I’m a terrible writer.
That’s correct – I’m a terrible writer and I’m going to teach you how to improve your content writing efforts. Oh, the irony!
The thing is that even bad writers can learn how to mesmerize an online audience. All it takes is a little bit of creativity and having a basic idea about what people want and what they expect.
As a result, even a bad writer like me can produce pieces that go viral.
What’s the secret?
Every professional writer will tell you one thing – you have just a few seconds to impress the audience. If you don’t get them hooked right from the start, you’ll lose readers.
It doesn’t really matter if you’ve written the best, most perfectly researched text in the world. Nobody’s going to read it.
Content writing is a tricky thing and there’s no universal formula when it comes to making sure that everyone will read through till the end. Still, a couple of techniques can increase your chances of success.
Great writing isn’t about grammar and sentence structure (though these things do matter!).
Here are some of the secrets that will help you improve your content writing.
1. A viral headline will go a long way
Viral has become the codeword when it comes to online success. We all want to publish viral social media updates, viral YouTube videos and viral website or blog content.
Well, the things you believe have viral potential may not necessarily be the ones that your audience is going to be impressed by.
A few of the common elements of viral headlines you can test out however, include the following:
- Emotional appeal – make people laugh or feel something and you’ve got them hooked
- Something curious that everyone wants to know
- A trending topic (doing your research is crucial)
- A list, a series, a specific number of tips
- A how to guide, a practical explanation of something complex or something that everybody wants to learn how to do
Take for example Buzzfeed headlines. Analysis has been carried out to find out what makes them so likely to go viral. Guess what, most of them correspond to at least one or more of the criteria mentioned above.
These articles are currently top posts on Buzzfeed. Take a look at the titles and see how they correspond to the viral suggestions above.
Remember one thing – a viral headline should deliver on its promise. Don’t go for clickbait headlines. If you promise people to prove whether Nicki Minaj’s butt is real, you better deliver! Otherwise, you’ll lose the audience that you’ve already misled into giving you a try.
2. It’s all about the first paragraph
You absolutely need to have a great opener. The first paragraph will determine the fate of your text. Just think about it – have you taken the time to read content that has a boring, long and convoluted first paragraph?
This is the most difficult aspect of writing content. Coming up with the perfect opener every single time is impossible. But you can still turn to the following approaches and ensure the decency of the lead:
- Tell people a personal story and tie it into a bigger theme
- Ask a question that the audience is eager to learn about
- Provide a glimpse into a secret that you’re going to share through the article
- Be direct and tell people what the article is all about
- Make it humorous, tell a good joke
- Start with a great and catchy quote that is relevant
This analytical piece shows what types of first paragraphs are most capable of getting the audience engaged. It also provides examples of lead graphs that belong to each of the categories.
Here’s another interesting case study. Based on heatmaps, researchers have found out that an articles most important and engaging information should be made available in the first two paragraphs.
Heatmaps suggest that the overwhelming majority of readers focus on the first and second paragraph of a piece of content.
3. The biggest secret of professional writers
Try to guess what makes some writers better than others. Here’s a hint – it’s not extensive research, it’s not practice (though experience will certainly help) and it’s not in-depth knowledge of the topic being discussed.
Great writers have their unique tone and voice. Certain people’s content is easy to recognize among hundreds of other articles.
Write in your own voice without trying to replicate anyone. Don’t choose a certain writing style because you think it’s going to appeal to the audience. People will instantly know that your text is far from authentic. This is one of the biggest sins in the world of content writing.
Many rookie writers commit the grave mistake of attempting to twist and redefine their own style. They’re eager to write like the authors that they adore. Being inspired by someone is great. Trying to write like them is a grave mistake.
Tone and voice are key elements of branding. The following analysis compares the tone of different corporate websites. It’s easy to see how they have nothing in common and how the chosen tone reinforces the respective corporate message.
Mint.com is an example of a website that maintains its unique tone and voice in every single sentence.
4. Everything but the kitchen sink?
Good content is focused content. People don’t have all day to explore all of the ideas that you have in your head. Choose one topic and stick to it. If necessary, create an outline before you start writing content. An outline will keep you from digressing and losing the sharpness of your piece.
Great writers do just one thing and they do it perfectly. What’s your point? Why are you telling the story? How will it benefit your reader? These are the questions you should be capable of answering before getting started with the text.
One final thing to remember is that you don’t have to make your writing “pretty”. There’s no need to use big words and long sentences. Tell your story, make your point and end when you’re done. Trying to write a certain number of words and putting a lot of filler content in will instantly decrease the strength of the argument and of your writing.
Focus does help and this intriguing case study is the absolute evidence. Dive Rite, a small company, was struggling and it was virtually impossible to find online. By focusing content on its history and what the company stands for, the brand saw major improvements without spending a ton of money on expensive marketing.
By focusing on its history and heritage, this company was capable of giving its content focus and boosting web traffic significantly.
5. Make your content persuasive
This is a very challenging aspect of content writing but an essential one. After all, you want to persuade people through your text. You want them to do something after they’re done reading.
A few principles of persuasive writing include the following:
- Appeal to logic and to a person’s sense of reason – make them believe that what you’re telling them is the right thing to do
- Appeal to the emotions of people – make them desire something and get them feeling drawn to it. Use emotional appeal sparingly, otherwise you risk making the text too soppy
- Reciprocity – people like to get something before giving back. Thus, give them valuable information if you’d like them to undertake a certain course of action
- Appeal to traditions –through this technique, you will be asking people to accept an argument because it has worked in the past, standing the test of time
A simple example of how Buzzfeed utilizes the principle of reciprocity.
All of these techniques should be backed by sufficient evidence. You can’t just ask people to believe you because you’ve said so. Give them information, facts and logical arguments to build your credibility and establish yourself as an authority within your respective field.
Successful writing is difficult. It involves talent, strategic planning, practice and dedication. Take it slow, do your research and work on refining your writing skills. If you’re consistent and eager to perfect your content, you’ll soon see the positive outcome of your efforts.
Guest Author: My name is Alicia Honeycutt. I am a digital strategist and beginning writer at Essaydot. I love to write and read, investigate and share experience. You can find me on Facebook.