In an overcrowded content marketing landscape, how do you stand out? Columnist Patrick Armitage discusses the essentials for creating truly engaging content.
So you wrote a blog post.
In fact, you think you wrote a pretty fantastic blog post — a post that required putting in extra research time after dinner or early in the morning before breakfast.
You dug up some stats, created an infographic, and put in so much work that you lit a cigar, sat back with your hands behind your head and proclaimed:
“It will be my greatest masterpiece!”
You excitedly posted it to your blog or your company’s blog, shared it on any website that would take it (like an indie band handing out demo tapes on the street corner), and waited for the world to discover your genius.
And you waited.
The response? Tepid.
Even worse, the blog comments and social shares held fast at zero-point-zero.
The digital tumbleweed started to blow across your blog’s landscape.
Speaking of landscapes, people are getting trampled by an increasingly crowded content marketing landscape — a landscape so saturated with blogs, tweets, posts and videos that just creating content is only half the battle.
What’s the other half?
- Content promotion
- Reader engagement
- Reader response
- Actual readers (yes, readers who actually read … more on this later)
In content marketing, the first 90% (content) is easy — it’s the last 10% (marketing) that’s hard.
(Author confession: This is not a scientifically researched fact. It is, however, the conclusion I’ve come to after being disappointed when my blogs weren’t gaining enough traction — and by talking with our customers and potential customers about their frustrations with content marketing.)
Now, before I get flak for saying that creating content is easy, let me be clear: it’s not. But compared with marketing, promoting, and finding and growing an audience that engages with your content and comes back to read more? It is relatively easy.
We Don’t Read Or Comprehend Much Online, Says Tons Of Research
On average, eight out of 10 people will read your headline, and two out of 10 will read your article, according to Copyblogger Media.
One in every three readers spends less than 15 seconds reading an article on the Web.
And let’s say some people shared your article on social media. Great, right? Well, that still doesn’t mean they read it. Chartbeat CEO, Tony Haile, put it bluntly on Twitter:
Are you ready to give up here? Or are you thirsty for more (stats, that is)?
Research shows that people reading online tend to scan, read in a nonlinear fashion, browse and hunt for keywords. And people comprehend less when reading on a desktop, smartphone, tablet or e-reader compared with reading on good ol’ paper.
And what about the children? A recent study showed a deeper comprehension among teens when they read from paper, as opposed to digital text.
How To Make Readers Out Of Non-Readers
The aforementioned research laid bare before you? Those are the facts.
People don’t read online anymore — at least in the traditional sense.
Oh, you still read every word, one word after another, online? How old-timey and quaint of you. Can I sell you this America Online internet subscription, too?
But we live in a digital world. We loathe paper. And please pray for the paperweight industry. Heaven knows they need it.
In spite of all that research stacked against you, there are things you can do to make your content engaging.
That “Knowing Your Audience” Thing? Kinda Important
We’ve all been beaten over the head with the “know your audience” adage. But doesn’t that notion seem even more critical when you consider what’s at stake in an increasingly crowded content space?
Yoga studios, precision tooling manufacturers, pot delivery services, artisanal axe makers — they all have blogs and a content strategy now.
Don’t focus on a big audience. Focus on the right audience. Otherwise, your content competes with every other blog trying to be everything to everyone. Very, very few blogs (or websites, for that matter) can pull that off successfully.
Start small. Start humble. Cater to your customers and their frequently asked questions, and see where that takes you.
I don’t know about you, but I’d take a small, dedicated readership over a large, apathetic one any day.
Be Relevant Above All Else
Clickbait is the unfortunate byproduct of sites trying to pull in as large an audience as possible. How many times have you clicked on a clickbait-y article and “bounced” inside of 30 seconds?
That clickbait-y content model isn’t a sustainable one. Even BuzzFeed, realizing the fatuousness of clickbait, started hiring Pulitzer prize-winning journalists to launch an in-depth reporting and investigation unit.
Being relevant doesn’t have the same cachet as being “authentic” or whatever buzzword sits on the tongue of content strategists. Frankly, “relevance” is a boring piece of advice. But relevance has a slower, more sustained burn rate of audience engagement; clickbait burns too fast and too hot.
Write Scannable Content
There are places that can get away without scannable content, like The New Yorker, Aeon Magazine, and The Paris Review. Your blog is not one of them.
People visit those outlets knowing what they’re about to read: 3,000 words, single-spaced, with the occasional paragraph break (H2, H3, and H4 headers be damned!).
If your blog reads like Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” you may be losing readers before they’ve even had a chance to accept your blog’s merit.
Stick to scannable content. It’s the easiest way to grease the door frame and get visitors in to at least consider the quality of your blog content.
Scannable content means:
- Bullet points
- Numbered lists
And bolding where appropriate.
Together, these scannable elements go a long way toward making your blog posts and content more accessible and engaging for your readership.
Keep The Images Coming (And Video Is Even Better)
Pictures and video work. The statistics supporting each are overwhelming.
These do more than improve the readability of your blog posts — images and video on social media far exceed the engagement of text-only posts.
Considering the engagement statistics of visuals, a well-written, text-only blog post will be outpaced by a blog post with worse writing but stronger images and video. That’s the world we live in now.
This Is A Call To All My CTAs
You’re putting in the blood, sweat and tears to produce a blog post. The least you can do is include a call-to-action (CTA) for your reader.
It doesn’t have to be some heavy-handed sales pitch.
Super simple CTAs can be:
- A call to register for your company’s newsletter
- A follow on Twitter
- Asking to subscribe to your blog
- A question
- Downloading an e-book
- Registering for a webinar (that tells visitors more about what it is you do between the time you spend agonizing over blog posts)
Don’t let your readers get off the hook so easy. Engage them with a CTA. But please don’t do those annoying pop-ups that I see on every single site asking you to subscribe or request something. Everyone hates those now, and it’s why we can’t have nice things.
Harness The Power Of A Good Story
I wrote about the power of storytelling last month, and it’s still a crucial ingredient in successful content marketing.
And Remember, “The Medium Is The Message”
Engaging readers is about understanding the media where you hope engage them.
If you’re a yoga studio, a text-based blog isn’t going to deliver the level of engagement your audience wants. Photos, videos and illustrated how-to guides will go a lot farther in engaging a yoga studio’s audience than even the most articulate blog post.
What tips do you have for building an engaged readership? Sound off in the comments!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)