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How To Create Compelling Content That Triggers Positive Action

When you’re creating content, you need to tell the reader something they can’t find on another competing page on Google. I can’t stress this point enough.

This content doesn’t have to be 100% original in the sense that you come up with it all yourself. If you’re writing about a technical subject that you’ve never covered before, or haven’t covered in much depth, then you need material to refer to. And you may refer to certain aspects of this material in making a specific point. That’s natural.

Some of what you write will mirror the content on other page 1 results. Don’t think of it as a cardinal sin, despite what these ‘influencers’ on LinkedIn tell you.

However, if you’re going to go down this route, you also need to look at what these results don’t show that your content could. You need to find that point of difference or those points of difference in order to stand out, otherwise you’re not going to outperform the sites you’re competing with for that organic real-estate.

And even if you sit alongside other pages on page 1 of Google – that’s only half of the battle.

High rankings and traffic mean very little if you’re not triggering a positive action once the user lands on the page. There are various ways you can do that.

Before we go any further…

I should stress at this point that I’m going to be talking about written content, i.e., blog posts, how-to guides, and CMS pages – not visual or video content. I also want to stress that a positive action will mean different things to different people.

It’s not just about sales, contrary to what a lot of people seem to think. It’s also about educating your readers, creating a positive impression of your brand, and keeping people on the website.

In an ideal world, and when executed correctly, content marketing should generate thousands of pounds for a business every month. But there are many caveats, here.

For one, the industry you work in. Trying to sell nail varnish is a faster and less layered process, I imagine, than trying to sell bespoke e-commerce software to a multi-million pound corporation with exacting standards (and budgets!).

Furthermore, unless you have a team of writers, a clearly defined content strategy, a responsive website, and, importantly, backlinks to your website, that sort of target is probably not realistic. Content can do a lot of things, but it can’t work miracles overnight.

Typically, content marketing takes around six to 12 months to have an impact to the point where it’s delivering a decent to strong return on investment. If you want instant short-term results, hire a pay-per-click consultant. If you want long-term results, then content marketing is the best channel for that purpose.

But in order to achieve long-term results, you need to stand out.

So, how do you?

There are five points of difference that will make your content more impactful. I discussed these points on a video podcast with the Northern Affinity, and I’ve linked to this at the bottom of the article if you want to check it out.

But here’s the written version of my interview (without the colloquialisms and anecdote about working in H&M).

1. Do your research (and then some)

Before writing any piece of content, you should start by carrying out keyword research on tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, and Google Search Console to look at user intent, search volume, keyword difficulty, and various other factors.

But you should look deeper into what people are searching for besides the main keyword you’re trying to rank for.

You want to target as many associated queries as possible, without overdoing it. These can be gold dust in terms of generating content opportunities, rankings, traffic and, ultimately, conversions.

Using the Northern Affinity’s business model as an example, if you were trying to rank for the keyword ‘best coworking spaces’, you shouldn’t just aim to rank for this keyword.

It’s very competitive, which minimises your chances of standing out as you’re up against some authoritative websites. If you’re a relatively small or start-up business trying to climb up the rankings, I’d suggest this isn’t a route you want to take.

It’s also quite broad in my opinion, and doesn’t really get to the crux of what your business is about (unless you’re lucky enough to be a big enough name that you can afford to produce ‘catch-all’ content).

You might want to target your content at a specific region to capture a more defined audience, i.e., ‘best coworking spaces london’, ‘best coworking spaces manchester’, ‘best coworking spaces yorkshire’. These keywords, although lower in volume, have a much clearer user intent and your chances of meeting this intent are higher than if you target a broader keyword that’s loaded with multiple potential angles.

You might also want to look at questions related to the main topic of your content. I use tools like AlsoAsked and AnswerThePublic to probe deeper into the semantically-related search queries around a central keyword.

Have you ever seen the People Also Ask dropdowns on Google, when you search for something and the page displays a bunch of ‘accordions’ with associated questions people are asking? That’s another good example of what I mean.

It’s such a simple tactic but it works. Literally just Googling your keyword and looking at what people are asking about that topic can give you the headline, section headings and subheadings for your article.

