5 Types of Content You Need to Distinguish to Attract Different Audiences


We read it all the time, we need the content, we need more of it or higher quality content. Often there seems to be an implicit understanding what content is, an underlying definition that all content is inherently similar so that you can refer to it simply as “content”. This is of course a mistake.

There are different types of content. I don’t mean that there is video, infographics or white-papers, these are just packages for the content. The bottles you fill the wine in. You don’t want to fill the same wine for all of your readers, customers or fans.

Ideally you serve different kinds of content with different audiences in mind.

The casual reader gets something else than the customer who already buys from you. Likewise your ardent fan who already knows all of your other publications doesn’t get the same thing as the first time visitor.

What types of content are there really? You can distinguish by quality and by audience. Ideally you mix both aspects in when you define types of content as in reality there are no strict boundaries.

For example you will often hear about cornerstone content, pillar content, flagship content and the likes. All the terms mean the same thing. So let’s start with this common term and go on with other less common terms for pretty common content types.

What I won’t cover today are simple judgemental descriptions of content like great content, quality content or killer content. They are not types of content, the adjectives just signify a value some ascribes to a particular kind of content. Often these loose terms get used in a very superficial manner without further insights as to the actual benefits of the above mentioned content.

Cornerstone Content
Like the metaphor suggests cornerstone content is meant to be a stable building block of your whole site and popularity.

In the music industry we have the so called album. In the early days of vinyl and CDs, long before MP3 arrived there were ideally one or two huge hits included on each album.

The other songs got sold along them in one package. For example people would hear a song like Thriller on the radio or watch the video on TV and subsequently buy the whole record with 10 or 12 other songs.

In the case of Michael Jackson there were more than one hit per long player but you get the point. The cornerstone content or the hit were meant to popularize the whole set of tracks. These weren’t necessarily as high quality as the one that got released as a single and a video.

On the Web it’s very similar for all kinds of publishers while the music industry has by now stopped producing one hit wonders and attempts to sell each track or rather the concert tickets. A blog or website attempts to create a very remarkable or downright amazing piece of content, be it an infographic, a guide, a viral video to attract the outside public to check them them out. Then they provide lots of other content as well to keep some of those visitors.

Sticky Content
Sticky content gets devised for regular audiences. A series of posts can be sticky. A weekly column by a well-received author is a common way to gain stickiness. A blog by itself is a way to make people stick as I’ve noted earlier.

A daily or weekly digest is sticky content

as people stick to your publication by revisiting it regularly to get an overview of what’s going in in an particular industry or niche. For example when it comes to SEO our colleagues from Ahrefs provide a regular digest.

In fact any regular content can become sticky. For example by establishing an editorial calendar where a post gets always posted on the same day you can make readers return weekly. Even the sheer fact of publishing each week makes your blog sticky by itself. Your readers will come back and check because they expect there will be something new.

An self-made infographic that appears once is not sticky content in contrast.

In the worst case people will just save the image address of your infographic and won’t even care about the site it was published on. Sites like Mashable though that republish infographics frequently and are known for that use them as sticky content. People return often to see whether they are new ones. So while common SEO wisdom will tell you to publish one infographic with a bang to get lots of links and attention it might be wiser to feed your readers with regular content from somewhere else.

Take note that some people use the term “sticky content” to describe cornerstone content. The terms are still pretty new so there is no fixed glossary of terms yet it seems.

Q&A Content
Search users often want a very specific answer. In case they don’t find it immediately on your site they hit the back button in their browser or they won’t even click your search result snippet.

Search users get what they want or not and move on.

You can only make some of them stay longer by giving them of more of what they want. Ideally you have a Q&A section on your site to answer most of such questions potential search users have. Many of them get asked over and over so you can prepare the most common ones.

The simplest method to find the questions people ask is just to peruse forums and Q&A sites like

  • Yahoo Answers
  • Quora
  • StackExchange

Instead of creating content for them though answer the question on your own site. After all you are working for your business not theirs. You can also post a short answer there and elaborate on your own site. Don’t spend hours creating free content for the competition in the SERPs though.

Branded Content
Branded content is content that either deals with your brand, brand name or name or at least mentions it. For example Red Bull is globally known for their branded content by sponsoring many action sports practitioners or even dare devil stunts like the one where a man jumped from space.

I don’t even have to tell you more about this example because you probably already remember the vivid images. I forgot the name of the guy who jumped, I would have to look it up, I can’t tell you the altitude he jumped from or the speed of falling but I still know that it was Red Bull that sponsored it.

Some SEO specialists already argue that Google even counts mentions of your brand as links.

I haven’t seen proof of this yet but it’s highly probable. I guess they are not treated as links but counted in an algorithmic way for sure and being one of the 200 signals Google uses to rank sites. You don’t want too much advertorial-like branded content though. That’s what I’d like to call internal content (see below).

It’s like with gay films. You don’t watch gay movies? Of course not, you’re not gay aren’t you? The same is the case with brand movies or other branded content. The more the brand is part of the self-evident outfit the better. That’s why they wear Red Bull helmets while jumping with their BMX bikes instead of talking for 10 minutes how energizing Red Bull is. In a movie where the flat-mate is gay and it’s a perfectly normal thing which is NOT the main topic of the movie you wouldn’t think you are wrong here.

Internal Content
I have no idea whether there is a better term to describe it so that I just came up with “internal content”. Internal doesn’t mean it’s only of interest for people inside your organization. It means it focuses on you, your business or and what’s happening inside of your company.

Many businesses make the mistake of producing too much one-sided internal content.

They will write about themlseves, how amazing their new products and services are, what their CEO did last week or how they enter new markets and conquer the world. Nobody cares for that unless your name is Apple or Google maybe. For mere mortals the rule should be 1:4. One piece of internal content has to be followed by at lest three pieces that matter for general audiences. Your

  • product descriptions
  • sales pitches
  • press releases

are all internal content. Nobody will share them on social media or even read them in case they do not have some other reason to care for that. A good reason to make them care is by providing regular content of the other kinds so that people start wondering who these people are that write such great articles, devise such formidable tutorials or film such humorous videos.

It’s important to provide internal content of the trustworthy kind from time to time

but don’t overdo it as for example blogging is not about sales. Likewise video doesn’t sell well. Make sure covering your company is not the most important aspect of your publishing practice. It won’t help you with social media and SEO. That’s not even true PR.

You need to know and distinguish these types of content or otherwise you will publish for empty audiences. Imagine you’re on a stage and look at your audience: who are these people?

  1. Are they my coworkers?
  2. Are they my fans?
  3. Are they just random by-standers?

Depending on your audience you can use different kinds of content. I will probably follow up with a post on audiences to make this content sticky.

* Creative Commons image by tanakawho