Content Bootcamp: Essential Writing Secrets
Before you write any kind of content, you must answer the most important question: “What’s in it for me?” If your content doesn’t answer this question in fifteen seconds or less, chances are you’re going to lose your visitor. If you answer it in the first fifteen seconds, chances are they’ll read the entire article. Are you still with me? 😉
The headline is often considered the most important component of any article. Why? Because it’s the first thing that people read. The headline is the first and sometimes last chance to capture your reader’s attention. People who read your headline should instantly be able to tell exactly what your content is about. Lying is never a good idea. I’ve see many blogs that over exaggerate the title and the article itself is basically crap.
Spending more time on your opening paragraph is a must. Even if you’re writing a five-page 5,000 word article, your time would be well spent if you spent 20% of it on your first paragraph. The first paragraph should start out with a strong “hook” sentence. Then the next 3-4 sentences should explain exactly what they’ll get from reading the rest of your article.
Today we would like to take you through the content bootcamp. Our goal at the end is for you to be able to:
- convey to your readers exactly what they’ll get from reading your content.
- increase your readership.
- learn valuable techniques.
- bring back more returning visitors.
- bring you more sales.
Content Is Still King
Long before the internet was invented, the defining axiom in print was that “content is king.” Today, where online content dominates print content, many of the world’s top SEO and web marketing experts still say that “content is king.”
Why is this the case?
It Builds Loyalty
Businesses aren’t built on first-time visitors. Companies like the Wall Street Journal don’t make most of their money from people picking up their papers for the first time. They make money from people who’ve read their content and then decided it was good enough that they either want to purchase again or subscribe to a subscription. If the business had to get a new customer every time in order to get paid, they’d all have gone under by now.
Yet many online publications approach their business that way. Instead of focusing on repeat visitors, they focus on optimizing for search engines so they get more new customers. At the end of the day, however, the really famous and successful blogs like Huffington Post or TechCrunch ultimately still get most of their traffic from repeat visitors. Yes, search engines love them – but their businesses would be a fraction of what they are today if they didn’t have great content.
Evolution of Search Engines
For many years Google and other search engines have worked towards making their search results pull up better and better results. They want people who search on their engines to find the best content possible in relationship to what they’re looking for. As search engines get smarter, marketers who focus primarily on marketing tactics rather than actual content will die away.
Google has proven this repeatedly by continually downgrading the importance of low-quality links and upgrading the importance of usage statistics and other metrics to actually measure the content of a website. If you build your website around great content while having a decent understanding of basic SEO, your site will flourish. If you put all your attention on SEO and don’t pay much attention to your content, you’ll always be trying to stay one step ahead of the search engines.
Ability to Sell
A low quality content website might be able to sell $0.20 clicks via AdSense. But a high quality website could sell $5,000 DVD sets by the hundreds.
Having great quality content allows you to build a relationship with your readers. That relationship allows you to sell any number of things to your readers. From high end items to recurring memberships to one on one coaching, it all starts from having high quality content.
In the long run, only content that really helps people is going to succeed. Content that doesn’t do so is likely to get downgraded more and more as time passes.
Your Content Needs to Pack an Emotional Punch
When you’re writing content online, you can write it in such a way that it sounds very factual and impersonal. Or, you can write in a way that really packs an emotional punch.
By and large, most small publishers will do better with the latter approach. Of course, if you’re starting a website like Wikipedia or WebMD you’ll probably want to take on a professional tone. However, if you’re a smaller website looking to gain traction, you’ll want to aim to engage your reader’s emotions. Let’s take a look at why this is ideal.
It Makes People Remember You
People browse dozens if not hundreds of websites every day. Most websites fail to draw their readers in emotionally.
How many website do you visit each day that gets you to laugh, gets you to feel touched or gets you to get angry about something? How often do you feel like a website is talking directly to you and your problems and that they understand where you’re coming from?
These kinds of websites stand out. There’s a reason why YouTube videos of shocking clips, funny clips or touching clips tend to get passed around a lot. They make people feel something, and that’s memorable.
It Gets You More Links
Content that evokes a lot of emotion tends to get linked to a lot more. Naturally, people are a lot more likely to want to share or endorse something that really got them riled up. It gets more shares on Facebook and gets more re-tweets. In other words, it has a higher chance of getting passed around immediately, but also has much stronger long-term potential.
Develop a Stronger Reader Relationship
Finally, emotional content will help you build a much stronger bond with your readers. People reading your content will feel like they can relate with you, as opposed to feeling that you’re just an objective website on the internet. This translates to people coming back more often, to a more lively community around your blog or business and finally to more loyal buyers and customers.
As an added benefit, people will also want to partner with you more. If they can tell you’re really passionate about something or that you have a way of being able to move an audience, they’re likely to want to invite you to speak at their events, do teleseminars for their audience and in general open up their customer base to you. There are many benefits to creating content with an emotional punch rather than just factual information. Adding a dose of personality is great for just about any small to medium sized business.
Good Content Structure
Having good content structure is crucial to writing content that people can easily consume and understand. Having a good structure also makes the writing process easier for you. Here are the main elements to well-structured content.
