You Don’t Build an Audience With Great Content, Says Jon Morrow

Creating big ideas for great content.

How do you build an audience?

I consider Jon Morrow to be one of the truly original thinkers on writing and social media. His posts are legendary. He has started many people on their journey to building a huge following on social media with his courses and advice on guest posting.

So, naturally, I was fascinated to read his post last week entitled Why Educating Readers Is No Longer Enough (and How to Really Build an Audience in 2014).

Great Content Isn’t Enough

Content is King! That’s what all the experts say, but they may be wrong. Jon asks a question that I’ve often asked myself: “How do you define great content?” Even he admits he doesn’t know what great content is. This, coming from someone who, in my view, writes some of the best content I’ve ever read about writing and social media.

He believes the educational post is dead. That’s because there are hordes of companies and individuals writing informational posts, list posts, and how-to posts so that it’s almost impossible to come up with something original that isn’t copied almost immediately.

When that happens you sink back into the crowd. Your educational posts will no longer build audiences, he says.

You can hop over to his blog post for more details, but here is a summary of his advice on how to stand out and build your audience. Read on and you’ll also see the comment I left him:

  • Drama. Not only make your audience understand your information, but help them feel it with music, videos, and story telling that touches their emotions.
  • Unique data. This can includes surveys, and crunching numbers from a bunch of data and analyzing it in a unique way.
  • Depth. Pick a topic and write an enormous guide or infographic. Create a video course and give it away for free.
  • Design. Hire a designer to create a snazzy design and enliven your website with screen cast videos, PowerPoint presentations, etc.

All sounds great, doesn’t it?

What About Us Mere Mortals?

I’m no Jon Morrow and most people I know aren’t in his league and that is meant as no offense to anyone. I was the second commenter and this is what I wrote:

Jon — you are such an original thinker, always ahead of the pack. And that’s an issue for the rest of us mortals. Even if most people put in the time they lack the creativity or the new ideas no one has thought of. Let’s back up and ask: why am I creating content? As you well know, very few people make money online. You need to build a huge audience and even your guest posting advice is not getting the results it used to what with Google’s new algorithms and the flood of poorly-written guest posts.

It’s time to stop thinking of social media and the web as the golden ring. Social media is but one funnel. Let’s rethink our strategy for making money. Maybe the old-fashioned methods of networking, advertising, creating events prospects will attend and knocking on doors are no longer retro but the “new” best strategies for achieving our goals.

Creating unique ideas for content

Ideas, ideas, ideas.

I’ve written about this before, that social media is one funnel and not the whole story. People like Jon and other experts have assistants who can assemble all those numbers, and create all those videos, and come up with unique ideas.

But mere mortals like me rarely come up with that “Big Idea” that no one has thought of before. Here is my question again that you could ask yourself: “Why am I creating content?”

If you are writing content because you want to sell products from your website do you have the huge audience you need to make money? How will you attract that audience?

Are you writing content to build your authority and for what purpose? Are you writing content to demonstrate your writing skills?

These are not easy questions to answer. As much as I respect Jon Morrow – and I do – he makes it sound so easy to come up with these ideas, although even he says it can’t happen without working your tail off. That’s a given.

Why are you writing content? How do you find ideas for great content? Please share your ideas with us. I could use help.

Leave a Reply


  1. I’m kind of envisioning this Jon Morrow with a team of writers like the actors on Saturday Night Live. That’s why I suppose, while I respect writing from people like him, take notes (and thank YOU for sharing yours Jeannette) that when it comes down to it and I look around my home office, I can only envision that team.

    But he is correct. My take away is that content is still king, what has changed is the way you present it rules.

    • Pat — Yes, his headline was a grabber, but he still believes in great content — although he admits he’s not sure what that is.

  2. Jeannette,

    This article by Jon Morrow really makes you think. I think there is a lot of reshased content on the web these days. So how do we stand out? I like the idea of being unique, using images, and maybe even being controversial can work.

    But, I am not a big fan of data that is really in depth because I believe we will lose the audience if our blog posts are too long. Of course we want to provide quality to our audience but we also must have a balance between quality and overkill.

    I personally blog about personal finance because it is my passion and I use my everyday life to come up with ideas of what to write about. I am also working on a membership site in the same niche and I will do the same for that as well. The key for me is to try to provide a piece of content that can help my readers in some form or another. Some days I hit that mark and I am sure some days I do not.

    Thank you so much for sharing this intriguing article. I really enjoyed it.

