The challenging part of blogging is to create great content that gets visitors and social media shares. This article will give you all the ingredients you need to create engaging and shareable content. Let’s get started.
Stop creating generic, boring and common sense content
Let’s be honest, most sites are boring. They look like any other site, their content is like any other site and they are as forgettable as any other site. Internet is bloated with common sense advice from people imitating and copying each other.
Creating content is not difficult and not everyone understands what engaging content means. Many bloggers churn out farmed content, they are content machines. They can write many “unique” articles focusing on “keywords”, but they are answering questions nobody’s asking. Their content lacks insights and ideas. It lacks substance. It lacks value. It is not passionate, useful, entertaining nor interesting. There is just not enough demand for all that content supply.
We’re all on a quest for more page views, shares and followers. Many sites have adopted the approach of publishing as much as they can hoping that some of the content sticks.
This is not the right approach. Most content doesn’t stick and goes completely unnoticed. It’s not remarkable. It’s generic and boring. Your audience has infinite number of choices online. To have a chance of attracting them you must offer something of value.
Quality content is not reporting on and repeating what everyone else is talking about. There are too many look-alike sites and me-too articles. These articles are not substantive, interesting, appealing and they don’t thrill. Avoid that stuff.
People want something fresh, new, different and unique. Don’t just repeat someone else’s advice. Don’t publish the same rehashed content. Don’t do another tired old top 5 list. Don’t bring in the same podcast interview guests that everyone else in your field is covering.
Quality content as the cornerstone of your strategy
Quality content has to be the cornerstone of your strategy. Remarkable content is your key to going viral and getting your message across. Create and publish content that thrills and delights people. Publish content that has social sharing at the heart.
There is one thing that every blogger has that is very unique. You are unique, you write your own content, and no other site can copy that. Personal opinion counts and it is the person behind the site that makes the content stand out. Bring yourself to the front. It should be clear who is behind the post. Always incorporate your own thoughts and analysis. Don’t censor yourself, write from your heart and be yourself. Great sites stand out because they have unique brands behind them. There’s only one Gary Vaynerchuk, one Perez Hilton and one … YOU!
Develop your own unique style and voice, and write creative and interesting articles and you’ll get readers and followers. A site is first and foremost a diary of sorts. The human element is so important. By sharing stories about your life and making connections in this way you make readers feel like you are a real person and not a machine just cranking out content. Think of your blog as your living room. Be a good dinner host for the visitors of your site.
Live an interesting life. Valuable skills translate into valuable content and valuable content translates into valuable opportunities. Share your expertise. Share it generously. Teach people, inspire people and make their lives better. Be useful, helpful, interesting and smart. Tell great stories. Provide substance and analysis. Give actionable advice. Be a resource. Start basic. Explain why they need to know what you are telling them. Open gaps in their knowledge by highlight information that they are missing and then fill those gaps with useful tips and advice. Guide readers through large topics and help them understand what the information means, where it fits, and how they can use it.
Fully embrace your passions and obsessions. If you can tap into this goldmine, well then the content you pump out will be golden as well.
BuzzFeed, the website that creates most shared content in the world, has these internal rules for creating content that gets shared:
Keep it short.
Ensure the story has a human aspect.
Give people the chance to engage.
And let them react.
People mustn’t feel awkward sharing it.
It must feel authentic.
Images and lists work.
The headline must be persuasive and direct.
Questions to ask before publishing your new post
Here’s a checklist that I go through when publishing a new piece of content. It’s useful to ask yourself the following questions and make sure to tick all the relevant things off before clicking the “publish” button.
Let’s now go more in depth on each and every of these questions.
Focus on your audience
One of the biggest mistakes bloggers make is that they create content about themselves and not about their target audience. Unless you are interesting to them (and this is a relationship that takes a lot of time to build), visitors don’t normally want to hear about you. There is no love at first sight in blogging.
Visitors don’t want to spend time on someone they don’t know talking about things with no relevance to them. They don’t care about you. They want to hear about themselves, about things that matter to them. They want information that they can use. They want to be educated and entertained. They want to get answers to their questions. Think of your posts as products that fill the need in the market.
Your job as a content creator is to know as much as possible about your audience in order to provide them with the content they want to consume and share. You have to connect to the mindset and the perspective of a beginner. People that Google keywords relevant to your content are beginners who want to get introduced to your topic and learn more about it. You need to create content with them in mind.
Search in social media. Explore relevant forums. Ask open-ended questions like “What is making your life difficult now?” or “How can I help you?”. Listen carefully to the answers. People will tell you what they want and this is what you need to know. The insights and ideas that you need will be in there.
