3:24 pm 15 Content Formats to use in your Content Marketing
To support our How to do what we do series: The 10X Media Guide to Creating Exceptional Digital Marketing Content, we promised to provide you with a list of the main content structures to use in your content marketing. So here goes our list of the 15 content formats known to drive more traffic, increase engagement and facilitate sales.
And don’t forget while all these content structures stand alone you can certainly customise each with your own length, addition of images or graphic content, and downloadable resources. It’s about picking the right format for your content idea. We hope this list will help you do just that.
The Standard Post
The ‘standard post’ is the most common written content structure. This type of structure works well for written content of any length but especially for (but not limited to) long extended articles, news stories, in depth thought-leadership, personal accounts, open letters, investigative reports or opinion pieces.
This content format starts with your eye catching headline followed by an introduction. The introduction is where you introduce the subject of your article and tell the reader what they can expect to find out if they keep reading. Your headline and introduction acts as a hook to get your audience engaged with the article.
The body structure of a ‘standard post’ is broken into sub-points. Sub-points are the key ideas which make up your topic. Each sub-point is explained through a combination of researched facts, trends and industry data plus other people’s opinions and quotes. This is then mixed with your opinions to bring your own angle to each sub-point. These sub-points are arranged in a logical way which allows the topic of the article to flow.
An example of a series of sub-points is: 1.past trends of topic A, 2.current trends of topic A, 3.future predictions of topic A, 4.our recommendations relating to topic A. Here you can see how they flow consecutively from one to the other but each point would be discussing something different.
You can also use your sub-points to structure any argument you want to make. If sub-point A + sub-point B + sub-point C = D and D is your topic, then you have been able to prove your argument to the reader by taking them through it step by step. Sub-points often have their own headlines and if required numbering.
Once you have developed all your sub-points, you then summarise your topic with a succinct conclusion. A conclusion should wrap up all the threads of thought you touched on in the body of the content and present them in a short summary. Remind the reader what the overall topic of the content was and what they have learnt by reading to the end. Add in your call to action, telling the reader what you want them to do now. This might be sharing the article on social media, making a comment below, downloading a resource, making an enquiry or clicking-through to read a related article.
RECAP: Use a Standard Post for content styles such as: Simple topic analysis pieces, long extended articles, news stories, in depth thought-leadership, personal accounts, open letters, investigative reports or opinion pieces
The Illustrated Post
The format starts with your headline and an introduction where the main topic is introduced to the reader. This main topic is then broken into separate sub-points which make up the body of the content. Each of these sub-points is then illustrated by a photo, graphic, chart, illustration or even a video.
In this type of content format, the illustration is used as the main tool to explain or identify the sub-point with the accompanying text acting in a supporting role.
This type of content needs each illustrated sub-point defined by its own headline.
You need to conclude with a summary paragraph summing up all the sub-points and linking them to the overall topic of the content. And again, your conclusion should include your call to action (CTA), telling the reader what you want them to do now that they have read your article.
RECAP: Use an Illustrated Post for content styles such as: Illustrated opinion pieces, illustrated topic pieces, illustrated news stories where the images are the key story telling features and illustrated investigative reports.
The Inverted Pyramid
This is the original old school content format used by journalists and publishers. It is not typically used on blogs per see but it is handy if you’re looking to write a more traditional PR or news release.
An inverted pyramid structure starts with all the facts. It puts everything on the table right at the beginning of the article rather than explaining it bit by bit. Then the importance of the information decreases paragraph by paragraph which is why it is called an inverted pyramid.
An ‘inverted pyramid’ starts with a headline and then a brief introduction to the topic. Your introduction can be as short as a single sentence. Then in your second paragraph you provide all the facts, features, details, and statistics available. This is where you answer the who, what, where, and why of your topic.
In the next paragraph you discuss any secondary information which didn’t quite fit into the first paragraph. Then in the paragraph after that (if needed) you mention any other final details you need to include that support the premise of the article.
Your last paragraph is not really a conclusion rather a short bio about the company or brand being written about. End with a link to the company’s website or any featured products. This final link acts as your call to action in this type of content structure. (You can add 1-2 links elsewhere in the text where required, but the main company website or featured offer link should always appear at the end.)
RECAP: Use an Inverted Pyramid Article for content styles such as: Traditional news piece, PR article and news article for a more traditional news paper or magazine
The Media Post
This type of post starts with your headline and an introduction to explain what the media is about and what the benefits are of watching/listening/reading. The media is then located below this on the page.
