ScaleMath’s Approach to Writing High-Quality Content

Alex Panagis

I'm Alex, the founder of ScaleMath – a global, distributed customer acquisition & experience agency that helps industry-leading companies grow.

@alexjpanagis

You’ve all heard that:

  • Content quality is subjective
  • High-quality content is original
  • Good content is content that achieves a goal

But chances are you won’t have heard them from people who’ve run successful content marketing campaigns before (or they have but don’t want to share how they actually do any of the above). We have and – as usual – are here to get specific. 

  1. Truly get your reader  – get to know them beyond their marketing persona, like you would a friend’s personality and nuances. 
  2. Fully grasp the topic at hand – understand what you’re writing about well enough so that you explain and convey not only everything the reader wants to know but also everything they need to know. 
  3. Find your differentiator: angle, approach, hook – contrary to what most say, boring content can work but using an angle, hook and overall different approach is definitely more interesting (and as a byproduct of which more likely to drive social shares, earn links naturally, etc.).
  4. Design content structure and understand intent – you’re the writer & should be the one doing the work to guide the reader, making it easy and natural to consume your content. 
  5. Develop (earn) trust with your audience – some place this into the write what you know school of thought, we always think, write what you explore is an all-round far better approach. Thinking that everyone working on a content marketing campaign needs to have very specific first-hand experience with something is unrealistic, especially unless you’re writing for a very niche blog. Instead, backing that up by partnering with and weaving in the experience of people in the industry to weave that into your content. 

1 – Truly get your reader

Without a true understanding of who you’re writing for, ensuring that content is of high quality and capable of achieving what you’ve set out for it to will always be an uphill battle. For high-touch content, specifically, when you go beyond the level of the more informational/how-to style of topics (though even for these), we really advise getting acquainted with your readers beyond just personas. 

That means: 

  • Coordinating actual 1:1 meetings with them
  • Spending time understanding their pain points
  • And even developing a solid feedback loop for content that you do publish to know how well it addresses pain points / speaks their language

For most companies, this can be surprisingly difficult but it really shouldn’t be. Sure, message testing and positioning testing using panels are great (and something we also do at ScaleMath) but ultimately, for this type of work, it helps to build an inner circle of customers that you work closely with. 

Marketing personas are a good starting point

Marketing personas aren’t bad. They can be somewhat helpful, but we find them to be an outdated approach to what is truly nailing your ideal customer profile. Simply because:

  1. They’re truly very, very generic.
  2. They’re fictional descriptions of a target audience. 
  3. And…as a result, barely scratch the surface. 

They introduce you to the broad category of people that a piece may be speaking to but really are just the beginning – a decent starting point. 

2 – Fully grasp the topic at hand 

Next, you need to fully grasp the topic at hand as well as the purpose of the piece of content you’re producing. 

As a general rule of thumb – if you’re able to break down a concept, be it a problem, solution, scenario, you name it, into its most basic form. Meaning, explaining it in plain English, you understand it (this thinking stems from the Feynman Technique). 

The ELI5 concept is actually quite common in tech companies, and writing. When we go through this process and ask someone to break it down to this level, it’s often because we suspect that the writer’s understanding only spans to the level of being able to regurgitate and form an explanation as opposed to grasping it to the level that allows them to write about it to the level that we expect them to be able to. 

The signs of this do vary, but here are some of the more common ones:

  • Industry jargon: When a number of sentences read like they’re a bunch of corporate B.S. full of jargon, it’s a good indication that the writer is writing in someone else’s voice (meaning they don’t fully understand and are potentially even trying to mask this). 
  • Reused expressions: When you can tell that expressions are consistently re-used. This is common among marketers led by a CEO that doesn’t get marketing. They write using the homepage copy, landing page copy that hasn’t been written with any thought given to the end-reader. Often also full or jargon, but essentially just recycling expressions, industry know-how as to the importance of a product based on things like features beyond the situations where it makes sense (i.e. brandable expressions). 
  • Quote overload: Using Overusing quotes from other business owners. This can be a really good approach to writing when done right, and even result in a piece of content that is significantly more shareable and likable than one that doesn’t include quotes or wasn’t produced in collaboration with other people/companies. But when executed poorly and used as a crutch for poor understanding of a topic, then it is often quite clear in the user/overuse of quotes to support what should realistically be original content structure, ideas, etc.

If you’re noticing any of the above frequently in your writing, don’t panic, they’re just indications. But to take step back and make sure you’re doing the hard work necessary to make explaining a topic to the level required possible. 