You know your audience well. You should ask yourself whether your article helps your audience and if it’s valuable to them in any way. Be critical of your work and ask yourself before clicking on the publish button:
- Is this post actually interesting?
- Will it teach people something new?
- Will it offer a new perspective on the topic?
- Will it entertain my audience?
- Does it challenge the reader to think differently?
- Is it shareable?
- Is it better and easier to understand than what’s on top of Google’s search results?
Don’t publish before you can answer yes to these questions.
Make your content humorous, relatable and/or educational
Forget about the advice that says you should publish new content all the time. Limit your output. The main currency writers have is our topical expertise. That one topic that you know more about than anyone else.
Focus on the content quality instead of the quantity. Publish only such great quality content that people cannot ignore you. Instead of publishing several mediocre pieces of content, create one truly valuable post that is full of quality.
These are three of the most engaging concepts for online content. Make sure that each post that you publish falls within one of these concepts:
- Humorous and funny content that makes people laugh. People love to divert and have fun. They love to be entertained. They love to just hang out, or just waste time. They like to be creative and share new experiences.
- Relatable and empathetic content that people can identify themselves with. People love recognition. They want to earn respect. They love to stay in touch with their family and friends. They love to meet new people. They want to feel like they belong. They want to promote themselves and their views. They want to change opinions. They want to express themselves and share their knowledge.
- Serviceable content that has helpful, useful and educational information. People like to keep up to date on the topics that they care about. They love to learn something new. People want to feel progress, they want to do better.
Tap into personalities, events and trends
Best way to get traffic online? Break news stories if you can. If you can break a story before anyone else you will be heard. Most of us cannot break news, but we can still be timely and topical. Think opportunistically about the news and tap into the existing conversations.
Create posts about topics that people care about and are excited about – trends, names (brands, celebrities and other personalities) and events. Identify an idea or a name that’s got everyone’s attention and find a way to connect your own topic to it to attract attention to yourself. Create content such as:
- Create case-study profiles: People love to learn about the experience and lives of big personalities. Profile big and popular names. Celebrities, writers, politicians and sports stars. These posts are quality posts that are useful and educational. And they already have an audience: fans of these celebrities. For examples see my profiles of famous people such as Stephen King and Steve Jobs.
- Publish complete roundup articles: Find authorities on your subject, people who do something interesting. Ask them specific questions for quotes. Post a series of information and tips collected from them on the same topic.
- Curate lessons learned and takeaways: Your audience can learn from the popular topics like brands, events and best-selling books. Do your research, consume the original material, create your analysis and sum up lessons learned and takeaways for your audience. For some examples see my stories about successful online sites like Mashable, The Daily Mail, and Groupon.
- Do original research. One way you can make news is by doing original research such as customer surveys or analysis of data you have access to, and turn this into interesting and relevant stories with an angle that your audience will find attractive.
- Add data and real-life examples. Adding data and real-life examples to your content can make it more valuable. People love new and surprising data. Data is authoritative and helps people make better decisions. Real-life examples are very inspirational and can open the eyes of your audience to the different opportunities they have.
- Simply talk about popular, trending stories and connect it to your topic: The key is to bridge the conversation and make it relevant to the audience you are trying to attract. It can be done by quickly summing up the trending story and straight away leading into your main content with bridge such as: “This story is a nice reminder of…”, “The same thing happens in our field”, or “What’s the takeaway from this story?”.
Don’t take ages to get to the point, start with a hook
Create a compelling introduction to your article that grabs your reader’s attention within the first 2-3 sentences. Make the reader excited to read the post. Tell them what they are missing out on, what you will help them with, surprise them and leave them with questions rather than answers. Touch on your key points clearly and concisely. Be detailed but brief. Make it dazzle them, make it epic.
Online users adapt quickly to consistent patterns. It makes them tune out. Our brain is very well aware of changes. The human mind loves to hear or see something cool, something new, useful, provocative and fascinating. We love a surprise, a laugh, great and unbelievable things. All of these stimuli get the mind attracted and interested, and make the visitor stay on your site for longer. These are some of the ways to hook your visitors:
- Contrary hook. Challenge existing ideas, encourage debate.
- Indirect hook. Delay telling what the story is about, tease the reader.
- Attack hook. Stir something up.
- Humor hook. Make people laugh.
- Unexpected hook. Break a pattern, say something surprising.
- Question hook. Start with a question.
- Curiosity hook. Start with a puzzle, leave reader with questions rather than answers.
- Quotation hook. Start with a quotation.
- Celebrity hook. Start with a mention or a comparison to a popular name.
- Stat/fact hook. Start with an interesting statistic or an interesting fact.
