In the day and age of the internet, it’s easy to lose focus on what matters most: quality.
This is true for both sides of the coin: Organizations worry about shortened attention spans, so they focus on producing quantity over quality in hopes that their audience will recall at least one aspect about their brand after a barrage of advertisements, while readers become consumed by information overload, digesting headline after headline and never going deeper to get the full context behind a story.
These are not easy challenges to overcome, and it can be difficult to find a way to create content that resonates, whether you’re doing it professionally or for fun. You can employ a number of tricks to convince readers to stay and read more, but I have always believed you need to start with a focus on quality. By building that foundation, you can stay focused on what matters most throughout the creative process, continually adding on to it.
But how exactly can you do that? I’ve thought about this question a lot. Here’s an approach that works for me.
1. Understand What Your Audience Wants
Due to the sheer amount of content consumed every day, you may think you need to create and publish something new everyday. While it’s good to get in front of your audience regularly, you don’t want to exhaust them with your content by overpopulating their feeds, especially if that content isn’t as valuable as it could be.
This is where analytics can play a big part in your content marketing plans. If you already have some content live, take a look at the engagement rates. Are people clicking onto the content? How long are they staying on the page? Do they go to another piece of content afterward or stay on the site elsewhere?
With this data in hand, you can get a good grasp of what content your audience wants to read, and you may even be able to tell what times bring in more people. For instance, it’s probably safe to say you don’t need to publish on the weekends if you are a B2B business—your readers are taking time off to not think about work and won’t be reading your content. This data can also reveal what is resonating most with your audience. This will allow you to identify what topics you should focus on moving forward.
But what if you have no data or are just starting out? My advise is to learn as much as you can about your audience. What do they care about? What are they saying about your product/service? What are problems they run into with your product? What factors affect their decisions when browsing for a solution?
By empathizing with your audience, you can being to understand what type of content they need, including general topic areas and even specific ideas. Having this type of direction from the start will increase your chances of creating content that will be meaningful to your readers.
2. Start With a Goal in Mind
At this stage, you have found a topic or have an idea about something you’d like to write about. From here, I like to ask myself: “What will the reader get out of this article?”
The answer to that question should become the goal you focus on throughout the creative process. It may seem like a simple setup, but this will dictate how you go about building the rest of the content’s structure. Your goal will become your guiding light. As you write, you will be expanding on the idea, and you may find yourself going down rabbit holes here and there. To find your way back, you can refer to your goal. This will help you avoid irrelevant information and improve the overall journey the reader will take when reading the content.
For example, let’s say you run a cyber security company. After doing some research, you know your audience is worried their network may be vulnerable to a cyber attack due to a recent hack. The goal for your content would then be something like: “By the end of this article, the reader will understand how to better protect their network from cyber attack.”
This may seem straightforward, but it showcases the value of the content. You’ve identified that the information within this article can be practically applied to protect a network. Now, when you write the piece, you can avoid spending too much time on the history of the vulnerability or other strands of the vulnerability and focus on actionable steps to solve this particular problem.
This same topic could be applied in other ways, too. If your goal was to simply spread awareness of this vulnerability, your goal would be: “By the end of this article, the reader will be aware of a new vulnerability that may put them at risk of cyber attack.” That article would look and read completely different in comparison, staying away from how to fix the vulnerability and focusing more on the history of how it originated and who it affects instead.
This simple step can give a better defined direction to a general idea and keep you on task.
3. Build a Question/Answer Structure
You have a goal in mind now, but how do you reach that goal? It can be difficult to connect the dots. I find it helpful to outline the problems that lead up to achieving the ultimate goal of the content.
Let’s use the cyber security example again. Ultimately, you need to explain how to protect their network, but going from unprotected to protected is often complex and requires a number of steps. List out those steps one by one and take a look at them from a high level. Which would you need to do first? What would come second? Once you have the order figured out, you will have a rough structure to get to your goal.
