Whether you’re taking your first leap of faith into the world of blogging for your brand, or just want to make your content marketing truly divine, we’d like to present to you our 10 Commandments of Creating Brilliant Branded Content that we believe should be followed religiously.

Devised by Silverbean’s Content ladies (but we’ll take Goddesses) Vicky and Lisa, these are the rules that we swear by for creating content and branded blogs for our clients that’s entertaining, informative, creative and compelling, and most importantly, drives the optimum results. From identifying your audience to adding those all-important finishing touches, these are the 10 Commandments that will bestow a higher power upon your brand’s content.

You can discover each of our 10 Branded Content Commandments in the presentation below, and we’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you agree with our Commandments, or do you have some of your own?

While we fully recommend our slides above for quick commandment-following, we also know that some of you like to take your time and read the details, so here’s the full text for you:

1. Thou shalt know thy audience

The first question you should be asking yourself before you begin writing is, ‘who on earth am I even writing for?’ Knowing your brand’s audience, and their individual, nuanced needs and interests, is crucial for creating content that really matters to them, and will keep them coming back to your blog for more.

Speaking directly to your audience is more than just choosing the right themes and topics though; finding the appropriate tone in which to speak to them is equally as important, as just as the old adage goes: it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Nailing your brand’s tone of voice can be the difference between your content flying or failing, so make it a priority to develop a conversational tone that your particular audience can really identify with, and keep this consistent across every piece of your blog content.

2. Thou shalt carry out a content audit

If the sky was the limit with your resources, then we’re certain you’d settle for nothing less than reinventing the wheel, but often the first (and more realistic) step should be revisiting your existing content. If you’ve previously dabbled in the world of content, which of your content pieces worked well for you and what didn’t? Was there a particular theme or topic area that resonated with your readers? Did a certain content type motivate the audience to take action?

Before diving into Google Analytics, you should set your mind-set to be two things: critical and analytical. You shouldn’t be afraid to completely rework or even remove content which isn’t performing, and on the other end of scale, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Record the following information in a spreadsheet to kick start the content audit process:

• Title
• URL
• Page views
• Page bounce rate
• Time on page
• Social shares (including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+)
• Inbound links
• Conversions
• Date published
• An action point (e.g. rework, add imagery, include template, keep)

Completely new to online content? Then the next step is where the majority of your inspiration should come from…

3. Thou shalt covet the content of thy neighbour

For inspiration to help shape your strategy, look no further than your competitors. By analysing content from a number of competitor brands, you can quickly spot patterns and themes which are tailored to your industry and see what type of content is most successful, as well as determine the best frequency for posting your content pieces, and their most appropriate length, format and style.

Luckily content marketing tools like BuzzSumo will do most of the legwork in the competitor content analysis process for you, allowing you to spend more time on idea generation.

Look for stand-out content pieces and think of how your company could put their stamp on that particular topic. Successful content is unique and original, so don’t be a copycat – we’ll talk more about this later on.

At Silverbean, we use the Skyscraper technique, a three-step process, to create our content:

Step 1: Find link-worthy content
Step 2: Make something even better
Step 3: Reach out to the right people

But as well as analysing the actual written or visual assets in your competitors’ content, consider the user experience of how it is presented. Look for well-designed pages that encourage stickiness, clear calls to action, and visible social sharing buttons that encourage readers to quickly and easily share their articles.

4. Remember the research, to keep it holy

Even if your content is of an exceptional quality level, if it fails to meet the needs of your online audience then you may be unintentionally limiting its reach. The best content out there addresses unanswered questions, so find inspiration and insight from question and answer forums and sites such as Quora and Answer the Public, and look to industry relevant forums (yes, people still use forums!).

These burning questions can form the basis of a string of informative pieces, or be used to develop a longer form content piece such as an e-book. This way you can guarantee your content will attract the attention it deserves. As an added bonus, it will make your content irresistible to attaining natural links.

Thorough keyword research should also be undertaken as part of your idea generation process, but rather than targeting specific high volume phrases, look for more conversational long tail search queries, such as “how to…”, “Where can I…” and so on, meaning you are combining specific phrases for your industry with a sense of usefulness.

5. Thou shalt plan thy content calendar

Failing to plan is planning to fail, so think ahead with your brand’s blog content by mapping it out at least a few weeks in advance. At Silverbean we swear by creating blog content calendars for our clients that cover at least three months; this not only allows us to plot in coverage for new product launches, industry and brand events and take into account their key selling periods, but also to thoroughly carry out the necessary research for each individual blog post.

So if you’re currently working on a weekly, fortnightly, or even monthly basis for planning and producing blog content, try taking the time to plan further ahead with your content (whilst still allowing yourself the agility to produce reactive content) and you’ll find it easier to keep its quality at a consistently high standard.

6. Thou shalt not kill (thy audience with boredom)

How often do you read a piece of branded content that you felt was utterly pointless? Unfortunately this probably happens quite often, since many brands tend to concern themselves more with talking about themselves than talking to their audience, and offering them real benefits to reading their content.

