4 Types of Content Every Site Needs

Content is a nebulous topic, it’s hazy, vague, ill-defined.

Working as a content strategist I’m often asked similarly nebulous questions. For example - ‘what sort of content should we create?’

I’m a firm believer that content should be goal-driven. By this, I mean that what you create should be driven by what you want to achieve.

What do folks ultimately want to achieve?

They want to make money...

They’d possibly also like world peace, but they’ll settle for the money.

Well dear reader, in order to make money, the vast majority* of sites need four key types of content:

  • content to entertain
  • content to educate
  • content to persuade
  • content to convert
To help bring this to life, and so you can see how your site measures up, we’ve created this visual:

This visual was inspired by this matrix by First10 and Smart Insights.

Why do you need content to entertain?

What am I blethering about? Why do you need content to entertain if you want to make money? Well, content to entertain allows you to reach people right at the top of the sales funnel, and indeed those who might not even know that they need your products/services yet. 

Content which has been created to entertain might not be directly related to your products/services, however in order to do its job, it does need to appeal to your target audience. 

As ‘entertain’ suggests - this sort of content has an emotional rather than rational appeal. It’s the sort of content that’s very shareable (and deliberately so) - the more it’s shared the further your reach.

Why do you need content to educate?

Content to educate does a similar job to content to entertain - it allows you to reach people at the very top of the funnel. However, whereas content to entertain has an emotional appeal, content to educate has a rational appeal. As before, it’s very shareable.

Why do you need content to persuade?

Content to persuade nudges people gently along the path to conversion (whatever a conversion might mean for your site - this could be a purchase, an enquiry, a call back request, etc). Content to persuade uses an emotional rather than rational appeal.

Why do you need content to convert?

You didn’t really ask that did you? :)

You need content created with conversions in mind in order to close the deal. This content typically uses a rational rather than emotional appeal.

Why do you need both emotional & rational appeal?

Essentially this is a ‘different horses for different courses’ argument. Some people respond better to an emotional appeal, and some respond better to a rational appeal. In order to cover all the angles it’s best to have a spread of content with both emotional and rational appeal.

In some instances you’ll need to use different types of content on the same page. For example, on your product pages you’ll probably have details about your product (largely rational appeal) and customer reviews (largely emotional appeal). 

*What’s with that ‘vast majority’ nonsense?

It occurred to me in the course of writing this post, that there are some exceptions. For example, publishers who rely solely on advertising for their income (i.e. they aren’t looking to sell subscriptions to premium content) will still create content that ‘persuades’ and ‘converts’ but it will look very different to the sort of persuasion and conversion content on your typical ecommerce site.

For sites who rely on advertising income, it’s likely that their conversions look like social shares and additional page views. As such, their content to ‘persuade’ or ‘convert’ will be more along the lines of calls to action for social sharing and recommended or related posts (speaking of which, Buzzfeed does this really well - I don’t think I’ve ever managed to read just one post on that site).


And so, dear reader, over to you - do you agree?

Disagree? 

I’d also love to hear your thoughts on our content matrix visual, do let me know via the comments.

Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith

Hannah joined Distilled in September 2010 as a Consultant and is now on the Content Strategy team. Prior to this she spent over 7 years in offline marketing (point of sale, press advertising, direct mail & sponsorship), until her fairy godmother...   read more

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26 Comments

  1. Rory Natkiel

    Hi Hannah - great post!

    I'd think that you could argue that sites generally need 3 out of the 4. For example it might be enough for a site to entertain, persuade and educate, depending on its objectives. Sites don't necessarily need to tick all the boxes all the time, particularly if budget doesn't allow.

    But all in all a really useful matrix that can help frame up content strategies for a diverse range of sites.

    reply >
    • I completely agree Rory - if you're a financial services company in the B2B sector, entertaining your visitors isn't going to add much value.

      I appreicate that 'Entertainment' is a broad term and encompasses a lot, but you can make an emotional connection without games or conferences.

      P

  2. Really great visual showing how the different forms of content fit within those four main categories (entertain, educate, persuade, and convert). Also an interesting take that your website should have all four, but I totally agree.

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  3. I love your concept of a content matrix, Hannah!

    One thing I would like to add: I also think content to educate will help for people who have already converted, so they can remain customers/users of your service or product. Apps like Buffer, and Mention.net are good examples of products that send me tips through email on how to use their product, ie hidden features I may not have known about. This makes me more likely to remain a customer.

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  4. Joe

    I really like the matrix, and I'm saving it for future reference. Obviously there's not complete agreement, but it seems to me that direct response advertising would be closer to the purchase than to awareness, since they are designed for leads and sales. Besides that everything else looks awesome

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  5. Great post Hanna. I think the key is to take this framework and combine it with understanding the buyer's journey / funnel stages so you can have it all fit into a larger plan of building the relationship with prospects/leads/customers/advocates.

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  6. I have pinned the visual content matrix on my 'great content' pin board! Purely because the visual itself is great content, and it's also a perfect explanation as to how websites should diversify their content and analyse what they already have.

    Nice stuff, Hannah!

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  7. (oops, wrote the wrong name)
    Hannah, thanks for your strategic thinking on this. I disagree with the separation of different types of content.

    I'd say to aim for all 4 elements in each piece. Separate content by what your customer needs at every stage of the purchasing funnel.

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  8. Great article and I do like the content matrix. Very helpful to integrate with my editorial calendar. However, I must compliment you on the "Dolla Dolla Bill, Ya'll" graphic, I love it! What the heck kind of animal is that?

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  9. I had come up with a similar list in terms of my overarching content strategy, the terms I put on them were more related to our internal terminology but if I expand them outside our walls it largely matches up.

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  10. Great points. I would add one more: 'Content to retain', which should come in the cycle right after 'Content to convert'. What do you think?

