You know the feeling: one minute you’re on the bus casually scrolling Twitter, and the next you’re engrossed in an article and tearing up about the extinction of porpoises or reliving a deadly fire tornado. You seem to step outside of time, forgetting that you’re a person on a bus that has a job and life. So you end up missing your stop — you’re going to be late for work, but you couldn’t care less because the article was just so damn good.
It’s the reaction that every single content writer wants to incite in their readers. So much so that blogging about blogging and writing about writing are two of the largest and most lucrative niches online.
If this is the case, though, you would think that the quality of content should only be getting better and better. And that the feeling I described above should be happening on an almost epidemic scale — every time you pull out your phone and click open an article.
But this is far from what typically happens.
What typically happens is you start reading a post or article and two sentences in you think, ‘Meh’ or, ‘What the heck are you talking about!?’ and you flick to another, and another, and another, until you waste more of your life, throw your phone into your bag in frustration, and regretfully return to reality.
In the desperate fight for fickle eyeballs, content on the web is getting much less engaging and meaningful and much more superficial and throwawayable. After all, why take the time to create a detailed opinion piece on the harsh reality of remote working when you can write a listicle of ‘twenty-one random facts to make you rethink your entire life’ that will get you triple the hits.
You don’t need to run an online business to see this is dead-end strategy that’s already starting to fizzle out. People don’t want more content; they want better quality content. And so rather than publishing more and more and playing the attention-stealing game, you should start getting off the content factory line and figure out how to create something that’s actually worth reading.
Give The Reader What They Want
A lot of readers come to a piece of content with the expectation of learning something: how to increase the amount of traffic to their website, some new ways to be more productive, tips on getting higher quality sleep. This is the benefit level that most click bait and how-to posts work on. But although this may give them what they’re looking for, it’s doesn’t typically give them what they really want.
Underneath what’s being saught out in any given moment, there’s a much greater intention that’s sitting behind it, just waiting there for some lucky content writer to address it and give them the tools or opportunity to sort it out.
We can think of this as the context in which the main-level benefit resides. For example, if you’re writing an article on how to get better quality sleep, the context would be not waking up refreshed, feeling sluggish throughout the morning, the midday slump, and the overall exhaustiveness of getting up and working every single day.
The more multi-level benefits you can offer the reader and the more you can relate to their context, the more they will feel you’ve actually been there and the more likely they are to just keep on reading.
Do Much More Than Just Engage
Depending on your experience and which content marketing gurus you happen to be reading, you can easily get into the habit of writing content in one particular style or based on one particular approach.
You focus on explaining information in a clear and easy-to-digest format; you always make sure to teach something new that can’t be found anywhere else; you make a point to use personal stories and make your content relatable; you never start a post without a controversial point or opinion, etc.
Any of the above approaches are great strategies and when used well, can lead to some great content. The trouble is when they’re brought into your writing as hard-and-fast methods and become so heavily relied upon that they upset the natural balance and overshadow any of the unique traits and characteristics of your voice.
There’s no one formula for writing well. And the more you think there is and focus on trying to ‘engage’ your readers, the more great writing and engagement will evade you. Stick to writing something that you think is worth reading first, and if you even need to, worry about engagement later.
Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer and long-term traveller from the North of England. Connect with him on LinkedIn and find more articles on work, technology, spirituality, and everything in between.