Ideas for different types of posts you can publish
It helps to add variety to your content. If you post the same type of post all the time it is difficult to reach a wider audience, your site becomes too one-dimensional and visitors might feel jaded. Bring something new to the table. Keep it fresh and interesting. Mix things up. To help you get inspired and hopefully get you new content ideas here is a list of types of posts you should consider:
- Success/failure stories. Look inwards and tell about your past success/failures and what you have learned from the experience.
- Quote. Quote someone and add your own commentary to the quote.
- Infographic. Create an infographic with a bunch of facts, stats and quotes on a topic.
- Leaderboard. Create a leaderboard ranking of people, sites, locations, events and similar.
- Behind the scenes. Be open and show people what’s happening in your life.
- Ask me anything. Answer a reader questions in a complete post.
- Link out. Link to a post from another site and add your opinion to the topic.
- Guides and tutorials. Write how-to guides and tutorials where you lead the visitor in the step-by-step instructional process.
- Video it. Create a YouTube video where you talk directly to the camera or record your computer screen explaining a certain process.
- Podcast. Or just record a podcast instead.
- Webinar. Do a webinar, record it and publish it on its own.
- Listicle. Do a top list post, focus on long lists as those top 3 or top 5 posts have lost their novelty.
- Curated link/resources post. Collect a list of interesting links, articles and resources on a topic.
- Rant. Be controversial. Write a rant about a topic, an event or a person.
- Post series. Create an engaging post series by spreading a story or a guide over several posts.
- Review. Review a product or a service that is relevant to your audience.
- Comparison. Do a detailed comparison between two competitive products in your niche.
- Book review. Read a book and write your opinion about it, include lessons learned from reading it.
- Quotes from a book. Collect best quotes from the book you’ve read and publish them with your comments.
- Ultimate post. Aggregate your best content on a specific topic, put an irresistible headline on it and publish as the ultimate guide.
- Influencer list. Collect the most influential people in a field.
- Cheat sheet or a checklist. Create a cheat sheet or a checklist list to help people go through a specific topic.
- Quiz. Create a quiz and allow people to take your quiz.
- Stats/revenue post. Write a post with a summary of your visitors, sales and earnings.
- Survey. Do a survey, collect all the answer, analyse the findings and publish them.
- Contest. Do a contest on your site and giveaway a prize.
- Comment. Take an interesting comment from a visitor and publish it as a full post, this also gets people incentives to comment more.
- Ebook. Collect several of your posts on a topic, style and edit them and publish them as a free e-book download.
- Photo/GIF post. Collect best images from an event and publish them in an image post. Or just do GIF’s.
- White paper. Create a report or a white paper on a topical topic in your industry.
- Challenge. Set a challenge for yourself and your audience and follow-up on the progress.
- FAQ. Collect all the frequently asked questions, answer them and release them as the ultimate FAQ.
- Predictions. Write a list of predictions for your industry, this is a great type of content for year-end period.
- Roundup. Create a roundup post after events, releases and other important happenings.
- Guest post. Publish an interesting guest post from another writer.
Explore long form content and in-depth storytelling
Long form articles have 1,000+ words and contain multiple formats such as videos, charts and infographics along the text-based content. These posts need a lot of time invested from the reader and are very good at contextualizing a larger topic and cover it in-depth.
This statistical study on what makes online content go viral has found that long form articles are shared far more often than shorter articles.
Word count of a post seems very closely related to the number of shares. Just look at the success of http://longreads.com/, http://longform.org/, and social media hashtags like #longreads and #longform. Some of the great examples of the long form, multiple format posts are:
- Michael Jordan has not left the building
- Snow Fall: The avalanche at Tunnel Creek
- Sean Parker: Agent of disruption
- What Is Code?
One of the reasons for the success of long form articles is that they mostly are timeless pieces. They take a long time to research and write, so they are on topics that are less time sensitive. This makes the life time of an article longer than your standard news piece making it particularly valuable in social media where it gets shares a long time after it’s published and in search results where it continues ranking for a long time.
What’s the word count of your post and how can you put more meat on the bone?
Make your article headlines irresistible
You have to get someone to click on your link and visit your site in the first place. Your first touch point with a potential visitor is your article headline. Be it in search engine results, in emails or in social media news feeds.
I have created a very detailed guide with lots of headline formulas to help you out with this. It’s all available for free. See my rules and formulas for headline writing.
Establish credibility and trust
If your headline works and a person clicks on your link, the first 5 seconds are critical. The back button on a browser is your enemy. The probability of leaving is very high and the decision to stay or leave will be made in these first few seconds.
