Twenty-eight-and-something million words, huh? Actually, that’s probably a conservative guesstimate, but lets just run with that for now.
I remember my early days as a journalistic cadet in 2005, covering local news at a global news agency. They gave me all the jobs I never wanted – Gladys’ award-winning rose garden, Frank’s silver spoon collection and an annual lamington competition (this is a lamington). More specifically, I remember bashing my head against the computer monitor, trying to make a story that sucked into something people actually want to read. It was no easy task, and I was quickly growing tired of the persistant boredom of writing about things I didn’t really care about..
I ended up leaving that role (after a brief stint in selling advertising and newspaper design) and started a content marketing agency, where I was fortunate enough to leverage the skilled creativity of seasoned writers who had a diverse range of passions, which was evident each and every time we hit the ‘publish’ button. Strategically, I was able to review readership data and refine the processes to formulate a best-practice approach to writing content on just about anything. These are the four key takeways from a decade of shooting text into the internet.
Passion or bust
Live and breathe organic food or high-end fashion and about to try and wrap your brain around macroeconomics and the fiscal implications of Chinese divestment? Probably a good time to stop where you are and take a good hard look at yourself. If you don’t consider what you’re writing a passion or a hobby, and simply bashing out words to satisfy some underlying side-benefit, it’s never going to work in the long run. You’ll get bored, you’ll be uninspired to keep writing or finding new topics to write about, and your blog will go stale. Trust me, I’ve been there.
There’s people out there that are always better at what you’re trying to achieve, so find them, and let them help you build your blog (or empire). If you’re a control freak, you’re your own worst enemy, so sort that out.
Want to find out what your passion is? Follow these steps:
- Write a list of stuff you’re proud that you’re good at: This isn’t your incredible excel skills to impress your boss (or is it!?), but things you seriously enjoy doing on a regular basis. What do you know about better than anyone else? What have you learned to make more efficient/effective in everyday work or life? Sometimes, you may not even be aware of it.
- Write a list of things people tell you you’re good at: Ask your friends, family and colleagues to tell you what you’re good at, or better yet, get them to write you a LinkedIn testimonial. Average out your compliments and find out what stands out at the top.
- Take notice of how you procrastinate: When you’re supposed to be doing something important or mind-numbing, what does your trigger finger do to help you avoid feeling like it’s in the boredom zone? What type of YouTube videos are you watching? Which Instagram posts are you liking? What friends on Snapchat make you watch them first? Are you making travel plans on your Evernote?
Stop sucking at headlines
The best blog post on the planet will get zero hits if the headline isn’t hooking in the right people. Editorial staff and pro bloggers often spend the same amount of time crafting their headlines as they do writing the body of it.
If your ultimate agenda of your piece of content is conversions (which it should be even at a minimum, to convert someone into a reader), your headline will determine how many, if any, people click at all.
If you want to read about what it takes to write a compelling headline that converts (like a call-to-action), read my post here. In short, the process involves:
- Researching search behaviours of your audience: Find out what keywords are being used to find topics based around what you’re writing. Great tools for this are: Google AdWords Keyword Planner, Google Suggested Search Bar and Google Trends.
- Relate to your readers: If you’re not talking their language and in the trenches with them, they’ll disconnect from you. Write your headline in such a way that show’s you’re in their shoes.
- Trick them into clicking: Often referred to as clickbaiting (made famous by BuzzFeed and Upworthy), high conversion language hacks are like seeing a piece of chocolate on the table. You just want to eat it. This can include using a question, stating a problem, provocation and curiosity, or keywords that are highly converting (such as you, easy, because, discover, free, new).
Make it about you
It’s ok to be self-promoting. Readers actually expect you to talk about yourself and your experiences. Some of my highest performing blog posts are based purely around my own experiences and lessons I’ve learned (for example, this one on how I hacked Tinder for better quality conversions). In fact, this approach is really powerful, because first-person content helps people put you into perspective.
Perspective is everything when you’re publishing content online, and is the difference between an average piece of content, and one that actually provokes readers to share and reach out to you. You have the capacity to relate, influence and empower. Sure, you might also alienate some of them, but you can’t please everyone (and don’t bother trying, it’s a waste of time).
While it’s important to stay relevant based around the subject you’re talking about, finding a piece of your life experience to relate to what you’re writing can be a major win for your reader retention. Some insipiration for personal stories relating to your subject matter could come from:
- Growing up: Your childhood progressing to where you are now has taken a unique path, unlike anyone else. Think to the pivotal moments that shaped you and how you can relate them to your subject matter.
- Career movements: Getting to where you are now in your professional life would contain interesting moments of successes, failures, learning and clarity. These are likely lessons that your readers will relate to.
- Holidays: Some of our deepest thinking happens when we’re unwinding and relaxing. Other times, holidays often throw in their own set of interesting challenges and questionable situations. This is always interesting to talk about.
- Interests and Hobbies: Writing from a point of passion is the easiest way to publish content on a regular basis and requires little to no effort. If your interests and hobbies relate to the subject matter, it’s a great way to take your content to the next level.
- Personal Philosphy: We all have our own set of values and ideals we live by, and this would often tie in to your subject matter. Making your background philosphy more transparent to readers will help them relate and put your content in context.
Let them skim
No one likes hard work, and blocks and blocks of content is hard work. Your brain instantly tells you it’s “boring” and your eyes will glaze over. Even when you start to read the endless blocks of text, unless it reads like a masterpiece, your mind will start to wander and lose focus. The trick is to make lots of content seem like it’s not a lot of content.
Digestability is a very effective content organisational technique that breaks your content up and allows the reader to skip words, sentences and paragraphs, without losing the general idea of your article itself. The best way to do this is:
- Subheadings: Subheadings do a great job of turning thousands of words into several-hundred-word sections that allow the reader to assess releavance and whether they would get value from that section. This works to keep them there longer and extracting what they need form your article.
- Bullets: A brilliant way to break up lists of items and make them much more user friendly. Bulleted lists increase the value of your existing content.
- Numbering: As with bullets, numbered lists are an excellent way to reduce the perceived work required to get through your article. Numbered lists are great for process-driven lists.
- Visual Intermission: Sometimes, your brain just needs a break from reading text. Visuals help stimulate your brain and boost retention in your article. If you put some thought into your images and make them relevant or entertaining, you’re on to a winner.
What are your content production best practices? Share your tips below!