"What's in it for me?"—The Key to Good Content

It's navel-gazing Wednesday over here at Story House, and to "celebrate," I thought I'd give you a little quiz.

Let's say someone sends you a link to photos that were taken at a recent party you attended. You're excited because you think, "Gosh, that party was fun. It will be so great to see Jenny in that crazy wig and Joe in his brother's powder blue tuxedo again."

So you quickly click over, and what's the first thing you look for? Is it Jenny's rainbow afro? Joe's ruffles and tails?

If you're like me (or, I suspect, like 96.5% of people), um, no.

The first thing you look for is yourself. How are your highlights looking? Did you really pull off that almost-mini dress like you thought you did? Is the Renova working?

After you've looked at all the pictures of yourself and determined, "Hey for 40+, not so bad," then you go and quickly look at all the other pictures so you can relive the party before your 3pm conference call.

What in the world does this have to do

with content?

When people come to your site, their first instinct is to look for themselves: Do you sound like them? Does your site look like a site they'd create if they were in your business? And most importantly: Is what you're selling going to help solve their problem?

It's sooooooo easy for big companies, entrepreneurs and others (I'm looking at myself, here) to get caught up in crafting messages that talk about who they are and what they do. Hey, look at all of my degrees! Check out our awards! Can't you tell by how many three-syllable words I use in my "about" page that I am super smart?

The One-and-Only Content Rule: You Must Solve Problems

But all someone really wants to know when she comes to your site is how you can solve her problem so she doesn't wake up in a sweat at 3am wondering why she didn't go to law school like her father told her to because he knew a degree in theater history was a total non-starter.

So what to do? First of all (no surprise), think about yourself: what type of appeals work for you?

Do you read the headlines on the cover of Oprah Magazine and think, "yes! I want that!" for every single one? Then think about how Oprah would "sell" you and implement some of that mojo into your content.

Are you strangely persuaded by the SkyMall catalog? SkyMall is all about problem solving. And when you're trapped on a Southwest 737 for five hours and your iPad's dead, there's plenty of time to think about how this little catalog could change EVERYTHING. (A side note: The fact that the Bigfoot garden sculpture has been in for the past year is no mistake. People are buying it. Who? Why? I don't know. But they are and if you can sell an Bigfoot garden sculpture, you're doing something right.) So bring the catalog home next time (hide it inside your New Yorker if you must). Read and re-read their copy and then add some SkyMall pixie dust to your own content.

Are you more of a minimalist? Well then look no further than the founding father of the movement over at Zen Habits. Like the hot guy in high school who spent the lunch hour smoking cigarettes and reading Camus, Leo's the master of saying less and making you want it more. Study him. (p.s. proof Leo's a master? He became the minimalist guru with a .net URL).

Go forth and be helpful

If you're like me, you like a little bit of everything. That's okay. Don't be afraid to mix it up.

As long as you keep in mind that your customers want you to make their lives easier, you'll be okay. Promise.