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  11. Hannah - The sloth in a suit graphic had me loosing it.

    I agree with Michael that no matter the content type it needs to fit into a larger plan or strategy related to the buyers journey through the sales process. It's surprising how many content marketers miss this... In the latest CCO magazine Joe Pulizzi has an editorial right inside the cover saying that 84 percent of self-proclaimed "ineffective" marketers have NO content strategy. Scary is right.

    I do enjoy how you used the matrix graphic to give the types of content based on awareness vs readiness to buy and emotion and rational appeal. Specifically I've seen a 'calculator' created that really helped a client with conversions on those looking to buy like you show. Great post.

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  12. Andrew Smith

    This made me think. Thanks for that.

    First I'd not use a matrix but a Venn diagram the three circles of which would be "Authority", "Engagement" and "Conversion". That's because so many of the items you list fall into more than one of those areas - and those which drop into all of the three circles would be pretty key. For example gamified content could educate, entertain, persuade and convert (actually, i think persuasion and conversion are pretty close - if not quite synonymous). But that gamified content could, through education, build authority; because it entertains it builds engagement and the process of creating something that people return to and recommend to others creates conversion opportunities.

    Mind you, I can talk: We currently do little of this with our own web presence - but I'm thinking we need to each of the elements you've identified and see how we can drag them as close as possible to the centre of the three overlapping circles of authority, engagement and conversion.

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  13. Nice job. However, everyone responds to emotional appeals. I don't care who you are. We justify our decisions with logic, but those decisions are ultimately based on our desires, fears, and hopes.

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    • Andrew Smith

      "ultimately based on our desires, fears, and hopes" Profoundly disagree. "everyone responds to emotional appeals": Profoundly agree.

      I need a new car. I've got four kids and I know my budget. Logic confines me to six seaters up to a certain price. I know what I can afford every month to run the thing. That constricts age, fuel type, etc.

      I've eliminated 80-90% of the cars available to me without resource to desire, fear or hope but now I can let emotion in.

      Six cars sit in front of me. I like the white one that looks, from the front, like a Star Wars Stormtrooper. Emotion rules! But logic got me there.

  14. This matrix is great! The only thing I'd add is that 'Content to Educate' will also help establish your website as an authority in the minds of readers. When you're educating you're providing value and showcasing yourself. A powerful type of content for sure.

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  15. Great matrix visual Hannah - I like the reminder of appealing to the emotional and the rational (all too often we hear 'people buy on emotions' so there can then be a danger of overlooking the rational side as well. Also I'd like to add about being sure to appeal to the different ways people like to consume great content (text, video and audio). Thanks for the great post - glad Moz brought it to my attention!

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  16. Hi Hannah- Thanks for this post! It can be very confusing for people to understand that there are are different kinds of content and then figure out what kind of content they should use.
    Awesome infographic and love the crazy animal! :)

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  17. I'd rather break it down this way:

    1- Content to be shared:
    Hilarious, cute, scary and controversial. It can also be entertaining!

    2- Content to be discussed:
    Use of why, how, what, when and it must be written in a controversial style. It can also be controversial because if it isn't a controversy it won't be discussed.

    3- Content to generate leads:
    This one should offer some help. Let's say if you are into digital marketing; you can offer "facebook campaign help" via a webinar or whatever medium works for you. It can help you to get a lot more potential prospects for future.

    4- Content to make sales/leads
    This is where you are going to persuade people to try out your products or services. Make sure you don't surround their necks with your sales message instead do it nicely.

    That's all I can add here :)

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  18. Hi Hannah,

    Love the topic! Makes you think about the power of content and the underlying reason for writing and publishing it. Not only for SEO use but moreover to satisfy your visitor.
    I fully agree with the goal-driven part but have my doubts about the matrix. What content makes people to convert? Believe the emotional influence is bigger than the rational part.

    Nevertheless I enjoyed the article and responses big time!

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    • Andrew Smith

      Emotional bigger than rational? Maybe - think rational behaviour defines need and products/services are shortlisted rationally.

      But then (in our market anyway) the decision to purchase is based largely on trust, which means, for us, the Authority circle needs to be largely concentric with the conversion circle.

      Rational behaviour defines whether we are an option for the customer. Heart rules head when it comes to final choice - and trust is best built by testimonials and recommendations - so continuing engagement with past clients is vital.

  19. Nicely articulated, would like to add is if Content is not aligned with Brand values, there is nothing worse then that. If one is betting on Content for Content sake solely to drive conversions then Brand is loosing its Positioning.

    Here see how samsung got poor actors drain their Brand value.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y3XuhMJQ28

    Cheers
    Frida

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  20. Great post, I definitely agree on your content types. Thanks for sharing!

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  21. Being a mostly "viral video" website, I would say our main goal is to "entertain," but some of our science videos do very well - and those would fall into the "educate" category.

    Never really thought about "persuade," but the idea is thought provoking. Not sure that "convert" applies to us as there really isn't a product other than the website itself. I suppose, in our case, "convert" would mean "liking" us on FB or following us on Twitter or G Plus. This is very interesting food for thought, indeed.

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  22. Jon

    Customer reviews and customer testimonials are quite apart from each other on the matrix, but surely have the same purpose?

    Also I'm struggling on the differende between persuade and convert? What are you persuading them to do, if not to convert?

    (Would love an email me when I get a reply button on this)

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  23. Hannah Smith

    Hi Jon,

    Essentially, there's little difference between persuade and convert.

    Persuade uses an emotional appeal and convert uses a rational appeal. I welcome the debate on where the various elements lie, you could argue that both reviews and testimonials could feature both emotional and rational appeals.

    Hope this helps :)
    Hannah

    reply >

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