When people visit your blog a discrete transaction takes place. In exchange for stealing a slice of their time you must offer them something in return.
As we’re working in an electronic format our best form of reward for the reader is information. This can take the form of:
- Advice: tips, tricks and expertise
- News: announcements, comment and analysis
- New media: entertaining video, music and animation
- Special offers: voucher codes, exclusives
We’re going to concentrate on advice because it’s free author-generated content that doesn’t incur any direct production cost or impact on sales margins.
Advice is a great way to add value to a blog post. Often appearing under the guise of “How to…” or “5 quick ways to…” it’s a chance to position yourself (the writer) as an expert authority in the mind of the reader. So in the long-term you spring to mind as the first port of call for help on the subject matter at hand.
How to keep a reader interested in three easy steps
At the risk of giving a lesson on copywriting (and doing myself out of a job), your written style can benefit from a few common rules.
Empathise with a reader’s problem, in their terms
People are trapped in their own bubble inflated with dilemmas, problems and challenges. So you can burst them out with solutions to their problems or stories about people in similar circumstances.
You must deliver on a promise
If you write a “How to…” style article, you must fulfill that with an explanation of a process or a step-by-step guide. The alternative is a bemused reader, lured in by a provocative headline only to be left none the wiser and cheated out of their time.
Introduce one main concept or idea
Your reader is busy. Get straight to the point and don’t save your ‘big guns’ until the end. Introduce your central theme then talk around it. Sometimes it’s useful to follow a journalistic structure and summarise the main facts at a high-level before you explore it in full detail.
It doesn’t need to be long either. A typical blog article is between 300-500 words. When you consider that an average bulletin-style email with a few paragraphs is roughly 100 words long, it’s not much more effort to string together a rough article to be polished up and padded out later (by a talented editor).
7 ideas for writing interesting articles
To stimulate your ideas, here are some techniques used in articles that have caught my eye.
- News is much more interesting if there’s comment and analysis to go along with it. Add your (perhaps controversial) opinion to a recent industry announcement and incite a little debate. The facts are already written for you, just re-purpose the story and add your own personal twist.
- A “Did you know that…” style piece is a chance to challenge convention and accepted beliefs. It’s also a great way to extend your reach because people love to flaunt exclusive or unique information amongst their peers.
- People care about what’s going on around them, in their locality or specific industry. It may be tempting to keep an article broad in its subject matter or geographic context but don’t be afraid to target a specific group and make content more relevant to them – people will choose what they want to read.
- Reflection upon “something someone said to me” is a fantastic way to show you really care about a subject. Even to the point where it’s preoccupied your thoughts beyond the remit of your day job.
- An eye-catching article with an off-the-wall topic will leap out from a page draped with bland corporate announcements. The weirder the better, as long as the underlying message makes a relevant point. Plus it makes writing headlines much easier.
- Keep an eye out for frequent issues or common problems that your audience encounter. Then solve them for a guaranteed readership.
- Psychology pieces indulge curiosity in our own behaviour and that of others around us. They’re thought-provoking and stay with a reader after they’ve finished reading (which is your nefarious goal).
And now the most important tip
Don’t be scared to add individuality and reveal your personality in an article.
Writing in passive voice (“It has been decided that…”) or corporate third-person (“Widgets Ltd believe that…”) destroys connection between reader and writer. Writing is about talking to people, just in another medium. So it’s OK to use “I, me, my” or “we, us, our” if you’re talking collectively about your organisation.
My favourite foolproof acid test is to read your article out aloud and ask yourself “would I talk to someone like this in real life?” If the answer’s no; get the red pen out.