Content marketing: 8 formats that work

Content marketing is about providing your prospects with information that's both useful to them and helps to position you are a trusted expert. And what turns good content into great content is a copy format - a repeatable, reader-friendly structure that you can use again and again to present content items of the same type. Here are 8 of the best.

 Content marketing: 8 formats that work

Buyer’s guides

Everyone wins with a buyer’s guide. Your readers get useful, insider knowledge that helps them differentiate products and services, and demystifies often very complex technical knowledge. You, meanwhile, get targeted users to explore and navigate your offering, building up the sort of knowledge and familiarity that informs a sale. 

A key issue to consider in creating buyer’s guides is the balance between neutral fact and advertorial rhetoric. Copy that only says positive things about products is likely to be dismissed as puff. Then again, it takes courage to introduce criticism of one’s own offering. A way round this is to talk about different products and services generically without mentioning brand names. 

Case studies

One of the most venerable of all copy formats, the case study is a shorthand way to present your credentials. When selecting and creating case studies, go for quality over quantity, and use them strategically: select stories that reflect the breadth of your offering, the different benefits of your service, or the range of sectors you work in, for instance. 

Go for brevity and at-a-glance information. Most users will only read a couple of hundred words at most – indeed, many are just looking to see the calibre of the names you work with. Don’t write case studies as complete stories, and don’t focus on the particular: write them in a way that makes it easy for people with no knowledge of the project to see how your work could have helped them. 

Top tips 

Top tips are snippety little selections of info that users love to snack on. One school of thought says that you should always avoid 10 tips and go for a more random number, such as 11 or 17, on the grounds that people will think you rounded up your information to hit the magic 10. (As a former journalist, I can testify that there is some truth in this suggestion.)

Make sure your subject matter is suited to the top tips format. “Ten ways to spot signs of stress in your staff” might work for an HR software provider, for instance, whereas “10 top tips for managing a global data migration” might seem a little under-cooked. 

Q&A

This very underrated format is great for imparting new or complex information. Whenever they see text set out as questions and answers, readers know they are going to get a useful briefing on an unfamiliar or tricky subject. Ideally the Q&A will begin with a drop-down menu of all questions, ordered from the most simple to most difficult, so that users can jump in at the level that suits them. 

FAQs are perhaps the best-known example of the Q&A format. Too often, the FAQ section of a website gets clogged up with content that no one knows where else to put. FAQs should be regularly edited and reviewed to make sure that they are genuinely things that people frequently ask. 

Step-by-step

When describing how a process works, it’s easy and logical to break it down into steps. As with Q&A, start by summarising the steps in a drop-down menu. Readers can then follow your instructions easily and simply – and achieve whatever they (or you) need to do. 

Checklist

A brief, handy format to give users a sense of everything they need to think about in relation to a particular activity. Checklists are often embedded within a larger piece of content such as a report or white paper. The items on the checklist are often written as bullets or questions. 

Timeline

Information that’s essentially chronological often lends itself to the timeline treatment. The progress of a project or the history of a technology would be examples here. Readers can pick out the important milestones without having to wade through paragraphs dotted with dates.