Back in 2009 I wrote a blog post which introduced the idea of “compelling content.” At the time the 5 directives were quite simple and today those ideas remain solid. They were;
- know your audience,
- talk in the present tense,
- have an opinion,
- be concise
- engage your readers.
When I wrote the post, it was before most (even in the SEO industry) had got to grips with the idea of Content Strategy, something that many still fail to grasp even today. But as time has gone on a few things have happened in the world, not least of which are the growth in smart device use and the growth in social media (both globally). Most importantly we’ve moved from the idea of “SEO is everything” to SEO is a part of the bigger picture of Digital Marketing.
So with this in mind, here are my 8 lessons for writing compelling content.
Visualise Your Readers
As digital marketers, web designers etc. we are all aware of the process where we create a set of potential user personas and look at user flow through a website for specific tasks. With writing content the idea is the same, although we need to think about the users objectives when they searched and found your content – were they looking for information or looking for a service? Also we need to consider who they are. For example, on SEO Andy and here on Boagworld, the target is broadly everyone involved in the web, but on Headscape and RedStar (where I work) we are targeting people who want to buy.
So we need to consider, before we start writing, who we are targeting and what tone or type of information they want and need.
Write to be Engaging
Writing content for engagement can be difficult at times, you want your audience to read every word you write, you want them to leave comments and talk about your post on social media. But before I go on, know that there is no goose laying a golden egg for engagement, this said there are some tips I can give you to help you create engaging content.
- Have a drawing introduction – As with many things on the web, your article has only seconds in which to make an impression and the user decide to read your article or not. Tell users what you are writing about and why they should care, make them want to read and feel like if they don’t read they are missing out.
- Tell a story – When someone is looking for a service, such as web design, they will look at your testimonials, portfolio and your case studies. Each of them tell a story, an anecdote that the reader can latch onto and remember. It will make your service page or your blog much more engaging to the reader and ender them to read more.
- Leave readers with questions – By this I don’t mean have an incomplete article or deliberately miss something out. I mean that you should always leave the reader wanting to know more, if you can master this art users will leave comments, tweet you and otherwise contact you. It will also mean you can answer the questions by expanding your content, and because you know people want to read it you know it’s worth investing in writing that piece of content.
Make Content to be Scannable
Very few pieces of content written which are longer than 500 words will be read word-for-word by all of your users, indeed taking a look at analytics you will no doubt find that around 15 to 20 percent of users will actually be on a page long enough to read everything. So if you are reading this word-for-word you are doing great, we’re almost at 700 words.
This means your content must be scannable, formatting your posts correctly with clear headings and subsection dividers your user can quickly scan the content to find the details they want to read about. In a long post like this, it can be very important.
Have an Opinion
This ties in neatly with engaging your readers. If you want to write a compelling piece of content which sells you, your service or simply makes others want to comment you need to have an opinion, you need to be definitive and an authority. Having an opinion, even if others disagree, it can make you appear as an “expert” in your industry and show that you know what you are talking about. And if users do disagree, they will probably comment on your posts, meaning it gets more interaction – the more interaction in your comments the more likely your post is to rank.
Your opinion is what (hopefully) sets you as an author apart from your competitors in whatever market you operate in. It’s why people come to your site after all, because they value your opinion. If you have a passion show it!
Add Visual Appeal
Adding visual appeal to a website isn’t just about adding a big infographic to a blog post, or a few little pointless images to a page. Instead it’s about adding highly relevant visual aspect sot a piece of content. It could be a photograph to demonstrate your point or it could simply be an eye catching illustration which clearly identifies a blog post.
But the best type of visual asset is one which has great purpose, a lovely looking graph, conceptual diagrams, screenshots or video. These are also things that you will want people to share across the web, as Rand from Moz explains in this video.
Make You Content Actionable
The issue with the web, as I see it, other than a lot of rubbish content is that content is often too passive – it’s something I call the Passivity Law. In essence, for every 1 piece of stunning content which engages users there are about 100 other pieces around the web which are crap. It’s not that authors content is crap, it isn’t at all, what it is is that there are no calls to action, there is no action for the user to follow up with. Here are a few tips to transform your content into a piece of actionable content:
Know what you want your audience to do – think about this during the phase of “knowing your audience”, do you want someone to comment, share your blog posts or something else? If you don’t know you certainly can’t tell them.
One Call to Action per page – when you want someone to do something you need to ask them to do it, make it very clear. On my blog I’ve a call to action for comments asking users to “speak out”, others like Mashable are more concerned with social shares – whatever your targets show it. But only have one “stand out” call to action on each page, if you want someone to download a PDF or sign up to a newsletter make it clear.
Keep CTA’s Simple – The reason for one CTA on a page is because any more and a user gets confused, there may be a benefit to each one but you are making it all too complex for your users. Keep it simple and achievable.
Make Your Content Unique and Reference Experts
Your content should always be unique, search engines love unique content, those little robots just eat it up. Unique content is king.
But imagine if thousands of people read your post and it’s inaccurate, you look bad and so does your company – I don’t say this to scare you but rather to help you protect you and your brand’s image.
If you are saying something that is based on someone elses views, blog, book etc. – tell the reader, either link to it or add a citation footer just as you would in an essay. In addition to this protecting you from something when it goes wrong it also shows that you are well read, you listen to others (and still have your own view) and finally will help others to know their work is valued (which means they may link to you).
Write Consistently and Continually
Writing for a blog on a “one off” is fairly easy but keeping your company blog alive or content fresh on your site is a real commitment. If you can’t dedicate enough time to it then you will struggle to have an effective blog or website which ranks well. Anyone can write a couple of posts and abandon a blog, but the best sites which rank well are those which are updated on a regular basis with unique content that is engaging to the user.
To support you in this it will be worth creating a blog schedule which can shape your blog going forward and help you do more than just think “what should I write about”. Instead you can plan things in tandem with your company-wide strategies. If you are just updating the blog and a few pages you probably don’t yet need a full content strategy but if you are doing marketing for several sites or divisions within a large company it’s certainly worth investing in a good content strategy.
Wondering which category you fall into, blog schedule or content strategy? I work with a company called TotalPost. When I started they had just one site for UK customers – it had a blog, several info pages and then a shop came online… it was still at the blog schedule level and relatively easy to market. Today, TotalPost has 5 websites (each targeting another global location) and there are more coming online soon. At this point it is clear that a content strategy is needed to maintain the growth of each site and the brand with it – a content strategy is not just about content but also making sure the quality of content remains solid to reinforce the brand.
Wondering what the last 1900(ish) words are all about and don’t want to read them… well here is basically what it boils down to…
- Know who you are writing for
- Know what you want your reader to do
- Set out to entertain and/or inform your user
- Write unique content
- Don’t be scared to have an opinion
- Make your post visually appealing
- Clearly segment your content
- Write on a regular basis
If you’ve got a tip for writing compelling content or have a question about your content strategy leave a comment below or tweet myself @andykinsey or Paul @boagworld