form bonds with listeners/readers.

Usage Tips

Try not to make podcasts too long, especially at first. People tend to listen to podcasts on the go, and if your podcast is an hour-long analysis of basket weaving, no one’s going to use your droning voice as the soundtrack to their commute. Also, try to release your podcasts on a schedule so that your audience knows when to expect them, as mentioned in this article posted on Mashable.

 

II. Motivation for Creating Content

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LINKBAITING

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Definition

Linkbait is a piece of content designed to capture the interest of online users, gain popularity, and be shared. But when you think about it, isn’t the point of all content to be well-received? Linkbait has a conscious mission to be liked (and thus linked to). Basically, linkbait is that one super-nice friend who’s always worried about what we think of him or her, and any of the above types of content can be this friend.

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Origin 

According to a Copyblogger post, the SEO industry can be credited for putting the words ““link” and ““bait” together. While it’s unclear whether the first person to use the term was Nick Wilson or Aaron Wall, it’s unclear when linkbait ““started,” as its definition is so encompassing.

When to Do It

Linkbait can be any kind of content meant to get attention and be shared, so if you want your content to be noticed, linkbaiting is a technique you’ll be using, even if subconsciously. It’s great for marketing purposes, like the Elf Yourself example shown above. A silly Internet activity turned into a phenomenon and remarkable attention-grabber. If one of your overall goals is to attract attention and links, do so by offering up useful information or quality entertainment by using one of the forms of content described above.

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WORKING WITH MEMES

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Definition

The most encompassing definition is probably Merriam-Webster’s: ““an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” Pretty vague, right?  Generally, memes are a stylistic use of images or text to communicate humor and continue reworking the joke. They’re inside jokes between online users, and so many of them exist that there’s an entire website devoted to sorting them out!

Origin

It’s difficult to pinpoint the first Internet meme, though the Hampsterdance is arguably one of the earliest. More recently recognizable memes include Rick Rolling LOLcats, and rage faces. No matter what the meme, they typically start the same way and go through similar life cycles, as described by Cracked in a facetious but eerily accurate way.

When to Do It

Attempting to start a meme is both difficult and risky as they’re generally formed organically; even if you successfully start a meme, if it fizzles out, it could negatively impact your brand. Instead, focus on creating quality content, which is most likely to go viral (especially if it’s humorous). Because generating memes is nearly impossible, try playing off already-established memes. Memes don’t exactly communicate a lot of information, but they’re excellent if you’re looking to instantly relate and connect to a wide audience.

 

CONCLUSION

Whew. That’s a lot of content! It just goes to show you how diverse all of the information on the Internet is and how it can be communicated in so many different forms. The key is to know which form works best not only for your content but also for your motivations. Carefully consider what you’re trying to accomplish and see which medium will best serve your goals. Good luck!