January 2, 2017
Figure out how to write great content, and the world is your oyster.
Some content writers are naturals—for the rest of us, it takes careful planning and deliberate action.
Ask yourself if someone would REALLY enjoy reading your content. Be honest.
Everyone knows how to write. But not everyone is a writer.
At least, not everyone can whip up a tasty piece of content meant to be digested by an online audience—content that’s informative, engaging, fun, and even enjoyable.
Let’s just take a quick tally…how often do you stumble across truly great articles that you really, really like? Once every week? Every month? Never?
Some content writers can go their entire career without creating a single piece of truly great content. And that’s fine. Not all content needs to be great. But if you knew how to make great content, wouldn’t you? Of course you would.
But the simple fact is, most of the content you read every day—whether that’s a magazine article or speech transcript or a blog post—just isn’t very good.
Why, though? How have we become so saturated with junior varsity content? Why is the clock stuck on amateur hour? Is it really so hard to make good content, or are there simply no ace writers left on the planet?
Writing effectively is part innate talent and part learned skill set. Some people just get it and probably find this post fits squarely in the Bad Content category we were just talking about. But many others get parts of the process, and are capable of learning the rest.
Before we continue, I want to be crystal clear—if you’re a great author or journalist or speech writer, that doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be a great web content writer. In fact, I’d say a formal background in most other types of writing is actually a hindrance to great web writing.
Out here, we don’t care about rigid sentence structure or archaic grammatical rules. We use exciting, powerful words and good old-fashioned American colloquialisms that wouldn’t fly in your English class.
You don’t have a teacher or an editor collecting a check to read your work. Instead, you answer to the hordes of ADD internet people (no offense meant, I’m one too).
Hundreds of years ago when the printing press was invented, people were thrilled to finally have access to personal Bibles. They read them cover to cover, wearing them thin until they fell apart at the seams because that’s ALL they had.
Well, your average reader can pull up pages and pages of blog posts in the blink of the eye. It doesn’t matter if most of them are bad—there are simply so many options, your content is but a drop in a bucket. And the bucket gets bigger and bigger every day.
So, why should the average person stick around to read YOUR content?
Simple—because your content is fun, engaging, and helpful. Or at least, it can be.
And if your content isn’t up to snuff? Well, it won’t get read. Your site won’t get traffic. And you won’t be able to sell whatever it is you’re trying to sell.
But we can fix that. Here are six simple (but not easy) ways to boost the value of your content and finally pull ahead of the pack.
If your headline is weak, the rest of your content is weak. That’s because content with weak headlines just doesn’t get read, period.
You know it, I know it, everyone knows it.
Your audience is always on a hair trigger. In one click, they can leave your site for a billion other options. If you don’t wow them or pique their interest instantaneously, you’ve lost them.
But by crushing the headline, what exactly do I mean?
I mean writing a headline that tells the reader “Hey, maybe I should give the rest of this article a chance.” That’s because your headline is never going to do any selling on its own. A chance is all you’re gonna get, but it’s the only place to start.
An intro is like the extended version of your headline. In web content, you’re never really off the hook for maintaining reader engagement, but the headline-introduction is like the first couple nibbles when you’re fishing.
You have to be methodical and precise to reel in the fish, and jumping the gun or being too passive results in you not eating dinner.
In the fractions of a second while your page was loading after a reader clicked on your headline, their mind is already starting to wander. You have less than 3 seconds to reel them back in or risk losing them to the abyss of the internet.
Here are 3 things you can do to hook wary readers with your intro:
Don’t overlook your intro! You aren’t out of the woods yet, so don’t stop working that magic.
Internet formatting is a special beast, and can either boost or destroy your content’s appeal. Great internet writing makes use of lists, sub-headlines, images, and white space to create a package that eliminates all resistance to reading.
Online readers won’t dig through walls of text, their eyes will glaze over without page breaks, and they’ve come to expect certain typefaces that are easier on the eyes when read on a monitor or screen.
Smart formatting tricks should always be part of your arsenal when writing content for the web. In fact, formatting should become second nature.
You will never, ever be able to please everyone, and that goes doubly true for web writing.
When you try to please everyone, you:
Maybe you believe everyone matters and wants to see your content, but NOT everyone matters for your business. Only a small group of people will ever buy your product or service, and it’s that group who you should speak to.
This ideal buyer persona should be the audience for all of your content. By speaking to your ideal buyers, you can focus and hone your message to startling effectiveness far better than you ever could before.
Stale corporate writing is a dime a dozen these days, but just because it’s the norm doesn’t make it right.
It’s time to take off the filter—write how you talk.
Write how you’d talk to your customers and how your customers would talk to each other. Add a little you to each piece of content, baked right into the crust.
I’m not saying turn your website into a surly sailor’s den of profanity, but there’s a big difference between writing for your customers and writing for how you think your customers want you to sound.
Be direct. Use “you” a lot. Speak without hesitation, without fear, without the nagging voice in the back of your head to “sound more professional.” Believe me, what you think is “unprofessional” is probably way, way different than what your customers think.
Your customers crave authenticity. They don’t want to trudge through another awful blog post or landing page. Please, for their sake…be yourself.
Otherwise you’re serving up content that’s probably:
And a host of other unpleasant, sale-killing adjectives you don’t want associated with your brand. Just do you.
There once was a man who could tell amazing stories. His stories were so fascinating, all would bend an ear and lower their voices when he began to speak.
Children and the old alike would crowd around him, waiting with bated breath at each twist and turn in his tales. The sick would drag themselves out of bed to hear this man speak, and it was said that he was one of the greatest storytellers of all time.
His stories were filled with metaphors to illustrate his points, engaging his audience to the point where they were on the edge of their seats.
Not to get all religious on you, but there’s sort of a book all about this man’s greatest stories, and people read this book to this very day all across the world. Jesus’ content was simply spectacular, and one of the biggest reasons his stories left an impression on his audience was because they were full of the greatest tool in the storyteller’s arsenal—imagery.
In this article, I’ve used phrases like ‘jump the gun’ and ‘dime a dozen’ where perhaps more concise words could have been used. I made a remark about the printing press where maybe I could have just said “There sure is a lot of content online these days!” But you’re still here, aren’t you? Maybe that’s because imagery works.
Your content should drive your readers to make connections easily and rapidly. The stories you weave should tie in directly with the theme of the content and the goal of your content, whether that’s to expand your email list or sell a new gizmo.
You might not write the next great novel, but you can definitely incorporate some storytelling into your web content.
See? Writing engaging, fun content isn’t that hard. Some are born with all the mental pieces in place. People like me (and maybe you) aren’t so lucky, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn.
So what are you waiting for? Are you ready to start making content that boosts your brand? Are you ready to entrance readers like the Pied Piper of web content? Are you ready to start trolling the deep, bountiful waters of the Web with your new turbocharged writing?
Of course you are. Now go get ’em, slugger.
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