    • Nathaniel — Regarding your POV that we’ll lose our audience if our blog posts are too long, all research points to the opposite. The longer the post the better the readership. Sounds counter intuitive, I know, but that’s what the experts say.

  3. I’m not surprised at Jon Morrow’s observations, not because I’m clever, but because I was getting bored. Those blogs that offer me original ideas, or an original way of looking at old ideas are the ones I find the most interesting and engaging. They are the ones I revisit.

    Jeannette, as for you not being creative, I beg to differ. You regularly bring me industry insights, unexpected findings and informative surveys that have practical application for my day job.

    • Thank you, Debra, for your kind words. I’d like to return the compliment because I find that your posts are always imaginative and thought-provoking.

  4. What a great post. It is so important to follow this advice to really create an experience for your reader. I love bringing a written story to life with audio, music, and video. It really creates the whole experience. -)

    • Susan — I love your posts. You’re a born story teller, and your images, music and video really bring your posts to life. You are an example of what Jon Morrow is talking about.

  5. I enjoyed reading this…as I do ALL of your blogs! Interesting note about the length of blogs as I had also read that less is better, yet I seem to be seeing longer blogs. As to content being king…it always will be. But finding the audience who is interested in what you write has always been the challenge. So “great” is in the eye of the beholder.

  6. Jeannette, just when I think I’m starting to see the light, along comes someone like Jon who lets me know how much more I should do. The idea of bringing videos, music, etc to my posts is intriguing but scares me to death – how am I going to do that.? But posts like yours are what I need to keep me moving forwards and learning the next step. Thanks.

    • Lenie — I’m with you. I need to use more videos and it isn’t that hard. YouTube is filled with great ones (along with all the dross) and TED is another source I’ve used.

  7. Hi Jeannette. In a crowded field of Lame Lists and Vacuous Videos, unique information is very rare so to my mind the only things that qualify as valuable content are a unique perspective and an ability to Sell The Sizzle Not The Steak by means of good story-telling and engaging examples or personal experiences to support each point presented. In my opinion,you are among the small minority who manage both of these very well.

    • Thank you, Paul. I try my best but, as you know, you don’t always hit home runs. I’ll settle for triples!

  8. This post (and I clicked over to Jon Morrow’s) is timely for me, as I’ve been questioning my content and whether it’s really connecting with my intended audience. I think my idea is different enough, but I wonder if I’m presenting it in an old, tired way. I haven’t answered the question about “great content” in today’s blogging world, either. So I’m with you and Jon in that respect.

    • Jennifer — there is just so much content out there. I’m with you about always questioning whether I’m adding value for my readers. I’m one of the “mere mortals” I mentioned in the post. I long to write the way Jon Morrow does!

  9. Content is clearly king but I see what the point is here because content alone will not bring in an audience. Marketing of that content will do that. I believe the vast majority of us strive every week to bring good information to our audience. We wrap it up in personal experience, sad, funny, we use metaphors to make our point more easily looked on from a new perspective. The quality will ebb and flow but the learning should always be trending onward. A blog is a big commitment but incredibly rewarding.

    • Tim — you truly do write original content, along with compelling images, on your blog. Your travels bring the world to your readers.

  10. Hi Jeannette,
    Every day there are thousands more people entering the arena. Looking for great content is becoming much akin to looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

    I write for the love of writing. Two places continually inspire me every day. TED dot com always has fresh, insightful information on a variety of topics, as does as Onbeing dot org Of course, I suppose great content is a subjective thing and depends on your tastes.

    Kind Regards,

    • Bill — I know what you mean. There is more competition than every for “eyeballs” as they say in the advertising business. We just have to keep plugging away and do the best we can.

  11. I am in Jon Morrow’s blogging class and he truly is a genius and very funny, too. Great content to me is something different, it does not have to be educational. It’s like a mini-novelette, a slice of life that is funny, endearing, dramatic as he says, maybe gut-wrenching, and honest. I am so over the posts that bullet point 5 ways to do XYZ. I am trying to employ more of his techniques and it seems to be working. Write from you heart – works every time!

    • Laurie — lucky you to be in his class. Wish I had taken it early on in my blogging career. He truly is fabulous and his success and positive outlook on life, despite his severe handicaps, is remarkable.

  12. Jeannette I agree with Jon Morrrow. Am really tired of yet another blogger writing about how to start a blog, how to write a post (many of them can’t write), how to use Linkedin and so forth.

