Content Cycles - Make your Business Famous by Reinventing the Wheel [Guest Post]

Note from John of Distilled - the following is a guest post from Simon Penson. Simon was asked by Distilled to write a guest post for our site, as he is an industry peer and produces phenomenal content. We are happy to have him posting on our blog!

Unique content is a fallacy. There, I said it.

If nothing else such a statement is a great way to simulate healthy debate but before you dismiss it out of hand you may want to consider the underlying truth that even the best articles, infographics and videos are almost always simply reinventions of previously discussed material.

We all like to fool ourselves into thinking that we are covering new ground but the reality is that someone, somewhere has done it before. But is this a problem or does it actually present an opportunity? It depends on your outlook but for the wilier of you out there your mind should now be firmly locked onto the latter.

Our agency works with numerous clients who are faced with this very dilemma on a daily basis but rather than letting it become a reason for NOT covering a subject it should be the very motivator you need to blow the rest out of the water. And here’s how you can go about that task in a structured way.

The Context

Anybody reading this here will already attach a greater correlation between the word Panda and Google’s content updates than they will with the cuddly mammals themselves. That much we know with absolute certainty.

You know, therefore, that truly epic content is the future of winning the battle for authority online. We can, therefore, concentrate on the business end of the fight for greater online authority; and so we introduce…

Content Cycles

It may sound like something resembling some horrid article spinning fiasco but content cycles are actually a force for a tremendous amount of white-hatted good.

The name refers to, and reminds us that, we are not always trying to reinvent the wheel. Instead we are simply using a series of tools at our disposal to create exciting new takes on stuff that has gone before. The framework for this idea first came to me as a magazine editor and indeed, in many ways; those monthly print titles are some of the best at it.

Why? Because they generally spit out the very same stuff year in year out at such a level of quality that people are willing to pay for the privilege of reading it.

Take Mens Health. A stalwart of the magazine world, but also a title that has a very strict formula for selling its content – and it all boils down to promises. "Better sex", "better body", "better mind" are its core principles and each month there will be at least one major feature on each of these areas, that is then ‘tasted’ on their front cover. See our example cover below:

‘6 week to Better Abs’ (body), The Super foods to improve your Libido (better sex) and ‘What Makes Great Men Great’ (mind).

I know what you’re thinking, what does this mean for my ecommerce stationery business and me? Well, a lot actually. The secret here is to ask yourself 'What are my ‘Promises’? The answers may be something like: ‘Great Customer Service’, ‘The Latest Products’, '24 hour delivery’.

So should your ‘cover tasters’ or headline content for the next month be: ‘Why Buying a HP Printer could save your Business £20,000 per year in ink costs’ (great customer service), ‘Don’t Waste your Money on iPads’ (latest products) ‘is holding stock Killing your Company?’ (thought provoking question.)

They may not be as exciting but for your targeted audience it may give you the focus you need to structure your content in a way that makes you lots of friends and influences people. The aim here, remember, is to become a knowledge base.

Such a way of working is extremely idea intensive, of course, which is why:

  1. We suggest you operate on a monthly schedule to lessen the workload and strain on great content concepts
  2. You introduce your Big Bangs.
Big Bangs....Sound exciting, right? Explosions lots of smoke…well not precisely, but the impact should be the same for your business if you get it right. Talk to Bauer Media about the impact of High Street Honeys for FHM or to the BBC about the Top Gear Awards and their impact on the bottom line and you’ll be in little doubt of their effectiveness.

As you may have already worked out for yourself a Big Bang is a once or twice a year event that is rinsed, repeated and improved time and time again. Going back to the office stationery company owner, his Big Bang might be around ink and the confusion that abounds in that market. It's really easy to build a collection of indispensable buying guides, infographics, how to, videos and so on this very subject.

The table below gives you a structured way of recording and, most importantly, planning all of this juicy, shareable content so it becomes easy to create:

Click to Enlarge

We could, of course, talk all day about the best tactical ways of creating, publishing and sharing that content in site structure, publication times, syndication routes and more but for now we’ll stick to the theory. The important thing is to ensure you spend time on WHAT content you could create to make it famous.

How to Reverse Engineer Great Content

If you are struggling to find the inspiration to create famous content then let data be your friend and do the hard work for you. There are a number of great content raters and aggregators out there based in the social sphere and some time spent with just a few of them can help you form your all-conquering content plan.

Here are just a few of the free tools that can help:

  • Restream is great for following relevant, highly shared content by topic from Twitter while Its Trending ( is a fantastic resource for aggregating Facebook data on what’s hot and what’s not.
  • And if that’s not hardcore enough for you it is possible to create your own utilizing the power of Facebook’s Developer cauldron. The Activity Feed social plug in allows you to surface the most popular content on your site.
  • Google’s advanced search features, such as Google Trends have been around for some time but is still useful for surfacing popular content and understanding the social and cyclical nature of certain subjects.
  • Blekko, Digg and Delicious are also firm favourites in the quest to find the very best and most popular articles and other content out there and they are joined by the now-Google-Owned Postrank in our list. As the self-proclaimed ‘largest aggregator of social engagement data on the web’ the latter promises much. It’s still in beta at present and its invite only but expect BIG things from them in the near future.
  • With PostRank Labs already operational and much of the code on Github, we are expecting to see a plethora of tools and widgets. So watch this space.
Ultimately, What you are attempting to do here is become a Thought Leader for your space and as Rand recently pointed out in this blog post on the issue, subject matter is of no significance. All it takes is one great idea to force you to the top of the pile. The tools above can help you control that process.

And think as laterally as possible too; as Empire did when pulling together this great piece on the 50 Best Comic Book Characters (and remember guys that I’m linking to it so it’s doing its job very well!)

The key is to instill your visitor with the kind of advice and knowledge that will not only help them understand the market but give them the ability to choose the best product or service irrespective of the choice they have in front of them. So, its not just about whether you would buy Widget A or Widget B but much more about giving them a level of understanding so they can choose between Widget A and Widget Z. Irrespective of whether they have seen widget Z before, they should know what questions to ask.

As you will come to realise the best ideas have indeed been done before but by packaging them in the right way, either with lots of other value adding, related content, or by presenting it in a new and exciting way people will read it, will share it and will get more value out of it.

And for your business that is huge.


So what are the salient points out of this to action right now for your business or client’s website? 1. You need a plan and that plan begins with working out what your Content Cycle Topics are. 2. Create one or two Big Bangs a year that you revisit and improve. This should be linked closely to an area of the business you are best of breed for. 3. Spend time brainstorming content to fit into this process and then how you can enhance and structure it.

Then ask yourself these questions when it comes to creating the content: 1. Could Gamification) make it even more magnetic? 2. Would it be best as a list, a video, an infographic, a How To and so on? 3. Who could help you syndicate? 4. Could you reuse it and improve it next year? If the answer is no then think again.

For some further reading on content strategies check out my recent piece on Post Panda Content Strategies over at SEOMoz

Simon Penson is a former magazine editor turned founder of digital marketing agency Zazzle Media.

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