How to Successfully Create Content for Humans and Bots

Why (in Digital) You Always Have to Create Content for Two Audiences: People and Algorithms

Unnecessary news flash: Creating content can be really hard. Creating effective content that is purposeful and converts can be downright exhausting. But in today’s landscape of thousands of competing messages, logos, tweets, Instagram Stories, and websites, we have to ensure that our content not only looks good but also functions well for the multidevice, multichannel, and multidistracted user.

The need to create content that prioritizes form and function equally has never been so close, yet so far away. Our content consumption has skyrocketed, and because of this we have to adapt and change our content-production process to scale and function in a new environment.

“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” —Ernest Hemingway

This is a call to action—a call to action for all of you out there who struggle with content creation. For those of you who do one aspect (i.e., form) well, but who don’t understand the need for the other aspect (i.e., function).

The purpose of this article is to inform you about the current landscape of content creation and the need for always creating content for (at least) two audiences: humans (fans, people, customers) and bots (search engines, news feeds, algorithms).

A word of caution before you commence on this content journey that I hope will be helpful and useful: This article will take you about 15 minutes to read, and it takes a really deep dive into creating content for humans and bots. There are some 19,000-plus letters, 23,000-plus characters, 3,800-plus words, 300-plus sentences, and 198 paragraphs, and it is rated at an 8 for readability by Hemingway App (more about readability below).

Let’s begin by qualifying and auditing our content-production process.

Content-Production Process, Workflow, and Governance

Today’s content-creation landscape requires that we create a larger number of pieces of content than ever before. Brands are expected to be publishers and content creators en masse. This is new territory for most brands, and frankly most brands aren’t publishers or content creators.

So brands are and have been adapting to this new reality. As the number of impressions and interruptions for consumers has increased exponentially, and the number of publishers and content creators has skyrocketed, the way we make effective brand impressions and create conversations online has changed.

And since the quantity of content we need to produce has changed, the way we create and distribute the content also needs to change. The cornerstones are still there, but the scale has increased.

Take a traditional workflow process for content production. It could look something like this:

  1. Research
  2. Write
  3. Review
  4. Revise
  5. Approve
  6. Share/upload to the CMS (content-management system)/SMM (social media management) platform
  7. Review in “live” mode
  8. Publish
  9. Assess
  10. Maintain/manage
  11. Repurpose into different types of content
  12. Publish/share
  13. Maintain/manage
  14. Repeat

This is a thorough approach to content creation. But when applied to a specific content type—let’s say a social media post—this content process isn’t effective, nor is it sustainable (or cost-effective).

So what does this tell us?

First, it tells us that we have to create structured content processes that are malleable for different outputs. We’ve adopted and molded NPR’s COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) content-production framework to fit our expertise and our processes, keeping in mind that we have to create content that scales, that is channel-agnostic, and that is repurposable.

Second, it also tells us that we need to account for an additional step (I know, we want to minimize steps, right?). And this is the most important aspect of today’s content-production process. We call it functional review.

What Is Functional Review?

Functional review is the part of the content-creation process that enables us to ensure that our content is functional for the appropriate channel of distribution. Merging form and function is one of the most fundamental aspects of creating content that both engages and drives traffic. Without a functional review our content efforts can fall short. We call this our 1 + 1 = 3 strategy, and what it boils down to is that if we don’t focus on both form and function we’re not allowing for the best performance of it.

Sound complicated? It’s not, because If no one sees or finds your content, it doesn’t matter how engaging it is. And if no one engages with your content, it doesn’t matter how good your distribution and channel strategy are. So when you prioritize both the form and the function, you end up creating content that more people will find.

So what would a more future-proof workflow process look like? It would look like this:

  1. Research and write/create
  2. Review, revise, approve, and finish
  3. Functional review
  4. Schedule to publish
    1. Channel-specific distribution
      1. CMS
      2. SMM platform
      3. Other
  5. Assess performance
  6. Redistribute on appropriate channels

This workflow is a bit leaner, has a fewer touch points, and shifts focus to a channel-specific distribution model. This ensures that we grab the appropriate chunks for content for the appropriate channels, harnessing said channel’s native features and leveraging a native user experience, while emphasizing said channel’s user interface.

But let’s take a step back and look at the first step in our content-production process, and how we create content that is engaging and purposeful.