    Agree with him about adding videos but not infographics, The latter is simply because I really don’t like the way they are designed:-)

    Content is important. But new bloggers should not keep on starting yet another blog dealing with the same topic, predominantly social media. If they have no knowledge of anything apart from that, at least they have to find a new angle of covering the topic. Some of the bloggers writing about social media don’t even fully understand social media. Can’t help wondering why they feel compelled to write about it?

    • Catarina — I believe there is nothing new under the sun. Even social media is derivative. Instead of words on paper, there are words on the web. It’s how you serve up the content, the new angle on an old story, a video that explains something better than words can. That was my point about us “mere mortals” having a tough time writing truly original content. Strange to say, one of my top performing posts in the past few years has been how to write a LinkedIn invitation. I can’t believe that the average time on that post is almost 10 minutes! I think they are writing their invitations as they are reading. So who knows what great content really is?

  13. As much as I would like to create podcasts, etc I am just one of those mere mortals who can only accomplish so much within a certain frame of time. Too often, it feels like people are jumping on the video band wagon because that is what the almighty Google now likes. There really is nothing new under the sun, but I have had good luck with the posts where I’ve taken screen shots of how I mark-up a text using Word’s track changes. I haven’t seen many bloggers do that. If I could fit it in, I would do more think-aloud protocols where the reading and writing process are demystified. Only so many hours in the day though… gotta hire a team of minions 😉

    • Jeri — I’ve enjoyed your posts where you describe the writing and publishing process, like how to compile an Ebook!

  14. Jeannette- The problem is everyone is writing the same thing. I still content is worth considering but being unique and different is hard but I feel pays off in the long run. There are few sites I bookmark, but yours in one of them. I think your posts are so informative and I have picked up something from each of them. You wrote a post maybe six months ago and I have to tell you I can’t remember who was the person you were talking about, but what hit me with the article was how to write information on my website. I was struggling with a particular keyword and for the life of me could not get optimized, I read your post and pretty much what you suggested and I moved up on the search engine. I need to do more of that on the other pages.

    • Arleen — thanks so much for the compliment. I appreciate it very much and I’m so glad that one of my posts helped you to move up in the search rankings.

  15. Your post title really caught my attention! And this is a question I ask myself occasionally. I always come back to the answer that I write content because I love it and want to get my idea out. Now, how to translate that into income? That’s a lot harder than writing good content!

    • Meredith — I do think you have to enjoy writing, otherwise what’s the point? You’re so right about making income from writing. Unfortunately, very few people make money directly from blogging. Sad but true.

  16. Lisa — it does help to have a well-known reputation on the web. People like Jon Morrow got that reputation because of his unique points of view we can only help to emulate.

  17. I think all bloggers, at some point, question why they are doing what they do… and they SHOULD. Examining the WHYs are important.

    For me, I was told that I needed to blog and be on social media so that I could establish a following and an author platform.

    Who knew I would love blogging so much? 😉

    Since January of 2013, I’ve learned tons, from many people, including Mr. Morrow himself.

    For me, it’s easy to find things to blog about because I base over half of my posts on my own life. Yes, it’s sometimes scary to do this, but I have helped others by exposing my vulnerabilities, and am perceived as someone who is strong. What’s weird is that somehow Google recognizes this, too. A perfect example of this is my post about my false teeth. I get traffic daily to my blog for that post alone, and have helped several people with their impending “denture doom” (as evidenced by what they wrote in the comments).

    It’s satisfying to know that, even if you don’t see it clearly all the time, you are making a difference in others’ lives JUST BY BLOGGING.

    It’s very satisfying, indeed.

    • Lorraine — I admire you for exposing your vulnerabilities as a way to help other people. That’s how blogging began years ago, as personal journals. Now blogs have evolved into a business tactic. That’s not necessarily wrong but the personal touch is often missing. Jon Morrow is right. Put your emotions into it.

  18. Hi Jeannette; I want to applaud you for being brave and having the courage to ask such a question in the first place. Did it feel like you were in school raising your hand to ask the teacher a question? I also think you did a big service here by showing your readers what is important. We all need to have a clear idea in our minds as to why we do what we do. when i started the midway’s blog it was because I was trying to promote sales of amusement equipment, and everyone said you have to have a blog. I found out later that I enjoy writing. since you were one of the people who encouraged me to share my personal story, you know why i started the second blog. I actually have a large mailing list and good traffic for my amusement business site and blog but thanks to the poor condition of the industry right now; that is not turning into many sales or any advertising. And I just started the blind student and teacher blog, so its too early to even think of making money from it. I even posted that for the time being I would be accepting coaching clients for free and doing speaking engagements for expenses only. Yep, I’m back at the beginning giving away stuff again. I have all of one subscriber. That is me. I like to make sure the system works, so I subscribed myself. 🙂 I should mention that with the site only being up a week and having just one post so far i am shocked that it is already showing an alexa ranking in the top 4.5 million. that’s thanks to friends like you and all the amazing comments you have left. thanks again and take care, Max

    • Max — you are an inspiration and the one who is so brave! I admire you for starting on another journey with your new blog and wish you much success. I’ve commented on your first post and will become your second subscriber. Proud to help a friend.

