The online world is full of poorly written content on bland subjects. It deters potential readers and serves to dilute any brand it might be associated with.
On the flipside, providing engaging content can be a better strategy to build your brand than almost any other marketing endeavour in the current economic and technology-driven climate.
Identify Your Readership
The first step to creating engaging written content is to establish a very specific picture of who exactly you are looking to engage. If you are a brand that sells a specific product, think about who would be interested in your product, or what gap in the market you are looking to fill. If you are a blog or online news publication, think about what you want your readership to look like.
Create a list of all the characteristics of this target group. Include information like gender, age, geographical location and time zone, shared values or lifestyle and likely interests.
This is Not an Exercise in Direct Marketing
Just because you are identifying the target market you may eventually want as consumers, does not mean the content you create should be purely sales-based.
The saturation of direct marketing in the media and the slow demise of television and print ads have shown us that people don’t like being sold to.
Instead, the idea is to identify who your ideal readership is, and then give them what they want. The content you create will not be directly encouraging them to consume your products, but will establish your brand as trustworthy, industry leading, and a thing potential consumers can associate with positively.
Once you have a clear picture of who you are creating content for, think about what kind of material they might ordinarily seek out of their own accord. If there are industry-leading brands in the same field as you, look at the kind of content they provide to consumers.
Write a list of topics, or concepts, that would be of real value to your identified readership.
By way of example, a florist who runs a blog concurrently with a website should not create 25 different blog posts on the bouquet and fresh flower options offered by that florist.
The kind of material that a florist’s regular customer base might actually be interested in could include:
- Interior design concepts and how to choose complimentary floral arrangements
- How the changing seasons affect the availability of flowers
- Ideas for wedding and event decorating schemes
- Table setting ideas for Valentine’s day
Don’t Just Make it Good
So you’ve got a clear picture of who you’re writing for, and the topic of the content you want to create. The next aspect of content creation you need to focus on is the quality of your writing and the visual elements that accompany it.
‘Content is king’ is probably an adage you’ve heard before, but what does it actually mean? Think of it this way – your content should be at least as good as that in print media (like magazines) that your identified readership would go out and pay for.
Even though the content you are providing is (probably) free, you are asking your readership to choose to engage with your work over the thousands of other competing online platforms and publications.
Competition for readership has not lessened since the days when print magazines reigned supreme – readers have more choice and less time. The layout, style, editing, and photos or other visual elements you offer to your readers all need to be at a publishable standard.
To achieve this, make sure you factor these additional tasks into your time frame for content production. Don’t opt for the quickly produce large quantities of low quality content instead of producing a few well thought out, high quality pieces.
The Importance of the Introduction
In terms of engaging your readership, the introduction is perhaps the most important part of your written content. Your readers will likely judge whether to keep reading or leave the page after just a few sentences.
A strong introduction will give your readers a reason to stay. There are a number of ways you can go about creating a ‘hook’:
- Pose an intriguing question, and foreshadow that the answer to the posed question is contained in the content;
- Suggest that there exists a danger of misfortune or a threat of some kind, and that a way to address the threat or danger is set out in the content;
- Frame a conflict or describe two opposing sides of a story that the reader wants to see resolved; or
- Make a bold, high-impact statement that the reader will likely want to see supported or proved in the body of the text.
Develop Your Style, and Keep it Consistent
Unless you are writing for an academic or highly qualified professional audience, content created for an online platform like a blog should generally not bear any resemblance to an essay.
Don’t over-complicate your writing using lengthy adjectives when you can get your point across just as well with simple, straightforward language. Paragraph length should also be limited to short stanzas in order to divide your content into clear, easily read chunks.
Tone is also a vital element of creating engaging content. Consider the kind of relationship you want to have with your readers, and adjust the way you write accordingly.
If you want your readers to feel as if they are part of your (or your brand’s) trusted inside circle, then write informally and address them personally. Use the same colloquialisms and expressions as you would if you were conversing with your reader face-to-face.
Over time, the tone, style and personality in your writing will become more distinct. This is what is referred to as ‘voice’. The ‘voice’ that comes across in your writing should be friendly, likeable and above all, consistent.
There’s nothing worse than reading content only to discover, part way through, that the writer seems to have changed personality. So if you leave your work half finished for a period of time, when you come back to it, make sure you re-read what you have already written to ensure continuity.
Similarly, if you are producing a large number of pieces over a period of time, go back and read your old work before embarking on writing something new. Or, if you like the style of someone else’s writing, browse through it for inspiration when you are about to produce your own.
Make Sure You Utilise Visual Elements
The visual elements that accompany your writing will include things like layout, the colour scheme of text and titles, and photos and graphics accompanying the text.
The key point to remember about visual elements is to use them, and use them in a way that enhances the text.
The sight of endless unbroken text is off-putting to most readers. On the other hand, a page that includes photos, diagrams and well-utilised blank space will draw the eye.
If your brand sells products, the use of appealing photos will be just as important as the text. Alternatively, if you are trying to get across a complex concept, info- graphics will be among your most vital tools.
As with the written content you produce, the visual elements need to be of a publishable quality. Using pixelated images, images with poor composition or colours that clash will deter readers and bring down your credibility.
Importance of Interactivity
The final issue for you to consider in creating engaging content is how to make your content interactive.
Interactivity will give readers a reason to feel invested in your content, and to seek out content from you in future.
Using polls is one way to do this. Polls allow you to simultaneously make your content more interactive and therefore more engaging, and also to collect data and conduct market research on your audience.
Asking questions and requesting readers leave their answers in the comments section is another way to get your readers to interact with you and the content you create. It creates dialogue around you or your brand, and serves as another important feedback mechanism by which you can judge how to improve your content and your products.
Ideally, you should pose questions at the end of your content so any answers or thoughts on the issues raised are fresh in the minds of your readers when they scroll down to the comments section.