Producing Content for Two Audiences: Humans and Bots

In order for us to change our behavior, we have to know why we need to change our behavior. We’re all human and we don’t like change. It’s against our very nature. So why should we change our process and our thinking about the content we create? Here are a few reasons why:

  • On the average web page, users have time to read, at most, 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.
  • It’s harder to read a computer screen than a piece of paper; people read up to 25% slower on computers.
  • 78% of web readers scan digital content.
  • 70% of readers will jump ship after they finish the third paragraph of a web page or email.
  • Users spend 69% of their time looking at the left half of the web page and 30% viewing the right half.
  • They pay close attention to images that deliver contextual messages, such as photos of a product or a real person (as opposed to stock photos).
  • 75% of Americans admit to bringing their phone to the bathroom.
  • Google says more searches now occur on mobile than on desktop.
  • Over 50% of smartphone users grab their smartphone immediately after waking up.
  • Apps account for 89% of mobile-media time, with the other 11% spent on websites.
  • 83% of mobile users say that a seamless experience across all devices is very important.
  • 48% of millennials view video on their mobile device.

If our consumption behavior and the means of consumption have changed, it would behoove us to change the way we create said consumable content, right?


And this is how human consumption behavior has changed in the last 10 years. There’s also the emergence of the algorithm, the all-mighty decider of content worthiness. This leads us to the next topic: How do we create engaging content for humans and content that is preferred by algorithms?

Writing Effective and Engaging Copy for People

There are many things, styles, techniques, and tools that can help you create effective written copy for your audience. And even though video is becoming more and more part of our content-creation process, we’re going to focus on the written aspect of content creation, since it translates to almost every facet of content creation (even video content needs a script).

There are tools that we use, such as GatherContent, Grammarly, and Hemingway App, that keep us focused on creating content in chunks, using microcopy, and readability cues to help us create content that is consumable.

Microcopy helps us create content and gives us the guidelines we need to create content that is as ready for functional review as optimally possible.

Here are some of the things that our content creators always consider:

  • Use the words your visitors use.
  • Break your content into manageable sections, or chunks, to make it more scannable.
  • Start with the content that is most important to your audience, and then provide more details (inverted pyramid).
  • Adopt an approachable tone by using pronouns like you (the visitor) and we (us / the organization).
  • Use the active voice whenever possible.
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Use dashes instead of semicolons.
  • Use bullets and numbered lists.
  • Use clear headlines and subheads.
  • Use images, diagrams, infographics, video, or multimedia to represent and enhance ideas in the content.
  • Use white space, as it allows you to reduce noise by separating information.
  • Use subheadings to clarify the subject of various sections.
  • Users want to skim and scan for information; headings help with this.
  • Use descriptive action words on navigation and page titles.
  • Use bold and italics sparingly
    • Too much bold makes text harder, not easier, to read and differentiate.
    • Italics on the web, especially in a long paragraph, are hard to read.
  • Do not underline text; on the web an underline means a link.
  • Never use ALL CAPS; all caps is harder to read than mixed case.
  • Avoid exclamation points!
  • Get to the point; people are coming to your website for a reason, so make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for.

These are all helpful best practices that enable us to move fast, be accurate, and optimize our content to the user’s preferences. We’re always trying to find the contextual area where the physical, emotional, and cognitive meet to establish the best impression possible.

Following these best practices and techniques allows our storytellers, copywriters, and content creators a blueprint to support their creative mindsets and enhances their already excellent execution of the written word.

This quote shows what great brand-centered content should do:

“Think of it this way: If a visitor came to your website, without its branding in place (logo, tagline, so on), would he or she recognize it as yours? If you stripped your branding from all your (social) properties and lined up your words alongside a competitor’s, would you recognize yourself? Would you stand out?” —Ann Handley, Everybody Writes

The importance of creating content that is immediately recognizable as your (brand’s) language is imperative today. It’s also an art form that not everyone is able to pursue.

What Is the Importance of Readability?

Readability is the science of good writing. It’s the formula for creating a good and high-quality user experience. It applies not only to written copy but also to the user interface, the layout, design, typography, imagery, on-page elements, etc. It covers everything related to the piece of content you created.

Jason Santa Maria spoke about readability in his book, On Web Typography, in relatable terms. Here are some examples:

  • Just because something is legible doesn’t mean it’s readable. Legibility means that text can be interpreted, but that’s like saying tree bark is edible.
  • Readability combines the emotional impact of a design with the amount of effort it presumably takes to read.
  • Length isn’t the only detractor to reading; poor typography is one too.

To quote typographer Stephen Coles, “The term readability doesn’t simply ask, ‘Can you read it?’ but ‘Do you want to read it?’”

Readability takes into account aspects of writing and content creation tied to the user consumption and experience of the content, giving it a computer-calculated score that tells you the level of education someone reading the content needs to consume it. It has established best practices, which include the following:

We now have a greater foundation for how to write for your fans, your customers, and your evangelists, and we have a greater understanding of the techniques and expertise that go into it. Now, let’s talk about those pesky algorithms—the bane of (all) creatives’ existence.