3 – Find your differentiator: angle, approach, hook 

In other words, keep your reader around. Find your hook to reel them in, and develop an angle & approach that’ll let you keep them around get the most out of your content. 

Content structure plays a big role in this (which also plays a role in nailing search intent which we’ll get onto next) – this means using all the formatting options, design, images, embedded media, and more (that is suitable for the context of the reader and what they will want) to make your content engaging enough to allow the reader to get what they want and need out of it before they leave. 

Finding your approach & why 

High-quality content starts with a topic that is suitable to write about but equally should start with a suitable approach (and why) to write about that topic in the first place. 

When suitable, and we must emphasize, only when suitable – choosing an approach and general mindset that differs from the norm is what makes for viral-style content that goes big and makes its rounds in an industry. This is by no means suitable for every piece of search-driven informational content that you will be producing (please, no) but even for those types of content developing the angle & approach, lining them up with business objectives and ensuring that they align with anything else your organization has been communicating to customers (be it customer success, support, social, leadership, etc.) is always important. 

Bottom line up front (BLUF) 

If you’ve made it this far, it’s safe to assume that you aren’t thinking of writing creative, fictional writing content. 

In which case, the people that you are writing for aren’t looking for entertainment. They may want content that they consume to be engaging but equally want themselves – their pain points, questions, objectives – to be the focus from start to finish. 

Our company handbook includes what we refer to as BLUF which is an acronym that stands for “bottom line up front” that’s typically only enforced in military communication to enforce speed and clarity in communication.

We use it internally, encourage other companies that we work with to use it when they communicate (specifically with us as) and more importantly use it as a guideline for all writing across the board to ensure that we make every word count and keep our content extremely focused. 

  • Write a title that your reader will want to click.
  • Write an introductory hook to reel in your reader. 
  • Write headings that make content readable and easy to scan (remember not everyone sits down to read a long article top to bottom). 
  • Write a conclusion that adds value and offers a next step. 
  • Break up your content with images, lists, charts. Don’t create the dreaded wall of texts your readers fear. 
  • Keep paragraphs concise. Don’t make your readers work hard to follow your train of thought. Making it easy for readers to follow your thinking is your job as a writer. 

4 – Design content structure and understand intent

Your job as a writer is to be a guide. You do the hard work, you organize your thinking to make the readers’ lives easy. 

Don’t make your readers work to get the most out of your content. 

Don’t make them dig deep to find your key takeaways.

How? Designing a content structure that makes sense & goes beyond just focusing on content headings. 

Nailing the content structure that you’re going to use – as you’d expect – again requires a true understanding of your reader. You want to base this around the pain points your readers are experiencing and how they will best benefit from consuming this particular piece of content. Is a simple listicle the way to go or could a how-to guide be the right approach?

The person writing the piece of content should ultimately be the one who develops this as if it is simply delegated or assigned by a senior editor, they may lack the understanding behind why the structure is a certain way which will affect their ability to write a piece of content fitting what to them is just an arbitrary structure that’s been assigned by their manager. That being said, especially for newer writers, it is important to go at this process with help from others on your team (as well as again, working with readers who are in your target demographic). 

5 – Develop (earn) trust with your audience 

Whether you’re the expert or leaning on expertise from people you know – your content needs to be in a position for readers to trust you as the source.

It’s increasingly clear in virtually all verticals that Google favors specific sites that are known to provide true, high-quality content. There is a reason for this, which is because it is what readers want after all. And this is why breaking into a competitive space is never straightforward. 

  • Use data to build credibility. Where possible, this means using original data, but goes far beyond that – in general, quantifying things you say in your content will make you come across as more credible. Instead of just making a blanket statement about a set of companies doing something specific, actually qualifying what you’re saying (naturally) will make your content come across as more credible. 
  • Dig into the logic behind your thinking. Don’t ever expect a reader to take something you say at face value and be ready to dig deeper and take them through your thinking when suitable.

After Action Report – True Content Quality Is Hard To Nail Which Is Exactly Why It’s Valuable 

If it were easy everyone would do it. Quality content is difficult to nail and always going to be an ongoing effort. 

Setting a general standard once is not something that means it’ll be easy for every writer that works to produce content for a specific organization will be able to get it right – let alone for those that have, it doesn’t mean they will every single time, for every single piece of content. 

You may want to take comfort in there are very few out there that are really doing an incredible job with content which means if you are up for a challenge, willing to dig deep (whether that’s with help or on your own), getting to know your reader, it’s possible & the sooner you get started, the easier it’ll be.