      • Hi Jeannette; You said it “proud to help a friend” that’s how I think of you and the other great people I have met since starting blogging. I have said it often that if more people knew how friendly and supportive the blogging community is everyone would have a blog. 🙂 I’m glad to hear you will be subscribing. I just added the page for people to enquire about the free coaching. and next I will be adding one about speaking. I can’t do that for free, but I can do it for expenses only. And lucky you, this is the first site besides mine where the link to post #2 is shared. thanks for being such an amazing friend. take care, Max

  19. To answer your question regarding content… I am constantly keeping a list of content that comes to me (mostly when I’m not sitting at my compute!) and then refer back to my list when I’m ready to write. I also try to write about things that are currently happening with my business, not sales, but more storytelling and informational. I also am in a couple of blog groups that keep my on course and accountable!

    • Hi Holly, and welcome. Your photography is gorgeous! Jon Morrow is a proponent of story telling as are most social media stars. Are your blog groups private and I’d be curious if you have any “rules” that help with accountability.

  20. It’s good news, bad news. Great content is no longer the key but one of them and there’s no magic bullet. I think that’s very true and as a writer I know it’s getting harder and harder to stand out from the crowd. For myself I continue to concentrate on the writing, market as well as I can and hope to build my audience. I do notice in books also bought for mine, my other books are usually in the mix and take that as encouragement.

    • Pat – you’re wise to target the audience for your writing. Ebooks are both a blessing and a curse. The barriers to entry for writers is lower but that encourages more people to try their handsat writing.

  21. Jeannette,
    I’m a fan of John Morrow too. I’m not convinced that the educational post is dead though. Some of my most popular (and evergreen) posts are how-to articles. The trick is (as with writing any content) to differentiate our posts from the others. I always make sure that I create screenshots for my tutorials and mark them up with numbered steps. Then, I’ll bullet-point the steps in detail. If people can quickly and easily solve their problem with your post, they’ll promote it.

    I like the comment that you left for John. Just this morning, I ignored an emailed invitation to a networking event on Monday. I used to do quite well networking (face-to-face) but I’ve fallen out of the habit. As I was hitting the delete button, I thought that I should reconsider. Then, reality set in and I realized that my business cards are outdated and my elevator speech could use some tweaking.

    Shortly after I had that epiphany, I replied to a comment and shared an experience I had about meeting a future client in a class that I was teaching (at a local non-profit). That class was in 2011 and one of the participants hired me and has been working with me ever since.

    My experiences support your suggestion to rethink our strategies and reconsider going back to “old-fashioned methods” that have proven to work. Thanks for the wake-up-call. You’ve written (yet another) thought provoking post.

    • Sherryl — I agree about the educational post. My simple little post on how to write a LinkedIn invitation is evergreen and still one of my most popular posts. Social media has its place, but we can’t neglect what’s worked before. Glad I was able to give you a nudge!

  22. Hi Jeannette,

    It’s true, everywhere I turn I’m reading the same darn thing and I’m so bored with it I could scream.

    I disagree with Jon though that “how to” and “list” posts are dying because we are all learning machines. The regurgitated content is dying sure but like you said, we are mere mortals going this alone and we don’t have the resources or the time to put into researching, organizing and coming up with all unique and never discussed topics before.

    I don’t necessarily want controversy on my blog, it’s not about starting fights and having everyone upset just so I can stand out. That’s not who I am and that’s not the direction I want to go.

    I think Jon is missing another huge key here too and that’s the relationships we build along the way. Sure, your friends aren’t going to keep supporting you if your content sucks but I have a feeling we can continue to share information in our own unique way that will keep our readers coming back for more.

    Great share Jeannette because I haven’t read Jon’s post yet but thanks for the heads up.


    • Adrienne — Along with Sherryl, I agree with you about the educational post.There is alway room for a well-written post that tells someone how to do something and your audience will come to look to you for that kind of valuable information. I think Jon knows that, too. He was just trying to get our attention.