The first sentence of any article needs to be carefully crafted to catch attention. People should instantly be able to grasp what the gist of the article is just by reading the first sentence. Likewise, the first paragraph should elaborate on the first sentence and get people interested in reading the rest of the content.
Let Them Know What to Expect
Before jumping into the meat of the content, let them know what to expect in the rest of the content. This can be as detailed as “we’ll cover X, Y and Z now” to as simple as “here’s how to do X.” The most important thing is to prepare people to receive whatever you’re about to discuss.
Main Talking Points
Go through each of your talking points, one by one. Make sure to separate your content into easily digestible chunks. Don’t just write a 500-word article from top to bottom, but break it up into subsections and subheads. Also make sure that you word as much of your content in “what’s in it for you” terms. Users should feel like you’re speaking directly to them.
It often helps to present a few different solutions, angles or opinions in your main points. If you’re talking about investing for example, give them a few different techniques they can use. Give examples. The more theoretical your article is, the less likely they are to remember it a few weeks from now. Examples help take something that’s theoretical and turn it into something more concrete. People are much more likely to remember an example demonstrating a principle than just the theory.
The last paragraph of your article is the conclusion. The conclusion should sum up everything you just wrote about, plus perhaps reiterate the most important point.
Sometimes it’s best to leave the user with a concrete piece of action they can immediate take at the end of the conclusion. At other times, the conclusion just wraps up the whole article nicely.
If you’re selling a product, the conclusion is where you want to put your call to action. Tell people exactly what it is you want them to do. Be assertive and make sure to recap all the main benefits to them taking action now rather than later.
The Four Different Forms of Content
Let’s dive into the different forms of content that you’ll find on the web. As you might have guessed, every type of content has its own ups and downs. Here’s an overview of each of these four kinds of content and when they should be used.
This is by far the most common type of content on the internet. One of the biggest benefits of text-based content is that it’s very search engine friendly. Search engines can’t understand videos or audios, but they definitely can understand text. In other words, if you’re running text-based content you stand a good chance of ranking. It also requires less hoops to jump through when creating text based content. You don’t need high quality microphones, cameras, video software, editing software, and other expensive equipment.
The main type of graphic-based content online is infographics. These are essentially graphics that contain information in and of themselves. You can basically call it an illustrated article in the form of an image. One of the biggest benefits of infographics is that they’re more entertaining and informative than regular text. For example, if you’re illustrating the history Microsoft, it’s much more appealing for the reader to enjoy visual content than just to describe it in words.
In the past, audio content had to be consumed in cassette or CD format. Today, people can listen to audios anywhere they go. In the car, on the bus, while walking, at lunch, etc. It saves time and is extremely convenient. Audio content works really well for many businesses.
Video content is one of the most dynamic methods of distributing content on the internet. You can put funny content, informational content, interesting content, high tech content, personal content – just about anything you can think of.
Video content also has some of the strongest “share culture.” It’s very easy to share video content with friends on Facebook for example. A video has a much higher chance of going viral than say an audio podcast.
The only downside to video content is that it does take more effort to produce. You need to shoot the video, edit the video and finally render the video. The whole process could take many hours, rather than just 30 minutes to write an article.
So which content format is right for you and your business? It really depends on what kind of content you’re creating and who your market is. There’s no harm in trying all four different kinds of content and seeing which one(s) your audience responds the best to.
Get More Likes, Follows, Stumbles, and Subscribes
At the end of the day, utilizing social media for future interaction means you’ll get more traffic to your website and more money in your bank account. It also means you’ll have more long-term reach to launch viral campaigns from and promote new products.
So how do you get more likes, follows, stumbles or subscribes? Let’s take a look.
Make It Prominent on Your Website
By default, Facebook has a very small “Like” button. The same is true for the default “retweet” buttons. In fact, each social network generally doesn’t have buttons that are very well optimized for conversions.
Did you know that you can actually create much bigger buttons? Depending on the service, you might need to use a program or just get someone to do a tiny bit of code for you ($5 to $10 outsourced), but you can really make your “Like” or “retweet” buttons look any way you want.
The same is true for subscribes. Make sure it’s large and prominent on your website. Don’t just put your opt-in box in the upper right corner of your website and hope someone opts in.
Use Social Proof
Another powerful element you can use is to post how many other people have already done the same. Are you more likely to “Like” something if nobody’s liked it, or if a hundred of your friends already have?
There are many ways to take advantage of this principle. For example, for StumbleUpon, you can display the number of stumbles you’ve already gotten on your website. For RSS subscriptions, you can display the number of existing subscribers.
Ask for It
One overlooked technique is to simply ask. Want more likes on your Facebook page? Ask! The call to action is so intuitive that some people leave it out. Yet the simple act of asking for it can make a big difference.
An even more effective way to ask for actions is to give some sort of incentive for it. For example, tell people to “Like” your page, then post on your wall if they want to enter a contest. Since there’s such a strong incentive, they’re much more likely to do so than if it were free.
Give People Options
Some people will prefer to “Like” you on Facebook. Others prefer to follow you on Twitter. Others prefer subscribing by RSS or by email. Still others want to “Thumbs Up” you on StumbleUpon and so on.