Next, you need to add in complications. If the reader attempts a step, what could go wrong? If there are common issues with each, you need to cover those issues, as well. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to follow advice and not have it go the way it’s supposed to go. By thinking about this in your outlining stage, you can stay one step ahead of the reader and help them resolve issues or answer questions as they pop up.
The advantage of thinking through various questions and challenges is two-fold: The reader will appreciate the amount of depth and research you included, which builds trust, and the pacing will be better. There is a natural flow to a problem/answer structure that will keep a reader engaged—just when they thought they learned enough, they realize there’s more to the story and keep reading to see what happens next. This is true for both non-fiction and fiction alike!
4. Edit for Voice and Tone
With a structure and outline in hand, you can now begin writing the full-length piece of content. Don’t worry too much about voice and tone while you’re writing—just focus on getting everything down. Once that’s complete, it’s time to edit.
Editing is a complex process. The goal of editing is to strip away everything irrelevant to get to the heart of the story. In this case, I would like to focus on editing for voice and tone. At the start, you identified what your audience wants, but now, you have to figure out how they want to receive that information.
Using the cyber security example, the reader wants to feel a sense of authority from the content that will put them at ease. They want to read advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about. In this case, you would edit the voice and tone to reflect that authority. To accomplish that, you should eliminate phrases like, “I think” or “probably.” You’ll also want to use credible sources (i.e., no Wikipedia) that have respect in the industry. Doing this will strengthen the language used and show that this advice comes from an expert in the field.
If the tone and voice is mismatched with the larger message of the content and the brand it’s coming from, a reader will bounce. You need to make sure the content feels authentic and trustworthy, and editing tone and voice is a great way to ensure that.
5. Add Some Finishing Touches
Previously, I mentioned “tricks” you can employ to keep readers interested. This is when you can start adding in tricks to hook a reader from the get-go. For example, a title with a compelling hook is a great trick to draw readers in, but it has to be done right.
I always wait until I’ve finished a piece of content to title it. I’ve found that if I start with a title, it’s easy to leave that title the way it is, but by the end of writing, the piece may have reached a different conclusion than I originally anticipated. This may not seem like a big deal at first, but a title sets up your reader’s expectations about what they’ll get out of the piece if they read it. If the end result doesn’t meet their expectations, then they’ll leave feeling unsatisfied.
Another danger of titling your piece from the start is a risk of creating clickbait. If a question posed in the title only needs a one-line answer, it doesn’t matter how interesting the rest of the content is, readers only want to get the answer. They’ll click your title, scroll to the bottom, and skip everything in between to read the end. You’re heightening their expectations so much that they won’t want to muddle their way through a full article.
It’s easy for clickbait titles to lead to surface-level content with lots of fluff, so you need to think about how to create a title that draws people in but sets accurate expectations about what’s to come. That’s why I wait until the end to start brainstorming titles. I usually write 4-5 different titles until I find the perfect combination of SEO-friendly wording and a proper hook that sets the appropriate expectations.
A good hook is just one example of many tricks you can add to tighten up copy and make the reading experience more enjoyable. Wait until the end to start applying these tricks to improve pace and transitions. It will help your piece shine all the more—readers always appreciate this level of attention to detail.
Take the Time to Do It Right
All in all, the way to create content that resonates is to take the time to do it right. Occasionally, you may have to produce something quickly to capitalize on a timely event, but if you find yourself doing this regularly, stop for a moment, take a breath, and refocus on quality.
Remember: People want to read good content. If they click on an interesting title and get served a half-baked piece of content that is covered in ads, they’ll have a negative experience that will push them away from returning.
Always aim to engage your audience with thought-out, deliberate, and well-researched content, and you’ll have happy, appreciative readers who will come back looking for more.
If you’re interested in discussing this concept more, don’t hesitate to reach out to me via my Contact Page. I offer a variety of content marketing services, including editing, writing, and consulting.
Looking for more on my approach to content marketing? Check out my other blog posts here.