If you want, you can catch up with the original article before reading the rest of this one. Much of it boils down to being a good writer – know your audience, know your topic, and know how to cover that topic in a way that your readers will find compelling. But it takes more than compelling content; that content needs to serve a purpose.
Stefan Winkler suggested that you ask yourself eight questions about your content before publishing it. In my previous article, I covered and explained four of them. They were:
- Is your content fresh and original in some way?
- Does it solve a problem or answer a question?
- Does it provide substantial information (such as statistics or step-by-step directions) that will stay with your reader?
- Is the content and writing style targeted at your intended audience?
This time around, I’m going to cover the remaining four questions Winkler mentions. Pay close attention, because if you can answer these questions well, you’ll find your content getting read beyond the circle of people who visit you site directly. That’s right – you’ll get linked and shared.
The first of these new questions, as you’d expect, concerns whether your content is sharable in the first place. Read through what you’ve written, and try to pretend that you’re reading something by someone else. Now seriously ask yourself: would you feel compelled to share it? I can’t say that about all of my own writing; I doubt any writer can. That shouldn’t discourage you, though. Rather, it should make you want to put in the extra work to make it take off.
Second, can your readers relate to what you’ve written? Some people use a stilted writing style. I remember belonging to a writing group a number of years ago; we had a member whose pieces nearly made me tear my hair out at times. His fourteen-year-old girls sounded like they were about 40. For all I know, these days teen-agers actually sound like that…but he wasn’t reaching me, and I didn’t think he’d reach his (at least theoretical) audience, which included adults who remembered what it was like to be a teen-ager.
You probably aren’t writing fiction. But you still need to use a voice that your reader can relate to. Imagine that you’re trying to explain something to your best friend…but clean up your grammar and spelling. Oh, and pretend your best friend likes to play devil’s advocate a little, so speak with some authority; be prepared to back up what you’re saying.
This leads to the third question you need to answer about the content you publish online. If you’re writing an article or a blog, you want to encourage comments. You’re expecting (or at least hoping for) an audience. Assuming they show up, it’s kind of rude to ignore them. So does your content give a nod to that audience, and invite them to add something to the discussion? You don’t have to do a lot to carry this off. I’ve seen it done successfully at the end of a concluding paragraph, where the author asked a leading question about the piece. One of the best aspects of using this technique is that you can get some great comments, and they’ll often inspire you to write another article on a related topic. Let’s face it, websites and visitors (both human and bot-based) always demand new content, so we often need all the inspiration we can get!
The final question owes as much to style as substance, and that concerns the reader-friendliness of your content. Online, readers can get scared away by a big wall of text. You may want to break things up with interesting, on-topic graphics; bulleted lists; at least some short paragraphs; and general display choices that make your articles easy on the eyes and mentally digestible. It’s not for nothing that micro-blogging site Twitter is so popular; shorter is better online. It’s often easier to grab a little bit of attention than try to get someone to read a book.
Okay, you now know what questions you should be asking yourself before you publish your articles (and preferably as you write them) if you want to capture your visitors’ attention. But once they’ve looked at your content, how do you know if you’ve really grabbed them? I hope to discuss that in a concluding post.