Give people the option of interacting with your website in whatever way they like. If you only have the “Like” option, you’ll miss out on all the RSS users. The opposite is also true. If you use social proof, make your buttons prominent, ask for the action in your content and give people options, you’ll have a very high visitor-to-action ratio at the end of the day.
Using Customer Feedback
When you first started writing, chances are you had no trouble coming up with content ideas. But as you continually put out content, you’ll at some point hit a wall where you’ll start to have trouble coming up with new content ideas.
When you get to this point, instead of trying to figure out all your content ideas on your own, why not try asking your user? After all, at the end of the day it’s their opinion that really matters.
Asking through Direct Email
One great way to ask for feedback is to just ask by email. If you have a list of buyers or customers, just send out an email asking if they have any feedback. If they get the sense that you’re really trying to help them by offering better content, they’ll be very willing to help you out. This works especially well in environments that have a strong sense of community or a “we’re in it together” sense.
Surveys can be another great way to ask for people’s opinions.
Surveys can be a lot more involved, where you ask customers several questions and get a lot of useful feedback. You can ask questions about how they like the content so far, what they’d like to see more of in the future, any unanswered questions they have, demographic questions and so on.
Because surveys take more time to answer, usually you’ll need to create some sort of prize or incentive to get people interested. For example, you can give away a free eBook to anyone who answers the survey. Or you can give away a higher ticket item in a sweepstakes style.
Motivate People to Pass Content On
If you know what motivates people to pass your content on, you have a much better chance of getting them to keep doing so in the future. Why is it that people are willing to continually pass on content from certain sites to friends, while not at all for other sites?
Thinking Emotionally Rather Than Logically
Really great marketing gets people to take action by having them think emotionally rather than logically. For example, if a video gets someone really shocked and outraged about some political position, they might post that video on their Facebook wall without necessarily double-checking any of the facts in the video.
It wasn’t necessarily that the video presented shocking facts, but the fact that they managed to get the watcher in an outraged emotional stage. If you can get your content to really get people fired up, they’ll often be much more willing to pass it on to their network.
Wanting Their Friends to Have a Good Experience
This principle is very basic. It’s the same reason why we recommend restaurants and movies to friends: we just want them to have a better experience. If you create a website that helps people in a certain industry do things faster and cheaper, there’s a good chance your content will get passed around simply because people want their friends to have a better experience.
To make this process easier, it often helps to have “sound bite sized” pieces of information. For example, if you run a website about how to repair your credit, instead of having someone just pass on your website, it’s much easier for them to pass on an infographic specifically about how to repair your credit before buying a home, if they had a friend who’s on the verge of buying.
You Helped Them; They Want to Help You
Have you ever had the experience of getting such great customer service that you wanted to return the favor? For example, you go to a restaurant whose service is so spectacular that you feel like you want to bring more people to their establishment just because you want to help them out.
If your clients get the sense that you’re really looking out for them and that you really care about them, they’ll often be willing to return the favor. Ordinary service doesn’t elicit this kind of loyalty. But if you provide exceptional service, this kind of marketing can be one of the most powerful marketing tools in your arsenal.
Many viral campaigns work just based on using one of these principles. A few of them activate all three principles and really take off. Which ones make the most sense for your business?
What Kind of Content Tends to Go Viral
If you’re trying to get your content to “spark” and go viral, it really helps to have a strong understanding of what kind of content tends to go viral. Of course, nobody can predict what will go viral, nor can they make something go viral 100% of the time. But by understanding what kind of content tends to go viral, you stand a much better chance of creating something viral yourself.
It’s rare that a factual, statistical or economical video goes viral. Instead, it’s usually the most human videos that go viral. The baby laughing at something senseless. The cat doing humorous things. Sparking up awkward conversations with strangers. Etc.
Strong Emotional Content
The more emotions you can arouse in your audience, the better. Let’s take one of the world’s most viewed videos, the “Charlie Bit my Finger” video. The video features a baby whose brother bit his finger; he sits there laughing and complaining at the same time.
One of the main reasons this video took off so strongly is because of how palpable the emotions were in the video. The watcher can almost “follow along” with the baby’s emotions and also experience the joy of playing with your baby brother.
Videos That Provide Unique Information
Another type of content that does really well are videos that are informational. The key here is that the videos really have to provide content that can’t be found anywhere else. For example, one video that went viral featured a science professor showing how to light a candle without ever touching the wick.
A content video that went viral during the 2008 election was a video of a dozen famous actors all asking people to vote. Informational videos work in many different industries, but the most important thing is that there’s something truly unique to them.
Content That Appeals to Specific Groups of People
Content that tends to appeal to specific groups of people tends to do very well if they have strong emotional or informational content. For example, political videos that are either informational or emotional can go viral just by being passed among a party’s members.
New food laws, something which may be seen as boring, could be very interesting to vegans if it affects the foods they’ll be able to purchase. A video about the new laws could really take off among that specific community. These are some of the factors that go into determining whether or not a video goes viral. At the end of the day, a video going viral really means that a lot of people want to pass on your content. The key, as with many other things in business, is to just create something so amazing that people want to share it.
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