Writing Search-Friendly Metadata and Content for Algorithms

It’s kind of an odd concept to think about: how to best create content that algorithms, news feeds, and search engines will like. It’s something that many brands do not always focus on or even care about.

But, as we stated earlier, if we don’t prioritize the functional aspect of the content we create, fewer people, fans, customers, and evangelists will see the purposefully crafted content.


So where does one even begin to think about metadata and creating content for native channel-specific features? I am not sure (however, this is a great beginners guide). But what I do know is how important it is to the viability of your content-distribution process.

Because the truth is that if we don’t care about SEO and metadata or news-feed preferences on Facebook or hashtag usage on Instagram or content-type preferences on Twitter, we’re limiting the effectiveness of our messaging. And that’s something we can’t afford in today’s marketing landscape.

Budgets are shrinking, while expectations for marketers are rising. We have to do more with less; that’s the reality of the current advertising and marketing landscape. We have to qualify and quantify everything, as it should be, to ensure that the spend is affecting a brand’s bottom line positively. Because if it isn’t, there’s no reason to invest in the tactic, the channel, the project, or the campaign.

I digress. But it’s important to understand what is at stake.

So having that said, there are too many factors to consider when creating content for algorithms, because they all play by different rules (This serves as a vague teaser for an upcoming project. Stay tuned!) 

Targeting Search-Engine Ranking Factors

For instance, Google’s algorithm changes constantly and there seem to be some 200 different ranking factors, and no one knows what ranks highest and lowest—we only know correlations. What we do know is that these 200-plus signals are categorized into the following:

  • Content
  • Technology
  • User experience
  • Social signals
  • Backlinks

Together these ranking-factor categories determine where on the search-engine-results pages your content shows up.

Content

High-quality, relevant content ranks higher, on average, and is identifiable by properties such as comprehensive wording, related terms in the context, higher word count, and media enrichment.

Websites need to produce more content in order to remain competitive in searches. More content is not the same as better content. Text may be subject to several quality criteria, but usability and relevance are always the main goals.

To rank higher, sites must produce more content—and also more relevant, holistic content.

Technology

A web page’s well-optimized technical performance contributes to a good ranking. Key factors are a robust site architecture, with an optimal internal linking structure, short loading times, mobile friendliness or responsiveness, and the presence of meta tags.

Social Signals

Social signals are factors that correlate to better rankings. In terms of correlation values and absolute averages, Facebook is ahead of Google, followed by Twitter and Pinterest.

Social signals definitely play a role in direct traffic, brand awareness, and the overall online performance of a domain.

User-Experience Signals

In 2014, Google measured user-experience signals for the first time, and there was a correlation between rankings and higher click-through rates, lower bounce rates, and a high time on the site.

Backlinks

The quantity and quality of backlinks remain crucial (although their importance is decreasing), as there are many new features introduced this year that were revised to improve the quality of the results.

Backlink-quality factors are potentially the most important SEO metric on the off-page side. Google’s success is based on PageRank, which has always been oriented toward backlinks, and remains so to this day.

Links from other sites belong to search engines and form a detailed picture of the evidence of relevance based upon the subject matter linked to.

Opportunities to manipulate the system are constantly minimized with targeted algorithm changes from search engines.


So these are some of the 200-plus things that you have to consider when you create content that lives on the web. Metadata that we always take great care in customizing for each piece that we create include:

  • Unique URL
  • Keyword front-loaded title tag / page title
  • Eye-grabbing and click-enticing meta description
  • Heading hierarchy
  • Content length and cadence
  • Keyword prominence and positioning
  • Images and alternate descriptions

That’s merely to cover your bases from an SEO-strategy perspective.

Then there’s the whole social media–algorithm aspect we have to consider.

Social Media News Feeds and Algorithms

What is evident as it relates to social media content distribution is that we have to be adaptive. It’s ever-changing. These algorithms are ever-changing and adaptive. As I write this, we have seen an across-the-board decline in Instagram reach of between 10 and 20 percent in the past two to three weeks—with content cadence, types, and frequencies unchanged. So now we have to figure out how, why, and what we do about it.

Get granular and test all the things. When you have figured out what gives you the best reach or response, do more of it, refine it, test it, and repeat.

This is the new reality. We have to be adaptive and we have to set up structures and frameworks that allow us to be reactive, while still being proactive. We have to create content that is channel-agnostic, yet it has to be channel-feature specific. It’s the paradigm of the modern marketer—always pursuing the state of being proactive while being reactive and agile.

