At the heart of every great website you will find great content. An awesome design is convenient, but without awesome content to back it up, you won’t get the results that justify whatever you’re spending to host the site.
Sometimes people get a little confused about what the word “content” actually means, so just to help out those folks, here is a quick definition. Content can be:
There is a reason why all those stupid web sites that offer nothing but funny pictures of cats are so successful. It is that some people actually like looking at pictures of funny cats. I don’t know why, but they do.
Anyway, the point is that the secret to creating successful content is simply to give people what they like! See, it really wasn’t that hard to work out, was it?
Now, dealing with all the issues surrounding images, graphics, animations, videos, and games is somewhat beyond the scope of this article. However, whatever the type of content, the measuring stick is exactly the same, which is that it must be something that people like or, in some cases, things they don’t like!
Yes, content that is shocking and bad can still pull a crowd. Making a career out of shocking and bad content is not easy, however, and it’s probably not good for your reputation either.
What I will cover in this article is how to make better text content (which, in the industry, we refer to as “copy”, though ironically it should never be copied). Good copy follows the same rules and it needs to provide something people like.
Ultimately speaking, your great copy should also be supported with great images or even video. Just remember that the text part should never be overlooked, because this plays a huge role in how people find your content. Search engines generally index pages based on text, even if it is just the “alt” text attached to an image.
What follows is a guide to writing killer copy that will draw traffic and get you noticed.
Turn off your phone. Close down your email. Close all those unnecessary browser tabs (yes, even Facebook… actually, especially Facebook).
You won’t write your best copy if you have distractions, or at least you won’t be able to write it in a timely manner. The funny cat pictures can wait until you’re done.
This is something you should not overlook. When you’re not comfortable, that’s a distraction, and we’re supposed to eliminate distractions.
That means making sure you have a comfortable place to work, appropriate lighting for your needs, and snacks and drinks close by so you don’t have to get up to go and get those. Writing takes a lot of brainpower, and brains burn a surprising amount of energy.
Know Your Audience
These guys are what it’s all about! Without an audience, you don’t have a show. Now, the reason why it is important to know them is because when you know them, then you know what they want. And you’re supposed to give them what they want, remember?
What does that mean? Well, if you are writing a scientific or technical report, you’ll want to stick to a more formal tone and avoid the temptation to inject your personality into the copy. For most types of text content, however, you’ll need to do exactly the opposite. Write to your readers like you’re sitting together and having a conversation, and base your content on the premise that they’ll read every word that you write.
Humor, if you know how to be funny and when, can be very useful. Whether you are writing about HR outsourcing by CIPHR or the latest line in noir doormats is irrelevant, there’s humor almost everywhere and humor can make a blog post sing.
Having said that, you do need to be sensible about using humor when writing, and this is something that a lot of people forget. For example, if you’re writing about a terrorist attack, it’s probably not a great idea to crack jokes. The same goes if you’re writing about really sensitive issues, unless somehow that humor will help reinforce a positive message.
Know Your Topic
If you don’t know what you’re talking about, the audience will pick up on that really quickly. That can really harm your success. There’s really no excuse, either, since the Internet is – once you get past all the pictures of funny cats – is the biggest information resource in the universe.
If you don’t know the first thing about blue-footed booby birds, then it shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to find all the information you could ever possibly want to know about them, such as for example that they have blue feet.
It’s even better if you can write about topics you already are passionate about and have knowledge of. But in any case, the information is out there and you just need to spend a bit of time researching.
Whatever you do, don’t copy! Nothing will harm your success more than blatant unattributed copying. You’re a writer, not a Xerox machine!
Use Narrative Style if You Can
Not every topic is suitable for a narrative or first-person perspective, but it is always the best way when you can use it. Readers are far more interested in knowing your experience of traveling in the Amazon rain forest than simply a list of facts about the place, no matter what Wikipedia tells you.
When you make a story personal, you help the audience to connect with the topic and you lend some credibility to whatever tale you’re telling.
When it’s not possible or desirable to use a first-person perspective, you can still use a narrative in the third person. For example, if you are writing about somebody getting unjustly arrested, don’t just report that they got arrested, report how they got arrested.
Talk about how one moment John was walking down the street minding his own business, when all of a sudden he was shoved to the ground. Describe the pain and confusion as his face is pressed into the sidewalk, while a cop roughly cuffs his hands and makes inappropriate remarks.
That is the kind of thing that brings a story to life. Your audience wants to have a vicarious experience, not a play-by-play account by a disinterested observer.
Similar to the above, you need to write like you mean it. Don’t write passively unless you are writing something academic, and don’t write dry facts when you can add drama. So it is not:
Legislators decided that there will no longer be free school buses in Madison County. Many low income families could be disadvantaged by the changes, which were announced just two weeks before school resumes.
It should be more like:
Thousands of kids will have to start paying to go to school after a controversial decision by Madison County legislators. Parents are angry that they haven’t been given time to prepare for the changes.
Make it bite. Scare your audience. Shock them. Thrill them. Make them laugh. Never just report to them.
Make Your Headlines Scream
Every article will benefit from a headline that demands attention. Here’s an example of right and wrong:
New Fertilizer Plant to be Built in East Nashville
Big Stink on the Way! Get Out of East Nashville While You Still Can!
Which one are you more likely to read?
Go for an Original Angle
Always try to make your article as different from everyone else’s as you can. You want to stand out so that people will come back to read your content because you’re different. They get tired of reading the same regurgitated nonsense so add value to your content.
Use Appropriate Supporting Content
Nothing kills a good article faster than when people put photos and videos that distract from the article rather than supporting it. Your supporting content really does need to support what you have written, and it should also be the best quality you can manage. It is better to have no images than to use inappropriate ones.
It doesn’t always work, but inviting people to discuss and comment can help to keep them engaged with the site. Just be aware that it can backfire sometimes, and be prepared for people to criticize what you have written.
On the other hand, comments help you to get a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t work, so you can give your audience more of what they want and less of what they don’t.
Don’t Agitate Over Detail
Perhaps the most annoying trend for writers is that many website owners and editors insist on perfect grammar, when in fact people don’t resonate well with perfect grammar. As writers, we know this. We know people want grit. The audience wants to feel like it’s a conversation, not a lecture. Yet still the demand is there for perfection.
Don’t use terrible grammar, of course. But it is acceptable to write things how you would say them, including starting a sentence with the word “but” (which in perfect grammar, you should never do).
Write in your own voice, not in the voice of a style manual, and you will make a better connection with your audience.