To me, the worst aspect of trying to get someone’s attention online is that the Internet added itself to that daily list of distractions without taking any of the others away. Yes, it’s a great research tool, but we still need to get our daily tasks done. Everyone only has 24 hours in a day; if you spend eight of those sleeping, and two of them eating, consider how the others must be allocated. And if you’re incredibly busy, guess what? So is your potential audience.
We all have a finite amount of attention to give, but the distractions keep growing. Here’s some news for you: Stefan Winkler noted in an article dated September 7 that Blogpulse found 169,467,575 blogs as of August 2011. I just checked Blogpulse now (September 19), and it claims to have identified 171,441,040 – with more than 90,000 new blogs cropping up in the last 24 hours, and more than a million new posts over the same amount of time. Now it’s also true that blogs are dying all the time as well, but the general thrust of the trend is toward growth.
If we look at attention as a finite resource, and items clambering for attention as constantly growing demand, well, economics teaches us that attention gets much more valuable. So if you want to get attention from your readers, you need to give them something they find highly valuable. It needn’t be money – not directly, at least. But it should be something you believe they would value at least as much as the time they’re investing.
How can you tell what they would value? Well, if you know your audience, you’re already part of the way to answering that. Winkler suggests that you ask yourself certain questions about the content you’re planning to put out before hitting the publish button. Personally, I think you should be asking them while you’re writing it.
First, are you writing something fresh and original? Consider this: if your audience has read it before, why would they want to spend more time reading the same thing now? Of course it’s not easy to be original, but you must have some point of view on your field about which you haven’t seen a lot of discussion. Readers enjoy a unique perspective.
Second, can your article help your reader solve a problem or answer one of his or her questions? Many people who perform searches do so to answer some kind of unspoken question. Often that question arises because they have a problem; sometimes they want to learn a new skill, or pursue a hobby, or what have you. Consider what question you’re trying to answer even before you start writing, and you’ll give your item a clear purpose – which helps Google with deciding its relevance. Think of it as natural SEO, which is the very best kind.
Third, where’s the beef? No, seriously. Your readers will want something they can sink their teeth into, so be sure to include the meat. What counts as meat will vary with the nature of your article, but it often includes statistics, step-by-step directions, graphics…anything that lays the topic out clearly that will stick in the mind of your readers counts as meat. This is especially true when they can take that information and apply it right now. Good how-to magazines, for instance, are full of meat.
Fourth, does your article hit its target? Let’s take the Arduino controller, for instance. This is “an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software,” according to its home page. It’s incredibly useful for creating all sorts of cool gadgets. But if you’re writing about it, you’d write one kind of article if you’re trying to reach beginning tinkerers, another if you’re trying to reach those with lots of experience building electronics who just haven’t tried Arduino yet, and still another if you’re trying to reach people with mad crafting skills in a different area (the Lilypad Arduino, for instance, is specifically designed to be used with fiber arts like sewing and embroidery). Each audience is a different target, and which one you’re targeting changes your emphasis, your writing style, the words you use, and possibly even what specific information you cover.
There are more questions you should ask as you’re writing and before you publish your article. Unfortunately, that’s all I have room for right now. I’ll pick up this discussion in a future article very soon. See you later!