With the state of search in the content basket, we have to provide well-written, engaging content for people in our niche. Think about The Huffington Post or Wired, or even Seth Godin’s blog. What is it about them that makes people go there, day after day, to read the content?
Does the thought scare you? It shouldn’t. You don’t have to be Seth or Arianna to have a willing audience. You just have to write more than pap. You need to teach people, entertain them, or give them something important to think about. There’s news, events, and even other blog posts to help you figure out something to write.
Writing or deciding what I’m going to write about has never been a problem for me because there is just so much information out there to pull from! You just have to know where to find it.
In this article, I’d like to give you some of my tactics and then, some resources where you can find ideas for creating content and making it sing!
Build Your Arsenal of Info
I use Outlook for email, but I’m sure you can set up folders in your mail program, no matter what you’re using to receive and read your email. I have subscribed to a number of blogs and newsletters in the SEO niche, and every time one of those emails come in, it automatically goes into a folder I call “Grist.” Yes, for my mill. When I need to write an article and an idea doesn’t just pop into my head, I have a TON of information to fall back on.
I also start reading blogs, which I do anyway, to keep up with SEO changes. Reading alone has always given me something to write. Have you heard about AllTop.com? It’s a content aggregator, and with it, you can designate blogs you read regularly and have them all on one page at the same time, along with recent posts. If you click the link, you’ll come to my personal AllTop page, which has lots of tech, SEO and other stuff that will interest anyone who’s doing business online. Try it!
Make Your Content Worth Reading
We’ve already established that not all content is created equally, and I further discussed that in an article I wrote last month in "7 Content Marketing Mistakes to Avoid." You need to craft each article with care and enough engaging information to make readers read through to the end. If you don’t do that and just writing for search engines, you won’t succeed. If you’re not writing content that people want to share, don’t bother.
So, you need some stuff to pump it up. Here are some tactics that I use to make my articles more readable:
Statistics are great! People love to see stats about things they’re interested in and (at least, I think so) that's partly why infographics have become so popular. Think about the last one you saw, and I guarantee there’s at least one interesting statistic in it.
Where can you get stats?
HubSpot gave us All the Marketing Statistics You Need. This compilation of stats from data sites around the Web is amazing. Did you know that worldwide, we conduct 131 billion searches per month on the Web? According to ComScore in 2010, we did. I’m betting it’s a much larger figure now that tablets and smartphones are so available. Be sure the statistic you want to use reflects the current situation.
But notice two things about the statistic. First, I told you where to find it, and second, I told you where it came from and when. These are important for your credibility. You could make up any old statistic, so until you prove where it came from and assure yourself and your readers that it’s a solid stat, why include it at all?
If you click through to the page above, you’ll notice that Hubspot gathered statistics, not just from ComScore, but from Marketing Sherpa, eMarketer, and other known and respected sites, as well. Just don’t forget to tell readers that though you got the stat from one site, that it was provided by another. Don’t trust sources that aren’t solid, either. Known and trusted sites are the only ones you should pull statistics from.
Quotes from people who are respected in your niche are great. Just be really sure they said what you’re quoting. I wrote a biography of Gloria Steinem several years ago, and she’s still quoted as saying, “A woman needs a man a like fish needs a bicycle,” but she never said it. Don’t put words into other people’s mouths! Not everything you read online is true, either. Remember that.
So, how do you prove things that people say?
Get at least two reliable sources. And sometimes, if the quote is controversial for example, get three. You can be sued for liable, even if you think nobody is reading your stuff. Famous people have searches done on their brand all the time. Just be sure you’re giving credit where credit is due.
I’d suggest finding quote in articles written by the person you want to quote, since there are so many online now. Just about every famous person who has ever existed has something you can quote from. Seriously. You’d be amazed at how many primary source documents there are online these days. That means, diaries, government records, papal bulls, letters, and so much, much more. Find those things and you know you’re golden. If you’re using primary source documentation, you don’t need to look for another source. Just as you won’t, if you’re quoting an article on a very reliable website.
For example, if I quoted Richard Branson from an article he wrote (or had ghost written) on LinkedIn, I wouldn’t worry about finding corroboration. But if I’m reading a biography on a personal blog about Richard Branson, I’d have to find other information that matches what I found to assure its veracity.
And please, please, please, don’t trust Wikipedia. It’s a great place for general research, but for honest-to-goodness journalistic purpose, not so much.
You can pick up a bunch of early American history primary source documents at Constitution.org, for example. You never know when a quote from George Washington or Patrick Henry might suit your needs, even if you’re writing about doing business online.
Try Google books, too. I just found an old book with a bunch of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s letters in it. (You’ll see why I was looking for those in a minute.)
Anecdotes are always engaging. I used one above to tell you about Gloria Steinem. But an anecdote can be about anyone, known or unknown. It can be you or someone other than you that you tell a short story about. People love stories and that’s why copywriting embraces storytelling. It’s engaging, and if you tell a great story, people will want to keep reading your work until the end.
There are stories abound online. You can find a good collection at Listverse.com, but just type “famous anecdotes” into a search query box and you’ll find tons of them. Or read TextsFromLastNight.com and quote someone anonymously. Like this, “You're right. I woke up today with my ugly sweater still on and no pants. I'd say it was a successful night.” This doesn’t need corroboration because it was entered by the person who wrote it. Not an academic anecdote, but pretty funny.
Another story I found while researching a book about famous composers years back related to Tchaikovsky, one of the greatest. Apparently, he tried to drown himself because of an unhappy marriage to a woman, when he was more drawn to men. He was also prone to “nerves,” as he called them. So, he waded into the Volga River, which he hoped would give him pneumonia and cause him to die. His plan didn’t work, though he did suffer a nervous breakdown. Poor dude. If only he knew how beloved his music would become. Not a funny story, but I’m guessing you didn’t know that about the man. Am I right?
So, there: a sentence, one paragraph, a little story... and people feel happy they read your stuff.
Don’t Hit Submit Right Away
Now, you have a killer article that teaches people something, right? It helps them solve a problem in their niche, and it’s engaging because you took the time to fill in some really solid details.
But wait! Don’t hit the submit button yet!
Allow your work to percolate for at least a few hours (a whole day is better). Then, go back and see if what you wrote makes sense, if you might have used some better word choices or your phrases could be more fluid, and try to look at it like a stranger. With the world moving so fast and with all there is to do, see if you’d spend the time. Then, read the article aloud and see how it will “sound” in someone else’s head.
When you do this, you will have a MUCH better article.
Throwing things out there willy-nilly with bad grammar and spelling, and that’s not very readable won’t help you. Spiders are watching.
Give them a great show. They’ll not only read what you’ve written… they’ll come back for more!
Pat Marcello is the President of MagnaSites.com, a full service digital marketing company. She also taught writing for five years for the Institute of Children’s Literature and has had 10 books published in four languages. Read her last article “How to Be an SEO in 2014” here.