Look at all of those questions and write a few short, sharp, concise paragraphs to answer them.

To summarise, you shouldn’t just look at one or two keywords when you’re creating content. If you do that, you risk creating something that’s one-dimensional and doesn’t have much growth potential.

2. Keep it simple

Another point of difference is keep the tone simple. Speak to the reader like a human, not a robot.

This tip is especially important following Google’s recent Helpful Content Update. When it announced this update, Google described it as “part of a broader effort to ensure people see more original, helpful content written by people, for people, in search results”. “By people, for people” is the key takeaway here.

Nine times out of ten, unless I’m writing for a very academic audience, I’ll write in the same way as I’ll speak to someone on a video call or at the local pub. This approach has helped me keep things simple and write content that I’m proud of.

People think that writing impactful copy is an art form, and that’s true, but it’s writing simple and impactful copy that’s the art form - not writing flowery words or a load of jargon.

The more you adopt this mantra, the more authentic you’ll be. The more authentic you are, the longer you’ll keep people on your website. The longer you keep people on your website, the more chance of you have of creating a positive, long-lasting impression. And then, in an ideal world, these people will remember you and come back to you when they’re ready to buy.

Authenticity is key to achieving all of this.

I once did some copywriting training with a guy called Mike Ward, who I recommend to other content writers or businesses who have a content team. He did a day’s session with us but the one thing he said that I remember most was four simple words: “Make every word count.”

Whatever you’re writing, it has to be valuable. There’s no point in writing 2000 words of fluff or keyword-stuffed copy just for the sake of ranking high on Google. Because in most cases, you won’t rank high for that sort of content, anyway.

3. ‘You’ not ‘us’

Too often, businesses talk about how great they are instead of telling the reader how they’re going to solve their problem. That’s always the fundamental priority of any piece of content.

You need to show that you understand how your readers think, what their challenges are, and what motivates them to make a purchase. What are the key drivers for them?

The ‘you not us’ principle also applies to your overall content marketing strategy. You need to create this strategy around the needs and wants of your readers, not just rely on your own intuition.

You need insights from Google Analytics and Google Search Console to find out:

  • What articles people are reading

  • Which articles they’re reading the longest

  • Which articles generate the most traffic

  • Which articles generate the most revenue

  • Which articles generate the highest pages per session (in other words, which ones keep the readers on site the longest).

You also need to know who your readers are.

There are a number of ways you can find this out. I’ve picked out three or four but there will be more:

Customer surveys

If you’ve got a half-decent email database and you’re confident you could get at least 500-1000 respondents, you can send these surveys out for free via Survey Monkey.

You can pay a survey company for them if you’ve got a bit of extra budget. These companies will get you a ‘nationally representative’ pool of respondents, which basically means a pool that reflects the demographic distribution of a given population.

You’d typically use these companies if your email database is quite low, or your open rates aren’t what you’d consider ‘high’. They can get you a larger number of respondents if this is the case. They’re also ideal if you’re looking to launch a national-scale PR campaign that’s based around a survey.

But like I said, they can be pretty expensive. You’re talking a couple of thousand pounds for a couple of thousand respondents, usually. So, I’d advise going down the free route if you haven’t got a massive budget for this kind of thing.

Your own internal data

As I said before – Google Analytics. This has a Demographics feature that will give you the most basic information about your website’s audience. So their age, gender, and location.

Another neat tool is the Countries facility on Google Search Console. This shows you which countries people are reading your content from, so if you have ambitions to expand your business offering to a global market, this tool can be really useful for that.

Hotjar is another tool I’ve had a great deal of joy from in terms of formulating a content strategy. So, with Hotjar, you implement heatmaps on your website - and you can choose which pages you want the heatmaps to analyse.

This tool has a number of purposes, but I’m only going to focus on it from my experience. And the main purpose I used it for was to analyse heatmaps and click data.

When I worked for Ripe Insurance, I would set up heatmaps on Hotjar for various blog posts I published, especially if it was long-form and contained numerous backlinks to supporting articles.