Visitors are very skeptical as they have suffered a lot of bad content and poorly designed sites. Modern life is hectic and people simply don’t have time to work too hard for their information. Many bounce right away, most leave within few seconds. Do this to establish credibility and trust with the visitor:
- Make your site quick to load. Make sure your site is lightweight and is loading fast as people are impatient. Here’s my guide for speeding up your site.
- Have a great looking design. Many designs look pretty amateur, they are full of pop-ups, banner ads and other irritating distractions. They do not look good on mobile devices. Get a theme with large fonts, good color contrast, white space, easy to find search box, useful 404 page and mobile responsive design. By having a well designed site you put yourself ahead of the rest. See my guide on making your site look pretty.
- Have a clear value proposition. Tell visitors what is in store for them, what your site is about and what problems your site will solve for them.
- Display social proof such as social media follower numbers, number of social media shares and number of comments. If visitors see that your site is popular, frequented and shared a lot then there is a greater chance they will stick around. If all these people like this site then there must be other good stuff around. Use WordPress plugins to integrate social proof.
- People like familiarity so make your visitor feel at home. Include a clear and descriptive navigation bar at the top with links to contact, about page, services etc. The sidebar should contain the latest posts and/or popular posts.
- Make it clear who is behind the post. Introduce yourself right off the bat with a welcoming message and smile. Ingrain your personality into the page. Include your personal information, your image plus links and examples of your skills and experience. Your site is unique, but only because of YOU, so make sure your visitors see this as soon as possible.
- Use stunning images to help visually draw in the reader. Aim to have a great image towards the top of your article. Images catch the eye better than text and tell stories more quickly. They get your visitor more involved and play a big part in holding the attention of your visitor for longer. Here’s my guide (which includes resources for where to find images free to use) on using stunning imagery.
- Write for the web. Make your content beautiful and sticky. You cannot expect a captive audience. Your visitors are busy, distracted people with infinite demands on their time. People rarely read posts word by word. They scan and pick out words and sentences. It’s a battle to be read. To combat this you should use these “Elements Of Style”.
- Make it easy to discover more good stuff. Clicking links remains the most-used feature on a site. Place specific and relevant links in key places of interest to offer a deeper or follow-up information on the topic. Include internal links to relevant posts to get people to stay longer and introduce them to your content archive. Don’t be afraid to link away from your site as well (but do make sure those links open in new window as seen below). If you link your readers to new useful information, they will return to find out where the best information is.
- Tag the post to make it more discoverable. This all depends on how you tag your content within your content management platform. If you use WordPress categories make sure that you add the post in the relevant category, if you use tags make sure to add the relevant tags to the post. This will make sure that your new post is displayed in the relevant sections of your site.
- Manually edit the permalink to make it nicer. In WordPress it’s easy to edit the URL of your post so it’s more concise and clean compared to your headline. Make sure to click on that “edit” button and do it. It looks nicer, more clean and is better for your search engine optimization.
- Give your reader a sense of conclusion, a sense of closure. Briefly summarize your points at the end. Make your reader feel like it was worth their while to spend time with your post.
- Add a call to action. For most posts you might want your visitors to take an action after reading your content. Make sure to ask them to as that will increase the chance of them doing so. Encourage users to return. Provide opportunity to subscribe and follow you in social media to make sure your readers come back. Ask them to comment on your post, to subscribe to your newsletter, or to share it in social media. Ask whatever it is that you are trying to achieve.
- Did you preview the content? Click on that “Preview” button to check how the post will look like to the visitors before you actually publish it. Have another read. Fix any mistakes. When you’re happy with the result then you’re ready to click on the publish button.
Get into the habit of promoting your content
Congrats! Your new post is now online ready for anyone in the world to take a look at. Your work is not done though.
Just publishing a great piece of content is not enough. Not many people will see it unless you already have an established audience. You need to get into the habit of promoting your content and building your audience. Share it to these 33 places where you can distribute and promote your content
Analyse the performance and results
So you’ve started doing everything you can to create better content. But how do you know if your content is actually getting better? It’s difficult to guess this. Many times posts that you don’t expect to do well actually do. Some posts you don’t even want to publish, but when you do people like it and share it. Public response is what counts and what determines if your content is good.
Take a look at your analytics to identify how your content performs. Figure out why people reacted the way they did. What made them like that piece of content so much? What made them stay on your site for such a long period? What made them share it with their family and friends? Figure out what works well and then do more of that and less of things that didn’t do so well.
I hope these questions resonate with the way you’re thinking about your blogging. Do get into the habit of asking yourself some or all of these key questions before publishing a post. After a while it will become second nature to you and you’ll be able to optimize your content even without checking the list. Your content will be stronger after doing this and you will see an increase in visitors, time spent on your content and social media shares.