Underneath the embedded media, we recommend adding a summary of the content or even a complete transcript. Because search engines cannot crawl your embedded media, it is beneficial to have some written content discussing the media’s topic. This means your page can be indexed by the search engines and therefore be more likely to be found by your audience.
After your summary, follow up with a short conclusion including your call to action.
RECAP: Use a Media Post for content styles such as: Video, podcast, infographic, slideshow, animation or videographic
The Example Post
The ‘example post’ is where you have one central point illustrated by accompanying examples. This type of content often takes the form of trend articles such as ‘The top businesses on Instagram right now’ or ‘Why Navy Blue is the top colour for winter’. Example articles work especially well for products or services.
The format starts with your headline and an introduction where the main topic is introduced to the reader. The supporting examples then follow, each accompanied by an evaluation or summary of the item. This is where you include information such as your opinion about the example, its pros, its cons, and where to get it. With product example articles the summary sentences will always include the link to buy.
Many of the ‘example articles’ you see on the web never have conclusions and just end with the final example. However, we recommend adding a conclusion to reiterate the main point of the content and sum up the examples you have put forward. This way you can also add in your final call to action and any other relevant links.
RECAP: Use an Example Post for content styles such as: Product guides, service guides, trend reports, and example articles such as ‘The Actors who have all played Batman’.
Use your introduction to introduce both the person asking the questions and the person being interviewed. Tell the reader or listener a bit about who you are interviewing and what they are going to learn from listening to/reading the interview. Get your audience excited about what they’re about to consume.
Start with the first question and answer, then work your way through all the questions and answers until the end of the interview.
Once the questions and answers are over, end with a strong but concise conclusion. Thank the person you have been interviewing and highlight the key takeaways that you got from the interview as well as any surprising facts or ideas you discovered. End with any links to featured offers or products specific to the person you are interviewing e.g. if you are interviewing an author you will want inform your audience about where they can buy your interviewee’s publications.
If you are providing a written interview make sure to clearly differentiate the person asking the questions from the person answering them. You can use the name or initials of each individual or even just keep it as basic as Q and A. If you are sharing your interview as an embedded audio or video, read the Media post blurb above to understand how you need to format this on your webpage.
RECAP: Use an Interview Article for content styles such as: An Interview, FAQs, Question and Answer pieces
The ‘list’ post is exactly that, a list! It can be short or long and can be numbered from 1 to 100 or 100 to 1. List articles frequently have numbers in their headlines and using odd numbers is known to attract higher engagement. But don’t stress if your list ends with an even number as long as the content is good. Lists are great for all types of content including best of …, directories, catalogues, top people to follow in a specific niche, top movies… you name it you can probably create a list out of it.
Begin with your headline and an introduction telling your reader what the list is about and what value they are going to get out of it.
Then list your items in the order you want them. Accompany each list item with an explanatory sentence or short blurb. We recommend making each number a sub-headline so it is easy to read. You can easily add graphics to this type of post too.
Conclude your list with a quick paragraph summarising the point of your list, why its important and what the key take away is. Add your call to action at the end.
RECAP: Use a List Post for content styles such as: Lists, Top 20, Top 50, Top 100, directories or catalogues
The ’round-up’ post is a round-up of external links/articles which you have curated and brought together into a single post. This can take the form of a latest statistics round-up, a top news this week round-up, an expert quote round-up, a playlist or any other topic where you can group links from other web content together.
Finding ways to link out to other authority sites is important because it improves your SEO, enhances credibility in the marketplace, and when you link out to other trusted industry sites Google starts to view you as more of an authority site too.
Start with your headline and an introduction telling the reader why you have brought all these links together. Briefly explain your topic or reasoning, the introduction doesn’t have to be long.
Then one by one list the headlines or phrases you want to act as your links. After each link add a summary sentence or short blurb that sells the link. This is where you tell the reader why you have selected it, why they should click through to read more and why it is valuable.
Separating each link with a headline helps make the post easily able to be skim read. If you have lots of links you could also consider breaking the links up into sections with sub-headings, similar to our Weekly Round-up here.
Once you have listed your curated links, finish off with a short conclusion. Add any further information or points you want to make and add in your call to action. For a round-up post you usually want to ask your reader to share the content with other like minded people via email or social media.