So what does one do to ensure that the content we have created distributes optimally on the channels our brand has a presence on? Well, there are many things to be done. But to get you started, focus on figuring out the following facets of your content you share for each channel:

  • What content type is performing the best?
  • When is my content engaged with the most?
  • What frequency of content is performing the best?
  • Is my cadence optimized?
  • Am I using optimized imagery?
  • Am I using tags properly and effectively?
  • Am I tagging people/brands/places properly and effectively?
  • Am I using the native features often/never/sometimes?

The bottom line is that these algorithms want you to create content that creates conversations on their platform—content that uses its native features, like live video for Facebook Live and Twitter. Like Twitter Moments and polls, Boomerangs and Stories on Instagram, etc.

When you create content that that channel or network likes, it will open up your reach because it benefits the users of said channel. The platform itself wants you to use those features so that when you do you’re rewarded.

Get granular and test all the things. When you have figured out what gives you the best reach or response, do more of it, refine it, test it, and repeat.

The thing to keep in mind is that once you’ve optimized your content creation and execution for a specific channel, chances are that the algorithm will change and you will have to adapt, test, refine, and repeat (again).

5 Tips for Successful Content Creation and Production

If you’re still with me, nodding your head and agreeing with this, awesome! If you agree but don’t know where to start, here’s a list of things you can do to get yourself on a good path to content-creation success:

1. Quantify your content-production process.
You have a content-creation process. Write it down and quantify it in a flowchart. Add hours based on each step in the workflow. See where you’re light and see where the barriers and stops are. Refine.

2. Do what you’re good at.
Not every brand can execute live-stream video content. Perhaps your strength is writing tight case studies and white papers. Pursue that and harness it. Optimize it to the point that you can’t improve your process anymore.

3. Merge primary and secondary data points.
Research and use secondary industry data to set up your framework for creation and distribution. Use the multitude of case studies out there to set a foundation for testing. Then merge it with your primary brand data.

4. Test and test (and test some more).
The No. 1 thing about digital marketing and content creation is that there’s an element of exploration to pursue and to explore. Test often, test small, fail small, and learn from it. Then move to the next one.

5. Assess, adapt, and adjust.
Here’s the kicker: There’s so much data we have access to. We can harness so many different brand touch points that it’s incredible. But if we don’t do anything with it, it’s all for naught. We have to consistently review daily and weekly, and we have to track our performance in order for us to be agile and make actionable decisions that further the brand.

Where Is the Future of Content Creation Taking Us?

Let me put on my oracle hat and hypothesize on some things that will, again, change how we consume content and, thus, how we create content.

Artificial intelligence is already playing a significant part in content creation in various industries. In content creation, we’re seeing an incredible focus and emergence on automation as it relates to customer service. It’s mostly in the form of various AI-infused bots. Much like email autoresponders, Messenger chat bots can now act based on triggers and behaviors that users make. This is a major implication for social media content creation and customer service, especially.

The Hoff is even on the AI train.

All we can do is try to keep up. And although we think AI will bring about new jobs, opportunities, and industries, we can’t help getting some Skynet vibes from some of the things that are currently happening (I’m looking at you, Boston Dynamics). We hope that the robot overlords are as adorable as these (NSFW: salty robot language).

There are also other cool things that enable us to create content using various new tools and content types. We wrote an entire blog about writing for the web using only Google’s Voice Dictation tool.

Then there’s the emergence of virtual reality. VR is arguably on the cusp of becoming a known entity that is adopted by the masses. This, of course, is due in large part thanks to Facebook’s Oculus Rift. VR is still being tested and is not used widely by marketers, but it’s becoming more and more evident that VR will play a significant part of the marketing investment that marketers will pursue in the coming years.

So there you have it. Our deep dive into content creation.

We hope that this was useful. We know how hard and complex it can be to create content and distribute it to your different audiences effectively and successfully in today’s complex and busy marketing space.

We’d love to hear from you. Ask us anything. We promise a “human” will answer and we won’t send you down a rabbit hole of automated triggered responses. Definitely won’t do that. Probably.

Photos: Shutterstock

Resources: Nielsen Norman Group, Masterworks, ParentCenterHub.org, SearchEngineLand.com, ExpressPigeon, Smart Insights, Wolfgang Jaegel, SearchEngineWatch.com, and ConvinceAndConvert.com

Niclas Hulting

Niclas Hulting

Director of online content strategy who enjoys the strategic part and feels content about the other. Loves to read fantasy and industry books. Writes about social media and content strategy most of the time.

Meet Niclas Hulting