For example, I used to write content for a caravan insurance brand. I’d written an article about caravan safety and in it, I included a couple of links to articles that talked about the importance of draining down your caravan and getting rid of damp in a caravan.

I created a heatmap for this article and when I analysed the heatmap about a month later, these two links accounted for about 300 clicks each. Therefore, I knew that kind of content was what interested our readers and I added two new articles to the content plan based on this.

Heatmap tools like Hotjar and Microsoft Clarity show you which parts of your article are gaining the most interest, and the content your readers want to see.


I don’t have any first-hand experience of doing this, so I don’t want to go into too much detail about it. I just know from speaking to various Marketing Managers and Marketing Directors that this can be a really effective practice.

Focus groups are good for this. They just allow you to be face-to-face with ‘the people on the ground’.

You’d typically ask your customers what they like and don’t like about your brand, what they think of when they think of your brand – that kind of stuff. You can do the interviews remotely or in-person.

4. Social proof sells your product or service

If you’re writing a commercially-focused piece that touches on specific products, social proof is huge. By social proof I mean, someone other than you saying that X product or X brand is great, i.e., your customers.

Customer reviews are amazing because they’re unique to your website and the reader cannot find them anywhere else on the internet. And Google loves unique content.

The people on the ground, people like your readers, can give you this unique content. Basic human psychology dictates that if you’re reading an article that you’ve found on Google about the best pressure washers on the market, you’d sooner read a genuine review from a Kärcher customer than have the Head of Marketing at Kärcher saying their pressure washers are great!

I don’t care what a suit at a company thinks. I care what people like me think because they’re the people I can relate to. They have a common problem like mine that they need a specific type of product or service for.

Case studies are also a good example of social proof. If you can get in touch with a customer for, say, half an hour, and get them to explain what challenge they had, what you did for them, and how this helped them overcome their challenge, then this can turn into an amazing piece of content. You’re essentially transcribing what they say and using it to promote your business – it’s money for old rope, as the saying goes.

Testimonials are great as well. I don’t want to go off on a tangent and talk about email marketing, but I’d say to any business owner that if you have a decent-sized email database, it’s well worth firing off an email to your customers asking them to review your product or service.

5. Build trust through expert insights

Utilising expert insights is another key point of difference. This tip has come up in a lot of industry webinars that I’ve watched lately. They talk about the importance of boosting your EAT score (which stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trust for anyone who doesn’t know) and reaching out to an expert is the best – and pretty much the only – way for you to do this. That is, unless you’re very good at pretending you’re an expert on something!

I write about a lot of subjects that I’m not an expert in. I think most freelance or agency-based content writers are the same.

But I know I can write well. So, I have to play to my strengths while utilising the strength of someone else, i.e., their product knowledge, in order to achieve the best results.

That’s why it’s so important to work with a subject matter expert, or SME as they’re called. This person gives you a unique perspective that’ll help your content stand out.

They’ll also act as a fact-checker and help you become more comfortable with a subject that could be quite niche.

What I’ve often done in my career is had a briefing call with said expert, noted down their insights, written the content, and run it by them to check before it goes live.

If you utilise a subject expert, you not only get content that’s more authoritative, it’s also unique. You can’t get this content anywhere else. You’re not having to just rewrite the competing content you see on page 1 of Google, you’re actually providing something of value to your readers and that’ll stand you in good stead in the long run.

Final thoughts

I’ve got a couple of final tips which didn’t make my top five but are still important when creating content:

  1. Break up the text with good spacing, images, video, bullet points. There’s nothing worse when you’re trying to engage with a piece of content than seeing a wall of text.

  2. Good grammar still matters. I see a lot of these ‘experts’ on LinkedIn who say that good writing isn’t that important and people are being too 'nit-picky'. Trust me, it does. Especially if you’re writing for a B2B brand and you’re addressing people who generally have a good education and are sticklers for detail. Tools like Grammarly, Readable, and the Hemingway App can help you markedly improve your writing and have had a massive impact on my creative output.

For more tips like these, add me on LinkedIn, reach out via email (, or watch the below podcast in which I featured.


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