RECAP: Use a Round-up for content styles such as: statistic round-up, playlist, curated article or content round-up, expert quotes, how-to guide round-up or news round-up
How-to content is one of the highest growth areas for online content, especially video. More and more online users are turning to the internet to answer any question they may have about anything at all. When looking to create your own how-to content try to answer the questions your target market already has and if you have a solution to a problem then convert it into a how-to post. This type of content not only works well in written form but can be easily translated into videos or Infographics.
Start by introducing the problem you are going to solve, then introduce the reader to the solution you are going to provide. You may also want to describe any tools, materials or ingredients (i.e. for a cooking Recipe article) that they will need before getting started.
Then list each step in order. Give each step a headline (numbering work best) and add a blurb detailing the action needing to be taken to complete each step. Continue with your steps until you have reached the goal that you promised the reader they would achieve by following the steps in your guide.
Each step can also be illustrated with screen shots, photos, illustrations or graphics. Be as creative as you wish to visually demonstrate key steps and illustrate examples, if necessary.
End with a conclusion paragraph reiterating what the result should be and what your audience has gained by following the steps. Add in a call to action telling your audience to provide their feedback and/or what to do next.
RECAP: Use a How-to post for content styles such as: Tutorials, step-by-step guides, recipes, instructional articles
The ‘review’ post starts with your headline which should include the name of the product, publication or service being reviewed. This is then followed by your brief introduction to get your reader curious about the product, publication or service. If it’s a product or service that you are reviewing, make sure to outline the problem it’s trying to solve. Keep this introduction fairly short so you have enough left to talk about in the following paragraphs.
Next introduce the author, producer, designer or brand behind the item.
Then in the following paragraph describe the product’s features, providing all the details about what it does, how it does it and how it solves the problem it’s intended for. For a publication, describe the contents of the publication and the main topics it covers.
Once you have described the item then move onto listing its Pros. These are the things you like about the item and which work well e.g. does what it says it does, easy to use, etc.
Follow this with a discussion about the item’s Cons. These are the things you don’t like about it and which don’t work e.g. not well made, or the book was quite frankly boring. Honesty is important for these two paragraphs and make the opinions your own.
Finalise your review with a summary paragraph. This is where you make your recommendation and if you think the item is good enough to buy, then add the link to purchase. This link and recommendation will act as your call to action. If you don’t think your audience should purchase the product, include the link but maybe add a different call to action, e.g ask your audience to share their own experiences with the product.
RECAP: Use a Review post for content styles such as: Product reviews, book reviews, service or company reviews
This is similar to the ‘review’ format above but instead of just reviewing a single item you are contrasting two competing products, publications or services. You can contrast two similar items in the market or contrast one of your competitor’s items against your own.
After your headline, start by introducing both products, publications or services in a quick introduction.
Then follow the ‘review’ paragraph structure for each item: introduce the author/producer/designer, describe the product’s features or summarise its content (if it’s a publication), list its pros (what you like, what works), and list its cons (what you don’t like, what doesn’t work).
You can either have your paragraphs running down the page or put each product side by side in a table as we have done in the example graphic.
Once you have discussed each product, end your comparison with a summary conclusion and recommendation. Sum up the two items and tell your audience which one you prefer. Include any final tips and add in both links to buy. Add a call to action to encourage your audience to purchase, comment or share.
RECAP: Use a Comparison post for content styles such as: product comparisons, book or publication comparisons, services comparisons, comparisons against your own product, service or publications
The Case Study
The ‘case study’ is used to share a real life example or experience based around a product or service. It is a great way to demonstrate the effectiveness and potential of a product or service to your audience. Think of it as an infomercial in written form but with real life reviewers not paid actors.
You can use this format to either present third-party products or to present your own product. It can also be used to show how you can use a series of products together to produce an overall result.
A ‘case study’ article starts with a summary of the case study, giving a quick overview to the reader and the result that was achieved, and thereby encouraging them to keep reading to find out how the product or service helped achieve that result. This is then followed by a paragraph discussing the problem or challenge that the product or service was trying to overcome e.g. successful weight loss.
Once the problem is explained, the next paragraph then discusses the solution the product or service provides. e.g. the diet recommended for successful weight loss. This paragraph covers the benefits and features of the product or service and how they relate to resolving the problem you have set out in the paragraph above.
This is followed by a paragraph detailing the real life results you can expect by using the product or service in a similar way e.g. a 10kg weightless in the first month. This is where you can put a name to the results and identify actual users e.g. Jenny and John both had these weightless results. You would also usually include quotes from Jenny and John talking about how the product has worked so well for them and why they love it.
