If you want to be successful in content marketing, there's only one real path to success: shares. People have to share your content with other people in order to get a significant number of views and engagement. In this context, I'm using the term "share" generally, referring both to the "social shares" of someone posting your material on social media, and "sharing" your material as a citation or reference, including inbound links. Collectively, links and social shares can build your audience, improve your brand reputation, and increase your website's domain authority so it ranks higher in search engines.
There's just one problem--shares are increasingly hard to get. By some reports, only about 25 percent of all content produced ends up getting any likes or shares at all. This is partially due to oversaturation of content in the online world, and partially due to a misconception that more content is always a good thing, regardless of quality. If you want your content to be a part of that 25 percent, or an even higher percentile that gets shared more often, you'll have to adopt qualities and tactics that make those pieces unique.
Achieving "Exceptional" Content
Your goal here isn't necessarily to reach a certain milestone, like achieving a certain degree of thoroughness or writing a certain number of words. Your goal is to be exceptional, because only exceptional content gets shared. Think about the term "exceptional" literally--it implies that a piece is an exception to the rule, or otherwise stands apart from its contemporaries. It's no longer enough to have a "good" piece of content--you have to be better than the other pieces already out there.
To start, you should know that some types of content get shared more than others. These content formats aren't automatic gateways to more shares, so don't think of them that way; instead, view them as rough templates that can get you started in a certain direction, just as the genre of a film should have no influence on its overall quality:
Journalism and opinions. Stemming from a news development or existing in a vacuum, these pieces are all about presenting, defending, and/or scrutinizing a strong opinion in your industry.
Lists. Lists are simple, but effective--people love them for their quick pace and concise style.
Videos. Videos are becoming more popular and therefore, more important--especially for a mobile audience.
How-tos. How-tos are worthwhile for their sheer practicality, as well as the visibility bonus of being relevant for more inbound searches.
"Why" posts. Why posts carry the same advantages as how-to posts, but from a slightly different angle.
Quizzes. The interactive element of quizzes is what makes them such popular items to share, but depending on your industry, you may find it difficult to create one relevant to your audience.
Infographics. Infographics still get shared often--but you can't just slap one together. You have to present new, exciting information in a compelling, original way.
Original research. These pieces tend to be reports, whitepapers, case studies, or other analyses that present and discuss the findings of research that hasn't been done before.
Now comes the "exceptional" part. If you want your piece to get noticed, no matter what format it is, you need to exhibit the following qualities, at a minimum:
Research. No matter what type of content you're producing, solid research should form its foundation. This is especially important for opinion pieces and instructional posts--be sure to cite multiple outside authorities, and present the full scope of your topic, not just your opinion or your experience.
Detail. Without sufficient detail, your post will seem generic and might even be less useful to your readers. Be as detailed as possible while remaining concise.
Entertainment. Don't write in short, stoic sentences or keep a static "business tone" for your piece. Even if your brand can't afford a more casual, conversational voice or occasional bouts of humor (hint: it almost certainly can), you can find other ways of making your post entertaining by utilizing excitement, intrigue, or even fear.
Slant. Even if you're exploring both sides of an argument, don't sit on the fence. Good pieces generally have a strong leaning toward one side over the other.
Utility/Practicality. The more useful your piece is on a practical level, the more likely people will be to share it. We have a natural social tendency to help each other out, so if a reader finds that your piece saved him/her time or money, he/she will be incentivized to pass it on.
Polish. All your pieces should undergo a final check for quality before going out--spelling and grammar errors are bad not only for your readers, but also search engine rankings.
Originality. If I had to pick one quality more important than any of the others, this would be it. If you aren't original, you aren't going to stand out, and that means people aren't going to share your piece. Your topic needs to be unexplored, your voice needs to be unique, and you need to have at least one surprise in store for your readers.
Don't fall into the trap of thinking more is better--it's better to have one really good piece than a hundred whiffs. If you can produce a piece of the above format with all of the qualities I just referenced, you'll be well on your way to creating content worthy of being shared. The more time and effort you put into your work, the more it's going to pay off, and the more time you spend improving your pieces, the better you'll be at it.