So forget the incessant self-promotion in your content, and instead think about the key takeaways for your readers. As Jay Baer says on the very cover of his revered marketing book, YouTility, ‘smart marketing is about help, not hype’ – meaning that your content should be firmly focused on having an inherent use for your audience, and not on directly and explicitly selling your products or services.

This is antithetical to traditional marketing approaches, as it doesn’t appear to pay off straight away, but in fact, it places your prospective customers further down the sales funnel. A single piece of content rarely makes for a sale; it’s just the start of a relationship that you can strengthen by continuing to deliver valuable content.

High-quality content strengthens the brand consumer relationship until the point of purchase and keeps on going. Even if the consumer doesn’t buy from you initially, they’ll remember you, and content will sway their perceptions about whether they made the right choice.

7. Thou shalt consider the SEO benefits

Quality should always be the primary focus of your content, but it’s a sin to forget the SEO considerations too. Here are three points you should always be sure to check:

Length:

Aim to make each of your articles a minimum of 250 words in length where possible. When Google crawls and indexes your web page, the more relevant content you have on your page, the better chance you will have of that page ranking for the key words and terms you’re going after.
However articles that are shorter than this are acceptable when used sparingly, and may be of more relevance for driving social shares as the content is more ‘snackable’ – plus, it may be that there’s only so much to say about a topic before the quality of your content becomes seriously compromised.

Key phrases:

To further improve the visibility of your content, you should aim to include the relevant key phrase that you are targeting in the title and in the first paragraph of that particular piece of content, so long as it is possible to do so without appearing unnatural. To avoid being penalised for key word or key phrase packing, as well as to preserve the quality of your content, we advise that the key phrase density in the text is no higher than 3%.

Links:

Internal links in blog posts should be used to support the content on your main site, and the most effective way that you can do this is by creating ‘topical hubs’ around certain topics, or products and services, on your main site, and place internal links in all blog content that points to this topical hub. Of course, you should still be relatively conservative with your internal links but linking back to a topical content hub, as well as between related blog posts, helps to categorise your content and therefore rank better for your key phrases and terms – a great example of this is the content around the World Cup produced by The Guardian and The Daily Mail, who both produced a great volume of content but structured it on their site in very different ways, which was reflected in their search result rankings.

You should remember your external links too, as it’s important to link to relevant publications and bloggers where credit is due – for instance, if you have featured them in a list post, quoted them, or taken inspiration from them. This can help to build relationships and places you in a position of authority as you are referring to the best sources of information in your area, plus it’s a form of flattery to those brands and people, making them more likely to share your content for you.

8. Thou shalt not steal (thy neighbour’s content)

Taking inspiration from the blog content of your competitors is one thing, but under no circumstances should you steal, or replicate their content – even if you have their permission. Duplicating content is detrimental to your content’s SEO value, as well as just being, well, really flipping lazy. Take the time to do your own research, put things in your own words, credit your sources, and check your facts before hitting ‘Publish’.

Oh, and the same rules apply to stealing images too, but we’ll talk more about that shortly.

9. Honour thy blogger and thy influencer

Any successful content will be supported by a well-considered content promotion strategy, and key influencers in your field will ensure that your content is seen by the right people at the right time. Hot on the heels of Google’s preference for quality over quantity, WordStream spend 80% of their time on content promotion and only 20% time on the creation of fewer, higher quality stories – a figure which will certainly get you rethinking your strategy.

While guest blogging is now seen as quite a ‘black hat’ SEO technique, we recommend using the expertise of bloggers from the get-go to improve the quality of your content and also help with the promotion process. This can be as easy as approaching an industry influencer for a quote, but you should also look for bloggers who have shared or linked to similar content in the past, and reach out to them.

10. Thou shalt make thy content visually appealing

Opening up a blog post and seeing a wall of text is daunting for a reader, and won’t do much for your bounce rate. The way your content looks shouldn’t be more important than what it says, but it comes a close second as when it is presented in a well thought out, visually pleasing way, there’s a good chance that the reader will be drawn in to find out what it says.

Images and graphics are a great way of tapping into visual content marketing, as well as having the practical purpose of illustrating points, or simply breaking up sections. Always source your images legally – i.e. NEVER steal them from Google Images, or from other websites or blogs – by purchasing stock images from sites such as Getty Images (which also offers a free embed option on many images) or Shutterstock. And if you can’t afford a graphic designer, turn to Canva which enables you to create sophisticated graphic designs online, and only pay for the elements that you use.

If your content includes a lot of facts and figures, you can make it easily digestible (and the key points pop) by presenting it as an infographic – but take the time to plan and structure it meticulously, as a poorly thought-out infographic is helpful to no-one.

Alternatively if you haven’t yet embraced video branded content marketing, now’s the time – Hubspot research found that 63% of B2C marketers and 53% of B2B marketers are jumping on the video content bandwagon in 2015, so don’t be left behind.

So there you have it! Ethical branded content creation advice in biblical proportions, to keep you on the saintly side. If you’d like to hear more from Lisa and Vicky, our mistresses of Content Marketing and Social Media, get in touch via the comments box below, on Twitter, or by singing up for my information using the box at the bottom of this post. We’re waiting for your confessions. Amen!