Now you have given your audience proof that a product or service works, add in a list of links to the product/s, service/s and any other related resources you are discussing.
Finalise everything with a conclusion. This can be as simple as a call to action for readers to share their own stories or a more lengthy summary of the case study and its results.
The Data Analysis
The ‘data analysis’ post is similar to a case study but instead of talking about a product or service in relation to individual real life examples it is a technical in-depth discussion of the overall method, data and results.
Data analysis articles are mostly used to share the results of a trial, research process or product testing and are usually written in a neutral voice rather than the positive (or negative) tones of a case study. This format can also be used for a ‘unique findings’ post where you present a brand new theory or research area to your reader which has only be tested by you/your business.
A ‘data analysis’ starts with a headline and a summary paragraph about the trial, testing or research process being discussed. Keep this brief so your reader is encouraged to read on further.
Your next paragraph discusses the problem or challenge that the research, trial or test is trying to find a solution to. This can also include your hypothesis if you want to add it. A hypothesis is your prediction about what the outcomes may be before you start on the research, testing or trial process.
Once your have explained the problem, the body of the content is broken into 4 key areas: Method, Data, Analysis and Results.
- First you discuss the Method, this is the process being used to conduct the research, test or trial.
- Then you discuss how the Data was collected, how much was collected, by whom and over what time period etc.
- The next section then analyses the data. This is where you talk about how the data was interpreted, any margins of error and what factors may have had an impact on the trial/test/research. This can be broken into relevant sections if required.
- Lastly you talk about the actual results, answering “what do the findings mean?”
- Keep these paragraphs relevant and to the point. You can add all the supporting information you need in the appendix at the end.
Then wrap everything up with a succinct conclusion. Sum up the findings and link them back to the problem which was trying to be resolved. Add a call to action if relevant.
After the conclusion, a ‘data analysis’ article always ends with an appendix or appendices. This is where you add all the additional information and detailed descriptions which don’t fit into the body of the content. You can add graphs, tables and statistic charts as well as any further technical information you want to provide about the tools and equipment that were used for the trial, test or research – e.g. types of computer software and modelling platforms used and further discussions about any limitations or margins of error they may have.
The Cheat Sheet
The ‘cheatsheet’ is similar to ‘how-to’ or ‘review’ content but in a more condensed reference form. A cheatsheet is also less about the actual details but rather an overview list of the main steps, pros, cons, things to remember and/or tips to keep in mind. They are designed to be skim read and are often created to accompany other more detailed content you have already produced – usually as a downloadable resource.
This type of content starts with an introduction telling the reader what the cheatsheet is for, when to use it plus explains what the benefits are of following the ‘cheats’.
Then list the ‘cheat’ points either just as statements or presented in a table under relevant headings e.g. complete daily, complete weekly, complete monthly.
Cheatsheets are often more visual and less text based than the other format types we are discussing in this post. They also work well as infographics.
The ‘checklist’ is an excellent tool to engage an audience with your content because it requires the reader to fill it in and use it. It also identifies what they need or are missing thereby preparing them to make a purchase or do business with you.
This type of content starts off with an introduction outlining what the checklist is for and how to use it.
Then the body of the content is made up of a list of items or tasks to check off. The check items can be one long list or divided into sections e.g. if you are putting together a packing checklist for overseas travel you might divide your checklist into sections such as outerwear, footwear, trousers, tops, underwear, etc.
A conclusion is not normally needed for this content format but it is worthwhile adding a call to action. Tell your customer or reader what you want them to do now they have completed the checklist.
The checklist makes a great additional resource when combined with how-to content – e.g. you have written an article about how-to build a table and you might provide a checklist of the tools and materials required to do the job.
Checklists also work well for niche online retailers, i.e. if you are selling pet products you might offer a checklist outlining what you need for a new kitten. This will help your audience identify what they don’t already have and may help to insert the idea of buying those missing items from you.
Conclusion to Content Formats
And there we have it, our list of the 15 content formats that you should be using in your content marketing to drive more traffic, increase engagement and facilitate more sales.
It is easy to get stuck in a rut and always produce the same old content. I hope this post has given you some food for thought and some ideas of what you can do to mix things up. I have no doubt that if you do, you will see an immediate uplift in visitor engagement, SEO and conversions.
To help you refer back to these 15 formats (and to make reading easier because let’s face it this is a pretty long post), I have made it available as a PDF resource. Click the image below to download.
Let us know if we have missed any formats or you would like us to comment further on something?
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